A Powerful Connection

February 14, 2015 North America , Canada , Manitoba

Interview with Robert Cuthbertson-Black
Vice-President, Operations, Manitoba, Transmission & distribution, Power

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SNC-Lavalin’s relationship with Manitoba Hydro dates back to the early 1970s when it provided the design for a high-voltage DC transmission line. From the Nelson River to Winnipeg, the transmission line was the largest of its kind in the world at the time. Forty years and over 525 projects later, the partnership continues to prosper. This past July, Manitoba Hydro awarded SNC-Lavalin a contract to design and build the Keewatinoow 230-kV AC switchyard located 775 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Keewatinoow will transfer power from the Nelson River’s northern generating stations to Manitoba Hydro’s customers in the south via the future 1,400-kilometre Bipole III HDVC transmission line. It is the largest fixed-price EPC contract ever issued by Manitoba Hydro. 

Spectrum sat down with Robert Cuthbertson-Black, Vice-President, Operations, Manitoba, Transmission & Distribution, Power, to discuss the contract, his role and how it will impact the community.

“The communities will benefit from Manitoba Hydro projects through direct employment and other secondary benefits.”

Spectrum (S): This edition of Spectrum is about client relationships. Can you talk a bit about our relationship with Manitoba Hydro?  

Robert Cuthbertson-Black (RCB): There is a long history between Manitoba Hydro and SNC-Lavalin. The first project, the first high-voltage DC transmission line, dates back to the early 1970s. There has been a number of projects that SNC-Lavalin has worked on with Manitoba Hydro over the years, but the relationship has really developed over the last 10 years. Manitoba Hydro has always put an emphasis on a local presence, and since we opened our office here in Manitoba, approximately 12 years ago, the work with Manitoba Hydro has been steadily increasing. On record, we have about 525 projects that we’ve done for Manitoba Hydro at various scales. Various SNC-Lavalin offices have led the work with the bulk of small projects being undertaken by our Winnipeg office. This recent award is our greatest accomplishment.

S: Why do you think SNC-Lavalin was awarded the contract?

RCB: We put a lot of effort into explaining how the work would be performed, ensuring that we understood the complexities and the issues of working in a remote location with certain labour constraints. We presented our plans clearly, everything from our labour strategy to our work schedule and execution plans. That aspect of our proposal was extremely well done and they were very happy with it. 

Another key element was that we involved our project team in the process at an early stage. Our project team was involved in the proposal development and in the pre-award interviews and that was an important part of the evaluation for Manitoba Hydro. They could see that there was participation from the project team in the proposal and that they understood what the project was about at a pre-award stage. 

Our reputation for quality work and accountability was also an important underlying element. Manitoba Hydro was familiar with many of the project team members, engineering staff and our skill sets.

S: What was your role in the current contract win?

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RCB: I acted as a client liaison and participated in the meetings and interviews. I provided the Toronto-based proposal team, led by Craig Prewett, Regional Manager, Ontario, with feedback and input on our relationship with Manitoba Hydro and the information that SNC-Lavalin should be focusing on its proposal.

S: How will the project benefit the local community?

RCB: In the 1960s, Manitoba Hydro, their contractors and trade unions established a project labour agreement called the Burntwood-Nelson Agreement. It sets forth an understanding that the communities will benefit from Manitoba Hydro projects through direct employment and other secondary benefits, and provides a structure for hiring and training First Nations and northern residents. The local communities are very familiar with it, and it provides a complete framework that contractors need to work within when they work for Manitoba Hydro projects in the north. It’s important for contractors to understand the mechanisms and processes that are built into the agreement, so we made a solid effort to understand the agreement and work with it on our proposal. 

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