MMUA's Sewell Returns to Roots

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MMUA's Sewell Returns to Roots

March 23, 2015

Bob Sewell retired from the municipal utilities business in 2010 . . . for a couple weeks.

Retirement was fine. But then the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) needed somebody to fill in for 16 weeks as a job training and safety person. IAMU called MMUA Job Training and Safety Director Mike Willetts, to find somebody to fill the temporary position. Willetts called Sewell, an old friend. Iowa is his home state, so Sewell thought he would give it a try.

He liked that work, too.

Sewell’s job duties with MMUA have changed over five years, but, in his eyes, only for the better. That’s because Sewell now spends approximately two-thirds of his time in municipal electric generating plants.

Sewell has first-hand experience as a lineman and diesel power plant operator. He also has experience as a water superintendent, water plant operator and water distribution technician. All that work had its good points, but Sewell really liked the power plants.

He started as a power plant operator. He managed the Milford, Iowa municipal utility system for 23 years. Prior to that, he worked for the municipal utilities in Hopkinton and West Bend, Iowa. Sewell had worked in the utility business for 33 years, 27 of those years as a manager.

While they still exist, it is no longer common to find municipal utility personnel dedicated solely to electric generation. The downside of that is, the less you perform a certain task, the less proficient you may become at it.

Recognizing this, MMUA and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) worked together to create two programs to help municipal electric utilities operate their local electric generating plants more safely and efficiently.

The first program is called Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and the second is simply Generation Consulting. Programs are of little help without knowledgeable people to work them. Sewell, MMUA Generation Coordinator/Job Training and Safety Instructor, provides that expertise.

He works with local utility staff to develop written preventive maintenance schedules and documented operating procedures, customized for each plant. An up-to-date written preventive maintenance schedule, including a comprehensive inventory of critical equipment, qualifies a utility for a 10 percent rate reduction on their property coverage rates, through the O&M program.

Sewell noted that the program helps a utility save money on equipment replacement cost and maintain a staff of skilled, confident and safe equipment operators.

As a former manager, Sewell knows saving money on insurance is important. But what really motivates him is getting into the plants, getting to know them and the people that run them, and talking about ways to operate a plant most safely and efficiently.

The Generation Consulting program follows from the O&M program and involves an annual audit of the electric generating plant, through the LMCIT, conducted by Sewell. The audit also provides an opportunity for utility staff to discuss a variety of generation-related issues with an outside expert.

Sewell has experience with a variety of engine generator sets. He not only knows how engines and electrical systems work, but can find his way around a board room or council chamber.

Sewell served on the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Board (IAMU) of Directors, and was past president when he ‘retired.’ He also served on the IAMU Legislative and Regulatory Committee, and chaired the Electric Safety Committee.

Sewell was also a member of the North Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association Board of Directors for 25 years. He received the American Public Power Associations “Seven Hats” award while working at Milford.

But the ‘hat’ he is wearing now might be the favorite of his career.

The MMUA/LMCIT partnership has greatly helped many utilities better understand the critical environment of the generation station and equipment, said MMUA Job Training and Safety Director Mike Willetts.

 “We are pleased to be working with somebody as knowledgeable, well-known and well-respected as Bob Sewell,” said MMUA Executive Director Jack Kegel. “We expect the work he is doing now will help with the maintenance and operation of public power generation facilities for many years to come.”


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