Hydroelectricity has a prominent role among other renewable power generation as utilities look to meet decarbonization goals and reduce emissions. However, hydroelectric plants are among the oldest plants in the U.S., averaging over 60 years old according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

To safeguard the continued use of this existing generation capacity, modernization and upgrade projects for hydroelectric plants are on the rise, especially for controls systems. Commissioning of these projects requires a two-phase approach unique to hydro:

  1. Dry commissioning that tests each system without water in a dry setting to complete tests in a safe and efficient manner, and
  2. Wet commissioning, which feeds water through the system as final tests and simulations are performed.

Given this dual-pronged approach and the overarching complexity of any hydro project, accurate documentation of system drawings is essential for efficient and effective commissioning. Digital collaboration tools can enhance document management throughout the project life cycle. They offer multiple benefits:

  • Encouraging collaboration among on-site and off-site personnel, vendors and subcontractors.
  • Enhancing security with restricted access and two-factor authentication requirements.
  • Providing the ability to easily standardize documents across similar units within a project.
  • Reducing potential errors by allowing real-time access to the most recent documents.
  • Saving time by eliminating the need for requesting and sending documents by email or hard copy.

Burns & McDonnell is currently using a web-based collaboration tool, Microsoft SharePoint, for the 14-year execution of an extensive $134 million electrical control system upgrade and modernization project for the New York Power Authority (NYPA). As the engineer-procure-construct (EPC) contractor, our team is managing all documentation for the 13-unit, 2,525-megawatt (MW) Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant through SharePoint.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic did not drive the selection of this approach, utilizing this collaboration tool streamlined digital sharing and editing of project documents during a period when remote access was essential to business continuity. Before the pandemic, NYPA’s central engineering staff would typically travel to the site to review construction documents and edits. With the digital platform in place, however, project team members have been able to maintain an efficient workflow to keep the project moving forward even while in-person activity is restricted.

Even without a pandemic, digital collaboration tools offer considerable value for the commissioning of hydroelectric plants. By offering a real-time mode for document editing and sharing, these tools can keep a project’s entire team on the same page — simultaneously modernizing an aging plant and the traditional approach to commissioning documentation.


The hydroelectric plant controls upgrade at the Roberts Moses Niagara Power Plant is modernizing a linchpin in New York’s clean energy goals. Learn how we’re assisting in this investment to maintain performance, reduce failure risks and maximize access to plant data.

Read The Project Profile