At SMUD’s Hedge substation, IBEW Local 1245 members are hard at work, installing wiring for two major projects that are going on simultaneously.
“We are upgrading a 115kv circuit breaker, so we’re taking out the old style oil circuit breaker, and we’re putting in a new SF6 gas breaker,” explained SMUD Construction Foreman Jimmy Ferris. “And we are also doing 69kv relay upgrade. We have eight 69kv breakers out in the field, and they all have old style electromechanical relays in there. So we’re taking all that out, and pulling all new wiring into the house. And we’re installing new panels and new relays.”
The second project, involving the 69kv breakers, is actually a pilot of sorts. Ferris and his crew are working on the first relay upgrade of this type, and once they determine the best and most efficient process to get the job done, they’ll use that as the standard to do the same sort of upgrade at SMUD’s other major substations.
Like most new projects, this one is not without its challenges.
“I came into this project when it was already part of the way into production and engineering. Some of the players that were involved in the beginning didn’t have as much experience in construction,” said Ferris. “Just because you draw it on paper doesn’t always mean it’s going to work out in the field. We know from experience whether this [approach] is going to work, or this is going to work better, or this is just not going to work at all.”
The Value of Experience
Ferris, a 16-year member of Local 1245, understands the value of experience, both at work and within the union. He’s been at SMUD for 12 years, and before that, he worked for four years at the City of Roseville. He’s been able to see the major gains and improvements that the union has made for the workers at SMUD over the years, and he appreciates having that perspective.
“I’ve been in the union for a long time. I know where we were when I first got here, and I understand the things that we didn’t have then, as opposed to what we do have now,” said Ferris. “Honestly, this is the first job I’ve ever had where we get the kind of benefits that we have now. If I’m too sick to come to work, I still get paid, and I don’t have to use my own truck, and I don’t have to buy my own tools. I remember the days [when we didn’t have any of that] … the union has fought this really long and hard fight to get us these decent working conditions. I’m very proud of that, I’m very grateful.”
Photos by John Storey