In early 1963 Roger Staley experienced a true sliding doors moment that led him to setting roots in Ludington.
He was all set to be a Marine. But in a last-ditch effort to keep his son home, Roger’s father Dale asked him to strongly consider one last request: try to land a job at Consumers Energy.
“My dad said do what you can to get your foot in the door and, ‘when you get there, stay there,” recalled Staley. “I listened to him, that’s exactly what I did.? It was a decision that changed my life.”
His first stop was as a steam service operator in Kalamazoo, working out of the gas lines department. With nearly 10-years at the company, he put a bid on a job at the Ludington Pumped Storage.
‘Best Decision Ever’
“I had no idea about the place, I took a chance,” said Staley with a chuckle. “But it was the best decision I ever made in my life.”
As he drove up for the first time to interview at the plant in 1972, he saw the plant, still under construction, on the horizon just off Lake Michigan.
“I was in awe,” he said. “I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked like it was from outer space.”
Staley got the job as maintenance worker. He and his wife, Becky, and three young children packed up their home in Kalamazoo and moved to
Ludington, a place the couple calls home to this day.
He and other maintenance workers, some who would become life-long friends, put 60 hour plus work weeks in to learn more about the ins and outs of Ludington Pumped Storage, which?has been called one of the world’s biggest electric batteries because it can provide energy at a moment’s notice. Lake Michigan water is pumped uphill during periods of low electric demand and stored in a large reservoir. When electricity demand is high, the water is released through six pump-turbines for power generation. The water then flows back into the lake.
“We had to hit the ground running and educate ourselves since pumped storage was a brand-new concept,” said Staley, who retired in 2000 from the plant.
Blackout of 2003
All the hard work by scores of employees who breathed life into Ludington shined during a fateful August day.
That defining moment in the plant history took place during the August blackout of 2003. When the grid went dark, the plant provided power to it, allowing other sources of generation to restart and limit the blackout.
“Ludington Pumped Storage has been there for Michigan in its time of need,” said Jason Durand, plant manager. “And it will continue to play a key role in our energy future with it being relicensed until June 30, 2069.”
Other accolades for the facility include being named outstanding civil engineering project of 1973 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was also named one of Michigan’s top 10 civil engineering projects of the 20th century by the Michigan Section of the American Society of Engineers.
“Ludington was a tremendous place to work,” said Staley. “It helped me raise a family and I am grateful for that.”
In June 2019 the plant was relicensed to operate for an additional 50 years until June 30, 2069.
The facility is also going through an $800 million overhaul of the plant, including replacing all six of the historic plant’s original massive turbines. When finished, it will increase the facility’s power by 300 megawatts.
‘Get There, Stay There’
Staley sees the Ludington facility often when he meets friends to play golf every week.
“I think about all the memories at the place of dealing with issues like when the reservoir leaked or when we had to rescue deer from the reservoir,” he said.
“There was so much joy and many laughs that we had over the years there. But there were also some tough times. I remember all the emotions that we had there. It was like a big family.”
Durand said the legacy that employees like Staley left leaves an indelible mark not only Ludington, but the company.
“The people before us have made it possible for Ludington Pumped Storage to be an integral part of Consumers Energy and its Clean Energy Plan?that will serve customers for decades to come.”
As for Staley, he is doing what he can to pass his great fortune of working at Consumers Energy forward.
His young neighbor recently asked for guidance about working at Michigan’s largest energy provider.
“I told him, do what it takes to get in there and when you get there, stay there,” said Staley. “I got some good advice along those lines a long time ago.”