The US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) is the second largest hydro power generator and the tenth largest electric utility (by installed capacity) in the US. Committed to the continued safe, efficient, and effective operation and maintenance of power facilities in protection of the Federal investment, USBR recently ‘reinvented’ its operation and maintenance programme (O&M) in order to improve practices at its many power facilities.

Setting the scene

USBR owns and operates 58 hydroelectric power plants located in 11 states in the Western US. Plant size ranges from 1.3MW to 6809MW. There are 194 generating units at these plants, the average age of which is 44 years. Reclamation annually generates over 42B kWh of hydroelectric energy, which is marketed primarily to public utilities via two federal Power Marketing Administrations. USBR’s forced outage rate is one-third of the industry outage rate, while the scheduled outage factor is higher than the industry. In 2000, USBR units were available an average of 88.5% of the time, slightly less than the NERC (National Energy Reliability Council) average of 90.83%. Its operation and maintenance costs are US$1.80 per MWh, which is roughly one-half of the industry average cost of US$3.60 per MWh.

USBR has had several major power plant incidents over the past decade, which have caused disruption of power delivery and damaged equipment and systems in the plants. In several cases, the root causes of these incidents related to plant personnel misunderstanding corporate expectations regarding power operation and maintenance practices. In response to these incidents, USBR has reformulated its power review of its O&M programme to articulate a corporate-wide standard for power related O&M practices, and to validate that the standards are being followed

Reinventing the process

USBR is a decentralised organisation. In order to obtain broad representation from a variety of facilities, as well as management commitment, it organised a cross-cutting team. These eight employees represented various sizes and types of power facilities, the power policy office, and corporate O&M technical services. These representatives were the lead hydro power technical people at their sites and the disciplines of electrical and mechanical maintenance, power operations, and management were also represented. This team evaluated a number of optional structures for the review programme.

  After reviewing USBR’s dam safety programme, the team chose to use this model as the foundation of the new O&M programme. The organisation had a prior power review programme, which become ineffective by the late 1990s due to the perceived lack of value added by the review activity. The new team members decided to commit to establishing a new review programme which would be based on sound engineering and management principles.

The team’s goals for the new programme were threefold:

• Use a collaborative process for the review.

• Make the reviews useful and of value to the power plant staff and managers.

• Result in better long-term power operations and maintenance by setting expectations.

The team felt that it was critical to get involvement at the various power plant sites. It believed there was value in having someone new look at a plant, and also considered the reviews as a learning opportunity for the plant personnel and the review team. A secondary benefit to the plant managers is that the reviews provide the data to justify budget requests for operation, maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrades. Once the review programme was reformulated it was approved by management.

The new programme incorporates three levels of review:

• An annual review conducted locally at the power plant by area office staff and managers.

• A periodic review conducted jointly by the regional office and the local staff.

• A comprehensive review conducted by corporate representatives in conjunction with regional and local staff.

The annual review is intended to be a self-assessment with opportunity for correcting deficiencies at the local level. The periodic review brings in a region-wide management perspective and sharing of expertise. Employees who are experts in their field from outside the region where the plant is located conduct the comprehensive review, which permits a corporate assessment of the overall health of the power programme and facilitates budget and programme justification. It also provides a venue for technology exchange and technical assistance.

All review levels refer to written standards as summarised in the review checksheets. The team developed a standard process and checklists which are used for all of the reviews. Once the draft process and checklists were reviewed by field personnel, two pilots of the programme were accomplished.

Two plants of different sizes were selected for the pilots. The new process and checklists were used in early 2000 at the Black Canyon power plant in Idaho. A second test was conducted in mid 2000 at the Yellowtail power plant in Montana.

After each pilot, results were evaluated and revisions made to the procedures and checklists. The final Directive and Standard (Policy), guidebook and checksheets were issued in July 2001, and to date, five comprehensive reviews have been conducted or were scheduled for 2001. USBR expects to conduct comprehensive facility reviews of about ten plants per year.

Team composition and training

Since each site bears the costs of the review, it is important to keep the size of the review team to that needed to adequately conduct the review. Typically, USBR review teams are comprised of four people representing the core disciplines of electrical and mechanical maintenance, power operations and power programme management. One member serves as group leader and is responsible for co-ordinating the review report which is jointly written by the team. Prior to conducting a review, new reviewers attend a comprehensive review of a plant as an observer. This allows each reviewer to learn how the review process works and to observe a review team in action prior to performing a review on their own. When USBR sought volunteers for the programme, nearly 60 employees responded.

It is important that reviewers for major facilities be seasoned, experienced, and well-regarded as experts in their field. It is also important to approach the review, as an opportunity to learn and benefit from the synergy occurring between the reviewers and the plant personnel.

Checksheets and review

A set of checksheets was developed for each topic area of the review. The checksheets include items which USBR views as important to the proper operation and maintenance of a power facility. The checksheets reference applicable standards such as Facilities Instructions, Standards, and Techniques (FIST) Volumes and other documents. The checksheets identify the O&M requirement, the recommended frequency, and the referenced standard. They also provide space for documenting the local accomplishment of that requirement.

Local O&M staff and managers at the power plant complete the checksheets in advance of any level of review. The checksheets are very specific in identifying and documenting the requirements. For example, the electrical maintenance checksheets identify the need for transformer dissolved gas analysis (DGA) to be conducted annually with references to USBR’s Transformer Maintenance FIST Volume; operations checksheets identify the need for using adequate Hazardous Energy Control procedures; and management checksheets identify the need for developing career and training plans.

Many dozens of requirements are covered by these checksheets, giving a thorough summary of the expectations and concise documentation of the accomplishments. An electronic copy of the checksheets is available upon request to the author. Once a review team is formed, completed checksheets and other site-specific documentation are reviewed by the team members and a site visit is scheduled.

  At the site, subject matter experts team up with local staff to discuss the information contained in the checksheets. Special problems and needs are identified; local success stories are documented; ideas from other reviews are shared; and plans for improving the program are formulated including specific recommendations. At completion of the site visit, the local staff and managers are briefed on the preliminary findings of the review. Later, a formal review report is written and published. Recommendations from the review are entered into the CMMS system for action.

Annually, power plant managers report and discuss with regional executive managers the accomplishments and challenges of the O&M programme.

Review Frequency

Each USBR power plant is reviewed yearly by the operating office under the annual review. Every six years, a periodic review is conducted by the regional office. This alternates with the comprehensive review, which is also conducted on a six-year interval, so that an outside review is conducted once every three years at each USBR power plant. This review schedule is considered to be sufficient to ensure the success of the power programme without being too intrusive into power plant operation.

Recommendations resulting from each review are categorised in two ways. The first is by the subject matter areas of electrical or mechanical maintenance, power operations, and management. The second is via the importance of the recommendation. Category 1 recommendations are those needing immediate action to correct severe deficiencies to ensure structural safety or operational integrity of the facility. Category 2 recommendations are those covering a wide range of important matters where action is needed to prevent or reduce damage or preclude operational failure of the facility. Category 3 recommendations are those covering less important matters, but would improve or enhance the O&M program.

All periodic and comprehensive review recommendations are entered into the Power Review Information System (PRIS) database and tracked. The predicted completion date is also entered. It is expected that Category 1 recommendations will be acted upon immediately. Category 2 recommendations are to be acted upon as soon as practical when conditions (water, power and weather) allow. Category 3 recommendations are implemented at the discretion of the local office. The status of previous recommendations is reviewed during subsequent reviews.

Lessons learned

Although the program is still in its early stages, USBR has already learned some valuable lessons. Firstly, the power of involvement at the sites is very beneficial. Preparing for the reviews builds an understanding of the plant operations and maintenance among plant personnel. The participation of many of the employees of the plant raises the understanding of the importance of the items under reviews and allows for a dialogue among the plant employees and the reviewers.

In addition to setting corporate expectations, the reviews allow the site manager to critically review their O&M programme and use the findings of the reviews to justify their budget requests for upcoming years. The value of USBR’s computerised maintenance management system is also becoming apparent. At plants which use the system, data is readily available to prepare for the reviews.

Finally, there is value in tracking the review recommendations and their completion. The recommendations are presented to the senior executive in the region annually in coordination with the dam safety review results.

More effective

The power review of operations and maintenance provides a standard, corporate-wide process to assist sites in assuring the adequacy of their power operations and maintenance. Improvements can be identified and remedies implemented to reinforce compliance with USBR standards and expectations.

  The organisation also believes that with the rapidly evolving regulatory climate, the new review process places the

programme in a solid technical management position. The collaborative process emphasises the involvement all of the facility staff in the preparation, site review and recommendation accomplishment. USBR believes it is an effective mix that will assure the long-term sustainability and reliability of it’s power facilities.
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