Marjorie Parsons—the first woman to be named Ike Zeringue Engineer of the Year—is a vigilant guardian of the transmission system, working hard to maintain reliability for the people of the Valley and beyond.
FEBRUARY 14, 2019—It’s no exaggeration to say that Marjorie Parsons keeps the lights on—not only here, but all over the entire Eastern Seaboard. Okay, maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration, but TVA’s newly named Ike Zeringue Engineer of the Year is among a group of critical engineering and regulatory planners who cooperate between energy companies to make sure the transmission grid remains reliable around the clock.
“The TVA electrical transmission system is part of a larger network called the Eastern Interconnection, which includes all of the transmission system east of the Rocky Mountains with the exception of Texas,” she explains. “We are connected to our neighbors in a very big way. I’ve been told that the interconnected power system is the largest machine in the world.”
That machine takes care and feeding—and that is what Parsons, a TVA NERC planning coordinator, does. She works to maintain reliability and guard against blackouts in maintaining a system that can be surprisingly sensitive. “Because we are so interconnected, a reliability issue on the transmission system in one location can affect other parts of the system,” she says. “An analogy is a spider web. If you pull on a spider web in any one location, you can see changes in other parts of the web—just one little tug can make a difference in all of it.”
As evidence, she points to the great blackout of August 2003, in which a single tree in Ohio came into contact with a power line, triggering a cascade of events that eventually blacked out most of the northeastern United States and southern Ontario. Eleven people died as a result of this blackout, and the cost was estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion, Parsons says.
“Blackouts don’t happen every day, and one of the big reasons for that is that the electric utilities work together to make sure we are operating in efficient and reliable manner and within regulatory guidelines.”
Parsons, a 31-year TVA employee, was recognized for both her technical expertise and her leadership on regional teams, maintaining daily power flow and also tackling existing and emerging issues in the industry.
“Parsons has distinguished herself as a leader who tirelessly helps keep electricity flowing to our homes and businesses,” says Bob Dalrymple, TVA senior vice president, Transmission & Power Supply. “More importantly, her work to guide the development and implementation of reliability standards ensures the continued reliable operation of the TVA grid to help create a brighter future for our children.”
About those children, Parsons cares deeply. As an electrical engineer, she’s worked hard to pave the way for girls, in particular, to pursue STEM careers. “I would like to see it get easier for young girls to see themselves in a STEM role,” she says. “I want young girls to understand that they can do the math and the sciences.”
She’s volunteered via TVA’s Partners in Education and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Chattanooga section to work with elementary school students and led her team in the development of a yearly STEM Academy for high school students, which takes place in Chattanooga each summer.
Her dedication and passion for her work has been noticed beyond the boundaries of the Tennessee Valley—Parsons is also among the top 10 nominees for Federal Engineer of the Year. She’ll attend the ceremony in Washington, D.C., along with her management team and her husband of 32 years, Tim Parsons, who is a TVA telecom electrical engineer and manager.
“Whether or not I win, it’s an honor to have been nominated,” she says. Nevertheless, we wish her the best of luck.