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Operations and maintenance supervisor Rafael Santana focuses on getting the details right

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Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:20 am, Sat Jun 16, 2012.

On an energy plant built 150 feet high with spiraling metal, turbo-jet-spun blades and 230,000 volts surging through wires, Rafael Santana feels at home.

Outside, the ground is rocky, uneven, littered with scraps of metal and the sporadic green ear plug. There are roars and vibrations, both from machinery that looks like backdrops of an alien film and from a building-sized combustion turbine that rolls faster and faster as it burns through natural gas.

It's a construction zone, and a power plant. Anything can go wrong.

Danger is in every forgotten detail.

Luckily for the hundreds of people on the job, Santana is good at what he does. He plays close attention. Details have always been his thing.

"I was always tearing the radio apart ... just tinkering with mechanical stuff," he said, looking back on his childhood.

Santana, 41, sits at his desk, staring at two side-by-side computer monitors filled with work orders and a draft of a 500-page power plant "bible" that is in the works. He smiles big, has a friendly face and easily jokes. His office smells citrusy, from the orange he snacks on while reading each line.

Santana is the operations and maintenance supervisor at the power plant, and was one of the few employees who worked at the old power plant on site.

A current project is one of the most important for the entire center: reviewing the power plant manual and making sure every line of text is accurate and pertains to each specific piece of equipment. Are the bolts listed in the book the bolts that are being used? How do you disassemble a major generator with its complicated rotors and windings? If one unit trips off-line, can you start it back up without shutting down the entire plant?

It is his job to make sure each operator is an expert on their equipment before they hit the start button on the first day of service.

He's into little details like that. Details that come with integrating a new plant into an existing infrastructure.

That's also why Santana was recently entrusted to spend $2 million on supplies. But these weren't just office supplies. They are parts that need their own warehouse to store them. Parts that, if the crew lacks them, can throw the entire operation off course — drain valves, pumps, transmitters, bearings, nuts and bolts.

"You can't just use a Home Depot bolt," he said, laughing.

Born and raised in Florida, Santana became an energy expert after he entered the U.S. Navy and became a boiler technician. He was stationed in San Diego, and decided to stay in California after the military. He worked for Calpine, an independent power producer, for 10 1/2 years. He started working with NCPA two years ago.

Outside of the reading and parts shopping, he has a little fun on his own. He's a car fanatic, and drives an Audi S4, though he dreams of parking a Ferrari in his garage.

Santana and his wife of 15 years live in Tracy, and get out as much as they can, riding bikes and hiking Morgan Territory Regional Preserve in Livermore.

Though he's excited to complete a goal of creating an amazing machine of a power plant, he has another goal, too: to beat his personal record and ride farther than 50 miles on his bike.

Contact Lodi Living Editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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