Atop an 86-foot dam in central North Carolina, Becky Rollins looks out over the Pee Dee River. It’s beautiful, she said, motioning below.
The floodgates at Tillery Hydroelectric Plant, in service since 1928, are being refurbished. Rollins is there to see how the project is going.
“I like to get my hands dirty, so this part of my job is fun. It’s important, too, when you consider how many projects we manage,” she said on her way to meet a second team, in charge of a station controls upgrade.
A digital interface will replace the station’s analog control system, new technology that Rollins said will enhance reliability of Tillery’s power generation.
As manager of projects for Hydro East, Rollins and her team are responsible for capital upgrades at 15 of Duke Energy’s 26 hydroelectric stations in the Carolinas.
“My team oversees a large portfolio, about 50 projects right now,” she said. “We replace outdated equipment, modify existing structures and implement other upgrades to extend the life of our hydro plants.”
This work is supported by engineers, project managers, project control specialists, as well as construction and implementation managers, which frees up Rollins to focus on the bigger picture: to finish safely, on time and within budget.
25 miles south – Rollins’ next stop – is Blewett Falls Hydro Station in Lilesville, N.C.
After a safety briefing, protocol for any visit to a construction site, a Duke Energy project manager got Rollins up-to-speed on the day’s activities.
The existing concrete piers have been removed, repaired and reinforced with rebar to improve structural stability. The piers will be reinstalled, along with girders and a new crane rail on the water intake side, so that it can continue to withstand the weight of the load.
Then, it’s back to Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, where Rollins lives with her husband, Jackson, and their son, Brock. Not far from her office at Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station.
“I like to start my week in the office,” Rollins said, “answer emails, review budgetary and project reports and ensure everything is being executed safely and within our standards.”
Hydroelectric power is environmentally friendly, carbon-free – and an important part of Duke Energy’s renewable generation mix as the company moves toward its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The company's hydro plants provided 4.3 million megawatts of generation in 2022, which, on average, is enough to power about 326,000 homes.
“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.”
Quick start-up times make hydroelectric plants ideally suited to provide what’s called peaking power. They can provide electricity in a matter of seconds when customer demand is high – peak times like mornings when people are getting ready for work.
In addition to ensuring a reliable supply of electricity, the lakes created by Duke Energy’s hydroelectric facilities provide communities with recreational opportunities, like the whitewater runs in Great Falls, South Carolina, and cooling water for other generation types.
Rollins got her start in nuclear generation in 2007. She became a Duke Energy contractor in 2013, assigned to Oconee Nuclear Station on Lake Keowee, which led to a full-time position in 2015.
A lead project controls specialist, she was part of a team that made safety enhancements to ensure the company’s nuclear plants could withstand extreme natural events, as well as another that supported their relicensing.
In 2018, she was assigned to McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman. As a project controls manager, Rollins gained experience in scheduling, cost control and analysis, as well as portfolio reporting.
It prepared her for what came next, an opening on the hydro team.
When the opportunity presented itself in 2022, Rollins was surprised. She’d worked in nuclear her whole career. That trepidation didn’t last long, she said, reflecting on the last year.
“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.”