Solar, Sharp Client Focus Spur Regional Success
The Phoenix office of Burns & McDonnell, which specializes in solar and other energy work and is expanding its engineering service offerings, has been selected as ENR’s Southwest Design Firm of the Year.
Over the past decade, the office has become the firm’s standard bearer in utility-level energy, including solar projects. Employees in Phoenix were the driving force behind the 23-MW Big Bend Power Station for Tampa Electric Co. in Apollo Beach, Fla. Big Bend is the single-largest source of solar power in the Tampa area and features more than 202,000 solar panels.
Along with a recently added Tucson office, the division provides a variety of services for most of the public utilities in the state including Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project.
“They are able to provide expertise across many different disciplines,” says Ed Seal, plant manager for Arizona Public Service at the coal-burning Cholla Power Plant in St. Joseph, Ariz. “They deliver projects that meet the need, and they are cost conscious. And, in at least a few cases, they are the ones that are making sure we are staying on schedule.”
“Our secret sauce is to provide extreme value for our clients,” says Pat Edwards, vice president and general manager of the Phoenix office.
Revenue in 2018 was $49 million from Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, up nearly 25% since 2016. “Success” has come thanks to engaged, talented employee-owners,” he says.
“We’ve built this office on going after clients, not projects,” Edwards says, adding, “over time, we are going to be just as successful as our clients.”
Success in Phoenix has not gone unnoticed in the firm’s Kansas City headquarters. “Pat [Edwards] and Matt Brinkman [regional practice manager, energy] and the whole team have built a great office down there,” says Paul Fischer, president and general manager of the regional office group at Burns & McDonnell.
Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the Phoenix solar team was serving as owner representative on the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power facility in California, just across the border from Nevada in the Mojave Desert.
The largest solar thermal power tower facility in the world at 377 MW, Ivanpah covers 3,500 acres of public desert. Burns & McDonnell served as the owner’s engineer, providing services that included a due diligence review, design reviews, submittal reviews, construction administration, resident engineering and quality assurance auditing, along with the installation of three solar thermal power blocks.
The firm takes pride in engaging as an engineering service provider by replacing formerly utility engineer staff and assuming roles formerly held by owner-employed staff and consulting on large scale initiatives and programs.
Burns and McDonnell also serves as onsite engineers for coal and petroleum power plants and plays a substantial role in Arizona Public Service’s solar approach. The Phoenix office has also assisted the utility with major strategic plans such as its Grid Modernization Ops Vision 2025 strategic plan and the 2019 commitment to build an additional 500 MW of solar generation capacity as well as committing to battery storage wherever feasible.
Job Investments, Power
Edwards says the phrase “good people make good companies” can be considered trite, but when done right, it’s sincere and undeniable. “I characterize this industry as a service industry,” Edwards says. “Our secret sauce is to provide extreme value for our clients. It comes in cost competitiveness but more importantly, we want to provide the best we can.” He adds that it’s more of an adaptive approach based on needs and not just providing a solution that worked in the past.
Nearly every solar project or consultation done by the firm throughout the world is driven by the Phoenix office. The Denver office fills the same role for water projects.
“We rely on our people in the regional offices to have relationships with the utilities. I get leads on a daily and weekly basis from regional offices across the country,” Brinkman says, adding, “Once we get to bidding, typically my team would lead that effort and we would involve the local office in the effort.”
The office plans to expand its services and add specialities over the next few years. Edwards says he expects the office to double staffing levels over the next decade.
“Construction is what on Pat’s and my mind,” Brinkman says. “Mining in Arizona is also a new market for us. There are parallels in capabilities in expertise in the heavy industrial or mining market. We are developing the expertise in that area.”