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People Behind the Power: Celebrating our employees for Public Power Week

It’s Public Power Week! Each year, the first full week in October marks a time to celebrate and acknowledge the many contributions made by public power utilities to provide safe, low-cost, and reliable power to our communities.

To honor the occasion, we’re highlighting the people that make public power possible – our workforce. The past two years have been a whirlwind of highs and lows, challenges and successes, but through it all the City Light team has remained determined to serve our community and keep the lights on.

Below, we invited several City Light employees from across the utility to share how they help power our community.

Ryan Pham, Grid Modernization Engineer

City Light is preparing for a fully electrified future. And like many utilities, it’s under increasing pressure to improve reliability, minimize customer outages and optimize system performance. Enter Grid Modernization Engineer Ryan Pham. His work involves implementing new technologies to improve system reliability, operational efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction.

Ryan joined City Light almost eight years ago to lead the distribution automation project and develop the long-term plan for implementing the new technology systemwide. What’s distribution automation? Distribution automation uses digital sensors and switches with advanced control and communication technologies to automate feeder switching; voltage and equipment health monitoring; and outage, voltage, and reactive power management. 

Ryan – whose group has been developing the utility’s Grid Modernization Plan to update the electrical grid – is motivated by “seeing our efforts pay off.” He added, “New systems have saved thousands of customers from sustained power outages and improved operational efficiency and customer satisfaction … It is a challenge but also interesting to work on a wide range of project technical aspects, including power system planning and design, telecommunication, operational technology integration and cybersecurity.”

Grecia Elenes, Environmental Equity Advisor

City Light is committed to creating equitable community connections. However, the complexity of utility operations and regulations has historically kept many customers and stakeholders out of the conversation. Environmental Equity Advisor Grecia Elenes is working to close this gap. Engaging the community can be challenging, but bringing a range of voices and interests to the planning table is necessary to ensure an equitable clean energy transition.  

Grecia works across the utility to ensure City Light policies, programs, and projects proactively address historic and existing inequities that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, by building authentic partnerships and collaborations with these communities. 

Grecia, who joined the utility this summer, is powered by “getting to work with diverse groups of people and communities to ensure that they have equitable access to spaces, processes, and decision-making where we’ve been historically excluded and ignored.”

Tanya Panomvana, Principal Electrical Power Systems Engineer

A home’s or business’ electricity starts with the electrical service connection. This is where the electric company connects its wires to your home’s feeder wires that attach to the meter on your home. 

Principal Electrical Power Systems Engineer Tanya Panomvana supervises the North Distribution Engineering Services group, which designs the electrical service connections to residential and commercial buildings as well as engineers the overhead and/or underground modification of distribution power lines for service-related projects.​​​​​​​

Tanya has been with City Light 15 years but is new in her role, where she focuses on improving processes, workflows, and productivity within the work group as well as coaching engineers to make decisions that benefit the customer and the utility.

“Right now, my key motivator is the desire to learn the different aspects of how to be a successful leader and how to fulfill the duties and expectations of this role,” explained Tanya who is inspired by her team. “I work with a really great group, and I enjoy working and learning with them on challenging engineering projects. “

Marcello Girardi, Principal Material Controller

The utility sector has been no stranger to the upheaval caused by supply chain disruption. Natural disasters and weather events across the country have meant that equipment like transformers and meters are in short supply. For City Light Principal Material Controller Marcello Girardi, tackling this challenge is all in a day’s work.

Marcello assists with the purchase of transformers and components and equipment vital to electricity delivery. He analyzes supply chain data to set inventory targets, builds models to forecast how many transformers the utility will need in the future, and coordinates with industry manufacturers. Marcello said a key motivator is “working towards a green energy future that benefits us as well as future generations.” He added, “I enjoy learning new things and coming up with creative solutions to problems.”  

Kiyomi Morris, Greenhouse Gas Strategic Advisor

The challenge of climate change has never been more pressing. As a public power provider, City Light is committed to a clean energy future that is safe, reliable and affordable. Moving away from fossil fuels will require significant commitments and partnerships.

Washington state recently passed a series of landmark laws and funding packages that have been designed to strengthen our response to climate change, in part by setting a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. Subject to these laws, City Light is complying with these existing and upcoming programs which will affect all areas of the utility. 

As City Light’s Greenhouse Gas Strategic Advisor Kiyomi Morris tracks, reports and works to reduce emissions associated with the utility’s business as well as helps to maintain the utility’s greenhouse gas neutral status. “I’m motivated by the communities that we serve. What we do has a direct impact on people and the environment,” said Kiyomi, who started her career at City Light in 2015 as an intern. “I feel like I get to have a part in doing what we can to make sure that the impact is positive.”

Michele Westwood, Cable Splicer

Some days Cable Splicer Michele Westwood can be found sleuthing in subterranean Seattle, where a system of big concrete boxes called vaults (more than 1,500!) and smaller structures called duct banks house a variety of equipment, including transformers, cables, connectors, and breakers – all designed to deliver electricity to City Light’s customers. Underground power distribution networks provide power reliably in high-density population load areas, like downtown Seattle.

Michele serves on the utility’s network protector crew, ensuring equipment and workers are safe. What’s a network protector? It’s a device that monitors and controls the flow of electric power between interconnected power systems. Crews that build and maintain these vast underground systems often go unnoticed, but they are an essential part of delivering electricity.

“I enjoy the challenge of finding problems that arise. Sometimes they are mechanical in nature, and sometimes electrical,” said Michele who has worked at City Light five years, four as a cable splicer apprentice and one as a journey worker. “Digging into electrical drawings and tracing out circuits help to keep me sharp. I like knowing that I help to keep our city powered.”

Janelle Fisher, Utility Account Supervisor

From meter reading through secure wireless transmission, software processing and payment collection, accuracy is important in every step of the utility billing cycle. With nearly 480,000 residential and business customers in our service area, the Account Services team, which is part of the Customer Operations Division, is a production-oriented unit responsible for billing, account maintenance, and customer-related tasks. 

“We ensure that our City Light customers are receiving correct utility bills,” explained Utility Account Supervisor Janelle Fisher. “We are constantly monitoring output from databases to identify inaccuracies and discrepancies with our meter reads.”

Janelle and her team embody the “customers first” mindset. They work to issue timely and accurate bills and make adjustments when needed as well as provide professional and courteous service to customers with account and billing questions.

Matt Klein, Streetlight Crew Chief, South Service Center

Streetlights power our community by illuminating roadways, sidewalks, and a range of public spaces, including alleyways and parks. Streetlights increase visibility, promote road safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists and can help discourage crime. Streetlight Crew Chief Matt Klein and his team maintain, repair and replace around 43,065 streetlights throughout the utility’s south service area. City Light has approximately 85,000 streetlights in its 131-square-mile service territory that provide lighting on residential and arterial streets.  

“Before my time at City Light, I was not truly aware of the overall magnitude that proper streetlighting has on our service area,” explained Matt who has worked at the utility for 13 years. “Locations that are dark or have been without streetlights are more of a public safety concern, which directly affects business owners, residential customers, and our community as a whole.”

A big thank you to all of our employees across the utility who help make public power possible!