Saturday, May 05, 2007


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.


Anonymous said...

Gina: that IS pretty cool, that utility consumers have such power, even if most of us don't realize it. Thanks for a concise description of your current job: I've never quite gotten what you do.

And congrats on the soon-to-be early retirement. May your novels light the world!

Annette said...

Wow, Gina, congrats on the early retirement. Any thoughts on what's next? Like lots of writing, perhaps???

Anonymous said...

Annette -
I'm not sure what to do next. The early retirement will give me enough income to pay the bills(barely), but I'd like to have money for extras like travel and food. I hadn't planned to retire for awhile yet -- I just turned 57 in February. I think I may get another job or write a lot or sell all the junk around the house on eBay or do volunteer work or, maybe, just never bother to take a shower or get dressed again! The world is full of possibilities -- but I'm pitching two of my completed novel manuscripts at the Pennwriters Conference just in case.

Joyce Tremel said...

Congratulations, Gina! And good luck with those manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your retirement. Does this mean you will add more and more jobs to your repertoire? I'm glad to hear you'll be pitching at the conference. Here's expecting a great experience for all of us.