Developing In-House Governor Expertise

Just a few years ago, hydro plant journeymen at Southern Company did not know how to perform repairs on their Woodward hydraulic governors. They had to rely on outside technicians to keep the equipment in top condition. To ensure self-sufficiency in making repairs and to save money, Southern Company created a governor training program. The result? More than 45 hydro journeymen and personnel are now “governor experts.”

By Donna S. Cope

In 2002, the secrets of operating and maintaining the governors in 33 hydro plants owned by two Southern Company subsidiaries, Alabama Power Company and Georgia Power Company, resided in the mind of one employee. And that employee was just five years away from retirement.

By design, the hydraulic governors that control all of Alabama Power’s 41 hydro turbine-generating units and 49 of Georgia Power’s 72 units were manufactured by Woodward Governor Co. During the early 1900s, when many Alabama Power and Georgia Power hydro facilities were under construction, Woodward was the gold standard for governors. It is a testament to Woodward’s superb engineering that many of these governors are still in use after many decades of operation. For example, the governor at Alabama Power’s 100-MW Jordan project on the Coosa River has been in service since 1928.

In the past, Alabama Power relied heavily on Woodward (which was purchased by GE Global Services) to supply trained technicians to keep its governors in top condition. During the late 1970s, nobody at Alabama Power knew how to repair the governors. This meant the hydro plants were sometimes hard-pressed to get rapid service from technicians, who were also in demand at other hydro facilities.

In 1980, Denny Winn, superintendent of the 225-MW Walter Bouldin plant on the Coosa River in Alabama, stepped in to deal with this situation. His plant’s maintenance budget was a primary motivator in this decision. In the 1970s and 1980s, the hydro plants experienced a lot of problems with the governors, required personnel to call in Woodward technicians from Wisconsin for maintenance work at least three times a year, for as long as a week at a time. A three-day governor overhaul could cost $15,000.

Winn was familiar with most of the operating systems at his facility — except the governor. To address this shortcoming, Winn spent months poring over copies of Woodward’s original manuals from the plant superintendent’s office. In addition, whenever Woodward technicians were on site, Winn watched them repair the equipment. Gradually, with his increasing knowledge and growing understanding of the workings of this piece of equipment, Winn began experimenting with rebuilding the company’s governors as they needed repairs. Finally, in 1980, he completed a full disassembly and reassembly of one of the governors at the 180-MW Martin hydro plant on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama.

By the mid-1980s, word had spread throughout Alabama Power regarding Winn’s expert handling and knowledge of the Woodward governors. Winn soon began receiving calls from hydro superintendents throughout the four-state Southern Company system (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida). Since 1990, Winn has performed repairs on all 41 Alabama Power hydro governors and has rebuilt many governors at Georgia Power’s Chattahoochee River hydro plants.

Developing a training program

Given the amount of governor work he was performing and his upcoming planned retirement, Winn foresaw the need for an in-house governor training program at Southern Company. This would allow him to document his Woodward governor knowledge and pass on that knowledge to younger employees.

In 2001, Winn sought help from Mike Carder, technical training analyst for Southern Company, to produce a governor training program for hydro employees. That meeting was the birth of Southern Company’s Woodward Governor Training Program and manual.

It took Winn, Carder, and a team of several hydro employees about a year to assemble the training program, which was distributed to employees in 2002. The instruction manual, contained in a three-inch binder, offers 12 CD-Roms that feature interactive training to provide step-by-step support for a variety of governor maintenance tasks. It also includes 176 pages of manuals from Woodward, with mechanical drawings, a parts spreadsheet, and exploded views of equipment. The training manual is also available to employees on Southern Company’s intranet site.

Repairs to the Woodward governors at Southern Company hydro facilities now can be performed by hydro journeymen, thanks to the development of a governor training program and procedures manual.
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Southern Company hired a freelance videographer to tape the instruction segments, giving an up-close view as governor components were inspected, re-moved, rebuilt, installed, reset, adjusted, and re-started. In the training videos, hydro journeyman Wayne Handley helps dismantle and rebuild a governor at the Martin plant. Handley, an employee at Alabama Power’s 157.5-MW Smith project on the Warrior River, is knowledgeable about the problems employees can encounter. “If you go about troubleshooting in the wrong way, this work can be dangerous,” Handley cautions in the video. “For instance, you must make sure you don’t do anything to hamper the pilot valve from working, or take away hydraulic control from the valve. That could remove the unit’s speed control, which could cause the unit to over-speed and self-destruct. It would be a catastrophic failure.”

Alabama Power experienced such a tragedy at its 177-MW Lay hydro facility on the Coosa River. In February 1944, the Unit 4 governor failed, killing three employees and injuring a fourth. The Unit 4 governor oversped and disintegrated, sending the generator through the powerhouse wall. The unit was repaired. Lay’s six original governors remained in service from 1914 until 1966, when they were replaced with new Woodward equipment that is still operating.

The Warrior River hydro system has three plants: Smith, with two generating units, and 52.4-MW Bankhead and 40-MW Holt, each with one generating unit. Because this generating system has a small staff of hydro journeymen, the plant superintendents schedule outages so the facilities can share employees during governor inspections and rebuilds, along with other work.

Alabama Power’s 177-MW Lay hydro facility on the Coosa River contains Woodward governors installed in 1966. Thanks to the company’s governor training program, personnel have kept the units running for more than 40 years.
Click here to enlarge image

The governor maintenance schedule at these three plants calls for an inspection and rebuild every five years. This means the hydro journeymen perform, on average, at least one governor rebuild a year as they rotate from one Warrior River plant to another, making repairs during scheduled maintenance outages. The governor training program provides a refresher course. The manual’s “Five- year Inspection” segment takes employees through the entire process of checking the equipment, from start to finish. In this video, Winn, Handley, and other employees remove components and disassemble the pieces; inspect, rebuild, and install components; perform a permanent magnet generator inspection, disassembly, and rebuild; and do a governor set-up and make adjustments.

The corresponding checklist in the manual tells hydro journeymen to check electrical clearances, begin disassembly, and take measurements and readings. The checklist also details the order for removing all pieces before organizing components for inspection.

With these interactive tools, teams of three employees can now perform all preventive maintenance repairs on a governor within three or four days. Typically, one day is spent on equipment disassembly, one day for cleaning, and one day for reassembly.

The “Troubleshooting Forum” video is among the training program’s most valuable offerings. In the segment, Winn and three other practiced hydro superintendents discuss governor problems they have seen during their careers, along with tips for handling situations that do not normally occur. This can include dealing with wearing of the permanent magnet generator or sticking of the pilot valve and/or pilot valve bushings.

Jason Redmond, Alabama Power hydro manager, says the program’s value extends far beyond simply keeping the governor running smoothly. “This program offers employees incredibly more than ‘how-to’s,’ ” says Redmond. “It has made a huge difference in the capabilities of our hydro work force because it has not only provided our employees the skills and knowledge to work on governors, but has also helped given them the confidence to seek to better understand other plant equipment and systems.”

With Carder’s oversight, training classes have been held yearly since 2002 for all hydro journeymen on Alabama Power’s four river systems and Georgia Power’s three river systems. Gene Allison, who manages Georgia Power’s six Chattahoochee River hydro facilities, said his employees use the manual several times yearly. A 33-year veteran of Southern Company hydro who also has worked at Alabama Power, Allison says hydro’s working environment of 20 years ago was starkly different from today’s governor maintenance situation. He recalls how intimidated employees used to be by the sight of an actuator cabinet.

All of the company’s hydro journeymen have check sheets that spell out what needs to be checked on the governors, in sequence. During daily plant rounds, for instance, employees visually inspect the governors. The equipment is lubricated every week.

Performing five-year preventative maintenance, however, is extremely complex. In that endeavor, hydro journeymen follow the governor training program’s 17-step check sheet of instructions. For each step, employees may refer to the training manual to determine the exact details of what is required.

“Now, journeymen can take their laptops out with the CDs of the program and see, on the spot, how to install a component or make a repair,” Winn says. The manual contains diagrams and all the equipment settings, so the journeymen can ensure that various equipment set points and adjustments are correct.

In his search for as much information as possible about the equipment, Winn often used a magnifying glass to check part numbers. He created listings of bearings, oil motor vibrators, oil light bushings — and every part required to properly run the governor. These listings included materials and pricing lists from several local vendors. This information has been provided to every Southern Company hydro journeyman.

By using the company’s training and reference manuals, Winn can rebuild a governor for about $750 for the materials, not counting labor. In further efforts to save on costs, his team often fabricates bushings and other equipment. However, the plants buy critical equipment such as main valve and ball head components.

These days, Winn seldom receives a call about the governors — proof of the training program’s success. And, the company is saving money with its internal training program, instead of paying $2,500 or more per employee, per day, for an intensive four-day, vendor-supplied class.

“All 41 governors are in tip-top shape,” adds Winn. “I’m proud of our journeymen, who have the confidence to jump in and keep our governors tuned up. What we’ve done will help Southern Company down the road.”

Ms. Cope may be reached at Alabama Power, 600 North 18th Street, MN-0668, Birmingham, AL 35203; (1) 205-257-1951; E-mail: To learn more about the governor training program, contact Mike Carder at (1) 205-257-4326; E-mail: dmcarder@

Donna Cope is communications specialist for Alabama Power Company, a subsidiary of Southern Company.

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