Shannon Brown

Senior Balancing Authority System Operator | Chattanooga, Tenn.

Working in TVA Operations—where someone has to be on duty around the clock, every day, 365—is not for everyone. But for Shannon Brown, it’s the only place she wants to be.

That dedication has led her through a 12-year career at TVA, and recently, she was promoted to Senior Balancing Authority System Operator. She and another employee, promoted at the same time, are the first two women in TVA history to hold that title—and Brown couldn’t be more proud.

“I always wanted to be a senior operator. I really enjoy working in Operations. Operators are the ones who are responsible for running our generation plants and making electricity,” she explains.

The decisions I make in real time do affect our customers and what they pay for electricity. I am also a customer and end user, and so I always try to be a good steward of TVA’s resources in brining reliable power to our customers in the most economic fashion.

Having gotten her start at TVA through the Student Generating Plant Operator program at John Sevier Fossil plant, she knows the business from the ground up—and has nothing but appreciation for those who keep the power coming.

“Now I’m in System Operations Control in Chattanooga, and often, the spotlight is on us—during winter peak, for example, we help with news media interviews and photo ops,” she explains. “But for me, coming from one of the plants, knowing what kind of work goes into bringing electricity to our customers—if those people weren’t doing what they needed to do, it wouldn’t matter what I do in Chattanooga. They don’t always get the media credit. But they make the magic happen.”

Under Pressure

Brown grew up in a small, rural area of Claiborne County, Tennessee. When she got out of high school she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue, so she joined the Navy, becoming an aviation electronics technician and working on aircraft’s onboard computers, radar and communications instruments.

After serving in Desert Storm, she came back to Tennessee and completed a degree in occupational therapy at University of Tennessee at Memphis, but eventually realized it didn’t fit her as well as her Navy work. Eager to return to technical work, she was hired at John Sevier Fossil Plant and fell in love with TVA operations.

“Operators are their own breed of folks,” she laughs. “We have our own twisted sense of humor. And we can be very direct, because that’s part of the job.”

The characteristic sense of humor belies serious responsibility: “I live reliability for my entire 12-hour shift. I’m thinking constantly about two things: first and foremost, what can I do to make sure our customers’ energy needs are met safely? And second, I’m charged with doing that in the most economical way possible, because I spend TVA’s money every day. I treat TVA’s money like I treat my own, and I try to be a good steward.

“Because at the end of the day, what I spend will trickle down to the customers, including me. I’m a customer as well. So I want to be a good steward of TVA’s resources for everyone, including myself.”

Brown enjoys even the high-pressure aspects of her job.

“I have never been bored a single day at work,” she says. “There are no two days ever alike, even with the same challenges; everything is different every single day. For me, personally, that’s great. I don’t like mundane, repetitive type situations.

Staying Rooted

Now that she’s found where she belongs, Brown doesn’t forget where she came from. She stays in contact with teachers and other people in her hometown, helping them to encourage students to consider learning electronics, welding and other trades in which they can find good jobs. “Nothing would make me happier,” Brown says, “than to be able to pass on my job someday to someone from the rural area I came from.”

The SOC has no windows to the outside, so it’s understandable that when she’s not there, Brown enjoys being outdoors. She is learning the science of beekeeping and will receive the first colony of her own bees in the spring.

“You’d be surprised, how calming it is to work with the bees,” Brown explains. “You’re wearing protective gear, but still you have to be calm when you’re near them.

“Bees are the most gentle creatures on earth—all they care about is making their honey. If you don’t hinder them, they won’t hurt you. I was scared at first to open the hive but then I realized they don’t care about me, they just care about their honey. So when you harvest it, you’re kind of communing with them.”

Brown likes to travel, and it gives her a chance to reflect on what she does for a living.

“When I fly, I look around and see lights in different cities and people’s houses with lights on, and I think, ‘I’m a part of that,’” she says. “What I do, along with others at TVA, makes that possible. People don’t think about it when they flip their light switch on because the power’s there. But I think, ‘We made that happen,’ and that makes me proud.”

For Shannon Brown, TVA’s mission is personal: “I’m a part of it, and it’s an awesome feeling.”

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