Energy Efficiency

Maryland Ops Center Goes High Tech

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: October 30th, 2013

When a Maryland electric cooperative’s operations staff grew too large for its existing workspace, the co-op’s directors seized an opportunity to reduce energy costs and improve working conditions for its employees.

Local and state officials help SMECO officials open the co-op’s new engineering and operations center. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)

Local and state officials help SMECO officials open the co-op’s new engineering and operations center. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)

“This facility is a utilitarian, blue-collar functional building,” Austin J. “Joe” Slater Jr., CEO of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, said during a dedication program for the Hughesville-based co-op’s new engineering and operations center, Oct. 15.

Built to meet platinum-level Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building standards, the 165,000 square feet of enclosed space is heated and cooled by nearly 300 geothermal wells drilled under parking areas.

More than 100 skylights maximize use of natural lighting to help keep energy use about 70 percent below levels of comparable structures. Landscaping features low-maintenance vegetation and lawns that will need mowing just twice a year. Heated sidewalks prevent winter icing.

There are larger cubicles and state-of-the-art parts and materials distribution counters for line and substation crews inside the hurricane-hardened facility, which also has climate-controlled truck bays for line trucks and other equipment.

The control room is a self-contained facility with its own controlled access features. An electronic board displays an illuminated schematic of the co-op’s transmission system representing its 69-kilovolt and 230-kv lines.

SMECO’s transmission system depicted on a schematic inside the secured operations center. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)

SMECO’s transmission system depicted on a schematic inside the secured operations center. (Photo By: Derrill Holly)

“We have our own kitchen and other facilities, so we do not have to leave the secured area,” said Andre Francis, SMECO transmission systems operations manager.

The new facility is not for public use, but a large auditorium provides enough space for its nearly 500 employees to gather indoors together.

The large, open space can double as temporary housing for crews dispatched to SMECO’s territory during mutual aid situations.

Furnishings throughout the sprawling complex were designed, fabricated and installed with the needs of the nearly 250 operations and member services personnel in mind.

Contact center staffers who handle everything from routine billing and service inquiries to outage calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week now work in airy low-rise work stations.

“Under normal conditions, each representative handles between 50 and 100 calls per shift,” said Rose Pickeral-Brown, SMECO’s contact center director, who noted that the center’s daily call volume runs 900 to 1,600.

“We have a quiet room where representatives can go to de-stress after completing particularly difficult calls,” said Pickeral-Brown. “We also have a coaching room where supervisors can work with reps after calls are monitored for quality control.”

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