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Employee Spotlight Savings March 12, 2024

Team PUD’s Quick Thinking Saves Millions of Dollars

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Team PUD’s Quick Thinking Saves Millions of Dollars

Team PUD is constantly finding innovative ways to save the day. A recent cold snap provided another opportunity to showcase our employees’ ingenuity – which ultimately saved the PUD millions of dollars.

Gaylin, a PUD Electrical Tech Constructor, and Martin, a Generation OT Engineering Specialist, found themselves at our Henry M Jackson Hydroelectric Project Powerhouse on the coldest day of the year facing a harrowing challenge. It was 6 a.m. and the plant was scheduled to go to max generation in five hours to help mitigate the substantial increase in power usage anticipated due to the cold temperatures, but something was amiss.

The Unit 2 protocol converter was malfunctioning. Like the famous Star Wars droid C-3PO, protocol converters specialize in communication. Their job is to take machine language and translate it into the appropriate language needed for the generator and other equipment. In normal circumstances, this type of malfunction would put Jackson at half output until it was fixed.

But Gaylin and Martin quickly got to work to find a solution.

Together they used their almost 30 years of collective experience to start troubleshooting the problem. There are cabinets full of spare parts for critical systems at the powerhouse. Some of this equipment is from the ’80s and ’90s. Gaylin and Martin soon realized that the spare protocol converter had already been utilized, and the protocol converter we were using at the time is no longer manufactured.

The duo also discovered that a similar device was installed in package equipment at the dam, and that they could potentially borrow its spare to do the work they needed. This allowed Gaylin and Martin to reprogram a protocol converter from an out-of-service unit at the powerhouse with a new identity and new set of instructions without physically moving the device, and allowed them to run the required generation, also providing time to program and test the spare borrowed from the dam.

This solution was possible because not all four units at the powerhouse are operational during max generation. During max generation, only the two larger units and one smaller unit are operating. The fourth unit is not operated because it would be starved for water since only so much water can come through the tunnel.

“We hadn’t done this before (re-programmed a protocol converter), so within five hours we had to recognize the problem, come up with a solution, connect it to our laptop, and test it with a new identity,” said Martin.

“It’s a black box, and I thought maybe I can get my laptop to connect to it. Then when I got into it, it’s another learning experience,” said Gaylin. “Thankfully we had a configuration file on-hand, so we didn’t have to start from ground zero.”

In the end, Gaylin and Martin were able to reprogram the protocol converter and get the system operational, with time to spare. Their efforts saved the PUD almost $5,000,000 in potential power purchases at a time when utilities across the country were seeking additional power to meet high load demands.