My buddy Craig Befus invited me to speak at Xcel Energy’s annual Electric Distribution Engineering Conference in January. And he even volunteered to let me speak on any topic I wanted to talk about. Now this offer was not as generous as it sounds, considering Craig knows me well and knows I am not likely to stick to an agenda anyway.
Seventy-five engineers and planners convened in Denver, Colorado, with attendees from the holding company and operating companies (OPCOs): Northern States Power Minnesota, Northern States Power Wisconsin, Public Service Company of Colorado and Southwestern Public Service.
Most of the folk in the room were serving on one or another of the various internal Xcel Energy committees to build out the strategies and platforms for their emerging next-generation grid. Craig, whom I know from his BC Hydro days, is participating in Xcel Energy’s efforts to build out a robust communications network to handle the increased speed and bandwidth required for our evolving and increasingly integrated and intelligent grid. Craig led the discussion on the value and drawbacks of various communications platforms — whether legacy public carriers, WiFi, fiber mesh, WiMAX or LTE — and he discussed the relative merits of fiber and digital microwave backbones.
As a mechanical engineer, I got a little lost in the discussions on latency, bandwidth and security, but I enjoy learning and being in over my head (not an uncommon occurrence).
I arrived early and was greeted by Joel Limoges. Now this is one friendly dude. Joel reminded me that we had talked in 2008 in Minneapolis when then-acting Northern States Power Co. President and CEO Dave Sparby invited me to kick off a team strategic planning session. This link (http://tdworld.com/business/follow-same-playbook) provides my recollections of that event, which has been recorded for posterity.
Now Joel is quite a character, and he reminded me that I had asked him way back in Minneapolis if he would leave the power company to write for me. The rascal turned me down with the lame excuse that he couldn’t write. Then he followed that up with the statement that I was asking him to give up a pension and his history in a stable company to throw in with the likes of me.
I doubt he agonized very long over that offer.
I also ran into some buddies I had worked with more than 30 years earlier. Philip Spaulding with Northern States Power, Darryl Sabatka with Public Service of Colorado and I were all active in the IEEE Insulated Conductors Committee, where we obsessed over at cable ratings, thermal backfills, cable-pulling practices and the like. Running into these two old friends was a real treat!
During my talk, I made the comment that if you saw the delivery business as an industry under duress, then you would likely live an angst-filled life. But if you looked at the delivery business as an industry with promise, you would likely be positive and energized.
I shared a conversation I had a few years earlier with Rob Trimble, former COO with Oncor, about what the future had in store for next-gen employees. Trimble reflected that graduating engineers had been looking for the bigger paychecks and the bigger challenges promised by the telecom, IT and emerging Internet-based companies.
But when economic stagnation swept a lot of those jobs away, graduates found real difficulties finding gainful employment, causing them to reset their career expectations. Stated Trimble, “For next gens, boring is the new sexy.”
Graduating engineers want to work in renewables, and they get psyched about smart grid and electric vehicles and green buildings. But with so many of their friends living at home and working in retail, engineering graduates today are focused on finding and keeping a steady job.
At break, Joel came over and said, “If boring is the new sexy, then I am the sexiest person in the room.” With that definition in place, I figured that Joel and I are hunks. And it would only be fair to share our picture on the editorial page of Transmission & Distribution World.
I am quite excited about the direction Xcel Energy is headed. I felt a palpable level of energy and expectancy in the room as the various OPCO representatives worked to build out plans for their next-gen grid. There is no doubt that Xcel Energy is post-merger. Consolidations are in the past and collaboration is in ample display. I am looking forward to tracking Xcel Energy’s progress in the years to come as it builds out a delivery company our sexy new graduates would love to work for.
Editor’s note: Having stated during my presentation that I was a resource to be called upon, Joel decided to take me up on that offer. Joel stated that Xcel participates in the WEI Secondary Network program and Eaton’s annual Electric Network Systems Conference. He asked if I might have contacts in other cities that deal with network issues including network protectors, but no recent connections came to mind. If you routinely deal with networks and network protectors, please reach out Joel and chat. Joel can be reached at [email protected]. And tell Joel that Rick sent you.
Sidebar: T&D Sound Bites
The language of T&D is consistent anywhere you go in the world. Here are a few sound bites I jotted down from the first day of the Xcel Energy conference:
- Electric Distribution Engineering had a great safety year with no injuries in 2013.
- We have 2.5 million pieces of paper in Xcel Energy; eventually, all this information will be searchable.
- Resiliency team is looking at sturdier poles.
- CEMI has been rolled out at Northern States Power Minnesota, Northern States Power Wisconsin and Southwestern Public Service.
- 572 load requests processed in New Mexico in 2013.
- SPS has instituted a peer review before engineering work goes out.
- We now have more than 100 automated switches in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and about 30 of these are IntelliRupters.
- We finally got a permit for Ptarmigan Substation — it took 20 years!
- We hit our distribution reliability targets, but it was real tight.
- The “distribution way” is the way we do it at Xcel, not the way we do it at the OPCO.
- Not looking for ruthless standardization, but looking at productivity through technology.
- Doing nothing is not an option.
- We are splitting to a TSCADA and a DSCADA.
- We hired two new staff in SPS engineering.