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Associated Electric Cooperative honors three at Thomas Hill Energy Center with Excel awards

Three employees of Associated Electric Cooperative who work at the Thomas Hill Energy Center were among those honored March 21 at the 23rd annual employee recognition awards ceremony at the member-owned wholesale power cooperative’s Springfield headquarters.

The recipients are Kenneth R. Hildreth of Macon for the 2016 Excel Award for Mentor of the Year; John Michael Wilhite of Huntsville for the 2016 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in an Operational Field; and Kevin L. Wriedt of Macon for the 2016 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in a Technical Field.

Excel recipients are nominated by their peers and co-workers for the prestigious awards, and then selected by the cooperative’s executive team.

Ken Hildreth, material handling supervisor, was honored for his skill as a mentor, coach and trainer in the coal yard.

“We often think of a mentor working with an individual or a small group. Ken Hildreth has taken that mentoring concept to the masses here at THEC and has directly affected an entire department (41 employees) and has infused positive influences for the entire location,” said his nominator.

Hildreth is responsible for making sure every employee gets the safety, equipment and skills training they need to do their jobs. With three shifts, that means he stays late or comes in early to train every employee on every shift.

“Ken is an excellent team player, mentor, role model and serves to motivate other coal yard supervisors. His vital training and mentoring efforts, effective communication skills and positive, motivating attitude significantly contribute to the impressive accomplishments and successes achieved by the coal yard and THEC as a whole,” his nominator said.

Hildreth was praised for handling a number of projects by his nominator, including mentoring of new utility operators who must learn every aspect of the coal yard, from trains to conveying coal to the plant; coordinating with BNSF Railway on training for a liquefied natural gas pilot project; teaching coal yard employees their role in reliability-centered maintenance program; and teaching best practices in lubrication of equipment.

According to the nominator, Hildreth’s “mentorship and attitude has led coal yard employees to provide good support of the reliability-centered maintenance program and understand that it is necessary to increase reliability and reduce costs. This is largely due to Ken’s hard work at educating and mentoring our workforce.”

Hildreth also is known for his ability to spot and encourage talent and to make new employees feel comfortable in asking for advice. “If a person has a puzzled look on his face during training or has something on his mind, I can reach out to him later,” he said.

In previous years, Hildreth also received the 2003 Excel Award for Innovative Action, 2002 Excel Award for Courageous Response and 2001 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in an Operational Field.


Mike Wilhite, operations maintenance specialist, coordinates maintenance on the plant’s three units with electricians, mechanics, instrumentation technicians, engineers, planners, operators and management to keep them generating reliable, low-cost electricity.

During spring and fall outages, he must juggle the intense pressure to repair one unit while helping others keep the other two running. This includes helping coordinate decommissioning and tagging of equipment so it is safe to work on. “Every hour counts. If we don’t have a piece of equipment pulled out and ready for them to work on, it can make a difference. … We have to follow a sequence of events to work on certain equipment. It’s methodical, this first, this second, etc.,” he explained.

His nominator also praised Wilhite for his attention to the bottom line. “Mike is always looking for a new way to better the performance of operations and AECI, (using) his … experience mixed with the new technology.”

To that end, Wilhite said he looks for opportunities to improve performance at the lowest cost. “One of the things I like to look at is the dollars. Will this give us the most bang for the buck? Are we going to be able to recoup our investment? It’s all about efficiency, anything to lower the heat rate. It’s a big deal on these units. It comes down to a dollar figure. The lower the heat rate, the more money we’re saving,” he said. As a cooperative member himself, he appreciates the effort to keep rates down.

Wilhite in turn praised his co-workers for their positive attitudes. “These people I work with every day at this plant are top notch. I mean they’re good! I’m getting a little recognition, but I could name 20 more that deserve it as well,” he said.

Previously, Wilhite also received the 2008 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in an Operational Field,


Kevin Wriedt, journeyman instrumentation technician, was recognized for the skills he applies when working alone on the second shift or with a team of other craft technicians to troubleshoot and repair equipment.

Wriedt’s nominator said, “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard over the last year ‘Kevin figured it out’ or ‘Kevin got it fixed.’ When working with Kevin, you can tell that he has a very broad background and doesn’t always look at jobs from a technical or instrumentation viewpoint. Whenever there is a composite crew on a job, he immediately jumps at the opportunity to learn a new skill or more about the equipment from a different craft view.”

Wriedt calibrates pressure switches, works on transmitters and coal conveyors, troubleshooting and generally interfacing with distributive control systems.

His nominator gave several examples of Wriedt “stepping up” to apply his skills to the job at hand. During the fall startup of Unit 3 after a maintenance outage, Kevin took any spare time he had to “come to the voltage regulator to learn more about it or help out. … Kevin doesn’t look at jobs from the aspect of this is how we fix it, but finds out-of-the-box approaches to jobs to make them simpler and get them done,” the nominator said.

“To a certain extent that’s kind of our job. … to troubleshoot,” Wriedt said. “It’s just part of the job. I’m not here to get praised. I’m here to do a job.”

Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. is owned by and provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma that serve more than 875,000 customers. Associated’s mission is to provide an economical and reliable power supply and support services to its members, including the “Take Control & Save” energy efficiency program, Associated is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.


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