Flipping the light switch is simple, but behind the scenes, nearly 8,000 Duke Energy teammates work together every day to make it possible.
Together, they maintain a diverse mix of 110 power plants to supply reliable, affordable and increasingly clean power for millions of people in the six states Duke Energy serves. To show its appreciation, the company is saluting them on Power Plant Worker Appreciation Day, Nov. 1.
“Safely and reliably powering the lives of our 8.2 million electric customers is an enormous responsibility that takes work, commitment, dedication and, above all, teamwork,” said Paul Draovitch, Duke Energy’s chief regulated and renewable energy officer.
“The team of power plant workers at Duke Energy share a commitment to safety and operational excellence that is second to none,” said Kelvin Henderson, Duke Energy’s chief nuclear officer. “They also spend time supporting the communities in which they work. They often work together to give of their time and resources to help those less fortunate.”
Meet a few of the people who power the grid.
Project manager for hydropower in Carolinas East
Becky Rollins’ team is responsible for dozens of projects at a time. Across the company’s 26 hydroelectric stations in the Carolinas, she oversees work to update equipment, modify infrastructure or make upgrades that will extend the life of the plants. That could mean replacing analog equipment with digital technology at Tillery Hydro Station, which has been in service since 1928, or reinforcing concrete piers at Blewett Falls Hydro Station, which has been producing electricity since 1912.
Hydroelectric power is sustainable, and with no carbon emissions, it’s an important part of Duke Energy’s renewable generation mix. The company's hydro plants produced 4.3 million megawatts of clean generation in 2022, enough to power about 326,000 homes.
The lakes created by Duke Energy’s hydroelectric plants give communities recreational opportunities, like the whitewater runs in Great Falls, S.C., and water to cool other generation types.
“Some of our hydro plants have been in operation for over 100 years,” Rollins said. “It’s how we got our start as a company. And it’s still a key player as we execute on our clean energy transition.”
Rollins worked in Duke Energy nuclear plants before moving to hydropower in 2022. While she was nervous to make the change, it didn’t take long to know it was the right choice.
“I love it. My group is fantastic, and I’ve been able to grow by learning new aspects of Duke Energy and the ways in which we support our customers and communities.”
As the energy industry evolves, so has Chuck Poovey’s career. He spent the last 20 years in energy. His first role was delivering electricity as a lineworker maintaining and building power lines, and then he started generating electricity as a technician at Allen Steam Station in Belmont, N.C., before moving to his current job as a solar technician.
He helps maintain five solar sites in western North Carolina by working on solar inverters, panels and breakers. Solar generation has grown rapidly in the four years since he started and will continue.
Duke Energy recently proposed increasing its solar capacity in the Carolinas by adding 12,000 megawatts of solar power by 2035 – enough to serve 2.4 million customers – as it works to transition to a diverse, clean energy mix to meet the growing energy needs of the communities it serves.
Luckily, Poovey’s skills from coal-fired generation were transferrable to solar. Working with electrical equipment, he said, is similar – it’s just different equipment. Being at solar sites has helped him combine his favorite things about his previous roles, too. He gets to work outside, provide power for millions and work with a great team.
“It was exciting also to come to a new department that we know is the future of the company,” Poovey said. “We're growing exponentially, and it's just been real fun.”
Robert Thompson is part of the Fleet Maintenance team that maintains voltage regulation equipment for Duke Energy’s hydro, nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants. He travels across the states Duke Energy serves to do maintenance, install upgraded equipment or fix a problem. Most of the team’s work is planned, but if there’s an issue, they get to another state quickly so the plant can generate electricity again. Their work results in cost savings for customers and a faster response than relying on vendors.
Thompson, who’s been in his role for 10 years, said he visits about 75 power plants a year. Each plant has equipment from different manufacturers. Much like cars, even though they all have the same purpose, each manufacturer’s system works a little differently. He’s now an expert even though he didn’t originally think about a career at a utility. Thompson wanted to be an engineer but said working in electronics is a good balance of theory and hands-on work. When he was in college for engineering, he decided to join the Navy, where he was introduced to electronics. After leaving the Navy, he worked for an automotive manufacturer and then joined Duke Energy.
Before working in power plants, he said he didn’t think about what happens behind the scenes.
“There’s a lot of coordination, different groups and planning that goes into place to make sure everything stays on and reliable,” he said, “and I took that for granted.”
Site vice president at Catawba Nuclear Station
Nicole Flippin is the plant’s top leader, responsible for its operations, engineering, maintenance and training. With 23 years of experience in the nuclear industry, she has worked many jobs from engineer to senior reactor operator and maintenance manager. As site vice president, her day involves a mix of technical tasks like reviewing the plant’s performance and planning for maintenance, and people-oriented tasks like hiring and developing employees.
Duke Energy operates six nuclear power plants that generate about half of the electricity for its customers in North Carolina and South Carolina. The reliable, carbon-free energy produced by these plants is vital to affordably meet customers’ energy needs in the Carolinas and achieve the company’s clean energy transition. The company is also exploring using small modular reactors and advanced reactor technologies to expand its nuclear fleet.
Catawba Nuclear Station in York, S.C., is licensed through 2043, and Duke Energy plans to submit a license renewal to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the plant for an additional 20 years. As part of that effort, Flippin and her team are looking for opportunities to further modernize the plant and use new technology like drones and other robotics to make operations more efficient.
“One of the great things about working in the nuclear power industry is that you have the opportunity to do all kinds of different things,” Flippin said. “When I walk onto the turbine deck and think about the turbine spinning at 1,800 revolutions per minute, I still get excited to come to work at Catawba every day and make electricity.”
Combustion turbine technician
Ben Niese is part of the operations and maintenance team in Ohio. He spends most of his time at Woodsdale and Madison natural gas plants testing, repairing and upgrading equipment so the plants are ready when they’re needed. From their control rooms, the team can generate enough electricity to power hundreds of thousands of homes in less than 12 minutes.
Being able to generate electricity on demand provides flexibility when temperatures are extreme and grid operators need to supply customers with electricity to heat or cool their homes.
In addition to these plants, members of the operations and maintenance teams have responsibility for Duke Energy's solar sites in Kentucky.
Duke Energy employees monitor the sites and make repairs or conduct maintenance about once a month.
Niese enjoys being able to fix things like he did when he started his career as an electrician, but working in electric generation, he said, is even more rewarding.
"It feels good knowing when you see the lights on in somebody's house or a family's warm in the winter,” he said, “it's because we were able to put power on the grid.”