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Investing in Electrical Transmission Design

Monday, May 11, 2020

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As a youngster trying to become an engineer, I began my career with Alabama Power Company through a Cooperative Education program. In my case it happened to be with Mississippi State University. After becoming gainfully employed, I was informed I would be working in the Power Delivery Department-Transmission Line Design. At the time, I had little idea of the purpose of a transmission line; certainly, I had no idea of the many structural and electrical nuances that distinguish them from one another. Most university engineering programs do not specifically address the design of transmission lines. Therefore, outside of general structural, geotechnical, and even highway design basics, the education of a Line designer usually requires a substantial amount of on the job training.

In the words of Bob Ross, "We don't make mistakes. We just have happy accidents." Somehow, I managed to spend most of my career designing and, later, routing transmission lines. During that time, I have had wonderful opportunities through ASCE technical committees to become involved with some of the smartest and, more importantly, driven people in the civil engineering profession. In addition to their natural giftedness and initiative, they are personable. I am still amazed that they sometimes let me associate with them.  I'm not sure that happy accident is as applicable in this case as divine intervention.

My start with ASCE technical committees began with membership on a Task Committee to produce the third edition of Manual of Practice No. 74, Guidelines for Electrical Transmission Line Structural Loading. This experience was pivotal in my exposure to other industry associated committees, not just those of ASCE but of IEEE as well. It was during this time that I understood that membership in a technical committee was a tremendous learning opportunity. Like most of my education, it came at a cost since most committee meetings have long and, occasionally, intense hours followed by homework at night. All this is in addition to keeping a regular paying job. Without this experience, however, I would not have been introduced to the "visionaries" behind the SEI/ASCE Electrical Transmission and Substation Structures Conference. My involvement on that committee began during preparation for the 2006 conference. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my career.

So why does the extra effort matter? Why would anyone sacrifice time and treasure (either their own or their employer's) to do volunteer work on an ASCE committee? Earlier I mentioned the cost. The word cost might better be described as investment. From a personal perspective, the investment has yielded mentors, not only in engineering, but in individual integrity.  The sacrifices required have the potential for major improvements to the stability of our electrical utility infrastructure. Most of us would have much difficulty being deprived of this service for any extended period. In the modern world, access to the electrical grid ranks in importance next to the availability of clean water and sanitation; both of which rely on reliable electricity. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

Frank Agnew, P.E., M.ASCE
Member of SEI/ASCE Electrical Transmission and Substation Structures Conference Steering Committee since 2003, and ASCE Task Committee, Manual of Practice 74, 4th Edition.
Past member of ASCE Task Committee, Manual of Practice 123; ASCE Task Committee, Manual of Practice 74, 3rd Edition.

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