Paying it Forward

Well-trained TVA retirees are bringing their expertise to points around the globe to help bring power plant projects up to speed.

May 29, 2019 — Knowing what it takes to generate electricity goes far beyond the basic knowledge of how a specific medium turns a turbo-generator. Whether it’s natural gas, coal, hydro or nuclear, TVA training programs have always produced some of the world’s best power-generating experts. Today, some TVA retirees are using their experience to continue to serve, traveling around the world to troubleshoot plant problems and develop training programs modeled after TVA’s.

Power Consultant Buck Nolen retired from TVA in 2012. He has been through multiple training programs, finishing his 30-year TVA tenure as a shift operations supervisor. He is currently working at Gallatin Fossil Plant.

Mike Brown retired from TVA in 1999 after spending 27 years working in multiple roles across the fleet. His experience as a mechanical engineer, outage manager and U.S. power mentor in overseas trade negotiations has allowed him to continue contributing to the electric industry following his TVA retirement. Using his unique skillset, Brown works with other TVA-trained retirees, providing knowledge and expertise at home and abroad. 

“These individuals are exposed to all the powerhouse systems because of their training,” Brown said. “Whether it’s supporting maintenance, offering systems support or improving reliability, TVA’s training programs have given retirees experience in the full gamut of managing a power plant.”

One of Brown’s recent projects was partnering with a group of other TVA retirees to lead a 10-year power plant project in Tokyo, Japan. Brown has worked with TVA retirees on other projects in Australia, Canada and about half of the states in the lower 48.

The Last Frontier

Buck Nolen retired from TVA in 2012—as part of a voluntary reduction in force—and began working with Brown shortly after. Nolen has been through multiple TVA training programs, and is a certified boilermaker, unit operator and senior switchboard operator who finished his 30-year TVA tenure as a shift operations supervisor at Cumberland Fossil Plant. 

Together, Nolen, Brown and a small group of TVA retirees provided support to a coal gasification plant in Beulah, North Dakota. They also developed an asset identification plan for a plant in Salix, Iowa, which allowed the facility to effectively generate clearances and write maintenance work orders to current industry standards.

“I guess there is a little bit of excitement that comes with getting to go and help folks who may not have had the detailed training and opportunities that we were fortunate to have received during our time at TVA,” Nolen said. 

In addition to his work with Brown, Nolen traveled to Healy, Alaska, to help a team reengineer a coal-delivery system on an abandoned 66 MW unit. The group of experts was able to implement improvements and safety reliabilities that gave Golden Valley Electric the ability to bring the unit online, while complying with current clean-air emission standards. 

Today, in addition to his work as a boilermaker during TVA nuclear and coal fleet outages, Nolen also assists others in the industry with both maintenance and operational issues. When asked about the value of his TVA training, Nolen talked about his family.

“Before I got into the operations training program at TVA, I was working as a journeyman boilermaker,” Nolen said. “There was a period of four or five years in the mid-1980s when I had to leave my wife and two small children to go up north into New England and work. One year, I left out on January 3 and wasn’t able to get back home until after midnight on December 22nd. Those were long, hard years, and getting into that operations training program the following year changed everything for us. Honestly, I can attribute everything in my life to TVA.”

TVA Training Today

TVA training continues today around the fleet as portfolio changes make continuous training more vital than ever. Experienced operations and maintenance personnel, including crafts such as instrument mechanics, operators, assistant unit operators, boilermakers and electricians, are currently transitioning into different roles around the Valley, entering into advanced, performance-based training programs that build on their current skillsets.

These programs provide the latest training in new technologies currently driving TVA’s nuclear, hydro, natural gas and coal units.

“Training is never complete and we are constantly learning. Our training programs allow us to strengthen our skillsets to ensure we grow and adapt with our changing workforce and portfolio,” said Jamie Choate, senior manager, Regulatory and Corporate Training & Support. “At the same time, these programs are allowing employees to receive the timely training they need to successfully transition into the new roles and new technologies of the future.”

Brown agrees: “I can tell you one thing, I haven’t been anywhere in the world that has better operators than TVA. I’ve really been impressed with how our TVA operators have been able to stand head and shoulders above everyone in the industry.”