Alasdair Cathcart is a Scotsman who grew up near Glasgow. He received his engineering education at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, graduating with honors and a B Sc degree in Civil Engineering. He has worked at Bechtel for 22 years in such places as the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom. He was recently named president of Bechtel’s Power Global Business Unit, assuming his responsibilities January 1. As president of the Power GBU, Cathcart oversees its four business lines: Fossil, Nuclear, Renewables, and Communications & Transmission. He has full responsibility for the GBU’s operations, including business development, project execution, customer satisfaction, and unit profitability.

Previously, Cathcart was the president of Bechtel’s Fossil Power division, preceded by working as the project director of Bechtel’s massive Elm Road Generating Station project on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. This was a 1,230 MW coal-fired supercritical power station built by Bechtel for Wisconsin Energy. Cathcart also held the position of president of Bechtel construction Operations Incorporated, where he managed Bechtel’s direct-hire, equipment operation, and construction management processes around the world.

Alasdair Cathcart
is President of Bechtel Power Global
Business Unit

Cathcart was the project director for the Croatian Motorway and project manager for the UK Channel Tunnel High Speed Rail Link project. In all, he has experience in four major Bechtel business lines: Civil; Power; Oil, Gas & Chemicals; and Mining & Metals. World Generation recently sat down with Alasdair Cathcart in his Frederick, Md., offices and learned about his views on Bechtel’s projects and strategies.

A Communications & Transmissions business line was established in the Power GBU over a year ago. “We did this for a reason,” Cathcart says. “We could see from the projections of the power industry that almost as much investment was necessary on transmission and distribution as on generation. We determined that we could add value to our customers by offering a dedicated project management focus on the transmission and distribution of power as separate standalone projects.”

Cathcart points out that Bechtel had performed transmission work in its past but not worked on large projects of this sort recently. To quickly revitalize the talent and skill set for this new business line, Bechtel turned to its experience in the communications business. A long time standalone business, Communications has had the processes for working with complex logistics, mobile work crews, rights-of-way, and erecting towers. In its years of providing services to the communications industry, Bechtel has refined its engineering, procurement, and construction skills by building a vast infrastructure. “When we looked at Communications and the tools, processes, and procedures developed to be successful in that business, those capabilities were the most like what we would need for building transmission towers and routing wire,” Cathcart says. “What we decided to do was bring the communications business and transmission business together with the Power GBU, which of course would also put them in closer contact with people working on the generation projects. The president of the former Communications business line now heads up Communications & Transmissions. This is a bit of a new focus for us, a new market, but we are very keen about it and look to be a bigger player here going forward.”

Cathcart says he is hoping to sign up at least one large transmission project in North America this year.

The Fossil Fuel division comprises five market segments: Solid Fuel; Natural Gas; IGCC; Emissions Retrofit; and Operating Plant Services. Cathcart pointed out that Bechtel’s large solid-fuel projects that spanned the last five years are coming to an end. Bechtel turned over Unit #1 of the Elm Road project a year ago and Unit #2 very recently. Elm Road is a 1230 MW supercritical pulverized coal plant. Cathcart says Bechtel is very proud of its performance there, having constructed what he called one of the most efficient coal plants in the nation.

But he acknowledges that domestically the development of coal plants faces difficulties and that in the United States natural gas is the more likely choice for the foreseeable future. “The switch from coal to natural gas is the dominant driver in our Fossil business,” Cathcart says, “and maybe in the whole power industry. Even though new supercritical technology is 30% more efficient and produces far less CO2 than older coal generating facilities, the uncertainty of carbon tax and regulation, I think gives utilities pause. They will weigh investments in emissions retrofit, waiting to see how regulation is going to fall, against building with natural gas given the prices we have now.”

Also worthy of note are the Sammis emissions retrofit project in Ohio, which removes 95% of SO2 from pre-retrofit levels, and the Prairie State campus southeast of St. Louis. Prairie State is about 65% complete. Cathcart’s group will turn over the first unit at the end of this year and the second and final unit in the summer of next year; when complete, the plant will be one of the cleanest solid fuel plants in the nation. Under the natural gas market segment, Bechtel is building the Russell City combined cycle project for Calpine southeast of San Francisco. Cathcart’s group has just begun the foundation work.

Internationally, Cathcart sees many opportunities for Power. This applies not only to the Fossil division but to other divisions as well. “This is something I am going to be focusing on,” he says. “Bechtel works in many places around the world, while we have been active in several international locations, Power has concentrated in North America because of the large and complex projects it has been doing here.” He sees the shift away from coal to natural gas in North America echoed in other parts of the world, and he makes a special point of noting the UK – “There is a big gas market in the UK that we are entering,” he says. “We completed four gas projects in the UK in the early part of the decade. We are leveraging our long term presence in London and we are increasing our Power offices there to help support our power projects in the UK and Europe.”

Elsewhere, Bechtel is exploring other opportunities to put to use its experience in solid fuel plant construction. A particular country of interest is India, which will be commissioning plants both inland – near mine mouths where the coal is – and along the coast, where the plants are likely to be importing Australian and Indonesian coal. But Cathcart is quick to point out that just as Bechtel wants to be diverse in North America, so does it want to be flexible abroad. And he sees trying to establish a better presence in South America. He points out that Bechtel has a strong presence there with its Mining & Metals GBU. “We are already working with M&M, to see if there are ways Power can get back into South America in a significant way,” he says.

Cathcart’s nuclear group has three primary market segments: New Generation; Major Modifications; and Operating Plant Services.

Under New Generation, Cathcart’s workload includes planning and engineering for new nuclear power plants and a significant amount of work restoring and completing previously idled units including the Watts Bar Unit 2 work in Tennessee, where the reactor was begun but then put on hold for 20 years. Cathcart’s group is doing the engineering, procurement, and construction at Watts Bar, working to bring the unit online next year.

Work has started on the engineering for the proposed third reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland. Cathcart admits that this project has been “challenged” – Constellation Energy withdrew from UniStar Nuclear Energy – and Francebased global energy company EDF remains the sole sponsor of the project. It would be the first EPR reactor in the United States. Says Cathcart: “EDF has continued with their application for a combined operating and construction license for the project. Given the need for DOE loan guarantees, NRC approval of the project and technology, and over 70% engineering before noticeto- proceed, this development is going to take some time; the pace is going to be slow.” New Generation also includes licensing support for seven new nuclear projects in the U.S.

Cathcart’s group is also working in the small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) field. Here Bechtel entered into a relationship last July with Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) as the principal partner and developer of mPower, B&W’s 125 MW small modular nuclear power reactor technology. “There is a lot of development work to go,” admits Cathcart, “but we are looking to it as a long-term solution. We think SMRs may be a solution for our clients to bring nuclear into their fuel mix without having to wrestle with the significant front end investment associated with large plants. We feel very positive about mPower, albeit as a medium to longer-term play. We are working with B&W to secure the design certification and develop projects.”

Major Modifications and Operating Plant Services jobs are key for continuing to sustain Bechtel’s nuclear talent. Owing to the lack of new nuclear construction in the United States over recent decades, holding onto nuclear talent and skill sets is difficult. But it can be done with the Major Modifications and Operating Plants work. Cathcart says Bechtel has done well in this regard: “Obviously nuclear projects take a long time designing and permitting, but you have to have good people and skills ready to go. When these major projects are suddenly ready, we just can’t snap our fingers and hope to have the right people, skills and supply chains. We are actively looking to attract, recruit, and retain nuclear talent. We’ve been doing this well for over 25 years with our Major Mods and Operating Plants work. We’ve completed over 30 steam generator replacement projects, are currently supporting over half a dozen extended power uprate projects and continue to provide operating plant services to plants in the U.S. and abroad. You have to have a business strategy that includes developing this talent, and that is exactly what we’ve been able to do.”

Bechtel worked on some early solar and wind projects in the 1980s and ‘90s but has not been as active in the Renewables market for the last several years. That ended in a big way with the award of the BrightSource Ivanpah project in southeast California. The 370MW, three unit solarthermal project uses thousands of heliostats focusing light on three boilers atop central towers that produce steam for driving electric generators. When completed it will be the world’s largest solar thermal project and effectively double the U.S. solar thermal capacity. Cathcart’s group has already fenced much of the site, is doing foundation work for the towers and is building the temporary facilities that will assemble the heliostats. “We are very excited about this project for BrightSource,” says Cathcart. He adds that Bechtel’s skill sets here have drawn from expertise learned on Bechtel solar projects in the past and will help propel the company to new Renewable projects in the future. “We are completing a small photovoltaic project now and are working to win a few larger ones as well as a couple of wind projects early this year,” he adds. He says that this division’s focus will likely be on solar and wind in North America for the immediate future but that the division is also looking at bio-mass projects and will selectively pursue renewables projects overseas.

Asked about his management style, Cathcart says he is especially focused on people. “Bechtel is rightly known for project focus, effective procedures and processes, and the ability to manage complexity,” he says. “Now we’re extending our culture to broader levels of collaboration and accountability. By this I mean both inward-focused and outwardfocused. I believe we can do better at collaborating with customers, partners, and suppliers to deliver the quality products and services for which Bechtel is well known. I am a firm believer that if we can focus on driving a culture that will motivate discretionary performance within the Power business it will benefit our customers, the industry, and ourselves. I want to instill a culture where people want to exceed expectations with the quality of our work, to where everyone is standing tall and wants to be accountable for their part of what we offer to clients. I don’t believe in pointing fingers. I think that if there are challenges, people will stand up and be more accountable for solving them.”

Cathcart is convinced that the energy appetite of the United States in the foreseeable future will best be satisfied with a mix of fuels: solid fossil fuel, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables. The same goes for markets overseas, where he hopes to spread and diversify the Bechtel brand. And he is determined Bechtel will be ready for any power skill set required. “We won’t let our resources in any one field atrophy,” he says. “We are ready and we will be ready for any opportunity.”