Case Studies

Blake Broadway – Elgin Power Solutions

‘Daddy’ knows best when it comes to substations

Being away from family for sometimes two weeks out of the month can be tough on Blake Broadway. There’s something magical, he says, about his 2- and 4-year-old sons at home in Midland, Texas. But at least the older boy seems to appreciate what his dad’s been doing.

“We’ll pass a substation, and the 4-year-old points and shouts, ‘That’s daddy’s work,’” Broadway says with a chuckle.

For nearly eight years, “daddy’s work” has been directing construction of a growing portfolio of traditional and mobile substations for Elgin Power Solutions. At any given time, he’s likely juggling a half-dozen far-flung projects, visiting each once a month and assessing progress and safety protocols with the construction team and onsite manager.

Blake Broadway | Director of Construction | Elgin Power Solutions

When Blueprint caught up with Broadway in March, his to-do list included two substations each for Texas and Michigan and one each in Maryland and West Virginia.

Each of those substations is wired with state-of-the-art equipment for adjusting the voltage levels of electricity produced at a partnering solar or wind farm. Large- and even medium-scale wind and solar energy production still being relatively nascent and not always reliable power sources, the importance of these substations can’t be overstressed, Broadway says.

“If there had been sufficient storage and distribution, that big freeze in West Texas could have minimized power outages,” he says about the February 2021 outages that caused more than 200 deaths and at various times left 11 million Lone Star Staters without electricity. “Our goal as a company is to provide our clients with turnkey solutions for utility-scale projects as we expand our footprint nationwide.”

Demand’s growing

Elgin’s getting more efficient and making a bigger name for itself with the national push for renewable energies vis-a-vis encouragement from the government and the declining cost of battery technology, Broadway says.

The Michigan substations connect to 50 megawatt solar farms, each encompassing around 750 acres. Though Elgin’s projects usually accommodate significantly smaller operations—some just for a corporate client such as Texas Instruments—Broadway says the company welcomes the chance to expand its capabilities.

Down in Ganado, Texas—a small city 90 miles southwest of Houston—Elgin is working on a new battery-energy storage system. It’s a $15 million project that’ll take around a year, and Broadway says its need should be obvious to anyone who endured the 2021 outages as well as the more sporadic issues of this past winter.

But there’s really no time when outages may not occur, Broadway reminding how even down south, the sun doesn’t always shine and much of the year the winds can’t be counted upon to keep the turbines spinning. Hence the need for enhanced energy storage and Broadway overseeing the fashioning of such a system with partner Consulting Engineers Group, a major designer and builder of utility-scale solar, wind and battery projects.

Blake Broadway | Director of Construction | Elgin Power Solutions

Not only will utility-scale battery energy storage integrate more renewable energy into the grid, Broadway explains how it assists grid operators with frequency regulation, load shifting and peak shaving. Additionally, it can improve grid resiliency by providing backup power during outages and reducing the need for expensive transmission upgrades. Last year Broadway oversaw completion of such a system in Rankin, Texas, and says the one in Ganado should take efficiency to a new level.

Wired for renewables

More efficiency comes from staff stability, Broadway saying how he’s worked with the same core of project managers and skilled laborers since joining Elgin as a construction projects manager in July 2015.

Born and raised in the Midland/Odessa oilfields, Broadway didn’t have much knowledge of renewable energies but had honed his construction and management skills at a young age with ModPower and Sting Services respectively. While at Sting, his curiosity was piqued when an Elgin crew worked on a project near one that he was directing. A casual conversation led to an interview and job offer and Broadway literally learning the new industry from the ground up.

Perhaps his bloodlines had something to do with his fast adjustment, Broadway explaining how his uncle from New Jersey was a lifelong lineman who introduced him to the trade shortly after high school. Broadway taking Elgin’s blueprints home and enhancing his high school diploma with project management credentials from Villanova University, he earned two promotions, most recently to director of construction in November 2021.

He’d advise other non-college bound young people to realize there’s much opportunity for lines workers and the ability to advance, and what a bargain a vocational education can be. Construction companies everywhere are clamoring for young trades talent.

Blake Broadway | Director of Construction | Elgin Power Solutions

“Half the project managers I know, like me, have just a high school diploma,” he says. “Industry know-how and experience are just as good, if not better, than a college degree.”

Demand for what Elgin does should only grow and keep Broadway on the move for years to come. Its manufacturing plant in Beaver, West Virginia, is at its busiest. While Elgin faces competition, Broadway says the company is scaling with prudency, more concerned with excelling at its six current projects than soliciting more.

Eventually Broadway hopes to be an executive on the construction side of the business and believes his boots-on-the-ground approach will get him there. And while all that traveling can get weary and take him away from outdoors fun and family time, it can provide much satisfaction.

“As we travel around, we’ll look at a substation we built eight years ago and how it’s still functioning and will last for 25 to 30 years,” Broadway says. “It makes me appreciate the impact we’re having on the renewables industry, the utility system and the economy at large. Like my son says, ‘It’s daddy’s work.’”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. V 2023 Edition here.

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