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November 22, 2023 Determination and Teamwork Drive Sturgeon Electric Success on Roberts Tunnel


Two men in black shirts and jeans hold an award
Travis Leapaldt and Anthony Bonsell hold the 2023 Ace Award for the Roberts Tunnel Hydro Upgrade project

Roberts Tunnel – a 23.3-mile-long water diversion tunnel near Grant, Colorado – has brought water from Dillon Reservoir to the front range since 1962. The water helps sustain more than 1.5 million people in the Denver area today, along with producing clean hydroelectric power for the region.

Denver Water selected Sturgeon Electric to upgrade the Roberts Tunnel East Portal which will add 1.5 million kilowatt-hours per year of electricity generation, helping offset operational power costs and saving customers money.

Their hard work and teamwork resulted in project success, which was recognized with an industry award in November 2023. The Association of General Contractors (AGC) of Colorado awarded Sturgeon Electric a 2023 ACE Award for the Roberts Tunnel hydro upgrade project in the Best Building Project by a Specialty Contractor $2-6 million category.

Sturgeon Electric’s extensive electrical construction capabilities, highly skilled crews, and strong relationship with Denver Water made them an ideal partner to replace the facility’s electrical infrastructure alongside the general contractor (which refurbished the hydroelectric unit).


Revamping of the facility’s equipment began in the summer of 2020. Sturgeon Electric’s scope of work included self-performing the low, medium and high voltage work for a new switchyard, electric utility interconnection, 15kV switchgear, and site power distribution system. They also oversaw work on the battery, turbine, and generator control systems.

Located 8,690 feet above sea level along the North Fork of the South Platte River, seasonal challenges, and delayed delivery of some vital equipment made the unique project complex and challenging.

Certain aspects of the hydro tunnel needed to remain operational throughout the project. In order to keep it power flowing as demolition and installation took place, Sturgeon Electric isolated the original utility service for use for critical equipment, even as they installed new utility services.

They also needed to coordinate extensively with the area utility which was replacing the substation supplying power to the facility in parallel with the Roberts Tunnel upgrades.

The project site itself was unique – situated beside a busy highway and in a very constrained space, with a 5,000 square foot switchyard and a 2,400 square foot powerhouse. It took superior planning and communication to accommodate simultaneous work by the general contractor, Sturgeon Electric and subcontractors.

The tight space was particularly challenging and required certain equipment to be set by a crane. Sturgeon Electric carefully coordinated that work, determining the precise location the crane needed to be to perform the work safely and succeeded in setting the gear in the proper location.

Navigating all these elements of the project took extraordinary communication, coordination, safety, and creative problem solving.


During the pandemic, supply chain challenges affected countless construction projects, and the Roberts Tunnel project was no exception. But that unforeseen delay of essential components threatened to add significant costs the customer if they couldn’t meet a September 2021 deadline to generate electricity under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Overcoming the supply chain challenge required collaboration and creativity from everyone involved. Together, the project team decided to use parts from the old generator excitation system to have the hydroelectric unit temporarily operational on time.

Working as a team Denver Water engineered the temporary solution, Sturgeon Electric made all the necessary temporary electrical, instrumentation and control systems, and the general contractor performed the temporary mechanical changes. Once the temporary systems were complete, Sturgeon Electric commissioned the electrical and instrumentation system and the team synchronized and connected the hydroelectric generator to the electrical grid to allow it to generate electricity by the deadline. It required intense planning and execution, even as the project continued advancing towards substantial and final completion. 

Showing their dedication to the project and the customer, Sturgeon Electric team members worked 12–16-hour workdays, seven days a week for three weeks to ensure the plan’s success.

“The effort, skill, and determination of all entities involved … was an incredible achievement under a very tight timeframe and many obstacles,” said Mark Keilwitz, Denver Water’s Design Project Manager and Project Electrical Engineer. He added that the way the teams worked together toward a solution was “particularly impressive.”

After meeting the PPA, the teams removed the temporary installations to so the refurbishment could continue once the remaining components arrived, and permanent electrical, instrumentation and controls could be installed and commissioned.


Sturgeon Electric is committed to safety and executed the project without a single recordable incident taking place, thanks to the dedication of all its team members.

Safety was discussed in huddles daily, and again whenever tasks changed in order to establish the safest way to accomplish and communicate the work. Crew members made sure the proper tools were available for each day’s work, and communication and site awareness were demanded and expected. Extra care and safety planning was implemented for the critical task of syncing the medium voltage switchgear to the generator.

Safety is a cornerstone of every one of Sturgeon Electric’s projects and on the Roberts Tunnel project this commitment once again resulted in superior safety performance.