Transmission Operations Compliance Enforcement Manager | Chattanooga, Tenn.
What kind of guy charges admission to his own birthday party?
A guy like Gabe Kurtz, for one.
Kurtz works in TVA’s Transmission Operations and Power Supply group. He provides guidance and coordinates the tools and technology used to ensure compliance with the national and regional standards that help protect the reliability of North America’s power system.
On his 40th birthday, Kurtz hired a band and threw himself a party to benefit the Orange Grove Center, a nonprofit organization in Chattanooga serving adults and children with disabilities. He charged people to get in, auctioned off gift certificates donated by local restaurants, and asked guests to write checks to Orange Grove instead of bringing gifts.
“My job is making sure we give reliable power to the public. People probably don’t realize the gravity and intensity of what occurs in the System Operation Center. It’s down to the wire here.”
“I can’t remember a better birthday,” Kurtz says, “and, to top it off, I was able to write Orange Grove a check for $1,500 at the end of the evening.”
Kurtz, who also volunteers for a group in Chattanooga that prepares and hands out meals to homeless veterans every Tuesday, describes himself as “a simple man who likes to help others.” It was how he was brought up, he says.
Raised in Service
“My mom, Judy Kurtz, worked as a physical therapist at Orange Grove for many years and is a true advocate for the developmentally disabled,” Kurtz says. “My dad, Jim Kurtz, has always been passionate about education. He worked for TVA for about 20 years and helped start a ‘School to Work’ program for high school students.”
Kurtz was drawn to TVA, in part, because of his dad. “I saw how TVA supported Dad’s interest in helping out his community. I also knew from a middle school history class that TVA was created to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley. I liked the idea of being part of that. It aligns with my personal values.”
Kurtz, a licensed Professional Engineer, joined TVA in 2003 as a transmission operator. He is relatively new to the compliance field but has been in the job long enough to know it’s a good fit for him.
“Transmission operations is highly skilled work in which a single mistake can end up costing someone’s life,” he says. “Helping protect the electricians and linemen who work on power system equipment by making sure everything is done correctly is right up my alley.”
Sweating the Small Stuff
He also sees a direct tie between his job and TVA’s mission of service. “What I do helps make life better for TVA customers in two ways: It helps to keep the lights on, and it helps to keep power rates as low as possible by reducing the risk of penalties for non-compliance with NERC standards—penalties that can range up to $1 million per day.”
NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, is an independent entity that regulates electric power systems in North America. NERC penalties can be high because the consequences of non-compliance can be catastrophic, explains Kurtz.
“The TVA power system is connected to all the other power systems in the United States and to power systems in Canada and part of Mexico. They operate together, essentially as one big machine. If one of those systems experiences an unexpected equipment failure or other disturbance, it could throw a portion of the system out of balance and result in a major blackout like the one that occurred in April 2003. That’s why we sweat even the small stuff in the compliance world.”
A Love of Learning
At work and in his personal life, Kurtz is committed to self-improvement.
He tries to take advantage of as many continuing education opportunities for professional engineers as he can and recently earned a master’s degree in business administration. But his love of learning and personal growth extends beyond his career.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten interested in physical fitness again,” he says. “I’ve made it a point to get in shape by exercising and pushing myself harder physically. I also travel as much as I can. Traveling and meeting people from other cultures broadens your perspective, not only of the world but also of yourself. It’s an amazing way to grow mentally and socially.
“For me, though, it comes back to service. It’s why I volunteer, and it’s what I love about working at TVA. We make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.”
And that service pays dividends: “When I focus on helping others, I become a better person in the process.”
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