Pio Pico’s Namesake

June 30, 2016 | Kieways 2016 Q2

A new peaker plant provides supplemental power in Southern California

Long before Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, there was Pio Pico.

In the mid-19th century, Pico served as the last governor of what was known as Alta California, a territory of Mexico that encompassed the area of the current state and land to the east.

Like current California Governor Jerry Brown, he also held two terms years apart — one briefly in 1832 and again from 1845 to 1846.

After the Mexican-American War began in the spring of 1846, American troops moved to occupy southern California.

As the Americans advanced, a surrender seemed inevitable. Pico fled to Mexico in a failed attempt to mount a resistance force.

Pico later returned to the area as a citizen and became a noted landowner. He left his imprint, and his name, throughout southern California.

Today, you’ll find his name memorialized on Pico Boulevard — a route that stretches from downtown L.A. to the Pacific Ocean — as well as in the city of Pico Rivera.

Pico’s name also lives on through a Kiewit-led project: the Pio Pico Energy Center.

Extra Power When Conditions Demand

Located a few miles from San Diego in an area close to the Mexican border called Otay Mesa, the 318-megawatt (MW)gas-powered plant is designed to provide power to San Diego Gas & Electric customers during periods of high demand.

Known as a peaker and load-following facility, the Pico plant will ramp up quickly to deliver supplemental energy as needed, said Brian Stenstrom, Kiewit’s project manager.

“The equipment can go from zero to 318 megawatts, or maximum capacity, in 10 minutes, allowing the client to be able to ‘follow’ loads. As the winds come and go and as the sun shines and doesn’t shine, it can follow those dips in power rapidly.”

“That gives the utility a lot of flexibility to maximize green energy through alternate sources and be able to supplement that with base load as they need it,” he added.

A repeat partnership

Kiewit’s client on the $153 million project is Ares EIF. It’s not the first time the two companies have collaborated. They also partnered on the Panoche Energy Project in Firebaugh, Calif., which began operating in 2009, as well as the St. Joseph Energy Center which is a 700-MW combined-cycle gas turbine project currently under construction in Indiana.

When it came to choosing a contractor to handle engineering, procurement and design, Ares EIF already knew what Kiewit could bring to the project.

“I’ve worked with Kiewit for 10 years,” said Mike King, managing partner at Apex Power, which provided development services to Ares EIF for both Pio Pico and Panoche. “I appreciate their thorough commitment to safety and planning. They’ve always been honest, straightforward and diligent. I’m very pleased to have Kiewit as a partner on this.”

’It’s going to happen’

That relationship helped pave the way for solutions when the team encountered some challenges during the development phase — namely two delays when work was stopped because of regulatory issues.

Ultimately, the issues were resolved favorably and construction commenced in early 2015. At its peak, 250 craft and subcontractors and about 50 staff worked on site.

“Keeping up the morale of the constructability team was a challenge — saying, ‘it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,’” said Construction Manager Roger Real. “The other challenge was keeping the consistency with the craft that we had at the beginning.”

Kiewit’s reputation and the relationship the team already had with area craft proved valuable in providing work on other jobs when Pio Pico was on hold, and in bringing back so many of the same workers when it was time to restart the project.

“We have a pretty good following of people who have been with us for a long time,” said Real. “They’re not only workers, but they’re friends to us and almost family in a way. They know the Kiewit ways.”

Powering ahead in 2016

Substantial completion for the facility is set for fall 2016.

Looking at the challenges the team has addressed and overcome, Stenstrom says he’s impressed by the way everyone has kept their focus, despite the stops and starts.

“The attitudes from everyone involved here have been as good as I’ve seen on any project. The teamwork has been amazing, and everyone here continuously works together to do what is best for the project.”

For Neil Stewart, Kiewit’s engineering and design project manager, the opportunity to build his skills and see his colleagues do the same has been valuable.

“We have a lot of people in roles for the first time on this job, both on the engineering and construction side — myself included. Seeing how everyone adapts to their new roles and helps each other with acclimation and getting used to new responsibilities, that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

As another leader who was tasked with learning on the job, that’s surely something Pio Pico himself would have related to.


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