A landmark to the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP), Cloverland Electric's 118-year old hydro plant requires continual, specialized maintenance. The hydro plant is operated by an 18-person crew, each team member skilled in hydro maintenance and generation. Part of this team includes three hydro specialists that excel in specific trades essential to the hydro plant that generates a third of the cooperative's electricity for its EUP members.
The hydro crew specialists have unique, diverse roles and perform superior work in their trades. Specialists Dave DePlonty, Machinist; Kory Rogers, Welder; and Ben Forejt, Electrician; are essential to everyday operations, but their jobs also have a greater purpose - ensuring the hydro plant remains operational into the future.
Dave DePlonty, Machinist
Machinist Dave DePlonty is tasked with the innovative creation of parts and equipment for all 74 hydro plant turbines. Self-taught in his trade, DePlonty started with Edison Sault Electric 13 years ago and is now Cloverland's sole machinist.
"I grew up on a farm and we had a lot of the same equipment that we have here in the shop," DePlonty states. "A lot of my skills were picked up by doing odd jobs around the farm."
DePlonty creates a wide range of turbine parts for hydro repairmen to use for maintenance. An average month consists of handcrafted bearings, fulcrum rods, eccentric bolts, turbine keys, and turbine bolts. Each part is handcrafted and designs can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete. DePlonty ensures parts are always available for hydro repairmen, which requires detailed processes of planning and organization.
"Cloverland puts a big emphasis on safety," said DePlonty. "I know I can take time to plan out projects and create them correctly."
Kory Rogers, Welder
Cloverland's Welder Kory Rogers started his specialty trade in high school and began his career working at a local fabrication shop. Rogers started at Cloverland eight years ago and has an essential role in hydro maintenance and innovative project creation. Rogers grew up around machinery on the family farm and originally learned how to weld because he wanted to fix broken equipment.
"If something breaks, I fix it," stated Rogers. "If something needs to be created, I fabricate it."
Rogers spends a lot of time communicating with hydro plant manager, Scott Ellis, to determine the highest priority equipment for repair and locations for innovative fabrication projects. Rogers also completes fabrication and repair projects at Cloverland's substations and generation plants.
Rogers recently finished the fabrication of a fan housing at the De Tout generation plant, which took two and a half months to complete. It is an innovative system of weights and pulleys, allowing the shroud housing to automatically open and close - keeping rain, snow, and other elements out of the cooling tower. Rogers also designed and handcrafted new enter and exit signs for the Cloverland's administration office on Portage Street in Sault Ste. Marie. Projects big and small are part of his portfolio and his skills are essential to the hydro team.
"I think it's great working in the hydro plant, there's so much history," said Rogers. "100 plus-year-old equipment - it's nice to be able to still work on it."
Ben Forejt, Electrician
Electrician Ben Forejt began his trade career as an apprentice at age 18, and now holds the title of Master Electrician. Forejt started at Cloverland Electric seven years ago and plays an essential role in maintenance and upgrades to all generation systems. Forejt's specialties range from engine electrical work at the generation plants to working on all electrical components of the hydro plant.
"Every day is different," said Forejt. "My work is focused on generation systems, but each generation system is unique and requires a diverse range of techniques."
The experience Forejt has working with unique generation systems has led to specialized projects such as recently completed electrical construction at the head gates to the canal and upgrades to the DeTour generation plant. Forejt's projects require research, communication with manufacturers, and a solid understanding of electrical theory.
"I love communicating with manufacturers and vendors from all over the world," states Forejt. "I learn something new every day."
Forejt is currently working on exciter and governor upgrades at the hydro plant. The large upgrade is a replacement of 74 exciter and 55 governor units and is expected to take two years to complete. The project reached 25% completion as of September 2020.
The expertise Cloverland's specialists have in their respective trades has been crafted through years of on-site learning opportunities, adapting their own project style, and the ability to effectively communicate both inter-departmentally and with outside contractors.
"Hydro specialists have a unique, essential role at Cloverland," explains Ellis. "They're adaptable, willing to think outside of the box, and a great team."