Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Shawnee Fossil Plant sits on 2,696 acres on the south bank of the Ohio River about 10 miles northwest of Paducah, Kentucky. The plant is a local landmark, easily recognizable by its 10 original stacks flanked by two tall stacks stretching 800 feet into the sky (Figure 1). Its stacks may stand out in the landscape, but it’s the plant’s operations reputation that’s truly outstanding.

1. Operations excellence. Shawnee Fossil Plant Unit 6 set a new long-run operations record for a coal-fired power plant of 1,093 days, 11 hours, and 24 minutes. Courtesy: TVA

Shawnee, one of 11 TVA coal plants, has a long history of operations excellence, beginning with its timely completion more than 50 years ago (see sidebar). In 2006 alone, Shawnee generated 9.4 million MWh—its highest since 1977—while ranking in the top 25% of plants nationwide for lowest cost of production.

The latest honor accorded Shawnee is the national continuous operating title won by Unit 6: 1,093 days, 11 hours, and 24 minutes when it went off-line on February 15, 2007. The previous national record of 1,017 days, 2 hours, and 59 minutes was set by First Energy’s W.H. Sammis Unit 2 in Ohio on November 14, 2005.

“This phenomenal national achievement is a tribute to the knowledge, positive attitudes, and commitment by every employee at Shawnee, and it bolsters TVA’s mission to provide affordable, reliable power to the people of the Valley,” said TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore.

What makes Shawnee first among equals is a plant staff of 330 dedicated employees, each contributing in his or her own way to the plant’s history of operations excellence. “We achieved this outstanding milestone as a result of the knowledge, pride, and passion of every individual working at the plant,” said Jeff Parsley, Shawnee plant manager. “This record reflects the joint efforts of our plant employees and the support organizations that continuously work together on improving plant operations” (Figure 2). Parsley, not content to rest on the plant’s recent achievements, went on to note, “I am proud to work for TVA and of Shawnee’s successful operations record. Our goal is to continuously improve on these records in the future. That’s my vision for Shawnee.”

2. Culture club. “It takes people, processes, and passion to be successful,” said Jeff Parsley, Shawnee plant manager. “That’s the kind of culture we have here.” Courtesy: TVA

Shawnee is no one-trick pony. The plant routinely ranks in the top 10% nationally for availability and reliability, and long runs extend beyond Unit 6. Unit 2 recently had a record run of 569 days, Unit 4 ran for 407 days, and Unit 5 ran for 522 days. Shawnee also set a 10-unit continuous-run record in 2006, when it ran all 10 units for 45 consecutive days and topped a mark set in 1961. This is no small feat for a plant completed in 1957, the last year the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Perfect 10

Shawnee’s 10 coal-fired generating units produce about 1,369 net MW by consuming some 9,600 tons of coal each day. Units 1 through 9 are identical Babcock & Wilcox wall-fired, pulverized fuel boilers that burn a blend of low-sulfur coal with low-NOx burners to limit NOx emissions. Unit 10, the nation’s first utility-scale atmospheric fluidized-bed combustion boiler, built to test the technology for sulfur removal, began operation in 1988. All 10 prime movers are identical Westinghouse units (Figure 3).


3. Ten in a row. Jeff Parsley confers with Tom Kilgore, TVA president and CEO, on the turbine room floor. Courtesy: TVA

Shawnee is the lowest total production cost plant in the TVA fossil system and posts the second-highest net margin in TVA’s fossil fleet. Between 2003 and 2006, Shawnee experienced the best availability and reliability record in the history of the plant (Units 1 to 9), with an EFOR average of 0.82% and an EAF of 94.6%.

The three Ps

Parsley attributes Shawnee’s success to the three Ps—people, processes, and passion—and the plant works hard on all three.

Parsley has spent his entire 28-year career with TVA at Shawnee, working his way up from the operator ranks to running Shawnee for the past five years, so his management style is informed by real-world experience and long-term working relationships with many at the plant. He confessed that his long experience with Shawnee has been a key influence on his management style: “With experience comes credibility, with credibility comes trust, and with trust comes success.”

Hiring, training, and keeping good people are perhaps Parsley’s greatest challenges as plant manager. Shawnee, like many power stations in the U.S., has been working through the aging workforce “brain drain” problem for the past several years. The lead time for new operators to become productive is about two years, beginning with a year-long operator training program followed by another year of on-the-job training and continuous mentoring and feedback before operators complete their qualifications.

The key to a smooth workforce transition is making a commitment to training a new workforce regardless of actual losses. TVA has elected to err on the side of having a few too many operators rather than too few when long-time employees retire unexpectedly and leave the plant shorthanded for several years. Shawnee begins its classes approximately once a year and staffs them based on projected retirements and other losses three years down the road rather than on actual losses that have occurred. Today, 50% of Shawnee’s workforce has less than 10 years’ experience.

On the ops side, entry-level requirements are typically a two-year degree from a community college or vocational or technical school or five years of equivalent experience. History has shown that employees recruited within a 60-mile radius tend to stay longer and are quicker to make the transition into the Shawnee lifestyle and culture.

Shawnee has been able to keep an experienced workforce on the maintenance side. It brings on board journeymen craft workers as well as trainees and has been able to maintain a first-rate mix of talent.

Attracting the best operations and maintenance supervision talent into the management ranks also remains a crucial challenge for plant management. First-line supervisors usually are promoted from within the operations or maintenance ranks. However, a top-notch first-line supervisor may pause before taking the jump into plant management; developing and encouraging that raw talent is the never-ending responsibility of the plant management team.

Parsley was clear that one of the secrets to the plant’s recent success has been a management team that has served Shawnee a long time; in fact, there are a fair number of second- and third-generation TVA employees at the plant, testifying to the attractiveness of Shawnee’s working environment.

Top 10 practices

High-performing plants somehow find a way to stretch a dollar a little further or challenge employees to do just a bit more. TVA has invested much in the development of the Shawnee staff, and the staff have invested heavily of themselves for many years to achieve spectacular results. When asked for the secret of their success, the conversation inevitably returns to the three Ps and a focus on executing the details in the plant’s day-to-day operation. Parsley refers to consistently executing the basics of “blocking and tackling” rather than going for the more dramatic end zone toss with seconds left in the game. So let’s look at those basics.

Have you ever tried to make a list of what you do every day in your job? So many of the tasks are automatic and completed without a second thought. Good plant operating practices should be so institutionalized that they are not burdensome, make good intuitive sense to the staff, have a specific goal in mind, and can be repeatable with predictable results. These 10 essentials, though not meant to constitute a comprehensive list, provide insight into the culture of success at Shawnee. Perhaps they will spark an idea or two for your plant.

1. Use a systems engineering approach. At Shawnee, each major system has an engineer assigned to it who is responsible for its health and welfare. The system engineer is responsible for preparing a daily status report with key performance metrics as well as recommending planned and routine maintenance, determining equipment overhaul frequency, and providing economic justifications of upgrades and repairs. That individual is also the go-to person when there are any questions or if troubleshooting is required. Shawnee management believes this proactive system of monitoring and continuous system health reporting is critical to the plant’s success.

2. Plan for outages. A 10-unit plant like Shawnee will usually have at least one unit involved in an overhaul or maintenance outage at all times. Shawnee uses a 42-month outage cycle, which means two or three units are overhauled every year. Detailed outage planning, completed well in advance, ensures that all plant staff are prepared to meet the outage planning milestones. Shawnee has developed this process into an art form: the team meets over 95% of the schedule’s outage milestones. Plant staff fully expect an overhauled unit to run until the next outage, but typically it will have 400- to 500-day runs.

3. Document your procedures. During the early years at Shawnee, staff thought it a sign of weakness if an operator had to break out the procedure book. Today the culture has changed, and using procedures is the natural order of things. Every critical job maintenance work package is accompanied by a set of instructions—peer checks, checklists, and step-by-step procedures. Staff members are also expected to continuously review the procedure and suggest updates or changes. The operations manager receives all completed checklists and constantly updates them as new methods or processes are identified. Procedures and checklists are all available on the plant intranet, and emergency operations books are present in every control room.

4. Focus on good labor relations. Shawnee has seven separate bargaining units at the plant, yet they have found common ground: they all agree on excellence in plant maintenance and operations. Plant management believes that its responsibility is to ensure that each member of the plant staff is treated as a team member who, when necessary, will do the right thing. This atmosphere of trust must work, as labor problems tend to be minimal at Shawnee. Everyone who works at Shawnee, regardless of affiliation, is considered part of the Shawnee team—including contractors, vendors, and other temporary TVA employees—and is treated as such.

5. Improve your water chemistry and predictive maintenance (PdM) programs. Believe it or not, all 10 boilers are still outfitted with the original waterwall tubes that Babcock & Wilcox erected more than 50 years ago. Now that’s a testament to the quality of the plant’s water chemistry program. The laboratory reports to the principal engineer, as do all the system engineers. The lab includes a strong PdM program relying on thermography, oil analysis, vibration, acoustics for detecting pinhole leaks during any boiler outage, and more to give early warning of potential equipment problems. Shawnee has avoided many catastrophic failures due to the success of its PdM program.

6. Develop a multitasking staff. A good portion of the maintenance staff is composed of technicians who have multiple qualifications, but a cadre of experts will always remain. During a typical day shift, four shops are open at the plant: machine, boiler, electrical, and instrument. The first three shops have multiskilled techs who cover the range of crafts expected in a plant. Shawnee also has a small maintenance staff that rotates with the operations staff so that techs with various expertise are also available during the night shift and weekends. This approach has significantly reduced night callouts and unit derates that would normally occur. Maintenance staffs also do their own work on boiler tubes and pulverizers—chores that are typically outsourced at other power plants. Finding the best mix of multiskilled technicians and experts (certified welders, for example) is a work in progress.

7. Develop a safety culture. Shawnee had the best safety record in FY07 of all 11 TVA fossil plants, and the plant staff strongly believe there is a link between a best-performing plant and a safe plant. OSHA recordables were 1.0—only two recordable injuries for a staff of 330 people over the course of the entire year. The plant staff has a continuous focus on safety, and every employee has a high expectation of safety. Shawnee has a five-year safety plan that moves up a level in expectations each year. Safety is now part of the plant’s culture and not just a management expectation (Figure 4).

8. Manage your time. Shawnee practices careful advance planning of the upcoming workweek to ensure that the highest-priority projects are completed. A workweek management meeting, attended by the various foremen and first-line supervisors from maintenance, operations, and engineering, is scheduled each Friday at 12:15 p.m. At that meeting they plan and prioritize the details of the following week, crew by crew. The detailed planning loads about 85% of the available work hours based on work planning estimates, leaving the remaining hours for emerging work and unexpected absences. Shawnee, and TVA as a whole, uses the EPRI Maintenance Optimization Program (MOP) for work order planning.

4. Safety always comes first. Shawnee completed two million man-hours without a lost-time accident in 2006. Leading that effort is the Shawnee Health and Safety Committee. Front row (L to R): Rick Hubbard, Jennifer McCallon, Rick Stimson, Mary Lynn Spear, and Tim Pace. Back row: Kent Saxon, David Grief, Ronnie Coleman, Joey McCallon, Tony Mangina, Lane Van Winkle, and Ronnie Puckett. Courtesy: TVA

9. Spend your dollars wisely. Capital investments over the past few years have significantly improved the overall material condition of the plant. Those investments have reinforced the employees’ belief that TVA is serious about organizational excellence at all levels. Where those dollars were spent to improve plant reliability and availability was guided by input from throughout the workforce, including engineers and bargaining unit members. Regardless of the amount of capital spending approved, it’s important that those dollars are properly invested.

10. Expect success. High expectations are set for every plant staff member, and teamwork is put at the top of the list. Managers and employees are put in positions to succeed. Employees are involved in decision-making at all levels, including decisions that concern capital spending priorities. Employees also are deeply involved in safety initiatives, the Combined Federal Campaign, and community involvement projects. The plant is a community mainstay, and so are its employees.