Dominion’s Ruth Prideaux leads renewable energy construction
This ME is armed with a can-do attitude, which has brought her to the top of her field, leading rewarding projects across the renewable energy spectrum
Ruth Prideaux’s mantra is a quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Prideaux is director of generation construction in renewable energy at Dominion Resources (Richmond, VA), one of the nation’s largest electric power and natural gas companies. The company serves almost six million utility and retail energy customers in ten states.
“People have heard me use that quote many times,” she says. “I’ve said it to my daughter and other people who ask how I’ve gotten to where I am in my career. It’s required a lot of hard work, but also a positive, self-driven attitude.”
Leading smart projects
Her responsibility is to deliver construction projects safely, on time, and on budget while meeting all of Dominion’s quality standards. “All of my focus is on renewable energy. My group will build a power plant and turn it over to Dominion operations, which is my internal customer. We have to work closely together because what we build, they will operate for twenty to forty years,” she notes.
“On the regulated side, Dominion does system planning; on the unregulated side, it looks at acquisition opportunities. So, either way, the company decides how they want to invest. Projects get developed, permits are approved, maybe a long-term power purchase agreement is negotiated and then my group gets involved to design the project that will provide the output to meet that investment goal.”
In 2013, Prideaux’s group completed eight projects: five solar and three biomass conversions wherein old coal-fired power plants were modified so they now burn waste wood. “Solar projects usually take one to two years to develop and then six to nine months to construct,” she explains, adding that Dominion works with tried-and-true engineering procurement construction (EPC) contractors. “We come up with a design and then put it out for bid,” she continues. “The EPC vendors bid for the construction and our group oversees the work.”
Prideaux spends time every day planning for what she calls the next crop of projects, working with developers to identify sites and coming up with plans. She negotiates contracts with the entities involved in each project and is responsible for hiring construction teams. Prideaux has ten
people who report directly to her, augmented by the number of contractors involved in a project.
“Among my ten reports, several have project management responsibilities,” says Prideaux. “These are people who know how to look at a schedule, see where our concerns are, and then organize diverse groups to achieve a goal. Others fall into more technical categories like project engineers, safety professionals and administrative personnel.”
Fix-it dad and leader mom inspire
Prideaux is from northern Virginia. She grew up with an interest in math and science and leaned toward a technical major. “My dad is a civil engineer and to this day, I believe he can fix anything,” she smiles. “My mother is a born leader, very involved in volunteer activities in leadership roles for the American Red Cross and other civic organizations.
“I watch them and realize that a lot can be done with your life if you apply yourself,” Prideaux believes.
She attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg) where she earned a BS in mechanical engineering in 1990. “Virginia Tech has a strong history with engineering and a very hands-on curriculum,” Prideaux explains. “There’s a lot of laboratory work and a lot of grant research going on in Blacksburg.”
As graduation approached, Prideaux became engaged to her college sweetheart, and he accepted a job in Richmond, VA. She started to canvass the area for jobs. “One of the great things about mechanical engineering is it has a broad base,” she says. “I applied to all sorts of companies in Richmond, places like Philip Morris and Reynolds Metals, several HVAC contractors, and Dominion, which was called VEPCO (Virginia Electric and Power Company) at the time.”
She saw a Dominion newspaper ad for nuclear licensing and sent her resume. “Nuclear licensing helps with regulatory aspects, coordinating the communication between companies that own nuclear power plants and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” Prideaux joined the company in 1990.
Myriad opportunities at one company
“I’ll celebrate my twenty-four-year anniversary at Dominion this summer,” she says proudly. “If you had told me then that I would be working for one company all of these years, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she laughs.
“I’ve worked hard, and Dominion has given me a lot of opportunity to have multiple careers under one corporate umbrella. I started in the nuclear support group. In 1995, I worked in our commercial operations group, calling on industrial customers to give them advice and help them use energy more efficiently.”
She worked in mergers and acquisitions starting in 2000, and got involved in purchasing nuclear power plants and learning more about the business of nuclear energy. In 2005, she moved into the operations department in an asset management capacity, working with new power plants purchased in the Northeast.
“Two years later I joined the construction group. I oversee a lot of technical work, but my day-to-day job is spent managing people and resources, resolving technical conflicts, and planning,” she sums up. “I can call on my technical background when I need it, but those skills are not the ones I use the most.”
Prideaux is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE, Chicago, IL) and a registered professional engineer in Virginia.
“I like the energy industry,” she enthuses. “I like the fact that what we make impacts everybody’s life in a positive way. I want to stay in it and move on to more interesting projects, like offshore wind power. Dominion wants to play a role in that. We also have some ideas for new nuclear power plants to be built years and years in the future.”
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