Departure of industry leaders accelerates

For several years, a topic of discussion at virtually every user-group meeting attended by the editors was that the industry is ageing rapidly and retirements are near at hand. The question, “Who was going to fill the shoes of the talented managers, supervisors, and O&M personnel heading for the exit?” was asked over and over again.

There were answers, of course, but few in a position to do something about the coming exodus of the industry’s most experienced were really listening and fewer still seemed willing to act on what they heard and knew what should be done. The obvious answer to some who manage the financial services firms that are a dominant force in the electric generation sector today was to reduce staff in lock step with departures. Nothing wrong in managing with a sharp pencil, but there comes a point when you’re cutting muscle and bone, not fat. It takes significant commitment and effort to steer clear of that reef.

The first guidance on how to prepare for the coming sea change that the editors recall was offered about a decade ago by a pair of industry leaders, Rich Evans and Dr Robert Mayfield. They weren’t the only ones, to be sure, but both were plant managers who clearly saw the handwriting on the wall, were sensitive to the need for continuing personnel development, and were active participants in two of the industry’s most vocal users groups.

Both Evans and Mayfield began by reaching out to colleagues via CCJ’s Best Practices Awards program. In 2005, Evans was plant manager of Wolf Hills Energy, a six-unit aero peaking facility, and among the first group of award recipients. In the first 10 years of the recognition program, Mayfield’s 3 × 1 F-class Tenaska Virginia Generating Station, earned more awards than any other plant in the nation.

Their unrelenting commitment to the industry and its people is without question. A decade ago, Evans was on the CTOTF™ executive committee as the vice chair for power systems. He was the driving force behind the user group’s initiative to identify and attract promising technicians and engineers to the gas-turbine sector of the industry and to make sure there were career rewards in place to retain them.

To get the proverbial ball rolling, he developed and chaired an interactive forum with a panel of true experts in generation-plant management to help guide those wanting to listen. Mayfield, by contrast, has been a passionate speaker at 7F, CTOTF, and Combined Cycle user-group meetings on workforce development through Career and Technical Education programs. Plus, a frequent lecturer and author on knowledge management initiatives to guide plants on how to retain what their employees have learned on the job.

The user groups provided the forums for discussion and helped the industry plan for the transition, but little that is visible has been done to develop new talent in a meaningful way—except possibly at a few companies managed by power professionals. Given that retirements to this point have occurred at what might be considered a relatively manageable rate, what about the next couple of years?

In one week this month (July 2018) alone three key industry contributors have said goodbye: Paul Tegen of Cogentrix Energy Power Management LLC, Joe Schneider of NRG Energy, and John Demcko of Arizona Public Service Co. Others have told the editors they’ll be gone by year-end or a couple of weeks thereafter—including Evans.

As you read though the biographical snapshots saluting those departing this month ask yourself how the industry can absorb such losses—particularly in a time when the OEMs are laying off thousands, small shops are closing up, and leadership is in short supply. To minimize the chaos, what incentives should you offer talented personnel willing to cope with the pain?

Paul Tegen was chief combustion turbine/I&C engineer at Cogentrix. He served as the Westinghouse roundtable chair at CTOTF in the early 1980s, then teamed up with Bill Wimperis, Bill Barras, and a few others to launch the 501F Users Group. Tegen was elected that group’s first chairman and served for about 10 years. He was required to resign when Cogentrix sold its 501F plants, then returned as vice chairman a few years later when his employer bought other 501F assets.

Tegen joined Northern States Power Co in 1976, right after graduation from the Milwaukee School of Engineering with a degree in electrical engineering. First job was as a results engineer. Siemens Power Corp (the Siemens entity serving the US market before the company bought Westinghouse) was his next stop where he specialized in controls work. Then it was back to NSP for a year or so before joining LS Power in the mid-1990s as project manager for 501FC LSP Whitewater Cogen LP. He was then appointed plant manager.

Joe Schneider was manager of gas-turbine maintenance in NRG’s engineering and technical services group. He had an interesting career and, in his words, “Went out on top.” Schneider shared his expertise with the industry as a member of the steering committees for both CTOTF (Siemens roundtable and program chair) and the Combustion Turbine and Combined Cycle Users Organization (CTC2).

Reflecting, Schneider said mentoring industry newcomers was the part of his job he enjoyed most. He tipped his hat in admiration to plant personnel—especially those responsible for units in their twilight years. There’s nothing harder to do, in his opinion, than to keep those engines running in a manner that meets management expectations with little tangible support.

After a few years in the aircraft industry, Schneider migrated to Alaska in the early 1980s to work as a consulting engineer for AVEC, the Alaska Village Electric Co-op, which has more than 53 member villages—most fairly remote and dependent on diesel power. He was involved in the design and installation of village electrification projects. Next gig was with Coffman Engineers doing engineering, installation, and commissioning of village cogeneration projects involving electric power, fresh water production, and sewage treatment.

From 1986 to 1999, Schneider was at Chugach Electric Assn Inc where he gained experience in hydro-turbine and Frame 5 maintenance and overhauls before moving to the company’s Beluga plant as a maintenance supervisor for work on 11Ds and 7B to E conversions. During his last six years at Chugach, Schneider was involved in outage planning and maintenance for all generating units in the organization, plus their integration with the railbelt utilities.

He moved to Houston in 1999 where Schneider’s career snaked through the deregulation era with assets changing ownership over the years—Houston Lighting & Power to Reliant to RRI to GenOn, which merged with Mirant, to NRG. He had engineering positions at a couple of plants and in central engineering offices before being appointed NRG’s manager of gas-turbine maintenance.

John Demcko, PE, is a senior consulting engineer for Arizona Public Service Co, retiring at month’s end. He has been a member of the Generator Users Group steering committee since the organization’s founding. Demcko has 45 years of professional experience with GE, New York Power Pool (now NYISO), and APS. He plans to migrate into active consulting in 2019. 

Current responsibilities include the implementation of digital-fault-recorder (DFR) technology for monitoring all major APS generating units; development of techniques and instrumentation to enhance his company’s ability to perform predictive maintenance; troubleshooting and upgrading of excitation systems; and the introduction of new test and measurement technologies to alert and inform on power-quality problems.

Demcko has authored more than 70 technical publications on generator monitoring, control and protection, and power-system instrumentation and measurements. He received his BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering from Clarkson University.  

Posted in HRSGs |

Comments are closed.