Around the clock, our System Control team delivers

This article was published in August 2022 and may be outdated.

“I find meaning in my work here. When I get home, I know I made an impact to our customers’ service and it’s honestly at times, it’s a double-edged sword — the fun factor of the impact you make on reliability, safety and revenue every day; but also, the responsibility and the stress that can come with it,” said Agnieszka Kotula (System Reliability Engineer, System Control Centre).

At Manitoba Hydro, our System Operations Division is responsible for the real-time safe and efficient operation of our bulk electrical system. This includes monitoring and directing switching on the system; ensuring hour-by-hour capacity; regulation and hydraulic reservoir management; and collaborating with others across our organization to appropriately monitor and adjust our generation and marketing sales based on ever-changing water conditions.

“As a utility that generates hydropower, water is our fuel. My job is to keep track of our hour-by-hour maximum generation capacity both for the system operators in the control room to manage our power supply, and also for our power traders to sell any excess,” said Agnieszka.

Female employee sitting on desk with large computer screens and work stations in the background.

Agnieszka provides information to operators in the control room to manage our supply and for opportunities for power traders to sell excess to our neighbours.

Enlarge image: Female employee sitting on desk with large computer screens and work stations in the background.

At the heart of this work is our System Control Centre (SCC), where 24 hours a day, seven days a week, individuals route our bulk electrical system and are prepared to respond at any time to emergencies, including system restoration.

“The first thing that hits hard when you enter the room, is how many cogs are behind the scenes to make things work. I thought I knew a lot about our system, but once I stepped inside, I was immediately impressed and in awe of what happens in this room to keep the system and our customers energy service running,” said Blake Mauthe, System Operator Trainee, who joined SCC a year-and-a-half ago after 12 years in the field.

“It was daunting coming in at first — the information overload! And admittedly, coming from a role where I was skilled and knowledgeable to being brand new and seeing how much you don’t know,” said Blake.

Two male employees talking with large computer screens in the background.

Thomas and Blake run through ideas frequently with members of their team for peer-check and to share knowledge.

Enlarge image: Two male employees talking with large computer screens in the background.

It was a similar experience for Thomas Whynot, Operations Coordinator, when he joined as a trainee 11 years ago.

“I had believed I knew all about the power system from my previous training until I came here. I was humbled very quickly,” said Thomas. “All the different aspects of the system that come together in this room and are at the centre of our utility’s operations and service – there is a lot to take in.

“But then you go around the room and talk to someone about a subject and you see how each person frames their answer in a different way to make it understandable… it’s truly a team environment – everyone wants to help you learn and progress.

“No decision is ever made in isolation; you’re running ideas by each other for peer check and with your supervisors because the effects of your actions will be seen and felt by other parties.”

That ability to communicate and collaborate as a team, and a commitment to continuous learning, are two critical attributes of individuals who thrive in the high-pressure environment and maintain our reliable electrical service delivery to our customers.

“With every role I’ve had at Manitoba Hydro in my 14 years, I’ve gained another piece of the puzzle,” said Agnieszka. “I am incredibly interested in learning more to figuring out how our bulk electrical system works and expanding my technical expertise. The people here, their knowledge, and the quality of their work, are all outstanding.”

Jared Flaman, probationary Trainee, concurred, “This team is one of the best I’ve ever been a part of – everyone clearly wants you to succeed. There is so much to learn, and so much knowledge associated with each role. I don’t ever see it getting boring to work here – there are endless challenges and opportunities for growth.”

The team environment attracted fellow probationary Trainee, Brett Minary, after over nine years building his Manitoba Hydro career in mechanical and electrical roles throughout the northern generating stations and Henday converter station.

“I’d always been told and heard SCC was great team. Yes - the job is high pressure, and you’re constantly in a time crunch to make decisions, but I can’t say enough about the team environment and the collaboration and support to progress,” said Brett.

Career progression — one of the main advantages of working at SCC — is also the main reason why Thomas and the management team continually seek trainees.

“You’ll advance and progress here if you can succeed as a journeyperson – it’s no small feat to take in all that information and training. To be blunt, the baseline entry position is no cakewalk,” said Thomas. “You have to be open to life-long learning. When you start as a journeyperson, you are given a gigantic package of information to learn, and you realize if you can learn a few bite-sized items a day, you will do very well here.”

According to Brett, the intense training prepared him for his time in the control room.

“The way they train you before you get on the phones in real-time, there are very few surprises. It’s pretty airtight from all the training, exams and simulation exercises.”

For individuals seeking a fast-paced, intensive work environment – a career at SCC may be the right move.

“We’re always looking for people – it’s critical that SCC has a complement of well-trained, skilled employees to ensure we can operate the Manitoba Hydro Bulk Electric System safely, reliably and efficiently at all times,” said Thomas. “I encourage anyone thinking about a career at system or Manitoba Hydro to check out our career and trades and technology training opportunities to find out more about the work we do.”