Russell Vorpagel’s career in the energy industry began in 1979 as an apprentice mechanical fitter at Swanbank Power Station. Today he’s Mechanical Engineering Superintendent at Tarong power stations, where he has been working for 26 years. We spoke to Russell about his four-decade long career, how the energy industry has changed in that time, and what he enjoys most about working at Stanwell.
What motivated you to become involved in the energy industry?
As a school leaver, I was intending to pursue a life in the agricultural industry, but a few years into my apprenticeship, I found the power station plant more interesting and the workplace banter more fun than driving tractors and chipping weeds.
For an engineer, power stations have such a huge range of equipment – structures, pressure equipment, rotating equipment, and some of the equipment is the biggest of its type in the country; and for me there are still plenty of things to learn.
What do you think have been the biggest changes in the energy industry over the last 40 years?
The biggest change that I have seen in the generation industry was when the Queensland Government, through the Queensland Electricity Generating Board and Queensland Electricity Commission, ceased to be the sole generator of electricity in Queensland. This commenced with the sale of Gladstone Power Station, continued with the disaggregation of Austa, and the entrance of private generators when the Electricity Market was established.
What do you see as some key challenges facing the energy industry moving forward?
I see the biggest challenge facing the energy industry is the orderly transition from fossil fuelled generation to reliable and economic generation that does not produce carbon dioxide.
In my personal opinion, I don’t foresee another coal-fired power station ever being built in Australia and for existing coal-fired power stations to remain operational, I see the challenge is to keep costs down, aided by better productivity and making longer term decisions.
What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in the energy industry?
Get a variety of experience in different roles and on different sites. Learn as much as you can, be positive and proud of where you work, have fun, and give more than you take.
What is something you’ve worked on in the past that you’re particularly proud of?
To be part of construction of a new power station (Callide B) in the mid-1980s – to see it go from a cleared paddock to putting megawatts over the fence – made me proud.
At Tarong, I worked as a boiler engineer eliminating various failure mechanisms to such an extent that in the early-2000s, we went for almost five years without a boiler tube failure across the station, which was recognised as world-class. This helped Unit 2 achieve a Guinness World Record at the time, for the longest uninterrupted time in service.
What do you enjoy most about your role with Stanwell?
I think it’s the complete package of working in a team with dedicated people, having the opportunity to learn from other people and pass that knowledge on to others, having a variety of interesting things to work on, being able to make a real difference in the work you do, and feeling safe in a large industrial complex where there is so much energy stored within the equipment.