Plant Manager | West Paducah, Ky.
For Randy DeHart, plant manager at Shawnee Fossil Plant in West Paducah, Kentucky, it’s the little things in life that make all the difference. And he means the REALLY little things.
“Those little electrons we push out our transmission lines have had a profound impact on the quality of life in the Tennessee Valley since the 1930s,” said DeHart.
Ironically, those little electrons also keep him focused on the big picture: running his plant smoothly so that it can be of highest benefit to the people of the Valley. His is a job of checks and balances, always with one goal: “to strategically position the site as best you can to provide value to TVA and its customers.”
A large area of his focus stays firmly on the fuel used by his plant.
“We have positioned ourselves to burn cheaper fuels—we are the lowest-cost coal plant in the system,” said DeHart. “Making fuel switches is not always roses and bonbons—there are challenges, and some of those you’ve thought through ahead of time, and some you have missed and you have to deal with after the fact, always ensuring the plant is environmentally compliant.”
Compliance is a key area of environmental stewardship. “We have to be mindful stewards,” DeHart explained. “The Operations team is the eyes and ears of the site. They watch closely for adverse conditions so that they can mitigate them. They get a lot of help from the maintenance and engineering groups.”
Shawnee was constructed and went into operation in the 1950s, and was always ahead of the curve on environmental issues. “Unit 10 was an AFBC—atmospheric fluidized bed combustion—unit, an early combustion science intended to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. That unit was retired in 2014, but more modern scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems are being added to units 1 and 4, and these will go into operation in 2017.”
As plant manager, DeHart also keeps a close eye on the environment inside the plant. “One of the biggest things we have to do is be sure everyone is working safely. We have to monitor that and communicate expectations and make observations. We encourage every team member to do three things: 1. Follow the rules, 2. Take steps to eliminate or reduce risk, 3. Ask, ‘Can I do anything to make it better?’”
DeHart said a lot of his job is team-building. “My philosophy is: surround yourself with good people, set expectations, monitor progress and steer the ship. We have excellent people at Shawnee, but no one is as smart as all of us. We are all about a strong team.”
That team—231 permanent employees, plus as many as 300 contractors during outages—contributes greatly to TVA internally, but also externally to the communities around it. “We go out and spend money, we eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores; we are Scout leaders and soccer coaches,” said DeHart. “We affect the region profoundly, and I remind my employees of this. It’s a great motivator to help drive people to do their best.
That it also improves quality of life is an added bonus for DeHart and his family: wife Laura, a pharmacist, and 8-year-old twins John and Ella.
“With the twins, we stay really busy—I’m John’s Cub Scout leader and Ella’s Upward Basketball coach. Outside of those extracurricular activities, we do a lot of camping, swimming, skiing, church activities and every once in a while we find time to watch a little television.”
His kids are adoring fans who love to go to work with Daddy. And, they, too, are little things that keep DeHart’s eye trained on that big picture: “They call me ‘the chief,’ so I have to live up to that every day.”
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