Mark Schimmel brings wealth of experience as new power plant VP

His title suggests he is the new face of the Monticello nuclear power plant. But he’ll tell you he wants something different.

Mark Schimmel
Mark Schimmel

His name is Mark Schimmel. His title is vice president of the Monticello nuclear power plant. His job description signifies him as responsible for all aspects of the plant’s operation. But his attitude makes clear that while he is more than capable of both doing the dirty work, and making the difficult decisions that put him front and center, he’d prefer to remain in the background, pulling strings and guiding those working for him.

Schimmel comes to Monticello after a three-year stint at the VP position at Prairie Island Nuclear Plant in Red Wing. The move comes as just a rotational move, as Xcel commonly moves its senior managers after a few years in one place.

“You don’t want to leave people in a position too long, it’s healthier to make adjustments,” said Schimmel, who replaces Tim O’Conner as the new VP in Monticello. Schimmel also comes to Monticello with loads of experience in nuclear power.

He got his start as barely more than a kid. Just days out of high school, Schimmel decided to enlist in the army, where he was introduced to nuclear weapons. That sparked a nuclear interest that hasn’t died. After three years in the army, Schimmel went to college for an engineering degree, and is now a 31-year veteran of the industry.

One of the many benefits that Schimmel will bring to Monticello is an understanding of the way a nuclear plant works from top to bottom.

He started as an engineer, and worked his way through manager positions in areas from engineering to maintenance to work control, until he worked all the way up to plant manager, and now plant VP.

“You clearly get to understand all the mechanics of it,” said Schimmel, of starting at the base of a nuclear operation and working up.

“You get a full appreciation for what every department has to do, what the responsibilities are for the individuals involved with it. When people come to me and say they got this issue, I fully understand what they’re talking about, because at some time in my career I probably had to cross that path.”

Schimmel, who doesn’t technically run the plant (that’s the plant manager’s job), hopefully won’t have to be concerned with some of those day-to-day issues as much as at past jobs. But, he is charged with oversight. Which means that base of knowledge will be huge should he ever need to jump in. And, it still offers a meaningful background for the tasks that he will be tackling each and every day at his job.

For Schimmel, the job description seems as if it can be pared down to three main bullet points. People, oversight and the future.

The future is where the new VP says that 75 percent of his duties lie. And it promises to be an exciting one in Monticello. The plant is just over half a year away from going through a power uprate, an exciting and major transition.

Currently, the nuclear plant produces 600 megawatts. After the upgrade, scheduled for late February, it will hopefully be producing 671 megawatts. There will be numerous changes to be made for the uprate, including different pumps, valves, coolers and equipment that have to get replaced for greater capacity. And of course the plant will operate just a bit differently when it’s producing extra power. It promises to be a lot of work, lots of which comes in construction, but some in operation too.

“I can guarantee you Monticello has not gone through anything like this since its original start-up,” said Schimmel.

As big of a project as the uprate will be, Schimmel, who officially took over on June 29, has already learned that his new plant is more than capable of handling it. In every aspect he’s seen thus far, from people to performance, he’s happy with the way things are currently headed in Monticello.

“Every indicator for Monticello is going in the right direction,” he said.

Aside from performance, people are both the second biggest indicator and key to success for Schimmel.

One of his main priorities is to get the most out of all of the people who are working at the plant.

“The real asset of a power plant is people,” said Schimmel. “You have to be able to work with them, and understand what are the road blocks for them to do their job, and get them out of their way.”

That’s why Schimmel doesn’t necessarily want to be the face of the plant. He wants to be the guy that makes sure the face, or faces, of the plant are prepared and able to succeed.

He has no desire to be the voice that’s heard every day. He has every desire to be the guy behind the scenes coaching and mentoring people. If things work out according to his grand plan, by the time he leaves here, the next few leaders of the company will come out of the Monticello nuclear power plant.

“I’m here to develop people,” said Schimmel. “That’s kind of my mission.”