An Outage Carol

“I don’t care it’s no excuse, the outage was over budget by 28% and it took three weeks longer than expected. That’s millions of dollars and that’s why you’re not getting your Christmas bonuses this year” said the new Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive (The SCROOGE for short) to the plant manager and his team. “we have obligations to our shareholders to bring a profit to them. After all they deserve a return of their investment. It was their investment that created the jobs that pay you. You should be thankful for your jobs and if you want a bonus next year learn how to control your outages everything else you do is fine”. With that the new SCROOGE packed up his briefcase “I’ll be late for my plane, I’ve got to go, I don’t want to miss my Christmas”

The car waiting for him in the plants parking lot scurried him off to the airport. At the airport security he breezes through the frequent flyer line. He checks his pre printed boarding pass as he walks up to the gate and he is in luck they begin boarding first class just as he walks up. He settles into his seat puts his things away and breathes a sigh of relief, traveling during the holidays is always such a crap shoot one minute your good and then you’re not and there’s nothing you can do about it.

As the plane lifts off the runway he thinks to himself “Now I can relax I’m off for a week and we are in the air nothing stopping us now” and with that he breaths an audible sigh of relief. “That’s a big load off your shoulders eh brother” came for the man sitting next to our SCROOGE. “I love flying first class don’t you” again from the adjacent seat. SCROOGE turned to look at the man sitting next to him he hadn’t noticed him getting on the plane, as he did a meaty hand greeted him “I’m TOE” he said with a chuckle “I fix things, what do you do?” Our SCROOGE, still connected to the meaty hand started to bounce from the handshaking, TOE Looked like a mix of St. Nick, a bear and a strange resemblance to Shrek. “I’m the Senior Corporate Regional Operations Oversight General Executive for a power company” answered our SCROOGE “Well that’s a mouthful” roared TOE “How about I just call you OG for the rest of trip, that OK with you?” it was our SCROOGE didn’t really like his title anyway. “Well OG what do you do?”

Our SCROOGE spent the flight telling TOE everything. He felt strange, he never disclosed this much to anyone at work, how could he?  Everything was so political in his world, you couldn’t just talk freely, you had to be worried about every little thing. It felt good talking to TOE he was understanding of all the different perspectives that had to be handled by our SCROOGE every day. “you know TOE if we could just get our outages under control we would be able to really do well by both the shareholders and the plant personnel. But when you blow an outage its millions of dollars, both in cost and in lost revenue. Nowadays the outages have to be shorter and shorter I just don’t know how we’re going to do it”. TOE laughed, it took our SCROOGE back, “why are you laughing?”

“Let me guess, you keep trying harder and harder and the outages seem to get worse and worse, is that right?” asked TOE. “Well I wouldn’t say worst but defiantly not better “answered our SCROOGE.

“You know a pretty smart fella said doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, why don’t you try something different?”.

“What would we try?  Power plants and outages have been around for a 100 years what could be different?” asked our SCROOGE.

“Well I don’t know about 100 years ago but I’m 45 and when I was young we had one black and white TV with only 7 channels and one rotary dialed phone so things have changed just a bit in my 45 years” This struck a chord with our SCROOGE. “Here try this website, when you get home I bet they have something different for you” TOE handed our SCROOGE a card and with that the plane touched down. As they came to the gate and our SCROOGE got up and got his bags together he turned to thank TOE for the sympathetic ear, he felt much better, but as he turned to shake TOE’s meaty fist, he was gone.  “Strange” he thought, but maybe he had to get somewhere.

Our SCROOGE got home Christmas eve and had a great holiday with his wife and kids. The day after Christmas he settled into his home office to catch up on his work. Most people in the plant don’t realize that time off for our SCROOGE just meant that he wasn’t in the office it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t working. There was research to do, conference calls to be on, contracts to review, financials to figure out, reports to read and emails to answer. Each thing he had to think about from all the different perspectives that had to be considered, employee safety, earnings, future earnings, environmental performance and concerns, regulations etc. etc. the list goes on and on. At the end of his day he cleaned out his brief case and in his hand he found the card that TOE had given him with nothing but the website on it, he typed it in his browser and clicked on the Enter key. On the screen appeared “Thank you for your interest, later on this evening you be visited by three ghost’s do not be scared they are here to help”. Our SCROOGE sat back “figures just another crackpot, what kind of name is TOE anyway”. He shut the computer down and went on with his night.

His wife and children had gone to bed, Our SCROOGE was up watching a movie, he could sleep in the morning, a rarity. He got up to get a midnight snack and as he opened the frig a great white light burst forth and sucked him into the frig. He was immediately transported to a 40’ cargo container flying through time and space, inside stood a man, smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee and yelling the most vulgar and protracted set of explicative’s into the phone with an Irish brogue that was close to undecipherable. He pointed at our SCROOGE and motioned for him to come closer. Our SCROOGE did so, the smoky  mad Irishmen stuck his hand out and our SCROOGE did the same. Soon our SCROOGE was on his knees caught in the iron grip of the filthy mouth oversized leprechaun. With an evil look in his eye and a mischievous grin on his lips the yellow fingered apparition released our SCROOGE while shouting “Have a nice day buddy”. As our SCROOGE got up off the floor, the ghost spoke “I’m the f**king Ghost of f**king outages past, let’s take a f**king walk”. Off they went, the ghost was hard to understand, there was a lot of swearing, almost every other word it seemed like, and the brogue make nothing easy either. Our SCROOGE none the less absorbed a great many images of the way outages were. They took 4 to 6 months, they were major jobs, planned years in advanced. Outages consisted of wall replacements, pendant change outs, basket bottoms, turbine overhauls, generator rewinding. It took 100’s of men working 12 hour and 16 hour shifts for months straight without a day off. Each unit had a major outage every 5 years and the utility held this as gospel. Certainly not what went on in today’s day and age. Something stuck though, these crews did nothing but outages and the way they moved and executed work was very different than the day to day operations of a plant. They knew everything about each piece of equipment. There was a tremendous amount of field supervision with a clear line on command  That was interesting, as soon as these thoughts gelled up in our SCROOGE’s head he found himself standing in front of his frig holding a carton of milk reeking of cigarette smoke. “What the heck was that” he shook his head and poured himself a glass of milk and went back to the TV.

Still absorbing what had or had not happened he began flipping through the channels, he paused on a motor home commercial.  As he listened to the commercial he suddenly realized that he was in a motor home driving down the interstate and the commercial announcer was the driver. Where are we going asked our SCROOGE, “to the next outage, we’re the tube guys we show up take the old tubes out and put new tubes in” The driver was a tall lanky dark hair well spoken man “I’m the ghost of outages present if you haven’t figured that out yet but you can call me Chris it’s easier” he stuck his hand out and after the last experience our SCROOGE was hesitant, Chris laughed, ”I’m not like the past its safe” our SCROOGE shook his hand just as they were pulling into a plant. Chris was a far cry from the last ghost, he was well spoken, he had been an English teacher, he was well tempered and patent. Chris showed our SCROOGE everything he and his crew were doing, they were very knowledgeable. When our SCROOGE asked Chris about the NDE, Chris shrugged his shoulders and said it’s not our job. It was the same for the scaffolding, sandblasting, mechanical work it seemed that Chris was an expert in what he was doing but had no knowledge or care about anything else. Chris explained that the overall knowledge of everything was supposed to be the responsibility of the plant. He went on the explain that the plant never did any of this type of work during its operation so finding someone in the plant who knew everything was not something that happened very often. Our SCROOGE said “well where does a plant guy get this experience?” Chris shook his head “just bouncing around I guess”. Our SCROOGE said “that won’t work” and he suddenly found himself sitting in his chair in front of the TV once again.

From behind him he heard a chuckle, it was the same chuckle he had heard on the plane he turned to find TOE. “I’m far less dramatic then my fellow shades” said TOE “come over here I made some coffee you’re going to need it”. As the two of them made their coffee they walked into the dining room and in the center of the table was a huge crystal ball. “Like I said, I’m much less flashy, just look into the crystal at the outages of the future and watch; when you’re finished we’ll have a talk”. Our SCROOGE watched and what he saw amazed him. Outage after outage on time and on budget all executed by the plant personnel and all the contractors came and went with proper supervision and quality. The plant budgets came under control and the skills that the plant personnel gained during the outages grew new and better supervision and more well rounded management. After what seemed like hours our SCROOGE looked away and the crystal vanished. “Well, did you like what you saw?”. “Yes, how do we get from where we are now to there” our SCROOGE pointed to the spot where the crystal had been. “By doing something different than what you are currently doing” said TOE. “Wait let me get a pad” said our SCROOGE. “Don’t bother, I know a guy who can help, a real guy not one of us shades. He will train your people and get them running great outages, here is his card”

2 thoughts on “An Outage Carol

  1. powersponge

    Jay, I’m just a tadpole in the industry with about 10 yrs. now. I love your articles and insight. Keep it coming brother. I wish in a earlier life I would had a chance to get underneath your wing in this industry. Thanks again, Gene Lynch.

    Reply

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