Empowering His Team to New Levels of Success
By Rachel Kvapil
Chris Forrest, director of power supply for GVEA, understands the role a supportive work environment has in the success of its employees. After moving to Alaska in 2016 to accept a position as a controls engineer, Chris has worked hard to develop a cohesive team to manage the control systems at several GVEA facilities.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” says Chris. “Everyone was so generous, hardworking, and we’ve had a lot of fun. I can’t say enough good things about the people here.”
Chris moved to Alaska with his family after the passing of his wife. His position at GVEA provided the change in direction he needed at the time, and he is still happy that he accepted the opportunity to work at the utility. He moved up the ranks from senior controls engineer into a supervisory position over the control systems engineers. Chris continued to build on success with the plants and dispatch and created the Power Supply Engineering department, with mechanical, electrical and controls engineers focused solely on plant operations and dispatch. When his predecessor director of power supply retired a year ago, Chris took on the role as an interim position before being offered the permanent role.
“The stronger our group becomes, the better it is for our plants,” says Chris. “Our capacity continues to improve when we spend time mentoring, training and supporting our team.”
As director of power supply, Chris supervises 112 people from 2 coal plants, 5 gas generation systems and one wind farm. His team includes GVEA’s dispatch unit, controls, mechanical and SCADA engineers. In addition to providing leadership and mentorship, Chris is responsible for labor relations and negotiations. Chris believes advocating for his team is the best way he can show his appreciation for everything they do.
“I really have a hard-working group who goes above and beyond what’s asked of them,” Chris says. “They are a fine group of people to work with every day.”
In this position, Chris says the biggest challenge is trying to chart the right mix of power sources for GVEA with the strategic generation group. In January 2019, the GVEA Board of Directors adopted the Carbon Reduction Goal to reduce the utility’s carbon output by 26% by 2030. One of the methods of achieving this is through the development of renewable energy, alternative fuels and advanced energy storage.
“There’s a lot to consider when you’re a small system trying to find the right mix of reliable resources that reduces rates and meets lower emissions goals,” Chris says.
In the coming years, Chris hopes to develop successful succession planning for his team as employees move through the ranks. He says promoting from within provides existing employees with an opportunity to enhance their careers. Succession planning ensures that employees have the necessary skills when they move into a new position. For others who are interested in working with GVEA in the future, he recommends keeping a long-term mind-set that sees any position as a career rather than a job.
Chris’s son and his mother, who moved up with him from Washington state in 2016, live in Fairbanks. In his free time, Chris enjoys outdoor activities including fishing, riding in his side-by-side and hunting.