The people who live among the lakes and forests in far northern Michigan are hardy people. Up at the northern end of Lakes Huron and Michigan, three and half hours north of Detroit, the winters are long, cold and dark.
Members of Grand Rapids, Mich., Local 876 who work at the Alpine gas plant, pictured left to right: Kyle Glanert, Jeff Fisher, Jesse Genther, Evan Simon, Robert Markillie, Jacob Hoggard, Curtis Boyd, Sam Dodds, Darrek Mort, Adam Kelley, Dan Boulter
In the utility industry, the best is not the fanciest or the newest. The best is the most reliable, because light and heat aren't luxuries; they're necessities. And for utilities, reliable should be the expectation. For IBEW-staffed utilities, the standard is so high that reliability is simply taken for granted.
But sometimes reliable is so extraordinary the rest of the world has to stop and take notice. Show up to one baseball game, no big deal. Never miss a game for 16 years and you get a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
Every year, Power Magazine scours the globe to find the best, most efficient and most advanced gas power plants in the world for their annual awards issue. The editors of the magazine often highlight the showy and the new, like the plant in Shenzhen, China, where a revolutionary pollution reduction system won a nod this year.
This year, however, the editors also honored the 432 megawatt Wolverine Power Cooperative's Alpine gas plant in Elmira, Mich., for a record-breaking reliability record.
"It was a surprise. There are so many gas plants everywhere," said Grand Rapids, Mich., Local 876 member and Chief Plant Operator Dan Boulter. "We are honored that they chose us."
First, they had more total starts — 337 — than any other plant running GE's latest 7F.05 turbine fleet. Second, when they got the call from the system operator to add power to the grid, they met the deadline 99.7% of the time.
"I speak for all of us at Alpine when I say we are proud of the work we do to serve our members. When people come to our plant, we take pride in our ownership of its performance and appearance. We take care of everything inside this gate, from cleaning the toilets to troubleshooting our emissions control system," Boulter said.
In recognition of the ownership they take in the plant, Wolverine puts the names of Boulter and the nine other workers who run Alpine on a plaque out front — a practice Wolverine employs at all of its plants.
"I have never seen that before," said Local 876 Business Manager Chad Clark. "That's the only company I know of anywhere, and those members earn it."
The plant is not only one of the most reliable in the nation. Alpine's owners, the Wolverine Power Cooperative, say it is the most efficient in their fleet.
"The plant's performance — and this award — are made possible only by the plant's exceptional group of employees who take enormous pride in their facility and commitment to serving our members," said Dan Calverley, Wolverine's vice president of generation. "This award is a direct reflection of their commitment to excellence."
And putting up the names of the team that runs the plant year-round — Boulter alongside Maintenance Operators Curtis Boyd, Jeff Fisher, Kyle Glanert, Jacob Hoggard, Adam Kelley, Robert Markillie, Darrek Mort, and Evan Simon — Calverley said it was nothing less than what they earned.
"When you see how nice we like to keep it, you see our pride. Our names are on this plant; we have skin in the game," Boulter said.
Not only are IBEW members running the plant, they built it. The $166 million project began in 2015 and used only union trades. Signatory contractor Swan Electric hired members of Traverse City, Mich., Local 498 for all the substation, power line and construction work that brought the plant to life.
It nearly goes without saying that the project came in on time and on budget.
"I travel the country saying the IBEW has the safest, most productive and professional workers in the electrical industry," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "These members more than back up my confidence, and I'm glad they're getting the recognition they earned. This is what being the best looks like."
Clark said that quality of the work mirrors the relationship with Wolverine.
"We get along very well with Wolverine. They take care of their workers. They value them and it shows in the work they get in return," Clark said.
Boulter said that while they do nearly all the work themselves — nearly 95% of the plant's work orders are for preventative/predictive maintenance — he may be proudest of what he hears from his peers in the industry, the traveling millwrights who work outages and do upgrades all across the region and see into dozens of plants.
"We like when the millwrights come to the plant and say 'We don't usually see a plant this clean.' Or 'We are treated great around here,'" Boulter said. "It's a good sign when they tell you 'When you need help, we want to come back.'"