Eight Bells: Robert Threlkeld – Combined Cycle Journal

Eight Bells: Robert Threlkeld

Robert Threlkeld generally called after receiving his copy of CCJ, “to catch up.” Sometimes he had questions on the content, other times an article triggered an experience that he thought worthwhile sharing. The last time we spoke, in mid-May, he was torn between attending the HRST Academy in Avon, Colo, and the HRSG Forum in Atlanta—only a week apart in June 2023.

Threlkeld had attended the Forum several times over the years, but never the Academy. He was trending in favor of the latter given his association with HRST Inc as an external advisor to the company’s board of directors since retiring as a Tenaska Inc plant manager a couple of years ago. Plus, the meeting’s Rocky Mountain location would beat a trip to Atlanta any day. A possible vacation in Greece also was on his mind.

That Robert didn’t call after CCJ No. 75 mailed in late August, our assumption was he was on vacation or busy helping a school or hospital near his home cope with the demands of operating and maintaining their energy systems. “Assuming” was a terrible error in judgment. We didn’t know his cancer had returned with vengeance until long-time Tenaska colleague and Navy brother, Dr Robert Mayfield, called to tell us of his death November 28.

Mayfield remembers, “The first time I met Robert was at Lindsay Hill where he was plant manager. Both of us were graduates of Auburn University and naval-officer commanders. He was dedicated to his family, friends, and country. During the last two decades we chatted weekly. Our conversations touched on topics such as the Navy, Auburn football, families, and helping each other when things were hard at work. Vitality and life characterized him; he will not be forgotten.”

Threlkeld will be remembered by the editors and the electric generation community for the many best practices he and his O&M teams at the Lindsay Hill and Central Alabama Generating Stations—both 3 × 1 combined cycles powered by 7F gas turbines—published over the years in the pages of CCJ. Both plants are among the industry leaders in Best Practices Awards earned since the program’s introduction in 2005—Lindsay Hill and Central Alabama each receiving three Best of the Best Awards over the years (photo).

Threlkeld’s presentation, “Developing best practices,” at the 2004 Maintenance Workshop conducted by the HRSG User’s Group, is a classic for encouraging owner/operators to participate in programs such as CCJ’s to avoid having to re-learn lessons and to encourage continuous process improvement.

In that presentation he stressed operational consistency. The tools used at his plants included grading of heat rate, ramps, excess energy, and availability. Experience taught him that best practices help in training of new operators; reducing heat rate and long-term maintenance; saving in fuel-gas, back-feed, and imbalance costs; plus other benefits.

Threlkeld retired from the US Navy in 2001, having served for 20 years. Much of that time was spent at sea on warships, including the USS Carr, a guided-missile frigate, and USS John Rodgers, a Spruance-class destroyer. The Carr’s XO touted his considerable abilities as the ship’s chief engineer. Speaking to his character, the XO noted Robert’s “bravery” in speaking the truth to power with reports not always welcomed, but necessary when one serves the greater good.

Another shipmate remembered him this way: “He was as good of an officer as there ever was, and even a better man.” Yet another said, “The Carr’s motto was ‘Courage, Will, Determination.’ For some people those are nothing more than words, but for Robert they were a way of life.”

Bob Schwieger

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