Another Benefit of Hydro

The “silver tsunami” of retirements in the hydropower industry is upon us. “Nationally, one-third of utility employees will retire in the next 10 years,” says Debbie Gallaher, supervisor of the visitor center at the 1,300-MW Rocky Reach project. The competition with other industries needing employees with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills is fierce. Rural hydro facilities are particularly hard hit.

The missing piece is effectively communicating with high school students that STEM careers in hydropower exist. Counselors and teachers focus on helping students complete requirements to apply to college, not consider career opportunities. In addition, several studies have shown that if you can recruit students to jobs in the area where they grew up, retention increases significantly.

The Foundation for Water and Energy Education (FWEE) identified a win-win: Work with high school students to build bridges to STEM hydropower career opportunities, and know that those who pursue those careers are significantly reducing recruitment and training costs for utilities.

Thus, FWEE and the Chelan County Public Utility District, which owns Rocky Reach, launched the FWEE Hydropower and STEM Career Academy in 2016.

The details

Students from Ione, Wash., near the Canadian border, to Beaverton, Ore. (outside of Portland), participated. Students were entering grades 9 through 12 or had graduated from high school and were enrolled to start their freshman year of college.

The academy took place at the Rocky Reach Visitor Center, on the Columbia River about 8 miles north of Wenatchee, Wash.

Day 1 included two STEM challenges on energy transfer and group tours of a dismantled generation unit and fish surface collector and bypass system. Day 2 included modules with a mechanical/project engineer, electrical engineer/wiremen, plant mechanic, plant operator and divers/lineman. Day 3 included courses on making the STEM connection in school, getting resources, educational diversity and career opportunities. Day 4 offered a visit to the fish sampling center, along with information on apprenticeships and a demonstration of incremental systems. Day 5 found students building their own hydropower projects and mapping their education/career pathway.

Students received instruction and advice on how to prepare for a career in the exciting field of power generation and delivery. High school counselors, college advisors and mentors were on hand to identify the prerequisites and academic achievement needed to pursue these and related careers.

Students learn about hydropower careers.
Students learn about hydropower careers.

“We’d like to show local students the high quality, good paying jobs that could be part of their future,” Gallaher says.

Applicants needed a GPA of 2.5 or above for the most recent academic year and submitted an essay of 100 to 250 words describing why they were interested in attending the academy. Registration was $175 per student, with some scholarships available. For those traveling more than one hour, a host family option was made available.

Sixteen students participated in 2016. The combination of hands-on STEM activities, tours and meeting with employees who could directly explain what they do and career opportunities is innovative and well-received. Student evaluations were positive and confirmed three important points:

  • The students had little to no idea of STEM career opportunities behind the “concrete curtain;”
  • They are interested in these options; and
  • They need bridges and programs like the academy to learn about and pursue them.

Into the future

FWEE and Chelan County PUD will repeat their partnership in 2017 and will add more hands-on activities, increase direct recruitment with schools through classroom presentations and after-school activities, and continue to reach out to female and Hispanic populations that are difficult to recruit.

FWEE also is actively working on bringing the program to Seattle, Portland and other areas. One new partner is Washington STEM, an organization that advances excellence, equity and innovation in STEM education for students in Washington State. The local affiliate, Wenatchee Learns, is assisting with marketing, recruitment, development of materials and expansion state-wide.

— By Randall Stearnes, president, Foundation for Water and Energy Education and community relations officer, Tacoma Power; and Debbie Gallaher, visitor services manager, Chelan County Public Utility District

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Another Benefit of Hydro

Tacoma Power, a municipally owned electric utility, generates about 3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year at its seven hydropower facilities in Washington State. In addition to generating electricity, these projects offer outdoor recreation opportunities, including four campgrounds owned and operated by the utility.

To promote recreational opportunities and benefits of hydropower, the utility’s public relations staff is in continual need of high-quality photos. In 2003, the utility organized a contest as a way of getting such photos and has held the event each year since. The contest encourages amateur shutterbugs to photograph people at Tacoma Power’s lakes, campsites, and playgrounds. Their photographs appear in brochures and other parks and recreation publications promoting opportunities for swimming, boating, waterskiing, fishing, camping, biking, and other outdoor family fun at Tacoma Power’s hydro projects.

“We found that buying photos was expensive and didn’t capture the essence of our parks,” says Pam Hefley, Tacoma Power fisheries technician, who coordinates the contest. “We asked for help from the people who enjoy our lakes and campgrounds the most – park visitors and campers.”

Because of the positive response from visitors, Tacoma Power will hold its fifth consecutive contest in 2007.

“Our categories change slightly each year based on our publication needs,” Hefley says. “For example, when we needed photos of people safely enjoying water sports, we got them from entries in the action category.”

In 2006, Tacoma Power received 125 entries in the contest and awarded prizes in five categories: kids; action; family fun; campsites and campfires; and Mossyrock Dam open house (an event held each May).

Kathy Grant of Olympia, Wash., took this photograph, which was the 2006 grand prize winner in Tacoma Power’s annual photo contest. Winning photos appear in brochures and other publications promoting recreational facilities owned and operated by the utility.
Click here to enlarge image

Anyone who visits Tacoma Power’s parks or project lands is eligible to enter. “Our parks, lakes, and wildlife lands are open to everyone,” Hefley says, “so anyone who visits can enter the contest.”

For the past two years, one of the categories has been for photos taken at an open house held at the Mossyrock Dam, the tallest dam in Washington State and part of Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz River project. Located on the Cowlitz River near Mossyrock, Washington, the power plant began operating in 1968.

“On bus tours during the open house, we distributed 20 disposable cameras to volunteer photographers,” Hefley says. “We asked them to take photos throughout the day as they experienced the view from the 606-foot-high concrete arch dam, toured the powerhouse, and enjoyed food, prizes, and displays. They returned the cameras to us at the end of the day. We entered their photos in the contest and sent them prints to thank them.”

Tacoma Power spends about $600
a year on contest prizes such as high-quality digital cameras; gift certificates to the outdoor gear retail store REI and to Kits Cameras, a retailer of cameras and accessories; and embroidered shirts and fleece pullovers. In 2007, the grand prize will include three nights of camping at Tacoma Power’s Taidnapam Park in Glenoma, Wash., and a $50 gift card to REI or Kits Cameras. Funds for prizes come from the public relations budget for the parks.

Winning photos from the past four contests are on the Internet at: www.; select Photo Contest.

Operating the contest is a year-long process for Tacoma Power. “We choose the categories in January and February and produce the entry forms and posters in March and April,” Hefley says. “We announce the contest in May. The deadline is October 1, so people have all summer to take photos.”

In May, Tacoma Power personnel place posters and entry forms at kiosks at the utility’s campgrounds and boat launches. They also post the information and entry form on the Internet. In October, a panel of judges determines the winning photographs.

“Anybody knows a good photo when he or she sees one,” Hefley says. “We ask between eight and 12 employees from throughout Tacoma Power to put on judges’ hats.”

Judges vote for photos by placing stickers on the piece of paper that holds the photo. Then contest committee members collect the photos with the most stickers. Judges determine the grand prize and group the remaining photos in categories to decide those winners. The remaining photos with the most stickers win honorable mentions.

“We don’t ask the photographers to designate the category,” Hefley says. “That way we can decide to enter a photo in an appropriate category.”

Prizes and certificates are distributed in November and December, after staff makes sure all photo releases are in order. Hefley also sends the winners copies of the publications in which the contest photos appear.

– Pam Hefley, Tacoma Power fisheries technician and photo contest coordinator, may be contacted at Tacoma Power, P.O. Box 11007, Tacoma, WA 98411; (1) 253-502-8706; E-mail: pam.