Nathan Carter – ATCO EnPower
Nathan Carter may not have ventured completely to the ends of the earth in his career with ATCO, but he’s been as far north as Tuktoyaktuk, Canada, and as far south as Santiago, Chile, and Perth, Australia.
Carter, currently the vice president of projects and construction for ATCO’s EnPower division, has been part of energy projects in North and South America and Australia for the nearly 23 years he’s been with the company.
He’s led the ATCO EnPower projects and construction team for two years as it guides ATCO’s transition to providing more renewable energy to customers in Alberta and beyond through several initiatives, such as building solar farms and developing salt caverns into energy storage facilities for hydrogen.
“I think about what we’re trying to build, and it gets me pretty excited,” Carter says. “Many companies are trying to be part of the energy transition, but I think we’re actually leading it as we build a transparent and collaborative team of industry experts and contractor partners.”
Humble start, global footprint
More than 75 years ago, ATCO was founded as Alberta Trailer Hire by R.D. Southern. Along with his father, S.D. Southern, he set out to serve the province’s oil industry infrastructure. Within 15 years, in 1960, ATCO had launched its first overseas operations as the company provided workforce housing for dam construction projects in Pakistan and Venezuela. A year later, ATCO began working in Australia, too.
In 1980, the company moved directly into the energy sector as it bought the controlling share of Canadian Utilities Ltd. In 2003, the company completed its first hydroelectric project on the Oldman River in southern Alberta.
ATCO is now a $22 billion business operating worldwide with services in structures and logistics, electricity, pipelines and liquids and retail energy.
In 2021, ATCO established its EnPower projects and construction team to lead capital projects and facilitate its shift to providing new and more renewable energy. ATCO EnPower’s plans are a significant financial commitment for EnPower—the company was spending about $20 million on capital projects in 2020. In 2021, the division increased capital spending to $250 million and has grown yearly since then.
To lead the team, Carter returned home from an assignment helping establish a new company to operate and rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid in a partnership with Houston-based Quanta Services Inc.
“Since our start in 2021, we’ve been building our group out to really support the breadth of energy transition projects we do,” he says.
A sunny future
For instance, Carter and his team have helped support the building of three utility-scale solar farms, two of them in Calgary. Carter says the farms all together contain over 300,000 solar panels, and the Calgary ones are built in urban environments over landfills and mounted on foundations so the landfill caps aren’t disturbed.
ATCO also acquired a portfolio of wind and solar assets and projects in Alberta and Ontario from Suncor Energy and will provide renewable energy to Microsoft Corp.
ATCO had already developed salt caverns in Alberta to store natural gas and natural gas liquids. ATCO EnPower is also building a pilot project to store hydrogen in the caverns and working on plans to build a hydrogen production facility near Fort Saskatchewan, just outside Edmonton. ATCO has also been working on a pilot to power locomotives for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. at production and refueling stations built in Edmonton and Calgary.
The projects and construction team also supports EnPowers’s traditional and legacy businesses with projects such as upgrades to their Carbon Facility, a natural gas storage facility in Alberta.
Carbon, combined with ATCO´s Alberta Hub facility, has the capacity to hold as much as 116PJ of natural gas. That’s enough gas to heat 1 million homes in Alberta for a year.
An experienced approach
Launching EnPower’s project and construction group required building a new team to manage and support projects, which attracted Carter to the role. While putting together teams to cover the four areas of Project Management, Construction Management, Project Services and Project Management Office, he says he wanted to ensure a diversity of thought from a group of experienced leaders. In fact, each of the four group leaders has at least 20 years of experience in Canadian and international projects.
“We needed to find people who fit into our culture and have some excitement,” Carter says. “Collaboration and transparency are crucial here, and we use everyone’s experience to discuss things as issues arise while our leadership supports our efforts.”
The company doesn’t use in-house construction teams to build its projects, so Carter says his team is also responsible for lining up the right contractors for the complex jobs. The team has spent considerable effort developing relationships across various service offerings, including facility and pipeline construction provided by firms such as RB Somerville, Tahk, Ceturion and Arnett & Burgess or with engineering companies such as WSP and suppliers like CR Wall.
“A large part of my job is interacting with vendor leadership,” Carter says. “Everything we build takes at least a year, so it’s important that vendors understand what we’re trying to do and share our values for safety.”
A ‘temporary’ career
Though Carter’s work with ATCO has taken him to Chile, Mexico, and Down Under, his life is deeply rooted in Alberta. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Alberta in 1999 and went to work for the city of Edmonton right after school.
He joined ATCO Gas as an engineer in February 2001 on a temporary contract to help the company as it sold one of its natural gas fields. In 2002, Carter was promoted to a construction supervisor role and led a team of about 30, including a couple of foremen who’d been with the company longer than he’d been alive.
In 2011, he was assigned to Australia to help with the due diligence work when ATCO acquired WA Gas Networks, which serves the western part of the nation. Carter’s roles have also included general construction supervisor, director of technical services and vice president of Edmonton operations. He was named to his current role in September 2021.
Married and the father of two daughters, one in university and the other in grade 11, Carter says he and his family enjoy the abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation in Alberta, everything from skiing to mountain biking. He also enjoys playing hockey.
Of the many roles Carter has taken on, he says being part of the team helping to set up the company response for the rebuild and modernization of the Puerto Rican power grid that Hurricane Maria had destroyed in September 2017 was among the most rewarding.
“I was embedded in the country, and I loved it because I saw we could bring value to the people of Puerto Rico,” Carter says.
Decades after he signed that temporary contract, Carter likes to joke he’s still a temporary worker because he’s had so many different roles within ATCO. But he’s also energized by the projects to come and the team that will execute them.
“Everyone came here because they believe in what we’re doing,” Carter says. “We all want to be a part of this.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.
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