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Hydro Employees Recognized for Management of 2015 High-Water Events

by on April 1, 2016
(From left) Sam Fertitta, hydro mechanic B; David Bailey, energy production superintendent; and John Mazzone view the undercarriage of a giant rotor in the Smith Mountain Dam power house. Smith Mountain and AEP’s other hydro facilities performed well during high-water conditions.

(Story by John Shepelwich)

ROANOKE, Va. — A series of weather events in late 2015 had the potential of becoming a disaster for Appalachian Power generation and adjacent private properties, but conscientious and dedicated teamwork by the Hydro organization softened the impact on the company and kept untold numbers of residents safe.

It was a story that few people know about and John Mazzone, AEP managing director of Indiana Michigan Power Company and hydro generation, set out to correct it.

“Knowing that this group of dedicated employees managed through 13 high-water events last year on the New, James, Roanoke, Kanawha, and Ohio rivers without a single safety incident, damage to equipment, or flooding of private property, and all the while sustaining electrical generation is simply remarkable,” Mazzone said.

Mazzone had certificates of recognition produced and personally signed for every employee participating in the water management. Charles Patton, Appalachian president and chief operating officer, and Brad Jones, hydro plant manager, added their signatures. Mazzone traveled to key work locations in Virginia and Ohio during March to personally present the documents and thank the employees.

“The scope of work and responsibility that the Hydro organization and the Columbus Hydro Dispatch team perform day-to-day is little understood throughout AEP,” Mazzone noted. “The skill and dedication of our employees helped AEP avoid the consequences of flooding and dam breaches that other hydro utilities suffered during these same events. These certificates are only a small token of our appreciation for their efforts.”

The 2015 threats were particularly ominous at the Virginia plants in late September into October, for example. Only two weeks earlier, there had been drought-like conditions at locations like Smith Mountain Lake where warnings were issued to boaters to be aware of shallow spots that could cause danger.  However, heavy rain events began in quick succession on Sept. 25 and 29, and Oct. 2.

That group of storms was classified as the “top weather story for 2015” according to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. Tropical moisture brought up to 20 inches of rain to southwest Virginia. At least 24 homes were destroyed as streams, creeks and rivers rose out of their banks. Damage estimates were over $10 million.

Kenneth Morrison, plant system owner senior in Virginia, played a key role in the events.

“Having that amount of rain in a 10-day period made it more challenging moving water around to make room for the next event without causing damage downstream of our plants,” he noted. “One of the most challenging aspects of a major rain event is not knowing exactly what we are going to get. Forecasts are just that.”

The Hydro organization has protocol in place that initiates daily conference calls between operations and the Columbus dispatch groups when there is a forecast of two-plus inches of rainfall in any of its watersheds. Before the rains arrive, the team already is discussing current ground and river conditions, rainfall predictions, plant conditions and any special circumstances that need to be considered. This can be anywhere from just a couple days before the event or in some case, like a hurricane, plans might be discussed a week in advance.

“Once rainfall begins, we continue the calls, discuss the new and updated forecasts, and include the maintenance supervisors to keep us updated on what plant personnel are seeing,” Morrison said. “When the rain stops, we continue the calls until rivers have crested and we have a good understanding of what is happening at the plants. We also determine whether or not we can change our discharges and help conditions downstream.”

The successful water management has had positive side benefits for the company according to Larry Jackson, Appalachian Power external affairs manager, whose territory includes the Smith Mountain and Reusens projects.

“Now, four or five months after those high-water events, I continue to receive great feedback from businesses, property owners and other stakeholders who talk about the remarkable job our folks did to keep their property safe while nearby reservoir and river properties suffered,” Jackson said. “Our people at the plants and the Columbus dispatch desk did an excellent job.”

From → News From AEP

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