AuthorTopic: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant  (Read 1661 times)

Offline roamer

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Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« on: February 20, 2013, 03:49:44 PM »
Been in a storm at my job for the last several months in a 500 MW lignite coal fired power plant that shows very clear signs of systemic organizational failure.  Its hard to reflect or share perspective on this type of experience while it is happening.  There is neither energy, nor time to properly do so, particularly since I need to save my energy and money for my future doomsteading ventures and can’t afford to let this crap burn me out.  However thought you guys might find a few observations interesting.

As things continue to unfold following a 3 month plant outage caused by a generator failure I've come to realize I am witnessing a breakdown in hierarchical organizational dynamics. 

There is no one cause but I can say that there are several feedback loops in place that are tearing the organization apart. 

Knowledge and Manpower Gaps: I know operations and technician departments struggle with these gaps, but I can better speak for the engineering department which I work for.  Our plant used to operate with 4 engineers, it is now a 2 man department headed by my 33 year old boss  and supported by myself.  It is a department structured to be responsible for any operational and maintenance  issues in the plant, this includes literally hundreds of subsystems.  Turbines, boiler, pumps, controls, you name it we are expected to know it and have answers.  In addition to those daily duties we are also expected to be corporate financial minions and provide weekly, and monthly in depth operational reports.  More recently too we have become responsible for all environmental emissions systems care and reporting.

From my point of view I see this pulling the organization apart in two ways.  Financial and environmental are burning up engineering manpower they don’t have to spare and furthermore are stuck in reality disconnect at corporate central 400 miles away and are worrying and obsessing over minutia that doesn’t matter, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic and what not….  The second large disconnect is worse, the operators, technicians and and maintenance departments are rightfully losing faith in engineering and management. 

Since the company is publicly traded it can be traced back to money chasing profit.  The standard operating practice has been pinch the budget tighter and tighter and run with fewer and fewer people.  The big heroic move made last year by higher ups was transitioning to a $2500 deductible health insurance plan.  This year our plant manager made the heroic budget move, he pushed my much needed $9 million boiler tube replacement project two years out and avoided having it show up in the budget…..
You really would not believe the shit that is holding the unit online.  Actually the more I get embedded in the operations the more I want to stay for just a bit longer so I got some good stories to tell someday. For example today we saved the unit from coming offline by pounding a leaking pipe joint weld on our condensate storage tank with a punch.  Later in the day I was tasked with setting up and tuning our untested hot water system which sells water to the fracking companies.  No one ever did any real deep thought on how this would interact with our turbine driven forced draft fans.  To get the improperly designed system to operate at the hot frack water outlet flows I was instructed to achieve I ended up having a diversion valve get stuck due to higher than expected backpressure.  For ten minutes the exhaust pressure on the FD fans climbed within .5 psi of tripping the unit.  During this time I had an electrician run down there with a man lift and manually crank open the valve just in time……

The weirdest thing though is that we seem to have a plant wide or possibly town wide endemic of some sort of weird illness.  The symptoms are red itchy eyes, cough foggy head, and skin breakouts.  I have overhead a couple of guys who went in to the doc about it mention abnormal liver bilirubin values, incidently my bilirben was high on my last doc trip too.  I however stopped drinking water from this area at that time and do feel better. Stress and fracking related??

Anyways  what is apparent to me is that complex hierarchies like these are really nightmares once they start to disintegrate.  There is no center and no one at the wheel, its just too complex to manage and too many people involved with too many different conflicting perspectives to recover order.  They will get squeezed by the financial system seeking profit and eventually breakdown.  Its up to us to figure out ways to resiliently organize before that happens.....

Offline Mark N

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2013, 04:04:45 PM »
Roamer, definitely interesting times we live. I feel your description of what is happening at the power plant is a common tale as industrial civilization ran out of cheap energy decades ago and the answer the corporate managers came up with was to cut cost. No matter how bad the cost cutting hurts organizations they don't seem to care. I guess human ingenuity will solve the problems soon is the logic; meanwhile keep those corporate profits high.

Thanks for the post, very interesting.

Offline luciddreams

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2013, 04:27:39 PM »
interesting indeed...sounds like you need to quite before something blows up and kills you.  Hard to tell stories when you are worm food, but I guess maybe you can tell the worms all about it.  Actually you don't even get that natural right to decay in the ground anymore.  They pump you full of formaldehyde, encase you in a box, and then entomb that in concrete...there will be worms in the soil they cover that up with...maybe, depending on how they manage their cemetary  ;D

When I was a newbie on the ship I came a pussy hair away from making the reactor scram.  I was on main feed pump watch switching pumps.  We had three and two had to stay online at all times.  So switching pumps was meticulous...no room for fucking up.  I fucked up and turned the wrong valve and the wrong time and the entire pump tripped offline.  Seconds later reactor department was out of their racks (it was like 0300 and we were dropping bombs on Afghanistan in the Arabian sea in response to 9/11) running around like rabid squirrels trying to unfuck what my dumb ass had done.  When the reactor scrams the entire navy knows about it in minutes.  Admirals show up.  We were seconds from scraming.  I didn't shit for a few weeks.  I never dropped another main feed pump either.   

Offline Surly1

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2013, 05:01:56 PM »
What happened to you? Clearly you didn't get sent to Gotmo or eastern Europe.
"...reprehensible lying communist..."

Offline roamer

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2013, 06:04:51 PM »
luciddreams, Wow, what was your punishment for that mistake!?

Offline luciddreams

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2013, 06:45:31 PM »
one of the Hull Tech's (navy plumber) opened and closed the wrong valves in the shitter piping and it caused all of the shit to go the wrong way.  All six toilets turned into shit bazookas and shit blew out all over that head.  I had to squeegie all of the shit down the drains in that head.  Fuckin' sucked.  Plus I was the reactor plant dumb ass for a couple of weeks.  Lot's of small valve maintenance as well. 

Offline WHD

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2013, 07:31:58 PM »
Quote
Its up to us to figure out ways to resiliently organize before that happens.....

WOW! What a tale! Don't stay too long. Might make a good book for the Doomstead enterprise to sell though.  I'll edit it for ya.  :icon_mrgreen:

Offline Petty Tyrant

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2013, 10:52:58 PM »
one of the Hull Tech's (navy plumber) opened and closed the wrong valves in the shitter piping and it caused all of the shit to go the wrong way.  All six toilets turned into shit bazookas and shit blew out all over that head.  I had to squeegie all of the shit down the drains in that head.  Fuckin' sucked.  Plus I was the reactor plant dumb ass for a couple of weeks.  Lot's of small valve maintenance as well.

They wanted to make sure you learned your lesson real good so you wouldnt forget. ROFL!!!
ELEVATE YOUR GAME

Offline widgeon

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2013, 03:54:10 PM »
Good story Roamer.  I see this happening almost everyday too.  There is a younger generation coming up that neither knows nor cares to learn how these complex systems work.  Hey, it all works on the simulator, etc. so that's good enough.  Wrong.  Real life problems, including human ones, require real knowledge, skill & experience to operate.  The youngsters think their jobs are just rides at the amusement park and it's all coming undone.  I can see pieces falling off (collapse) on pretty much a weekly basis and NO ONE seems to care.


Offline monsta666

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2013, 04:09:17 PM »
Good story Roamer.  I see this happening almost everyday too.  There is a younger generation coming up that neither knows nor cares to learn how these complex systems work.  Hey, it all works on the simulator, etc. so that's good enough.  Wrong.  Real life problems, including human ones, require real knowledge, skill & experience to operate.  The youngsters think their jobs are just rides at the amusement park and it's all coming undone.  I can see pieces falling off (collapse) on pretty much a weekly basis and NO ONE seems to care.

I think the other issue, at least this is the issue in England is engineers are paid relatively poorly when compared to other professions such as I.T. and especially the financial sector. As a result of this all the best maths wizards, who would make good engineers, go towards the financial sector and you get a lose of the best talent in this industry. Thing is this loss is not immediately felt because you just retain the older generation until they pretty much croak but then you get a shortage of workers and since the job is so difficult and does not pay so well (relative to others) you do not get the required talent to fill these positions.

Offline roamer

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2013, 05:24:01 PM »
widgeon,
Not just the youngsters, I see a vast majority of 55+ folks just expecting the gravy train to carry them, thier RV's and harleys into retirement.
monsta666, Sure there is the market pulling talent away into areas like IT, but if you catch me on a pessimistic day I'd argue we've lost serious ground on deep scientific literacy  That is the real knowledge we are missing, without it we are just a bunch of specialist adding noise to the system at large. Can't run an industrial system without lots of people who deeply understand science, particularly science from a systems perspective. 

Offline BabyShawn

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Re: Observations from inside a failing Power Plant
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2013, 10:14:54 PM »
They pump you full of formaldehyde, encase you in a box, and then entomb that in concrete...there will be worms in the soil they cover that up with...maybe, depending on how they manage their cemetary

 

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