Making electric history

September 25, 2018 | Kieways 2018 Q3

About 120 miles northwest of “The City that Never Sleeps” and 120 miles due north of “The City of Brotherly Love” sits “The Electric City.”

Fans of the U.S. version of “The Office” and public transit historians will know that’s a reference to Scranton, Pennsylvania. It earned the nickname in the 1880s when it became the first American city with an electric trolley and one of the first to use electric streetlights.

In 1928, the Scranton Electric Company proclaimed it loudly and proudly with a sign atop its building, “Scranton – The Electric City.” Now illuminated with LED lights, the sign remains one of the city’s most famous landmarks.1

Just a few miles from Scranton in Jessup, electric history of another kind is being made by one Kiewit team as it installs revolutionary power generation equipment on the way to completing a uniquely designed plant that will be the largest ever built by the company.

The Lackawanna Energy Center (LEC) is a 1,480-megawatt facility developed by Invenergy. At that size, it’s not only the largest plant on Kiewit’s resume, it will also be one of the largest natural gas-fired plants in the entire country.

“Within Kiewit, the megawatt output makes this about one and-a-half times the size of anything we’ve built previously. But there are a lot of similarities compared to other power projects we worked on in the past,” said Kiewit Power Constructors Co. (KPC) Project Manager Rick Dotson.

One of those similarities is the contract model. Invenergy awarded KPC an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the energy center. EPC has become standard on Kiewit’s power generation projects and brings construction and engineering together to develop and execute a plan that is safe and cost-effective to build while meeting standards of engineering excellence.

A major part of procurement is acquiring the plant’s engineered equipment, including gas turbines. Invenergy supplied Lackawanna’s turbines. Owners supplying these critical components isn’t unusual for KPC, but at Lackawanna the equipment — developed and manufactured by GE — is groundbreaking.

“The technology is brand new,” said Kiewit Energy Group Inc. Vice President Tyler Nordquist of LEC’s three GE 7HA.02 gas turbines. “The first two were installed a bit ahead of us on another site, but ours were serial numbers 3, 4 and 5.”

Designing and building around new models of these incredibly complicated pieces of equipment would require a lot of adaptation. KPC leaned on GE for lessons learned from installation of serial numbers 1 and 2.

“We didn’t have a contract with GE, Invenergy did,” Nordquist said. “But we were able to engage with them and very much look at the design and get feedback to GE to further our design and minimize field impacts that would have hurt our schedule down the road. I think we were both able to come to the right solutions together for the project and for Invenergy to make sure the project came in on time.”

In addition to revolutionary equipment, the plant’s configuration was first-of-its-kind for Kiewit.

“It’s a single shaft design so the combustion turbine and the steam turbine both share the same generator,” Dotson said.

On other combined-cycle, natural gas-fired facilities, the combustion and steam turbine would each have their own generator. At LEC, the combustion and steam turbines in each unit share the same generator. Dotson explains it as three separate 500-megawatt power plants with turbines and generators existing on their own islands, but sharing the same cooling, air and auxiliary steam systems to complete the facility’s operations. Ultimately, fewer generators means the plant will operate more efficiently.

This setup and staggered turnover, or completion, dates for each unit translated into a unique opportunity for sequencing construction.

“Basically we got to build three individual power plants, but they all sit 100 feet away from each other,” Dotson said. “Since there were staggered turnover dates, we were able to work on all of them at once. But in reality, unit one finished three or four months ahead of unit two, and unit two was three or four months ahead of unit three. That allowed us to take lessons learned from the first unit and improve how we performed on the others to see real-time results. That was incredibly valuable on this job.”

Successfully completing a job this large and with this many new components added plenty of variables for the project team to consider as it planned and executed its approach. Throw into the mix harsh Northeastern winters, a massive project footprint which required extensive civil work to prepare for construction of the actual plant, and the fact that Kiewit didn’t have historical experience working in this part of Pennsylvania, and that’s quite the challenge for any team.

But KPC and the entire Kiewit organization were up for it.

Pulling resources from across Kiewit, a team of highly experienced senior engineering and construction leaders and many eager first-time engineers was assembled to get the job done.


Invenergy Project Manager Adam Taylor acknowledged the commitment and effort on display.

“Kiewit definitely brings to the table a next-level effort of planning work and getting out in front of challenges and issues before they become monumental challenges and issues,” he said. “That’s definitely something that sets Kiewit apart in a lot of ways from competitors.”

Just over two years since the team got started on this historic project, and as LEC approaches final completion (unit 1 achieved substantial completion in June, making it the first single-shaft, H-class unit to go commercial in the U.S.), the verdict from the Kiewit team is it was a success — and one that will continue to pay dividends for the company for years to come.

“From a 50,000-foot view, we mobilized to an area where we don’t have historical work to build the largest power plant that we’ve ever built, with the most craft and staff that we’ve ever needed,” Dotson said. “To do it successfully, safely and on time and under budget, I think that’s the success story.

“We needed to persevere and get this built for the greater good, and we did. What the team was able to do here and the lessons learned, it’s going to be a key project for Kiewit for a very long time.”

1 City Of Scranton Historical Architectural Review Board. (n.d.). Downtown Scranton Landmark Buildings and Historic Districts. Retrieved June 01, 2018, from http://scrantonpa.gov/HARB/Historic Scranton-Downtown-Scranton-Landmark-Buildings-and-Historic-Districts.pdf

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