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The US Electric Grid: Explanation, Exploration & Expansion
The electrical grid – that maze of more than a half billion miles of power lines that spread from coast to coast. Well, for the uninitiated, it’s pretty much taken for granted. You throw a switch, the light comes on. You open up your laptop, you’re on the internet. Grab your remote control, and on goes the television, or monitor, should I say.

Well the problem is, our electric grid is being asked to do some pretty amazing and futuristic things, even though it is decades old. Demand is expected to climb up 19 percent or so in the next decade, while capacity is only expected to grow around 6 percent. When demand outstrips capacity, it spells opportunity for the business world. Dominic Giarratano has the story.

This is John Colson, the executive chairman of Quanta Services, one of the nation’s true heavyweights in the transmission industry. Quanta does work for nearly every major utility in the United States, and Mr. Colson was recently at a meeting in Washington, DC, to provide a brief overview of the future to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and its partner, the National Electrical Contractors Association.

John Colson, Executive Chairman, Quanta Services
“The picture looks good. If you look at 2015, it looks better than 2012, 2013, or 2014 as far as transmission growth. Many of those projects will be delayed until 2016, that’s just the nature of the business. Many are not permitted yet, but certainly we’ve got several good years of transmission growth in this country – literally thousands and thousands of miles and billions of dollars of work. Now, it depends on what year you’re looking at, and, again, I hate to quote those statistics because they will change. Some jobs that are planned today won’t get stated on time. There are other projects that aren’t on the radar screen that that will pick up the slack. So, literally thousands and thousands of miles and billions of dollars at work.”

One organization, Industrial Info Resources, is tracking what it says is $50 billion in North American transmission projects set to begin in the next five years. Forecasts like this are welcome news to the NECA-IBEW team, which has worked hard to establish a leadership role in the transmission industry.

John Colson, Executive Chairman, Quanta Services

“Certainly, the IBEW market share in transmission has grown. A good deal of that is due to the amount of work that the IBEW has put in to get there. There are various ways that they have tried to recruit non-union. I think I think one of the best things that is working great right now is the Portability Agreement, the Transmission Portability Agreement, that allows us to take people and train them in a certain function, and for us to be able to move those people into new projects, project after projects after project.”

Besides a more customer-friendly working arrangement, another factor which plays into the union market share equation, is world-class training. This campus, near Atlanta, is the Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training facility, otherwise known as SELCAT. It’s one of nine similar centers that exist to turn out the best professionals in the industry. It also stands as proof of the approximately $18 million that the NECA-IBEW team jointly spends every year to train linemen working in the industry.

Virgil Melton, Training Director, Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training
“Well I think the IBEW-NECA group spend a lot of money raining every year, and I think that it’s starting to show in the utilities. I think they’re understanding that, and they’re understanding that they’re getting a lot more production, a lot more quality work.”

Glenn Anthony, Instructor, Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training
“This is everybody’s facility. We not only train apprentices, we do training for contractors and journeyman training and education. It’s a great program because everybody is all into it.”

Working in this industry takes special people working in a dangerous environment. There’s the electricity itself, there’s the height, there’s the uncertainty of weather. It all places a premium on safety, something that is easy to talk about but is also quite another thing to actively practice it.

John Colson, Executive Chairman, Quanta Services
“The IBEW, NECA and several contractors formed a relationship with OSHA in 2004. That OSHA partnership has gone a long way in improving the entire industry’s safety statistics. If you look at a chart, you can see that over the past five years, the number of injuries and deaths have declined significantly, I think in good part because of that partnership.”
Virgil Melton, Training Director, Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training
“Safety is number one, that’s what we really teach a lot of. It’s the number one thing we tell all of our apprentices – the number one reason to work safe is waiting for you at home, and that’s family.”

Robert C. Randall, Instructor, Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training
“We always tell them that if it isn’t safe, don’t do it. If you’re not completely sure about something being safe, stop and ask a journeyman, ask your foreman. They’ll lead you in the right direction.”

As the transmission market continues to grow, NECA-IBEW is committed to giving partners like Quanta Services skilled and safe linemen to do the work.

John Colson, Executive Chairman, Quanta Services
“There’s a lot of work coming, there’s a lot of work right now. And you can see that there’s going o be a shortage of skilled workers and IBEW workers coming. And we have to continue everything that we have been doing. We have to continue training, it’s very important to continue our training programs. We have the best training programs in the industry.”

Gaining market share is exactly what has stakeholders in the transmission industry excited. All you have to do is listen to decision makers like John Colson.

John Colson, Executive Chairman, Quanta Services
“I’m probably at normal retirement age, but this is probably the best market I’ve seen in my 41-year career. Yes, it’s exciting now, it’s the best I’ve ever seen it, the outlook is the best I’ve ever seen. So I need to stick around and enjoy some of this part before I change, I think.”

As the need to expand and improve our electric grid moves into the future, you can be sure that the NECA-IBEW team shares Mr. Colson’s excitement, and promises to be there every step of the way.

If you ever want to see commitment to the transmission industry, just take a little time to walk around places like SELCAT in Atlanta. That will make a believer out of you. All those bucket trucks and other equipment makes it look more like an aircraft hangar than anything else.

That wraps up this edition of ElectricTV. Thanks for the click, and keep coming back for the latest in the electrical industry.