Throughout Women’s History Month, EPSA is featuring women in the competitive power industry. Our series continues with two women who are managing major environmental projects and executing power transactions at bp and Eastern Generation.
As Women’s History month comes to a close, we’re sharing more stories and advice from women working throughout the competitive power industry.
Across every industry, women are propelling our nation forward – and when it comes to the competitive power industry, these women are moving the needle.
In our latest feature, hear from two women who are managing major environmental projects and executing power transactions at top competitive power companies.
Natalia Hernandez, director of environment, health and safety, Eastern Generation
Q: What does a director of environment, health and safety at a competitive power company do?
A: In addition to my responsibilities for day-to-day environmental, health and safety compliance, I manage major environmental related projects and oversee the security and facilities contracts for three power generating stations in New York City.
Although all my days start out about the same, every day on the job is different. A typical morning starts with a brief meeting with my group to set up objectives for the day and week, followed by a meeting with the other directors and our senior vice president. After these meetings, I split my day between working in the field and working in the office. Every person in our team is trained to wear multiple hats and respond to emergencies at any given time. Some days are longer than others, and some are more challenging than others. Yet, I am always learning and, most importantly, enjoying myself.
Q: How does the work you do contribute to the electricity we use every day at home and at work?
A: The work my team and I do supports the day-to-day operations of the sites. Our compliance programs are critical to our operations and ensure that the electricity we put out to the grid is generated safely and with respect for the environment.
Q: How did you make your way to Eastern Generation?
A: I relocated to the U.S. from Colombia in 2004 and spent about two years learning the language. After becoming fluent in English, I started working with a recruiter who noticed my experience with water treatment plants in Colombia. He asked me if I would be interested in working in a power plant and I did not hesitate. The rest is history!
I’ve been in the utility industry for almost 15 years. My first position was Environmental Engineer for one plant and shortly after I started to take on more responsibilities and more stations. With more responsibilities, the need for additional support developed and my team grew to what it is today.
School has been a big part of my professional development. Our senior vice president of operations has always encouraged us to work on pursuing continuing education as it allows us to provide better solutions for the positions we hold. I hold a master’s in engineering, an executive MBA and an Industrial Hygiene certification, all of which I acquired while working in the industry.
Taking on more complex projects and seeing them through has helped me gain a tremendous amount of experience. It’s very rewarding to develop a concept and see it materialize. I’m currently working on the construction of a fuel oil tank farm. We started developing this idea in 2018 and are on schedule to commission the project by the end of 2021. As with any construction project, there have been multiple challenges and lessons learned that provide tools to better execute future work.
I consider myself a passionate and detail-oriented individual driven by continuous development. I am extremely fortunate to work on a team that doesn’t shy away from challenges and supports one another to evolve into better professionals every day.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
A: It’s unfair to choose one thing I like or find rewarding about what I do. There are many components that drive me to wake up at odd hours of the day – I get up at 4:30 a.m. to be at my first meeting at 6:30 a.m.
The people I work with, the unique challenges we face, the vital service we provide are all part of the reasons I do what I do. There is also something sort of magical about the work we do, as people don’t realize what happens in the shadows when they turn on the switch that lights up the room!
Q: What’s something you wish everyone knew about competitive power suppliers and in general, competitive electricity markets? How do you think competitive power benefits the country?
A: Power generators are always under extreme scrutiny from the public because of the impact our operations have on the environment. I wish people knew how serious we are about the role we play in the communities we serve. We man our stations 365 days a year no matter what. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we made arrangements for our operations group to quarantine on site to ensure power would be delivered when needed.
We struggle with the pressures of being competitive in the market while complying with a vast array of regulations that govern the industry. We are constantly looking forward and trying to get ahead of these challenges to ensure the system we support is as reliable as possible, so no one ever needs to worry about the lights not coming on the next time they flip the switch.
Q: Are there any current issues or trends you see emerging in competitive power?
A: There is a tremendous push for renewable energy and cleaner generation. I will not necessarily say it is a new trend, but certainly the industry is taking a strong turn towards those alternatives.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women starting their careers?
A: Follow your passion with confidence. The rest will fall in place!
Tina Chui, trading & shipping power originator, bp
Q: What is your job and title – what does a typical day look like?
A: I am a power originator in trading & shipping at bp. My focus area is the Northeast Power Markets, where I am responsible for formulating, developing and executing wholesale power transactions – the buying and selling of energy/electricity. A key part of my job involves establishing and managing strong relationships with both external customers and internal stakeholders.
Q: How did you end up working in competitive power?
A: I majored in finance and economics and was aiming for a highly coveted position in banking. A close friend recommended that I broaden my search to other industries since all companies have a finance department. I took her advice and landed my first job at an electric utility in New York City in its Graduate Development Program. I ended up working for them as a power scheduler, which started my career in competitive power markets. It was definitely an eye-opening experience and a very different way of applying my finance and economics degree. In this position, I was exposed to the technical aspects of the power grid – such as transmission and distribution lines, peak load forecasts, weather predictions and fuel supply – to establish daily and seasonal purchasing initiatives.
While at the electric utility, I was mostly exposed to the New York power markets. I knew that if I wanted to broaden my career in power markets, I would have to expand my knowledge base into other market areas and structures. I took an opportunity at bp in the commodity risk group, as bp has one of world’s most developed commodity trading businesses. I worked in commodity risk for a few years and then was nominated for bp’s marketing & origination development program. After completion of the program, I started working in the power origination group and this is my current role.
Q: What do you most enjoy about your work?
A: I think the most rewarding thing about my work at bp is building relationships and learning from a wide range of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. A big part of what also makes careers rewarding is working with others who motivate and challenge you, and bp constantly challenges me to re-imagine and re-invent.
Q: What would you like everyone to know about electric competition?
A: Competition provides customers with choice and price transparency. We’re seeing growing interest from customers large and small in buying renewable power, and competition between suppliers provides customers with a selection of product offerings and the ability to compare prices. Competition also drives efficiency and technological advancement. The global energy transition from traditional fossil-based systems to renewable energy resources is underway, and customers and technology will be critical to this transition. To quote bp’s CEO Bernard Looney, “This coming decade is critical for the world in the fight against climate change, and to drive the necessary change in global energy systems will require action from everyone.”
Q: Are there any current issues or trends you see emerging in competitive power?
A: There will be a significant push for renewable energy development and deployment, as renewable energy will play an increasingly important role in helping the world reach net zero. According to bp’s Energy Outlook, renewable energy, led by wind and solar power, is the fastest growing source of energy over the next 30 years. Along these lines, part of bp’s strategy to reach net zero includes increasing our low carbon investment to around $5 billion a year by 2030. Finding competitive processes to spur renewable growth while managing costs and maintaining reliability is key to success.
Q: What advice do you have for women entering the workforce?
A: Think of building your career like building your own brand and reputation. Like a good brand, you want people to know your strong suits, abilities and competitive advantages. Essentially, you want people to know what you represent and that they can count on you. To build your brand you should look to expand your knowledge base, take advantage of training and mentoring programs, look for networking opportunities and don’t be afraid of taking risk and trying something new.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Competitive Power Ventures’ chief compliance officer Virginia Fuller and Energy Capital Partners’ investment analyst Alexandra Witteveen share how their roles contribute to affordable, reliable and cleaner power grid. Read more in Women in Competitive Power: Part One.
Shell Energy’s senior vice president of trading Jill Davies shares years of knowledge and a unique perspective of the power industry in Women in Competitive Power: Part Two.