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Meet the OPG employees helping Ontario power on

Updated April 22

As millions of Ontarians stay home to help contain the spread of COVID-19, OPG’s dedicated employees are continuing their critical work to keep the lights on for Ontario’s hospitals, care facilities, clinics, and homes.

These essential employees include operators at OPG’s nuclear, hydro and thermal generating stations, as well as staff needed for unit and station maintenance. Employees in nuclear safety, dam safety, and water management also continue to keep the community and operations safe while security officers, emergency response personnel, and cleaning staff keep OPG’s sites sanitized and secure for employees.

We will be featuring some of these employees in a series of vignettes because we want Ontarians to get to know our amazing people and to assure you that together, we WILL power on.

Wade Nolan, Hydroelectric Operating Supervisor

Wade Nolan, Hydroelectric Operating Supervisor
Wade Nolan, Hydroelectric Operating Supervisor

Working at the Northwest Control Centre in Thunder Bay, Wade Nolan, a Hydroelectric Operating Supervisor, is ensuring OPG’s hydro operations in the northwest continue to run safely and reliably.

“I am personally very proud and thankful to be able to work and do my part to ensure that the citizens of Ontario continue to receive reliable power during this very unique and trying time,” Nolan said.

Since the start of the pandemic, all non-essential staff are working from home while only one hydro operating technician and one hydro operating supervisor are allowed in the control room at any time. These essential employees enter via a dedicated outside entrance connected to the control room to avoid contact with the trades shops and main office. In addition, staff are using cleaning supplies and disinfectant wipes on surface areas, especially before shift changes.

The current situation has created some unique challenges, Nolan said, such as reduced maintenance staffing in the field to attend to equipment breakdowns. As well, all ongoing planned outages at northwest stations have been put on hold in order to ensure the maximum amount of reliable generation available to the province.

“However, the professionalism and willingness of field staff to help in any situation, at any hour of the day, definitely makes our job that much easier. I can’t thank them enough,” Nolan said. “I am extremely impressed with the dedication of my co-workers. It is truly because of them that OPG continues to be a leader and primary provider of this very essential service, even in a time of crisis.”

Alix Whyte, Mechanical Technician Trainee

As a mechanical technician trainee and millwright apprentice, Alix Whyte helps support maintenance projects at OPG’s R.H. Saunders Generating Station (GS) in Cornwall. She’s currently working to help keep the 1,045-megawatt station running safely and reliably to provide clean power for Ontario.

Alix Whyte is a Mechanical Technician Trainee at OPG's R.H. Saunders GS.
Alix Whyte, Mechanical Technician Trainee at OPG's R.H. Saunders GS

“I feel pretty good about being counted on during these tough times,” said Whyte. “A lot of people are scared. But for me and my partner, who is on the frontlines as a law enforcement officer, I’m proud in my own way to share the responsibility to supply power so hospitals and seniors’ homes can run, and medical equipment can be delivered during this outbreak.”

Recently, Whyte helped repair one of the station’s turbines during a unit outage, and she does a lot more around the plant, including welding, machining, and general maintenance. In the event a unit goes down at Saunders, Whyte and her fellow technicians will be there to help quickly bring the unit back into service.

“I think we underestimate just how important we are to our community because we are here every day and forget the everyday things we don’t always think about. What OPG continues to provide allows our province to function.”

Jordan Hughes, Technical Officer – Water Management

Jordan Hughes, Technical Officer – Water Management
Jordan Hughes, Technical Officer – Water Management

Jordan Hughes helps oversee and manage water at 22 hydro stations and three control dams on six river systems in eastern Ontario.

It’s a job that is especially important during this time of year as the province approaches spring freshet, when rivers typically see higher flows from melting snow and rainfall. Hughes and his team are on the watch for increasing water flows and flood risks while working through the challenges of COVID-19.

“During this challenging time, my first thoughts that come to mind are that of privilege and empathy. Privilege that I am able to work and continue to provide an essential service for Ontario,” Hughes said. “My thoughts quickly then follow to empathy as there are many individuals within the province that are unable to work or, for that matter, are affected by this pandemic. These are unprecedented times and it can be overwhelming. I try to focus on my job and my role within the province at this crucial period.”

Hughes especially feels for the Ontarians who have already gone through hardships related to the flooding events of 2019 that affected many regions of the province.

“It is unfortunate that we continue to face stressful times with the ongoing pandemic as we approach the onset of this year’s freshet. I am hopeful that I can continue to support our operations and those within the province of Ontario to the best of my abilities. During this difficult time, I take solace in the fact that we are all united for the common goal of Ontario’s safety and future. With that said, the people of Ontario are resilient and I am certain that collectively we will persevere through this adversity.”

Dan McDermid, Assistant Operations Manager at Darlington Nuclear

During normal times, Dan McDermid helps oversee Darlington’s Operations group through outage and online planning, operations support and programs, and working with the Unit 2 refurbishment and return-to-service teams. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of that. McDermid is now busy representing the operations group as he serves full-time on the station’s COVID-19 Command Centre.

Dan McDermid, Assistant Operations Manager at Darlington Nuclear
Dan McDermid, Assistant Operations Manager at Darlington Nuclear

As part of this response team, McDermid monitors staffing changes at the station every day, helping ensure key positions are properly staffed so Darlington can continue to operate safely and reliably. His responsibilities also include creating contingency plans and longer-term strategies in the event the COVID-19 outbreak impacts site staff more intensely or longer than anticipated.

It’s a difficult task with the ever-evolving situation, but he is embracing the challenge.

“My day-to-day job is very challenging and very exciting, but doing something new and especially something so important to keeping the lights on during this time is really meaningful, exciting, and a little bit exhausting,” he said. “Keeping a nuclear power plant running through a pandemic is no easy feat. There are a lot of jurisdictions and countries that are in a much worse spot than we are and we’re learning from their challenges in order to tailor our response.”

A big part of the station’s response to the outbreak has been frequent and clear communications between all levels of the station and the company. McDermid says this is the key to protecting employees at the plant.

“We hope this pandemic ends sooner than later, but we recognize we may be in this for longer than first expected and so we are making the necessary plans that will protect the public, our personnel, the plant, and keep electricity flowing to the people of Ontario who need it during this challenging time.”

Melissa Nikkel, Health and Safety Advisor

Melissa Nikkel, Health and Safety Advisor
Melissa Nikkel, Health and Safety Advisor

As part of OPG’s Nuclear West Health and Safety team, Melissa Nikkel is working remotely while supporting the Pickering Nuclear station as well as all nuclear support groups west of Whitby.

Understandably, she and her team have been extremely busy during this crisis as they work to support the prevention of transmission at OPG to keep employees safe. This includes sharing the most up-to-date information and resources for employees.

Like many in the province, the crisis has had a personal impact on Nikkel, whose partner works in the emergency department at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa and is now supporting patients, some who have contracted the virus.

“Our household is seeing the full spectrum and impact this pandemic can have on everyone’s personal and work lives,” Nikkel said.

OPG’s donation of more than one million surgical and 75,000 N95 masks to Ontario’s health care workers was most welcome news for her family.

“I was very proud of this donation and it had a very personal impact for me. In my job, I get to help make sure my OPG co-workers get home safe, and now OPG is helping the guy I love most get home safe to me.”

Melina Depante, Senior Security Consultant, Contract and Stakeholder Relations

As a security consultant, Melina Depante works across the province to mitigate risk and help safeguard OPG’s sites and employees from vulnerabilities.

Melina Depante, Senior Security Consultant, Contract and Stakeholder Relations
Melina Depante, Senior Security Consultant, Contract and Stakeholder Relations

During this crisis, she is working at R.H. Saunders GS to ensure security and emergency services are running smoothly.

“Security at Saunders is the front line and first point of contact that deals with visitors to the station,” Depante said. “The biggest challenge for me personally has been to protect our staff while ensuring business continuity for our people.

“We are faced with a circumstance that is always changing. It has been imperative that I keep up to date with all the information and adapt to any changes regarding polices, procedures, protocol and safety measures and communicate it to staff so we can ensure business operations continue safely while maintaining the safety of our employees – which is the main priority.”

Despite the challenging times, Depante says she has been able to manage the situation thanks to proper planning, preparation and communication from the leadership team at the station.

Murray Carr, Front Line Manager, Chemical Laboratory at Darlington

Murray Carr, Front Line Manager, Chemical Laboratory at Darlington
Murray Carr, Front Line Manager, Chemical Laboratory at Darlington

As an essential employee, Murray Carr supervises a crew of staff working in Darlington’s chemical lab, which performs chemical monitoring of the plant’s units to ensure Darlington’s systems are in safe and reliable working condition.

His team’s work is key to both keeping Darlington’s operational reactors running safely and bringing Unit 2 back online from the refurbishment.

“Those of us that are working at the plant during this time realize that this is how we are doing our part to help the residents of Ontario. Most people understand the reasons behind the limitations set in the public and why they have been put in place, but when you see those requirements being duplicated in your workplace it is a sobering realization of the state of things,” Carr said, referring to physical distancing measures and other preventive actions.

“Colleagues are helping family members due to age or health restrictions, others have family members who are in the health care profession dealing with COVID-19 directly. These issues, combined with our own issues of ensuring family members are protected, quickly drives home the importance of our role in the fight against the pandemic. Hospitals, manufacturing companies, grocery stores, and even those isolated at home are counting on us to ‘keep the lights on’. The majority of our work force has had parents or grandparents who grew up through struggles due to world events, now it is our turn to do our part to help.”