- Bio -
I am Twenty-nine year veteran of the power sector, and have enjoyed it. Good fortune has smiled on me many times. I have served in more functional areas of the Electrical Industry than anyone else with whom I have become acquainted. I am one of very small group that has swept the floors and sold the output of the same power plant. In 1983, I had little to offer an industrial employer other than a strong back, a weak mind and a desire to escape the meager earnings of the family farm or working as a farm hand.
My childhood was humble and simple. My father was a complex but illiterate man his single academic skill was signing his name. My mother was literate having attended school through the seventh grade. She was a devout Pentecostal, I believe the only book she ever read was the Bible but read it dozens of times. Me, I was the youngest of three and the only male progeny.
My developmental years were on our small family farm, it was good to us, it always provided for our needs. We did not have much money but being rather self-reliant did not need a lot. My father was a workaholic, working the farm and holding down a full time job at a local dairy. Unfortunately, he became completely disabled overnight when I was thirteen so I became the farmer even took over his job at the dairy until school resumed in the Fall. It was actually somewhat lucky that he disabled started right before the start of summer school break it allowed me pick up his job for a few months while we adjusted to the new situation.
I still value my agrarian expertise, I picked up many skills on the farm out of necessity we did all of own repairs. The farm left me well versed in animal husbandry and row crop farming. We farmed the typical Florida row crops. I even built and operated a commercial nursery a couple of years specializing in ornamental Crotons. Livestock production was normally more rewarding than crops. We raised assorted stock but dairy replacement heifers were our mainstay, we also raised chickens, goats, sheep, pigs for small niche consumers and personal use. In fact, by the time I was an adult, I had killed so many animals as foodstuff I had come to find killing things rather distasteful and to this day prefer to buy my carrion already cut and wrapped.
I have many memories, a few I will share. One memorable event was when we finally got indoor plumbing. We always had running water but I was old enough to remember when my father and uncle installed a sewage system that eliminated the trip to the outhouse. Also, the old house was miserably cold which seems ironic for a Florida home. The old house was well ventilated and under several huge live oaks, it was remarkably comfortable in the Florida heat and almost unbearably cold during cold snaps. The only source of heat was a fireplace that in retrospect was designed for cooking and its large open flue drafted so heavily it had little effect for heating. It was actually of ideal design to allow cooking without making the home miserably hot in the more common hot weather, but since only we used it as a heat source, it was useless.
Early on, I believed that an agrarian lifestyle would dominate my life, but realized that the income of farm labor or the small family farm would not be adequate, besides I was tired of being poor. In high school, I admired one of my agriculture instructors Jim Jeffries and decided that I would pursue a degree and teach agricultural education. Sadly, my writing skills were extremely poor even for a student of the liberal seventies. I did well at the Community College making the honor role consistently other than the term I failed Freshman English. I failed it once, withdrew to avoid failing it a second time and finally passed with a “B” thanks to a gifted and caring professor Clark Everett. I made it through both semesters with a respectable “B.” I finished the Associates in Arts with a 3.7 GPA in spite of the single “F” and scored very well on the CLAST test. Even before completing the preliminary degree, the course of my life had markedly changed.
My lucky break had been getting a job as a laborer at a large coal fired power plant near my home. Sweeping and cleaning a coal plant is honest but boring work. At the first opportunity, I moved from labor into plant operations. Fortunately, the Investor Owned Utility (IOU) was completing construction of a new unit and provided a large body of quality training on that unit in addition to its standard thorough Operations and Power Plant Fundamentals training. Being involved in the commissioning of the unit as young operator was an enriching experience. Operations will always have a warm place in my heart and is still one of my favorite sectors of the business.
Once I started a family and started making an industrial wage, I realized it was not logical to continue an education to prepare for a teaching position that the pay was half of what I was already making. I crossed that off my list of ambitions and adjusted my college ambitions towards a business degree.
In the industrial world good fortune continued to smile on me, as an operator I was awarded and apprenticeship in the top plant craft, the Instruments and Controls shop (I&C). Having served an apprenticeship makes me among the last of a dying breed of well trained craft persons allowed to incorporate the experience and knowledge of a couple of generations of older craft persons into their own. This foundation was enhanced with in-depth training and experience on the state of the art at the time. These skills have served me well and are the backstop and safety net of my career. Throughout my career a good I&C tech has always been in demand and has made me more open to trying other things since I could always fallback on my tools and still make a good living. I used this safety net a couple of times including as recently as 2007-9 when I returned to the same shop I served my apprenticeship in. If one is good at it, few roles are more challenging or more satisfying than I&C work at large base load power plant. It is a well-balanced combination of physical and intellectual work.
Anyway, form my first stint in I&C I was promoted into engineering as a Senior Engineering Technician essential a non-degreed engineer continuing to work in SCADA systems. This was another great learning experience and enjoyable. We did complete projects from justification and budgeting to design and implementation. I served five years in this role long enough to get good at it. I had many victories, my favorite was controls system reconfiguration to allow a scrubber designed for one unit to serve two. I rewrote thousands of rungs of ladder logic during this project. The success of the entire endeavor is personal career monument of mine. Sadly, the job had come to consume almost every waking moment of my life, to a large degree excluding family and education. I was not successful in restoring any semblance of balance in my life. The only way seemed to be a career change so I used my safety net.
I used my controls expertise to move to Integrated Combined Cycle Gasification (IGCC) plant nearing the completion of construction by my employer. It turned out to a great move, I triple qualified in I&C, electrical, and operations. Fortuitously, it was determined by quite an involved process that I was well suited for Control Center Operations. That brought with it another mass of quality training. After which I served in commissioning and then successfully and routinely ran a Combined Cycle Power Block, a Air Products Air Separation plant, A Monsanto Sulfuric Acid plant, and a Texaco, now GE Gasifier which as a whole used coal to fuel a combined cycle unit through a synthetic gas production process. Having become a skilled operator at an IGCC plant makes me a member another small group.
As a sideline to my other endeavors, I continued to complete college courses, and finished a Bachelor in Management, and was working towards a Masters. Again after a couple of years the stars aligned and the energy-trading wing was looking for a someone with a Bachelors degree and technical knowledge of production to be developed into Power Marketer to trade real-time, next day out to a couple of weeks or around the utilities assets and load. I was selected and after six more months of training and mentoring, I was one.
Before I reached my seemingly self-imposed five year in any single endeavor career limit, I had traded for both IOU and the sister Independent Power Producer (IPP). I traded mainly power but some Nat Gas out to Term and assisted on Origination deals. I even represented my employer as a little “R” on the ERCOT protocol revision subcommittee. Trading Power was also enjoyable.
Admittedly as an IPP trader 2001-03 time frame, I was outlier as a trader for an IPP never having worked for Enron and trading within my own high ethical constraints. Utility marketers seemed to own the ethical high ground. I came to know a lot great of people in that endeavor and another few not quite so great. My role in trading was broader than my peers, I was NERC certified as a Reliability Coordinator so I also dispatched the organization’s assets in ERCOT and bid in the ERCOT ancillary services producing an attractive revenue stream. I made the IPP a few coins, actually more than anyone else in my group. Power trading like all of life is bound by good Kings Law to quote Solomon: (I had to work this in somewhere)
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Ecclesiastes 9:11 (Yes it is actually 911)
Some of the other traders would say I am living proof of the validity of that verse. I am convinced several of my peers believed they were superior to me in every respect. The fact that I made more profit for my employer was luck. I did make a lot of money for my employer during this time, but maybe it was simply consistent run of good luck. It did not matter by 2003 stability was lost, trading firms were collapsing, and it appeared my position might well evaporate.
I abandoned what I feared was a sinking ship. The grass looked greener in the world steel compared to the world of money. Also, the executive leadership in production were more to my liking, solid liked minded plant people that had paid their dues. I used my previous experience and trading successes to leverage a position in plant management as the operation and maintenance superintendent at a small plant in VA. It was a great job with an outstanding group, finishing my career there and seeing what opportunity presented itself would not have been a bad choice.
Nevertheless, I did not. The plant sold to another outstanding group; however, my first grandchild was born, and named after me, I waxed sentimental, homesickness got the best of me, and off to Florida I rode. I got the old “Cats in the cradle silver spoon ...” lesson that I so richly deserved first hand. I am very proud of my children and we all enjoy the time we have together but I still had more career ambitions.
My career continued on, after a short at stint at a CoGen, I dusted off the old safety net and went back on my tools for the employer I had worked for in several roles totaling over twenty years. I had a simple plan, I mistakenly believed with my previous history I would quickly move back into management or energy trading. It did not pan out so after a couple years my I&C skills were retuned and I started looking outside for opportunity. It took about a year but eventually the fates smiled on me again and I was awarded the Maintenance Manager’s role for and another exceptional organization at a Combined Cycle Nat Gas burner finishing construction. We have now been commercial over two years and I still love it here. The only thing I can think of to improve it would be my adult children picking up and moving to the area, which will not happen, as always the good with the bad.
Career wise this is a short summary, there are many other things I would liked to have bragged about in more detail including my perfect safety record as a manager. I have several other notable life events that are likely greater contributors to what makes me, me than what I covered but enough is enough, if you read this far, I am impressed. To end with a quote from Homer Parson Grant that to a degree reflects my outlook on life: “We must free ourselves from the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds.”