Rock Creek Hydro Power
Voith Hydro and Eaton partner to increase hydroplant efficiency
“Eaton did a very good job accommodating all our requirements; their engineers were very responsive, and worked hard to understand our needs.”
Glenn Kurowski, P.E.
Mechanical Engineer, Voith HydroProduction Engineering
In eastern California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) operates a plant known as the Rock Creek Powerhouse. Built across the North Fork of the Feather River, the plant generates electricity from water that flows down the Sierra Nevada range. The plant was originally commissioned in the 1940s, and received a new operating license from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2001.
More recently, PG&E identified equipment upgrades that would increase plant efficiency. The company proposed a major upgrade involving the improvement or replacement of several components and systems: turbines, wicket gates, generators, a governor system, a pressure relief valve, and a penstock flow control system that supplies and protects the turbines.
PG&E applied for water quality certification from the California State Water Resources Control Board, and searched for contractors who could take on the ambitious project. The utility selected Voith Hydro of York, Pennsylvania—a leading complete-system supplier for the hydro-electric power generation industry. The company has more than 12,000 hydro units commissioned, with 65,000+ MW of installed capacity.
Company representatives evaluated the project and began creating specifications for its successful completion. Voith Hydro engineers and managers identified areas where Eaton could provide valuable support in custom design and manufacturing. For example, new pressure regulating valves (PRV) would require hydraulically activated servomotor cylinders that would need to operate within certain pressure and force parameters. The project would also require servomotor cylinders for the wicket gates that would work with new high-pressure hydraulic power units being installed at the powerhouse.
Cylinders like these are an established area of expertise for Eaton engineers.
Voith Hydro and Eaton began working together in 2008, after Gary Stevens, sales manager for Eaton Mid-Atlantic Power & Controls, helped confirm Eaton as a responsive and reliable partner. Stevens met with Glenn Kurowski, P.E., a mechanical engineer with Voith Hydro Production Engineering, and Emmett Butler, a buyer for Voith, to discuss collaborating on the Rock Creek project.
Eaton business units have worked together successfully on power generation before—including solar and wind projects—so Eaton was well prepared to support Voith Hydro. By providing comprehensive capabilities for designing hydraulic cylinders, Eaton engineers allowed their counterparts at Voith Hydro to concentrate on other aspects of the project. This reduced design cycle time and increased overall efficiency.
Stevens formed a team that included Eric Lai, product manager, Eaton Custom XL Cylinders, and engineers Peter Claessens and Erwin de Bresser in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Kurowski was impressed with the dedicated project team. “Eaton did a very good job accommodating all our requirements; their engineers were very responsive, and worked hard to understand our needs.”
Upgrades at the Rock Creek Powerhouse began in the spring of 2012. With Eaton incorporating cylinder design expertise in the final product, plus greater efficiency in product execution, Voith Hydro has projected steady progress through completion in 2013.
Because most power utilities are subject to public ownership rules and regulatory oversight, hydropower projects generally involve competitive bidding among large contractors. As with any infrastructure improvements, power plants demand expert engineering and project management skills. In environmentally sensitive areas, construction details include strict requirements for natural preservation. And new plants are rare; most hydropower projects in North America are based on repairs or upgrades. Every project is a complex venture.
Together, Voith Hydro and Eaton meet all these requirements—with centuries of success, extensive experience in the hydropower industry, advanced design and manufacturing capabilities, global-scale distribution, and world-class project management skills.