Robert B. Somerville Co. has connected communities for more than 50 years. Robert B. Somerville Co. Ltd. (Somerville) is a service provider with a wide experience of working in pipeline, utilities, communication and renewable energy-generation markets.
The Ontario-based company started in 1954 as a pipeline contractor. Somerville’s oil and gas pipeline construction experience includes projects across Canada as well as the United States, United Kingdom and the Caribbean Islands.
In the 1990s, the company explored expansion into services outside of pipeline construction. The installation of underground electrical and telecommunication infrastructure was a natural fit. The promise of the “Information Highway” required the installation of many kilometers of fiber cable along railway lines, highways and city streets. In the 2000s, new home development expanded the need for utility infrastructure including hydroelectric, distributed natural gas and telecommunications.
Somerville began providing building developers a service whereby they coordinated the installation of the various utilities to be done at the same time in one trench. This joint trench approach drove out efficiencies and today is considered the default process for installing utilities in new subdivision developments.
Somerville also was in the forefront of advocating the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technology. “At one point, we had the largest fleet of directional drills in Ontario,” explains Abe Dyck manager, contracts and business development. While that is not the case today, Somerville continues to utilize HDD as competitive advantage in its bidding process. Somerville’s HDD fleet today tackles projects that have larger diameters and longer drill lengths.
“We are always looking to expand the services we offer,” Dyck explains. “We do this with a measured approach and in keeping with our core competencies.”
The Feed In Tariff (FIT) program introduced by the Ontario Power Authority has provided one such opportunity to expand the services offering. “We identified the renewable energy market as a key part of our future portfolio,” says Dyck. “Wind and solar farms require underground collection systems to connect the turbines and arrays to the transmission grid – that’s where we come in.
“To install the underground cable system and to build the access roads requires the same personnel and equipment that we use when building a transmission pipeline,” he continues. “We also bring with us the experience in building concrete vaults, chambers and substations for customers such as Hydro One and Toronto Hydro.”
The Canadian District Energy Association (CDEA) and the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) are both lobbying government to implement mandates for renewable distributed energy generation. CanGEA is seeking to have 5,000 megawatts built in Canada by 2015. Somerville has been building district energy projects in Ontario for the past 10 years. District energy utilizes a central energy plant and a network of hot and chilled water pipelines to heat and cool a community of buildings.
“Our most recent district energy projects were completed for Toronto Community Housing for the Regent Park Redevelopment Project,” Dyck says. This is a growth area for Somerville. There are DE projects planned in the cities of Windsor and Guelph, Ontario, Saint John, New Brunswick, Calgary, Alberta and for WaterfrontToronto. Somerville is actively working with developers to bring Geothermal projects to the market.
Partnerships are a key to Somerville’s success. The company enters into joint venture agreements with other contractors when entering a new market or when taking on an especially large project. Techint Somerville JV is a joint venture created to build three segments of Enbridges Clipper Pipeline Project. Somerville Aecon JV is a joint venture created to build various pump and meters stations on the Clipper Pipeline Project. Entera Utility Contractors began as a joint venture between Somerville and Black & McDonald Ltd. and was spun out as jointly owned subsidiary in 2008.
Collaboration with trade unions and associations on developing a skilled human resource is viewed as a high priority. “A skilled trade is a job that cannot be exported to another country,” Dyck says. “You actually need to be right here to do it. There is job security in that. We need to get youth interested in skilled trades. In the last couple of years, various federal and provincial government programs have had some success in attracting people to skilled trade. At a time when media headlines talk about the high unemployment rate, it is easy to forget that in 2007 and early 2008 those headlines were discussing the shortage of skilled trades and the various temporary foreign worker programs required to meet the labor demand.”
Dyck sees a couple of contributors that point toward a shortage of skilled trades. Many of the skilled people are close to retirement age and likely will be leaving the market. The demand to upgrade, replace or simply expand infrastructure due to population growth has placed a huge demand on the resources to build them. In addition, there are stimulus programs designed to return people back to work by providing the capital to move projects forward quickly. These all contribute to demand for skilled resources.
Somerville’s head office is located in King City, Ontario. It has regional offices across the country. The company employs roughly 150 full-time employees, and it employs a unionized staff drawings skilled resources from four main trade unions. They include the Laborers International Union, United Association of Fitters and Welders, International Union of Operating Engineers and Teamsters Canada.
The Hamilton Jet Fuel Storage Facility involved the construction of two 1.8-million-liter epoxy coated vertical above grade storage tanks. The project included civil earth work, a control building, loading and storage mechanical systems, electrical programmable logic controller requirements, as well as site lighting and security. The project had a tight schedule and required the close collaboration between the developer FSM Management, the engineer Hatch Mott McDonald and Somerville.
The $6 million project was completed on time and within the client’s budget. The first load of fuel was delivered just six months after the start of the project. The Alberta Clipper project is a 1,607-kilometer, 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline built between Hardisty, Alberta and Superior Wisconsin. Somerville entered into a joint venture agreement with Techint E&C (Techint Somerville JV). Techint Somerville was awarded Spreads 3, 4 and 5 totaling 337 kilometers. The projects involved summer and winter construction. Spread 3 started in June 2008 and Spread 5 was completed in December 2009.
Techint Somervillle worked closely with Enbridge to ensure the project met all landowner interests, mitigated environmental impacts and fostered positive relationships with affected Aboriginal organizations. The projects were blessed with minimal disruptions and were completed to the satisfaction of all involved.
The Talbot Wind Farm is a 99-megawatt project jointly owned by RES Canada LLP and Enbridge. Once completed the farm will generate enough energy to power 25,000 typical Canadian homes. Robert B. Somerville has been contracted to construct approximately 30 kilometers of access roads and 70 kilometers of underground collection cable. The underground cable joins 43 Siemens SWT-2.3-93 Turbines to the provincial electrical grid.
Somerville began the civil works on the project in April 2010 and expects the project to be completed by summer 2011. Regent Park Energy is a joint venture partnership created by Toronto Community Housing and Corix Utilities to design, build and operate a district energy system in Regent Park. The system will produce high-efficiency heating and cooling for all the residential and commercial buildings in Regent Park and will have the potential to generate electricity from green sources like cogeneration, solar and geothermal in the future.
Somerville is building the underground distribution piping the connects each of the newly constructed buildings as they come on stream. Somerville is able to draw in its experience of installing natural gas pipeline for Enbridge, electrical ductbanks, manholes and chambers for Toronto Hydro, telecommunication ductbanks for Bell Canada and Rogers and the sewer and water pipelines for the city of Toronto.
The motto at Robert B. Somerville is “we build pipelines that connect our community.” These pipelines not only transport oil and natural gas, but also the vital life line of communities like water, communication and renewable energy.