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General Manager's Corner: Reminiscing

Tim HestleSpring 2018
By: Tim Hestle

As Constellation nears the end of its initial contract term as the operator of the Nashville District Energy System, I have been reminiscing about the past 15 years.

Constellation was awarded the contract to build the current energy generation facility in October 2001 to replace the failing Nashville Thermal Solid Waste plant . Design began in January 2002, and construction drawings were issued in September 2002. The plant was built in 16 months and was put into service in December 2003, seven months ahead of schedule. Those involved in fast-tracking the new state-of-the-art facility included Mayor Bill Purcell; Metro Finance; Gershman, Brickner & Bratten; Constellation Energy; Gresham, Smith & Partners; Smith, Seckman & Reed ; Nashville Machine; Travis Electric; and a host of other subcontractors and vendors.

The transition from the old thermal plant to the new EGF was seamless. Nineteen of the 25 employees chosen to run the new plant were former Nashville Thermal employees. Three were from the construction crew, and three were brought in from other Constellation facilities.

Constellation’s Nashville District Energy System employees have had a very low turnover rate. Only five employees have left in the past 15 years, and one of those passed away from heart disease.

From the beginning, the plant has won numerous awards. These include:

  • 2003 International District Energy Association (IDEA) Gold Award – highest number of buildings signed up for service
  • 2003 IDEA Silver Award – greatest total square footage brought into service
  • 2005 Public-Private Partnership Award – Infrastructure Category
  • 2005 Grand Award for Engineering Excellence – Engineering, design and commissioning of the MNDES facility
  • 2006 IDEA System of the Year Award
  • 2008 City of Nashville Excellent Service Award
  • 2010 Green Heroes Award – top 50 Most Eco-Friendly Companies in Middle Tennessee
  • 2013 City of Nashville Excellent Service Award
  • 2016 CNE’s Nashville-area employees won the Constellation Community Challenge and had the most volunteer hours per employee for the year

These are all accomplishments I am very proud of.

Plant reliability has been over 99 percent for the past 15 years, which is a vast improvement over the old thermal plant. Constellation has consistently met all of its contractual guarantees, and chiller efficiency has increased through operational modifications rather than decreasing, as would be expected when equipment

We are always happy to conduct tours of the facility. We have had a variety of groups from college students to international energy engineers. We always get the same comments: “This is one of the cleanest power plants we have ever toured” and “This doesn’t look like a power plant from the outside.” Constellation employees take pride and ownership in their work. Most of them have worked in this system for more than 20 years.

It has not been all smooth sailing. In 2007, a crane overturned in the EGF parking lot damaging the natural gas line. Constellation personnel isolated the gas line, the boilers shut down, and the plant had to be evacuated. When the crane was removed, employees were allowed to re-enter the building, and service was restored the same afternoon.

In May 2010, Nashville experienced a major flood. The plant general manager and operations manager came in before the river totally left its banks. The GM made the decision to shut the steam system down as a safety precaution. When the river crested, it flooded four blocks downtown and filled a good portion of the energy distribution system tunnels. When the river receded, Constellation employees pumped approximately 800,000 gallons of water out of the tunnels. Steam was restored slowly to dry out the wet pipe insulation. The steam was off for one week. Since this occurred in May, there was not a big demand for steam.

During the past 15 years, the system has added several new customers. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville Public Library, A.A. Birch

Courthouse, Viridian Condominium Tower, Hyatt Place Hotel and the Music City Center. The Music City Center is the largest customer on the system and consumed the majority of our excess capacity.

Metro has a consultant known as the contract administrator. His purpose is to ensure the contractual obligations between the contractor (Constellation NewEnergy, Inc.) and Metro are met. He also acts as a liaison between Metro and the DES customers.

The first contract administrator was Harvey Gershman, president of Gershman, Brickner & Bratten. He played an integral role in getting the new plant built and signing the initial system customers to new contracts.

The second contract administrator was Harry Ragsdale, president of Thermal Engineering Group, Inc. During Ragsdale’s tenure, he took over the sales and marketing duties for new DES customers. He also had his firm take over engineering for the distribution system projects. Ragsdale passed away in the spring of 2017. His business partner, Dan Coyle, became the third and current contract administrator.

Constellation has been very successful and received several accolades running the Nashville District Energy System during the past three mayoral administrations. As the current administration decides what to do with the system, I hope a contract extension is in Constellation’s future.