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Seattle City (spot)Light: John Owen, Engineering Supervisor

The Basics  

How long have you been at City Light? My first day at City Light was Feb. 1, 1995.  I’m retiring March 1, so that will make a total of 27 years and one month. 

Division: Electrification and Strategic Technology 

Tell us about your role: I supervise the Strategic Technology Transfer team. We’re on the front lines for City Light’s “Create our Energy Future” strategic initiative. We work with customers to help them realize their aspirations related to electrification, distributed energy resources, energy burden, and additional items driven by climate goals and energy economics. We collaborate with other City Light divisions, regional and national research organizations, state and national grant agencies, industry and trade organizations – the list goes on.   
Most of the work is technically oriented, but I’ve adopted the tagline that “technology is the easy part.” We’re often challenged by policy, procedures, or organizational culture. Our activities revolve around making things happen which have no established policies, procedures, or precedence in an industry that (for good reasons) has always relied heavily on well-established policies and procedures. Some of our projects include a Department of Energy (DOE) “Connected Communities” grant for a grid-enabled buildings demonstration; electrification of the Bainbridge and Bremerton ferry runs; electrification of Class 8 semi-trucks with daily trips between Seattle and Portland in partnership with DOE and UPS/PACCAR; and several Washington State Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund grants related to eco-districts, utility-scale battery storage, and second-use batteries in a microgrid installation.   


Hometown: La Grande, Ore. 

Alma Mater: Oregon State University – class of 1992! 

Area of study: Physics and Mechanical Engineering 

Tell us about your family: I met my wife Cecile at my first job after graduating from engineering school. We’ve been married since 1996 and live in Green Lake. We have a 20-year-old daughter who attends Western Washington University and a 16-year-old daughter who is a junior at Roosevelt High School. We are lucky to live on a block with an amazing sense of community. Many of our neighbors are among our closest friends. 

Just for Fun 

What would people never guess that you do in your role? People might be surprised to learn that as a mechanical engineer, much of what I do is more like sociology. Most of my time and effort has very little to do with engineering (technology is the easy part, and why is a mechanical engineer like me even working for an electric utility?). I spend a lot of time dedicated to organizational change. I comfort people who are anxious about venturing into the unknown. I try to cultivate a culture that allows people to feel like things will be okay, even though they don’t yet have the benefit of established procedures, roadmaps, or guardrails. 

What would we most likely find you doing on the weekend? Pre-COVID, you would likely find me playing music with the band I’ve been in for the past decade or so. Music is still a big part of my life, but these days you would find me playing or listening to music at home rather than in a public venue. I also like riding my bicycle, enjoying outdoor adventures with my family, or maintaining our house, which, being over a century old, provides a nearly endless source of maintenance/repair-based entertainment. 

How do you prefer to end your day? A bike ride, playing or listening to music, preparing and eating a nice meal with my family. 

What is the one item you can’t live without that needs electricity to operate? My 60-year-old Fender Princeton guitar amplifier. 

Favorite quote? I can’t pick just one: 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – John Watson aka Ian Maclaren 

“All of us experience fear, but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage. Being courageous does not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must even though you are undeniably afraid.” – Desmond Tutu