How Science is the Common Denominator for Water and Power Delivery at the SFPUC

For SFPUC Acting Electrical Department Lead for the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System Eric Bettencourt, leading two engineering departments is all in a day’s work.

“I am the lead for two engineering departments, Electrical and System Reliability. The electrical group maintains high voltage electrical transmission and distribution equipment,” said Bettencourt. “The reliability group responds to difficult problems with research, root cause analysis, test plans, recommendation reports and field leadership as needed. I also focus on mentoring new engineers to speed up their learning curve.”

Eric Bettencourt, SFPUC Acting Electrical Department Lead for the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

While Bettencourt’s typical day starts with a review of the department priorities and adjustment of the days schedule if needed, every day is always slightly different.

“Last Monday, I teamed up with an electronic technician to troubleshoot a solar power system at a remote com site. We discovered programming errors that lead to the site batteries not getting charged sufficiently. Programming changes were made the system was tested for correct operation before we left the site,” he said. “This morning, I am focusing on the backlog of emails that occurred while I was sick for two days. In a sense, I triage the emails looking for ones that are high priority.  High priority emails generally are about regulation compliance, equipment breakdowns or construction deadlines.”

Eric Bettencourt fly fishing in Oregon.

Bettencourt’s interest in the engineering field was a result of his father’s encouragement and his natural interest in how things work. “My family has six engineers, over three generations, and three of the engineers are woman. STEM education is important because it is the universal basis of technical communication,” said Bettencourt. “It is the common language the connects us to our world in the service of mankind. This technical understanding crosses over into many areas, for instance, nursing.  My wife is a registered nurse and we have had many conversations about the human body. I know little about nursing but I can follow our cardio centered discussion because I understand pumps and the heart is a pump.”

Bettencourt likes to teach and see the light of understanding turn on. “I like to watch the journey of understanding and kids sometimes need a bit of encouragement to take that first step. A few years ago, I did a similar classroom event where I talked about motorcycles from an engineering perspective. I brought a BMW motorcycle, to this high school, and used it to describe engineering as it relates to motorcycle riding,” he shared.

Eric Bettencourt received the Hetch Hetchy Water & Power employee recognition award.

For Bettencourt, a student shouldn’t pass by utility work opportunities because they may have no interest in electricity. 

“Water and power delivery is the SFPUC’s focus but there are some many interesting things needed to keep the water and power flowing,” he said. “Science is the common denominator and you will find Biologists, Chemists, Civil Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers,  Mathematicians, Process Control Engineers, Network Engineers and Stationary Engineers all applying their education, skills and experience to keep the water and power flowing.”

Eric Bettencourt climbs a hill on a recent 60 mile bicycle ride.