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Three AECI employees at Thomas Hill Energy Center receive co-op's prestigious Excel awards

Nathan Ames of Bonnots Mill, Brent Harris of Macon and Cassie Plotner of Huntsville, all employees of Associated Electric Cooperative at Thomas Hill Energy Center, were among those honored Aug. 18 at the 26th annual employee recognition awards ceremony, which was virtual due to pandemic safety guidelines.

The Excel awards are peer-nominated recognitions of employees who have excelled in their crafts, vocations and professions or in specific functions. The ceremony had been postponed from the spring.

Ames, control room operator, is the recipient of the 2019 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in an Operational Field. As a control room operator, Ames monitors the controls of one of the plant’s three units to ensure efficiency, safety and output, with the ability to shut it down if necessary. He sits in a windowless room, not knowing if it’s sunny, raining or snowing. “I look at multiple screens that have 10,000 data points in one moment! You’ve got to process that and relay that to the guys on the floor. Sometimes you have split seconds to make a decision,” he said.

His peer nominator said, “He is constantly striving to learn all there is to know about running the unit as efficiently as possible,” and credited him for his work to learn a new instrumentation controls system. His nominator said, “… If you have a job you need done, Nathan is the one to have doing it.”

Ames has trained intensively and continues to learn daily from other control room operators and shift supervisors with decades of experience. He also helps auxiliary operators with their step lessons that will move them up in operations.

Ames also serves as a captain of the plant’s emergency response team – a critical onsite first responder team to handle emergencies until the closest professional first responders can respond – and is a volunteer firefighter at home.

 “… It takes the efforts of everyone to make this work. It’s not just you. There’s not many days when I leave that I don’t look back in the rearview mirror and be thankful I get to come back tomorrow,” Ames said. “It’s a constant learning experience … and if I don’t pass it on, as others have done for me, it dies.”                                                         

Harris, shift supervisor, is the recipient of the 2019 Excel Award for Supervisor of the Year.  He was praised for excellence in communication, information sharing and walking the talk.

“Brent displays a constant willingness to be the best at what he does, being a leader. He has taken several new supervisors under his wing and has made big improvements in their job skills as a result of all the hard work he has put into their training. His job briefings are always respectful and clear on what tasks need to be done for the shift, and he is always there when assistance is needed,” said one nominator.

Another added, “He is a leader and leads by example. If we have a question, he helps to figure it out with us. He knows how to follow policies and work with his staff to make sure everyone is treated fairly.”

Harris credits a supervisor at Macon’s municipal utility where he worked for teaching by example the importance of fairness. He's also learned from the supervisor training Associated provides, such as learning how to clearly communicate expectations. “Make sure they know what needs to be done, and work toward that,” he said.

“I work with a really good group of people, though, and they do a good job. They know what needs to be done and are proactive on things before they become an issue. That makes it easier for me,” Harris said.

His progress from auxiliary operator through control room operator and assistant shift supervisor gave him the experience to make tough calls during equipment failures or other emergencies. Work expectations bump up during outages as the crew prepares tags, takes equipment offline, stages materials, refreshes on training and helps contractors working the night shift.

Another nominator added, “Brent has the perfect combination of technical skills and common sense that makes him a great supervisor. His experience and knowledge of the units make him a perfect fit as a shift supervisor. When the units are having issues, he makes very good decisions for his team that keep the units online and safe.”

Plotner, senior document control specialist, is the recipient of the 2019 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in an Administrative Field. Her organizational skills have saved time and improved efficiency at the plant where she keeps engineering drawings updated and easily accessible electronically and physically. The electronic library alone contains more than 40,000 documents.

“Cassie is a very dedicated employee. She looks at the overall processes for not only her and her co-workers but the organization as well. She takes on tasks and roles that strengthen the organization and leads us forward,” her nominator said.

With an associate degree in machine tooling and five years of experience as a machinist, Plotner was drawn to her job in 2016 because she had drawn parts and programs, using a computer-aided design program similar to Associated’s.

“I keep things organized and train people and make sure the records are up to date. If something does happen, then the records are up to date and accessible. … A timely response helps keep the plant running. If something dire happened where we went offline, member-owners would be affected.” As a member of Macon Electric Cooperative, Cassie knows members care about costs. Time is money, and for her helping people save time is a benefit to members.

Not only does Plotner keep engineering organized, she also manages the plant’s intranet site where every department has its own pages. She maintains links to logbooks, work schedules, procedures, safety tips, a plant calendar and news feeds and streamlines the information so it’s easy to find for employees who don’t have frequent access during their shifts.

As chair of the plant’s recreation committee, Plotner helps plan employee fundraisers for charities and employee “fun” events.

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 910,000 members. Associated’s mission is to provide an economical and reliable power supply and support services to its members. Associated is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.



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