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USACE’s Hydropower Operation

 

At Harry S. Truman Dam in Missouri, the hydropower staff wanted to call a parts manufacturer and request a site visit, which may have cost both time and money. Instead, Cotner went on-site and found the problem in a few days. He and a junior engineer spent another few days on-site fixing the problem and bringing the power station back into use. Aside from the cost of bringing in outside experts, the hydropower station would have been out of service until the private company was available to explore and fix the problem.

“We let internal customers know they can call us for anything else they need. If we can’t fix it ourselves, we’ll help them work with the manufacturer,” he said.

Nationwide, about 1,500 federal workers – many of them electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical engineers – staff USACE hydropower facilities where they monitor, analyze, maintain, and repair stations and equipment. Technicians provide 24/7 support to monitor energy production as hydropower stations capture water and release it through turbines to produce electricity.

Cotner played a major role in the development of the Hydropower Asset Management Partnership (hydroAMP) “Consolidated Equipment Condition Guide.” The guide includes 13 condition assessment guides for unique equipment to help hydropower staff perform equipment condition assessments that are used for planning equipment replacement or refurbishments. He wrote or contributed to five of the guides on topics like generators and transformers, which include recommended routine and special testing plans and advice on equipment expected service lives.

Cotner was named the Portland District Federal Engineer of the Year in 2009 for delivering exceptional technical expertise in the testing and maintenance of electrical equipment in federal hydroelectric plants. When asked about the honor, Cotner said he appreciates it, but he was just doing a job he loves.

Another passion for Cotner is participating in hydropower research and development. During one recent project, he tested coatings on turbine blades to determine the effectiveness of specific coatings to prevent pitting. “There are many companies that tell you their coating does the job, but we tested them. Out of seven different coatings, we found three that were effective,” he noted. Afterward he shared his findings with colleagues. “Engineers have enough on their plate [without having] to find time to try to solve some of these problems,” he added.

USACE knows it can rely on HDC to tackle some of its biggest hydropower challenges – and Cotner is often first on HDC’s list when those challenges need innovative solutions. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be than an electrical engineer,” Cotner said. “It’s very satisfying to know my work is important to HDC and the Corps of Engineers.”

 

Other USACE Experts

Nationwide, about 1,500 federal workers – many of them electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical engineers – staff USACE hydropower facilities where they monitor, analyze, maintain, and repair stations and equipment. Technicians provide 24/7 support to monitor energy production as hydropower stations capture water and release it through turbines to produce electricity.

Success also relies on other critical elements like cranes, and for this work, USACE relies on staff such as Catherine Campbell. A senior mechanical engineer in HDC who has worked for USACE since 2003, Campbell takes pride in her particular sub-specialty within hydropower that is essential for long-term output.

“Cranes are the unsung heroes of powerhouses,” said Campbell, as she explains how they lift gates and house turbines that do some of the most important work. Other cranes are needed to cut off power or dewater a unit in order to perform maintenance work. “Many units are near the end of their 50-year design life and require more dedication to maintenance and rehab.”

Campbell’s story is somewhat unusual, as she was a liberal arts college graduate working in an office before deciding to make the switch to mechanical engineering. “Nothing about how I wound up an engineer was normal,” she said, explaining how she returned to school for an engineering degree. “As a USACE engineer, it’s a privilege to know that my work supports the critical infrastructure of our nation.”

bonneville-lock-and-dam

Powerhouse one at Bonneville Lock and Dam was completed in 1938. When President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the facility, Bonneville Dam was the first federal hydropower dam constructed on the Columbia River. Photo by David Rigg

She enjoys crane work because of the diverse challenges, including projects that typically take a year or more. For new cranes, there’s often a year devoted to planning and specifications, followed by a year of construction by a private firm to USACE expectations. Most cranes are custom made and can lift 20 to 30 tons.

“Crane rehab projects don’t come along often enough for other USACE districts to develop the expertise,” Campbell said. Given her location near the Columbia River, many powerhouses are in her region, but she and team members fly to other locations for consultations. “If we can, we want to make it easy for the operator to live with the machinery and use it every day.”

Campbell received the HDC Customer Service Award in 2014 for providing exceptional support for the Albeni Falls Dam Intake and Spillway Crane rehabilitation in Oldtown, Idaho. “It was one of those jobs that was very difficult, but the team worked so well together,” she said. The rehab included new guard rails, access ladders and gates, new platform, new generator set, and main cab for this multiyear project.

Aside from working on infrastructure issues of national importance, she values the chance to promote America’s energy efficiency. “Given the need for diverse energy sources, we want to keep hydropower competitive with natural gas and coal,” she added.

This article was first published in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces 2016-2017 Edition magazine.

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