by Gina Sestak
Electricity has always seemed magical to me. You flip a switch and lightbulbs glow. Depress a lever and a slice of bread turns into toast.
For the past 18+ years, I've been working for an electric utility company. Seeing the process from the inside, I've realized that a lot of knowledge and hard work goes into keeping that current flowing. Even under the best of circumstances, it isn't easy to send enough power to meet customer needs through the lines at a consistent voltage. On top of that, events conspire to stop the flow: Trees fall onto wires, contractors dig into underground conduit, squirrels commit suicide by touching two wires at once and turning into biological conductors. Poles fall victim to errant drivers and sliding hillsides. Lightning strikes, causing what is called an "over-voltage" situation -- way over voltage! Equipment fails.
I was hired in 1988 as a staff attorney to handle commercial collections, suing businesses that hadn't paid their bills. Then my responsibility shifted to litigation before the Public Utility Commission (PUC). It's kind of cool that any customer who has a grievance (real or imagined) can file a complaint with the PUC and get a hearing before an administrative law judge who, if the evidence shows that the utility has done wrong, can impose a fine and/or mandate better behavior in the future. Part of my job is to present the company's position in those hearings, and to do it without suborning perjury, falsifying documents, or concealing evidence. A lot of people assume that there's chicanery involved, and that the PUC does whatever the utilities want it to. I can attest from personal experience that this is not the case.
In the past I've blogged about the jobs I used to have, and avoided mentioning my present position. I decided to blog about it now because it, too, is about to become a job of the past. I have decided to accept an early retirement offer and leave this job behind.
Before I came to work for Duquesne Light Company, I thought electricity was magic. Now I know the truth: it is magic! Best wishes to my colleagues who remain. You light the world.