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Cyntech and Keller contribute to the Western Alberta Transmission Line 

By Jon Waldman

The Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL) was one of the highest impact projects in the Canadian market in the last number of years, and Cyntech Canada was among the companies proud to be part of this monumental effort. 

As outlined by the Alberta Electric System Operator, there was a stark need for increased electrical supply in the province. As stated by the Operator in a project overview, “Increased demand for electricity in southern and central Alberta is stressing the existing 240 kV system and transmission reinforcement between the Edmonton and Calgary area is required,” and that a pair of high voltage direct current lines were going to be required to maximize efficiency and accommodate long-term growth.

Though the planning and approval process began in 2010, it took until the winter of 2013 for the project to commence. On board for the project were AltaLink and SNC-Lavalin. SNC then brought Cyntech on board for the project’s south and central portions’ foundation work. As Brandon Hindbo, operations manager at Cyntech Canada, says, the two companies had worked together previously on global oil and gas projects, but this would be the first time the two sides collaborated through the former’s Transmission and Distribution division.

 

Changing scope
Cyntech’s work on the WATL began on Sept.1, 2013. Originally, as Hindbo says, the company was to design, manufacture and install helical pile foundations for the project’s South Lot; however, even before the project started, the involvement on Cyntech’s end grew to the point where they added a company to their work.

“Before site work commenced, the scope was increased to include the supply and installation of driven piles where appropriate. To execute the driven pile work, Cyntech teamed up with Keller Foundations,” said Hindbo. “Later, we added a third option – a composite, cast-in-place pipe pile design; for these, Cyntech fabricated the central shafts – large-diameter steel pipe sections – and Keller completed the field installations, including the drilling, the placement of concrete and the setting of the prefabricated central shaft. The pile cut-off and capping works for all piling types were completed by Cyntech.”

In the end, Cyntech and Keller had clearly put in a massive effort.

“The final count of completed structures in our scope was 115, founded on 1,209 helical, 272 driven steel pipe and 84 cast-in-place pipe piles,” said Hindbo.

Challenges
Once the project got moving, Cyntech encountered some difficulties. According to Hindbo, soil conditions had a high degree of variability. This included highly weathered bedrock showing up at different depths, and even the occasional “bottomless” swamp.

“Also, due to the late route realignment, the geotechnical information on which we initially designed piles and planned our work was based on boreholes discovered to be kilometers away from the actual structure locations,” said Hindbo. “This meant a subcontract with Golder to perform geotechnical investigations, and because of the tight schedule, we were often installing foundations at structures only days after the boreholes were drilled. We had a handful of different pre-engineered piling solutions to work with the various sub- surface conditions – this was the only way we could keep the crews moving so closely on the heels of Golder.”

Further issues arose surrounding climate, as can be expected while working through a Canadian winter.

“Although difficult to measure the exact impact, delays were caused by the snowy winter,” said Hindbo. “For the Red Deer area, December 2013 and January 2014 hold the records for having the most snow on the ground since they started keeping records in 1939. Removing new and drifted snow tied up significant resources, which impacted the productivity of all crews in the field.”

The challenges pressed Cyntech and its partners, as there was a time constraint on the project.

“Running late with the construction schedule was not an option as, due to environmental concerns, most locations were only accessible with frozen-ground conditions,” said Hindbo.

Despite these obstacles and plan alterations, Cyntech and Keller were able to progress on schedule. In total, Cyntech had five helical pile crews, each with an excavator-mounted hydraulic drive unit and ancillary equipment. The output torque capabilities ranged from 150,000 to 300,000 ft-lbs. Keller, meanwhile, contributed two crews using Liebherr LRH 100 pile driving rigs ( for the driven pipe piles) and two more with Watson 3100 drill rigs for the cast-in- place pipe piles.

Room to plan
Being left to their own planning meant that Cyntech and Keller were able to produce the best piling plan for the WATL project.

“The major benefit to the client was the fact that, because we have the capability to install virtually any deep foundation type, the Cyntech-Keller team could select the best technique for the soil conditions encountered,” said Hindbo. “The decision on which type of foundation to be used on any specific structure was left up to us – and if the conditions turned out differently than expected, we could simply shift on-the-fly and hand that structure over to a different Cyntech or Keller crew with a different piling technique.”

Cyntech and Keller wrapped their piling work on March 31, 2014, and as AltaLink reports, the WATL was in full operation by December 2015. The results, early on, are already positive. As AltaLink president Scott Thon told the Edmonton Journal in December 2015, the WATL’s versatility is already reaping benefits; during testing they even demonstrated the line’s ability to actually reverse the direction of the flow of electricity when wind power is being generated.

“When the wind was blowing in southern Alberta, we were flowing large quantities on the new HVDC line up into the Edmonton region from southern Alberta, and that’s just really unique,” Thon said in the interview. “That just speaks to the flexibility of the new technology.”

And, in part, the province of Alberta has Cyntech and Keller to thank for this new capability.

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.