In this episode, I talk with Alexandra Lee, P.E., staff civil engineer at Burns & McDonnell, about her unique approach to engineering design, particularly in balancing traditional methods with innovative solutions in transmission and utility projects.
***The video version of this episode can be viewed here.***
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Alexandra:
- When did your initial exposure to transmission engineering occur, and what specifically ignited your interest in this field?
- What has been the most surprising or unexpected aspect of transmission engineering that you’ve encountered?
- Can you share details about the clients you work with within the transmission field, including their needs and expectations, especially for those who may not be familiar with transmission?
- Can you share which projects you’ve found particularly fulfilling or enjoyable among the ones you’ve worked on so far, and elaborate on the different types of projects that stand out to you?
- Do you consider the primary distinction between traditional transmission utility projects and renewables to be the schedule or timeline?
- How would you characterize the companies that provide our home gas and electric services, considering they’re private entities but with a unique characterization?
- How do you maintain a fresh and innovative design approach in a field often perceived as rigid and traditional?
- Considering your background in natural resources and environmental sciences, how do you incorporate environmental considerations into your current projects?
- What advice would you offer young engineers aspiring to maintain a creative approach in their careers, especially in the highly technical and often rigid field of engineering?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About Navigating the Dynamic Landscape of Transmission Engineering:
- Alex discovered transmission engineering, initially thinking it might relate to cars. College courses felt disconnected until entering the transmission line industry, revealing the vital role of powering homes with renewable energy. The industry is evolving rapidly and grapples with challenges in adapting to renewables. Alex finds the problem-solving aspect of engineering fascinating amid the dynamic landscape.
- In transmission engineering, it’s surprising how much we don’t know. Even with years in the field, there’s always more to learn. The ongoing discovery and problem-solving make the job consistently fascinating.
- In the transmission field, the main clients are traditional utility companies ensuring reliable power and renewable energy firms building projects nationwide. Traditional utilities have a deeper understanding of their regions, while renewable companies, newer to the field, seek quick, cost-effective solutions. Working with both offers diverse challenges and opportunities, educating traditional clients and providing value to the evolving renewable sector.
- Alex’s favorite transmission line projects are the competitive transmission jobs influenced by FERC Order 1000. These projects stand out because they require starting from scratch and deciding on routing, structures, and power distribution. The process encourages a collaborative team dynamic despite time constraints. For Alex, it’s a chance to craft innovative solutions that benefit end-users, emphasizing the goal of cost-effective utility bills for everyone.
- The difference between traditional utilities and renewables is how they fund projects. Traditional utilities, guaranteed an 8% return, recover costs through utility bills. In contrast, renewables that are funded differently see every dollar spent on getting the asset online directly impact their profit. This financial distinction shapes their decision-making mindset from the beginning.
- Companies providing home gas and electric services vary in ownership. Some, like IOUs, are publicly held and release annual financial statements. Others, such as municipalities or co-ops, have a unique setup where those paying bills own the utility. In states like Nebraska, public utilities are owned by the state, creating diverse ownership structures.
- Studying natural resources and environmental sciences alongside civil engineering brings a unique perspective to projects. The focus is on creating sustainable engineering solutions by considering factors like wetlands and wildlife habitats. Efforts to restore balance in areas impacted by projects reflect a commitment to responsible and environmentally conscious practices.
- Young engineers recognizing your value and sharing ideas, even if uncertain, is crucial. Maintaining a broad focus and understanding how your work fits into the larger picture can enhance problem-solving and make your engineering career more fulfilling and enjoyable.
More Details in This Episode…
About Alexandra Lee, P.E.
Alexandra Lee, P.E., is a dedicated civil engineer specializing in the Transmission and Distribution division at Burns & McDonnell. With an educational foundation from Kansas State University, Alexandra earned dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil Engineering and Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences between 2013 and 2017. Her academic journey laid the groundwork for her expertise in the field.
At Burns & McDonnell, Alexandra’s role is pivotal in designing high-voltage transmission lines throughout the United States. Her work primarily focuses on generation tie and competitive transmission projects, where she excels in supporting her engineering team. Alexandra’s contributions are vital in shaping the infrastructure and efficiency of power transmission systems across the country. Her combination of environmental sciences knowledge and engineering skills uniquely positions her to make an impact in her field.
Books Mentioned in This Episode:
This Episode Is Brought to You by Burns & McDonnell
At Burns & McDonnell, our engineers, construction and craft professionals, architects, planners, technologists, and scientists do more than plan, design, and construct. With a mission unchanged since 1898 — make our clients successful — our more than 13,500 professionals partner with you on the toughest challenges, constantly working to make the world an amazing place. Each professional brings an ownership mentality to projects at our 100% employee-owned firm, which has safety performance among the top 5% of AEC firms. That means we think like owners, working through each challenge until it’s resolved, meeting or exceeding our client’s goals. Find out more about Burns & McDonnell here: burnsmcd.com/careers
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you can share on the dynamic landscape of transmission engineering.
Please leave your comments, feedback, or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, P.E., LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success