Mountainview Power Plant, Redlands, California

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the phoenix was a beautiful bird with red and gold plumage that built a pyre of cinnamon twigs at the end of its life and burned itself into ashes. From those ashes another, young phoenix arose to begin a new 500-year lifecycle.

Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Mountainview Power Plant (Figure 1), about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, may not last 500 years like a phoenix, but it was resurrected after having been abandoned for two years. On the final day of 2005, three and a half months ahead of the original schedule, the second unit of the 1,054-MW plant was deemed "substantially complete"—a real feat, considering the number of hurdles thrown in front of the project team.

1. Lazarus project. Southern California Edison’s Mountainview Power Plant, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, added 1,054 MW of much-needed capacity to the Inland Empire. Courtesy: Bechtel Power

Coincidentally, on the very day (December 31, 2005) that Mountainview began bringing much-needed capacity to California’s Inland Empire—the fastest-growing area of SCE’s 11-county service territory—the 1,540-MW Mohave Generating Station (56% owned by SCE) closed its doors for the last time.

Mountainview is a critical generating source in this power-short region of the country. On the afternoon of July 20, 2005, SCE customers used more electricity than at any time in the utility’s 120-year history: 21,122 MW. The following afternoon (July 21), that record fell again as the utility’s customers used 812 MW more than the day before—roughly the capacity of a typical, big power plant.

Seeing this growth in demand coming, SCE jumped at the opportunity to bring on-line more than 1 gigawatt of critically needed power relatively quickly, by taking over and completing a project begun by two previous owners. Although several independent power producers were unhappy with this arrangement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, and other regulators understood the urgency and gave the project resuscitation a thumbs-up. Thus the Mountainview power plant became California’s first utility-developed power plant in 15 years (SCE has no plans to construct any more plants).

Mountainview Power Company LLC, the owner and operator of the plant, is a wholly owned subsidiary of SCE that sells the plant’s output to its parent under a power-purchase agreement. Bechtel Power Corp. provided engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) services. The post-suspension EPC project cost represented about $460 million of the total project price tag of $600 million.

Project details

At the heart of Mountainview are two now-familiar power blocks, each powered by two General Electric (GE) 160-MW 7FA natural gas–fired, dry low-NOx (DLN) combustion turbines (CTs). The exhaust gases from each pair of CTs are fed to a supplementary-fired heat-recovery steam generator (HRSG) from Foster Wheeler Inc. (Clinton, N.J.) that, in turn, provides energy at 403,579 lb/hr and 1,055F to a GE D11 steam turbine-generator with a nominal rating of 210 MW. The HRSG duct burners are rated at 135 mmBtu/hr.

Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) with ammonia injection and CO catalytic reaction equipment reduce NOx and CO emissions from the plant: NOx to levels below 2.5 ppm on a 1-hour average and 2.0 ppm on an annual average basis, and CO to below 6 ppm on an hourly basis. The condenser was supplied by Alstom Power of France. The plant’s overall heat rate is about 6,800 Btu/kWh (LHV).

Identifying available water supplies will only become more problematic for future plants in the region. Half of the water supply for Mountainview is treated reclaimed wastewater from the City of Redlands; the rest comes from new and existing wells on the site. The plant’s water treatment equipment was supplied by Infilco Degremont Inc. (Richmond, Va.) and Aquatech International Corp. (Canonsburg, Pa.). Each 2 x 1 power block uses a wet, mechanical-draft Marley cooling tower from SPX Cooling Technologies (Overland Park, Kan.). The Bailey Controls division of ABB supplied the plant’s distributed control system. Natural gas is delivered to Mountainview by Sempra’s SoCal Gas Co. through a new, 17-mile pipeline.

Since going commercial, Mountainview has been dispatched as a 600-MW mid-peaker plant most mornings. At 2 p.m., the duct burners and evaporative coolers kick in, raising the plant’s capacity to 1,000 MW and switching its mode to baseload. After 10 p.m., load returns to 600 MW, and at midnight the units are shut down. Mountainview was 100% available this June, the last full month of operation as this article went into production.

Rug pulled out

A compelling chapter of Mountainview’s success story involves the chain of events preceding the plant’s reapproval and completion. Kudos to SCE and Bechtel for hurdling all the obstacles encountered en route to start-up and recovering some of the project’s lost time via an aggressive construction schedule. Remember, the project began at the height of the combined-cycle building boom in 2001. At the time, Mountainview was touted as one of the solutions to Southern California’s chronic capacity shortage, which had recently given the state’s ill-conceived retail electricity deregulation experiment a black eye with the one-two punch of routine, widespread blackouts and brownouts.

Mountainview’s winding road ironically begins and ends with SCE as its owner. In 1998, Thermo EcoTech purchased the old San Bernardino station with its retired Units 1 and 2 from SCE and changed the facility’s name to Mountainview. Thermo EcoTech then was purchased by AES Corp. in 2001. AES continued developing the site, hiring Bechtel Power in the summer of 2001 as the EPC contractor. For Bechtel, the challenges at Mountainview began at the outset, starting with the need to bid the half-billion-dollar, lump-sum project in little more than two weeks, which left scant time for the normal estimating and review processes.

Storm clouds were gathering, however, that cast doubt on Mountainview’s future. By 2002 the energy crisis in California had eased, ending the capacity-construction boom. At that point, Enron’s collapse in late 2001 was still sending shock waves throughout the industry. AES, feeling the financial heat, was forced to suspend the project in April 2002 with construction only 15% complete—although engineering was 85% finished and equipment procurement was 80% done. This forced Bechtel into estimating suspension costs under multiple scenarios and negotiating with AES regarding hundreds of vendors and subcontractors—all while demobilizing the project on an accelerated basis.

Ownership merry-go-round

To its credit, Bechtel refused to abandon hope that Mountainview could be completed. In March 2003, InterGen—a former Shell-Bechtel subsidiary—purchased the project. The change in ownership brought new challenges, including InterGen’s preference to restart the project, rather than suspend it. Then, out of the blue, in March 2004, SCE stepped in to purchase Mountainview and its permits and contracts from InterGen. Announcing that construction of the project would go forward immediately, SCE and Bechtel assembled a project team and began the daunting task of developing a detailed restart plan under a stepped-up schedule. Completion of both Units 3 and 4 (which were designated to differentiate them from the retired San Bernardino Units 1 and 2) was targeted for the end of 2005.

Only hours after closure of the Mountain-view transaction, construction work that had begun under AES in 2001 resumed, and the core site team met for the first time soon thereafter. Bechtel hit the ground running when work resumed. It did extensive inspections of the equipment and the site and put together an execution plan for everything required to get construction going again, including the necessary remediation and rework.

Thanks to a detailed execution plan put into effect on day one, the site was cleaned up, previously delivered equipment was reconditioned, and the remaining equipment was ordered. Bechtel addressed the problems that arose from letting the plant stand idle for two years (Figure 2), and many of the steps taken to resume work after the suspension contributed to the plant’s quick commissioning (Figure 3).

3. Two power blocks later. Bechtel Power resumed construction of Mountainview the same day the project—under its new/old owner—received final approval. Start-up was completed on January 19, 2006, three months early. Courtesy: Bechtel Power

Weather wreaks havoc

But the magnitude of the task ahead was not to be underestimated. When workers re-entered the site in March 2004, they found the modern equivalent of a ghost town. Over the project’s two-year hiatus, weather had taken its toll on the landscape, earthworks, and existing foundations. Muck had filled the vaults, and pits had to be excavated. Soot from nearby wildfires had settled everywhere, brush had grown up, and animals had moved in.

A major challenge centered on an array of equipment issues produced by the prolonged suspension. Bechtel had ordered most of the project’s equipment between August 2001 and March 2002. Some parts, such as the HRSGs’ casings, had just been delivered when work stopped in April 2002. Weather and exposure also exacted a toll on this gear: Workers found some units rusting away in their shipping containers, where they had been left two years earlier. Other equipment, including the generators’ inner workings, had arrived later and been stored in a nearby warehouse. Switchgear, pumps, supports, and other items were scattered in various locations and had to be rounded up, inspected, and moved (Figure 4).

4. Left for rust. Workers found rusting equipment sitting in shipping containers where it had been left two years earlier. Courtesy: Bechtel Power

Tracking down spare parts proved no small challenge, either. According to Russell Koelsch, Mountainview’s project manager, "Some vendors had gone out of business; others had closed the books on the orders. It was sometimes difficult to get their attention. But Bechtel kept the contracts alive and helped get the equipment we still needed."

In addition, as Koelsch explained, "We didn’t anticipate the world we operated in would be different. Permits had expired and regulations had changed, so we had to redo some of that work. There’s very little experience with power plants this large that have been stopped and then resumed. We were in new territory." Mountainview’s construction site manager, Ed Budney, concurred. "Establishing a Mountainview presence was no easy task. It required everyone to work together in the best interests of the project," he said.

Simply put, everyone working together in the project’s best interests was exactly the path needed—and followed—to ultimately bring Mountainview to completion.

Though the successful lift and erection of the CTs and their generators headed a list of significant accomplishments in 2004, as the year drew to a close much work still remained and many hurdles had yet to be overcome. In addition, as the project team soon learned, Mountainview would face some particularly tough challenges due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Mother Nature intervenes

Over a 15-day period in December 2004 and early 2005, record rains drenched Southern California. Once again, the project was back to pumping out the pits and foundations. In addition, a new route had to be found for moving the HRSG modules after the chosen route washed out. Setbacks resulting from the record rainfall had direct cost and productivity impacts on Unit 3 and seriously delayed key equipment deliveries for Unit 4. The target completion date for Unit 4 had slipped to mid-February 2006, then only 10 months away. And, given SCE’s goal that the project could finish in 2005, cutting 1.5 months of schedule in those 10 months would present an even greater challenge.

Despite the many challenges, work on Unit 3 progressed well—so well, in fact, that less than a year after restarting the project, the team achieved a major milestone: energization of the unit in February 2005 and the switching of its power supply from Bechtel’s construction project transformers to permanent transformers on the precise date set two years before. Crews from Mountainview Power Co., Bechtel, and Mountainview worked smoothly together in a show of teamwork to execute the energization.

The home stretch

As Unit 3 moved into the start-up phase, the construction and start-up teams worked in even closer cooperation. Construction completed installation of all electrical devices and components, while start-up tested key equipment. "When both groups work in parallel, it saves time on the overall schedule," commented Bechtel’s site manager, Rick Mays.

Unit 3 achieved "substantial completion" on December 9, 2005. However, work on Unit 4, after the rains, had fallen three months behind Unit 3’s schedule. Looking to their experience with Unit 3 to identify lessons learned and apply them to Unit 4, the Bechtel project team worked closely with Mountainview and key vendors to proactively address problems and develop workarounds. This total team effort eked out a savings of another two months on Unit 4 during late construction and start-up. As a result, Bechtel was able to achieve substantial completion of Unit 4 at 6:00 p.m. on December 31, 2005—exceeding SCE’s expectations.

Project officials also point to an impressive series of additional accomplishments: erecting eight pieces of heavy equipment—the four CTs and their generators—in 24 days (Figure 5), flushing the lube oil systems of the CTs, installing and aligning both units’ HRSGs, and setting all the major equipment in place. The project team (Figure 6) devoted two months to planning, anticipating problems, and developing contingencies before the equipment reached the site.

5. Major lifts. Four combustion turbines and their generators were set and aligned in 24 days. Courtesy: Bechtel Power

6. Proud team. Rick Mays (Bechtel site manager), Russell Koelsch (SCE’s Mountainview project manager) and Laszlo von Lazar (Bechtel project manager) in front of Unit 3A’s HRSG during installation. Courtesy: Bechtel Power

Reflecting on the team effort to apply lessons learned in the final stages of Unit 3 construction and start-up in order to recover time from an already aggressive Unit 4 completion schedule, Mountainview’s engineering manager, Alan Sloboda, said, "There was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, seeing it all come together. It’s something I’ll never forget."

—Laszlo von Lazar was Bechtel Power’s project manager for the Mountainview Power Project. He can be reached at [email protected] or 301-228-8568.

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