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Spotlight on the Line Trade: Ben Feliz of Clark Public Utilities

After nearly four decades in the industry, Ben Feliz works to create awareness about the opportunities in the line trade in his local community.

  • Born in Lompoc, California.
  • Has a brother who passed away and a sister.
  • Married to his wife, Sandy, and has a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Daniel.
  • Attended Allan Hancock College with an emphasis on engineering and earned a certificate for completing the Pathways to Leadership program.
  • His son is in a line work apprenticeship in Portland, Oregon. Also, his father worked as a lineman for the telephone company in the central part of California in the 1950s. After retiring after a 35-year career in the trade, his father passed away in 2012.
  • Enjoys working in the yard, camping in his RV, exploring, riding his Harley and visiting wineries in different parts of the region.
  • Expands his knowledge and contacts by attending workshops, training sessions and conferences about the power industry across the country.
  • As a manager, he can’t live without his smart phone, tablet, smart watch and laptop computer.

Early Years
I spent the majority of my 39-year career working for the city of Lompoc, a small municipal utility in California. I was able to wear a lot of hats, learn about the business side of things and collaborate with the smaller utilities throughout the West. I started as a senior maintenance worker/tree trimmer after graduating from Lompoc High School, and after about a year in that job, I entered the apprenticeship program and topped out as an electrical line worker in 1985. A year later, I became the lead electrical worker or foreman for four years before starting the substation group and becoming a lead substation technician/foreman. From 1996 to 2014, with more added responsibilities, I became a substation supervisor for about 19 years. I then decided to explore other job opportunities, and Clark Public Utilities in Vancouver, Washington, gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Day in the Life
As a transmission and distribution manager for Clark Public Utilities, I am responsible for a team of 45 employees including four superintendents and another 40 field staff. I collaborate with internal and external staff to help manage the work for them and serve as their advocate. I try to get out in the field once or twice a week to visit the crews and support their efforts. Right now, we are doing a lot of small reconductor work and long overlooked maintenance. Because I work for a maintenance utility, our crews don’t do a lot of the big construction jobs, but we maintain the infrastructure after it has been installed.

Safety Lesson
We all know that in this field, safety is number one. Our guys take safety very seriously, and they are diligent about doing tailboards every day. If anything happens, they stop the job and talk about it. We don’t put pressure on them to get their work done quickly. In this industry, you can’t get in a hurry and take shortcuts or someone will get hurt.

Memorable Storm
On Valentine’s Day in 1983, I worked as an apprentice for the City of Lompoc. The majority of our 15,000 customers were without power due to damage from a “Pineapple Express” storm. Heavy rain pushed in from the tropics, and we had wind gusts of up to 85 mph. Since we had an old system, we had lots of poles and wire on the ground. Following this storm, we didn’t contract anything out—we conducted all the repairs in-house. I was brand new to the industry, and I was in awe of what it took to put everything back together. Since then, we have had different storms involving snow and ice, but that storm was definitely an eye opener. Now I must manage crews who restore power after a storm, I know how important it is to give credit to your entire team for the long hours and commitment to customers to get them back in service.

Future Plans
My wife and I are buying a piece of property in Prescott, Arizona, and we are planning to move down to that area. I also plan to continue doing some advocacy work for the industry. I am currently a member of several organizations including the Clark County Utility Coordinating Council, the Western Regional Mutual Assistance Group and the
Washington Public Utility District’s Association Operations Committee. I also am involved with the Environmental Task Force, Labor and Employee Relations Group and the Training Development Committee of the Northwest Public Power Association. In addition, I serve as the regional coordinator of the American Public Power Association Mutual Assistance Working Group and a panel member of the RP3 panel.

Giving Back to the Trade
When I visit the line schools and attend local high school events, I tell the young people coming in that the line trade is such a rewarding career. You can provide a service to the customer that they can’t live without. When I was “in the tools,” I always enjoyed helping people and doing the right thing. It’s what we do in this trade.

 

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