From Scott Carlberg

It’s Thursday and Energy Consumers of the Carolinas will introduce you to more good people who are working in and for the Carolinas in the energy industry. Each day this week we have featured several different people out there in the Carolinas, right now, making sure your laptop gets power, your AC is cranking, refrigerator is running, and the electric grid is okay. People are out there, researching the way your electricity will be even more reliable and affordable in the future. They are out there teaching and training current energy employees and the next generation of energy employees.

Ecoplexus: Chuck Ladd, Professional Engineer and Architect; Director of Electrical Engineering, Durham, NC

Ecoplexus does development, design, engineering, construction, financing, operations and ownership of renewable energy systems for commercial and government clients. It works multi-nationally.

Chuck’s photovoltaic (PV) experience includes system design, utility interconnection design, owner’s engineering, independent engineering, system commissioning, inverter technical analysis and construction monitoring. He is the designer of record for PV systems totaling more than 700 MW. The photo is the GreenCo Solar Park, a 6.6 MW DC Photovoltaic System located near Murfreesboro, NC. Chuck was the designer of record for this project during his time at Southern Energy Management.

Solar facility near Murphreesboro, NC

Chuck says, “I have experience in design and energy/forensic evaluation of new and existing public and commercial buildings and interior spaces. My past experiences as a commercial nuclear plant Operations Superintendent and Outage Supervisor inform my current work in energy design, evaluation, and licensing. I taught Environmental Control Systems, ARC-414, to graduate and undergraduate students of Architecture at the College of Design at NC State University for 11 years.”

Want to read how Chuck thinks? Try his latest article, “Simulating NEC Voltage and Current Values” in SolarPro magazine (July/August 2018).

Gastonia Electric (city division), Gastonia, NC

Five Gastonia Electric employees recently completed the rigorous requirements to be certified as journeymen linemen. Sam Ackerman, Caleb Arrant, Andy Mabry, Ray Miller and Andy Richardson received their certifications after completing an apprenticeship program with ElectriCities of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College system.

Journeymen linemen build and maintain high-voltage electrical power systems. They work on the entire system, from the point of generation in power plants to the customer’s meter. The power lines they work on may be on overhead structures, towers, poles or in underground vaults or trenches.

The City of Gastonia’s Lineman Career Development program consists of four levels, with journeyman being the highest. Each level requires coursework, on-the-job training, work experience and passing tests. Electric linemen must put in a total of 8,000 hours with eight years of work experience to reach journeyman status. (Source: City of Gastonia, NC)

Midlands Technical College (MTC): Benjamin Gaston, Department Chair of Engineering Technologies and faculty member, Columbia, SC

Ben and Midlands Tech teach important skills to people who take a place in the energy workforce. “I have taught for MTC for five years now and have over 10 years total teaching experience.  I have always enjoyed taking a complex topic I find exciting and guiding folks through in an organized fashion, turning it into a story to build understanding,” says Ben. He has dozens of students who have gone to work in the nuclear industry, and more than 150 students in his courses. MTC is a multi-campus, two-year public college serving the primary region of Richland, Lexington and Fairfield counties of South Carolina.

We asked Ben what he sees about energy that surprises students. “The infrastructure and number of hard working industry professionals involved in improving our lives through reliable energy delivery shocks nearly every student that does not have prior industry experience. Learning about the equipment, time, money, regulation, and resources that are involved in ensuring your home or business has energy seems to always open eyes.”

Ben keeps in touch with energy trends, and we asked Ben about energy industry workforce preparedness. “In our region (Midlands and SC), I feel our energy industry partners are extraordinarily proactive about developing and maintaining their relationships with training pipelines to meet their workforce demands. With a broad scope of pathways in SC, ranging from graduate level university research to 2-year associates degree programs to short-term quick-jobs corporate training courses, employers can find a right-sized solution for their workforce needs.”

SCE&G:  Paula Lawter, Dispatcher, Charleston, SC

Most people are going to bed when Paula Lawter clocks in at work. For most of her 12 years with SCE&G as a distribution dispatcher in Charleston, S.C., Paula has worked the nightshift. And that’s the way she likes it.

“You might say I’m a recluse to a certain degree,” she said during a phone interview shortly after 10 o’clock on a Monday night. “I sleep during the day and work at night. I like the more relaxed and quieter atmosphere in the office at night because I can get more done.”

Paula is a liaison between customers and linemen. Largely through a computer-based system, she processes work orders generated by customer phone calls and communicates the information to linemen for them to restore power.

“My focus is to help get the power back on as fast as we can while keeping our linemen safe,” she said. “Dispatchers are another set of eyes for linemen when they are out in the field at night because we let them know what’s where to keep them out of hot spots, like fallen trees on a line or wires down, based on information we get from customer calls. Safety is a big deal for us.”

When storms or other incidents create large-scale outages across SCE&G’s service territory—approximately 723,000 electric customers in the central, southern and southwestern portions of South Carolina as well as approximately 371,000 natural gas customers throughout South Carolina—maintaining that focus goes to another level.

Image: SCE&G media gallery

“When a storm hits, that’s an entirely different ballgame,” she said. “Phones are ringing off the hook, computers are beeping non-stop—it can sometimes blow your mind how fast you can get so busy.”

Paula has a long list of proud moments on the job over the years—mostly about service to customers and safety of linemen. She said, “When a lineman who is about to retire takes the time to call me and thank me for helping to keep him safe—to tell me goodbye and say that it was great working with me—it lets me know that they know I’m not just answering phones. It shows a mutual respect. It feels good.”

She also enjoys troubleshooting with customers on the phone, ultimately restoring their power without having to dispatch a lineman. “I stay on the phone with them and talk them through it as they find their breaker box in the dark, and then I help them with the steps to reset it,” she said. “The sigh of relief on the other end of the phone when they get the power back on—that’s a good thing to hear.”

Paula has been working toward these rewarding moments since she graduated from high school and went straight to work at Dominion in Virginia as a customer service representative. After a few years of advancing and growing her skillset, she replaced the only woman in dispatching at the company in the early ‘80s. Now that Dominion and SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G, plan to merge, Paula said it’s like coming home.

“It’s almost like it was meant to be for me,” she said. “I love working for SCE&G, and I loved working for Dominion. Dominion is a good company, and I was proud to work there. It will be pretty awesome to have Dominion back in my life.”

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The Carolinas have a significant, smart, and dedicated energy workforce. They don’t make the headlines. They work behind the scenes. They are your neighbors. Tomorrow, Friday, we will wind up our review of energy workers in the Carolinas. See you tomorrow.