When he’s not nerding out on stats and spreadsheets, Alders is enjoying the outdoors, traveling and following his new interest, the English Premier League (he refuses to call it soccer), specifically Manchester United.
Jim Alders says he likes working at the Bonneville Power Administration because of how it supports the Pacific Northwest. While he went to school to be a civil engineer, his job at BPA involves writing code for data analysis.

“I enjoy solving problems in R, which is admittedly very nerdy,” said Alders.

R is a programming language used for statistical computing. Alders uses it to do his job, which is: collect and analyze data to determine whether a construction project will give the federal government a good return on its financial investment. He recently built a simulation that can evaluate the cash value of the energy generated at Hungry Horse Dam over a 60-year period.

“That helped us evaluate the best path forward for capital investment in the very old turbines and generators there,” said Alders.

When people ask me what I do for work I tell them:

I am a liaison between BPA and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Columbia Pacific Northwest Regional Office, which includes 10 hydroelectric dams including Grand Coulee, Hungry Horse and Palisades, among others. My main goal is to work with Reclamation to prepare business cases for review prior to obtaining approval for funding. Reclamation uses that money to make structural improvements at its dams and replace aging equipment including turbines, generators and transformers. It also pays for electrical systems that provide power inside the dams and powerhouses so staff can execute their day-to-day missions. A solid business case shows all the costs and benefits of investing in the equipment so that it justifies the funding. Even with the very best information, the decision to award funding may not happen due to budget constraints and the needs of the rest of the Federal Columbia River Power System, not just Reclamation dams.

How does your work group or office support BPA’s mission and strategy?

I work in Federal Hydro, where we oversee the direct funding budgets for day-to-day expenses and infrequent equipment replacement and construction capital costs. Our main mission is to make sure Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have adequate funding to maintain equipment and ensure the reliability of the Federal Columbia River Power System. Linking that back to the strategy, we make sure we’re operating and maintaining the system in an economically efficient fashion, which strengthens BPA’s financial health and provides competitive power products and services.

I like working at BPA because:

We support a vital function for the greater Pacific Northwest. We provide a great deal of the power consumed in this corner of the U.S. and provide a flexible system that keeps the transmission of that power reliable.

My most memorable work-related story or safety lesson:

The first summer I worked at BPA was 2016. During that summer, one of the very large generating units at Grand Coulee was down for repairs following a forced outage. We were allowed to crawl all throughout that machine, including the turbine spiral case, which is the space the water flows through just before it gets to the turbine runner. This space is massive! You could easily fit a pretty standard size residential house in there with room to spare. The tour guides there say you can fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in three seconds with the water that flows through one of those turbines. I’m not sure why we need our swimming pools filled that quickly, but I suppose that’s missing the point.

The coolest or most surprising thing about my job is:

Thinking back to the trip to Grand Coulee and walking around in that turbine, it’s a reality check on the scale and size of the equipment and systems the Reclamation and Corps of Engineers deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s not surprising the budgets needed to operate and maintain this equipment are so large.

Safety is a core value at BPA. How do you incorporate safe behavior into your practices and environment?

Just try to be mindful of how things in our office, our homes or during our commutes could pose a risk to our safety. I like to pass on what I’ve seen and experienced to those that will listen. For instance, as a bike commuter, I didn’t think much about making sure I’m being seen by drivers around me until I had a near hit with someone in a van, who was clearly in a hurry and not being very attentive to the road around him. I was fortunate I didn’t come away with more than a sore muscle or two. Now if you ever ask me about bike commuting, I’ll tell you one of the most important things is visibility. You can’t be too visible!

My favorite thing about working and living in the Northwest is:

Outdoor opportunities. I love Mt. Rainier. It’s shocking how close that mountain is and just the sheer size of it!

Did you serve in the U.S Armed Forces? If so, what branch and what did you do?

I served as an electrician for six years in the U.S. Navy. The first two years were spent training on the operation and maintenance of the electrical systems for naval nuclear reactors and submarines. Following my training, I was stationed on the ballistic missile submarine the USS Nevada for four years.

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