November 7, 2013

A Word With the Boss: Got lots of devices? Bill Allard helps provide the juice

He helps manage CMP’s $1.4 billion project to upgrade Maine’s power grid.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Bill Allard is a principal with the engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., and this fall marked the opening of its Portland office. Nationwide, the company has more than 4,000 employees; the Portland office is expected to soon have about 80. Many of the employees in Maine are working on the Maine Power Reliability Program, a $1.4 billion Central Maine Power Co. project to upgrade the state’s electricity grid. Burns & McDonnell is an employee-owned company that does not disclose financial information. Allard, who heads the company’s CMP project work, declined to disclose his salary.

click image to enlarge

Bill Allard, a principal at Burns & McDonnell, works out of the Portland office that opened this fall with plans for a staff of 80.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Q: When were you hired by Burns & McDonnell and how did you gain experience working on large power projects?

A: I started out working with Vermont Electric Power Co. I came up through the ranks and as I worked my way up, I was managing a couple of facilities and then became a project manager. I started working with Burns & McDonnell at that time and went to Connecticut in 2005 when the company opened a regional office there. We started with three people in 2005 and I think we’re up to 325 people now. Burns & McDonnell hired me to be a construction manager because of my experience building substations and transmission lines, and I had a lot of experience working with the independent systems operators (organizations that coordinate and monitor electric power systems) in New England and spent three years working on a very large project – building substations from Middletown, Conn., to Norwalk, (Conn.), including a section that involved installing an underground cable. 

Q: When did you come to Maine?

A: Back in 2009, because of my experience, I was asked to come up here and work with Central Maine Power on the Maine Power Reliability Program. We started right at the beginning, when Central Maine Power was in the permitting stage and planning the job and the outages, and to really plan the job from start to finish.

Q: You planned the outages? 

A: We planned it so that we were working in a system that we were trying to improve, but we didn’t want to make situations where we were causing problems. We planned on probably over a thousand outages. We’re working on lines from Orrington to Eliot, and as you work on this big system, you have to plan it so that we don’t affect the customers. When it’s all said and done, we think it’s probably not quite a thousand outages and we’re near the end now – we’ve had, to date, 805 outages, but it’s done in such a way to limit the impact on customers. 

Q: What kind of constraints have you faced?

A: Central Maine Power, when they decided they wanted to do this project, they looked at their existing transmission line corridors and the land they already had and were trying to keep all of these power lines in those corridors. In a lot of cases, we had lines that had been here since the 1960s and we needed to rebuild some of those lines to make room for the new ones. They needed to be rebuilt to the newest standards and built in a different configuration to make room for new lines. 

Q: What part of the project does Burns & McDonnell directly oversee?

A: Our role is to manage all this work. We’ve got about 70 people working on this and some ancillary support from Kansas City and Wallingford, Conn. This is a reliability project, and reliability projects have been happening around the country to strengthen the power grid so it can keep up with the loads that are happening today and beyond today. We all have cell phones and computers and chargers and a greater dependence on electricity. You take a system that was built in the ‘60s and it stresses the system. If you had a major issue, you could lose power. So utilities have looked at the systems and the redundancy and are looking to make the system more reliable. 

(Continued on page 2)

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