Lifelong New River Valley resident and Associate Director of Utilities-Power Plant Billy Dudding retired effective Aug. 1. A strong sense of community and teamwork permeated Dudding’s 30-plus-year career at Virginia Tech.

Dudding was born and raised in Giles County. Upon graduation from both vocational and Giles High School in 1980, he worked as a machinist. Dudding later acquired his journeyman’s card and traveled throughout the East Coast providing service at a variety of power plants. 

Dudding’s career at Virginia Tech began in 1988, with an offer from Maintenance Supervisor Stanley Williams to serve as a maintenance mechanic at the Virginia Tech Power Plant. During his service at the power plant, Dudding was a maintenance mechanic, plumber steamfitter supervisor, and maintenance superintendent, and he was promoted to associate director of utilities-power plant in 2016.

At the power plant, Dudding’s days began at 4:45 a.m with a cup of coffee over televised news and weather. He’d watch for heavy rain or snow that would require increased attention to the plant to maintain appropriate power levels on campus. By 6:30 a.m., Dudding was at the plant and planning the day’s operations with the three shifts. After three decades of experience, he was a veteran at expecting the unexpected.

“We’ve operated through hurricanes, blizzards, and floods. As a team, we did whatever it took, including staying overnight, to keep power running on campus. We’re proud to be able to meet the campus demand in all conditions,” said Dudding.

Dudding helped transition the university from coal-powered steam electricity to natural gas, in alignment with the university’s Climate Action Commitment. Under his leadership, a new 100,000-pound-per-hour gas boiler was constructed at the power plant in 2020. Also in summer 2020, Dudding helped secure a flexible and reliable five year contract with Symmetry Energy to deliver natural gas. The university has saved just over $900,000 to date as a result of the contract.

“With coal no longer a primary fuel as a result of our climate action commitments, Billy had to now grapple with natural gas resilience and price risk exposure during extreme weather and market volatility,” said Mary-Ann Ibeziako, assistant vice president for infrastructure and chief sustainability officer. “Despite it all, Billy worked with the multiple stakeholders in procurement, utilities, and industry to create a proactive and comprehensive procurement strategy that has already yielded over $900,000 in savings and with the market volatility is slated to generate additional savings.”

When Dudding joined the power plant, the university was powered completely by coal. Today, it has entered its second year being 100 percent run on natural gas. 

“I’ve seen a lot of change during my 33 years at Virginia Tech,” said Dudding. “When I first came here to work, coal was the primary fuel for generating steam and now natural gas is. When I started working here, I could always tell if the plant was running smoothly when I came over the mountain from Giles in the morning by the black smoke coming from the stack. Now when I come over the mountain, I can tell it’s running smoothly by nothing coming from the stack.” 

Billy Dudding (at right) at the Virginia Tech Power Plant earlier in his career. Photo courtesy of Billy Dudding.

Throughout his career, Dudding led by example. “I would never ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t,” he said. 

He encouraged teamwork through carrying on decades-old Virginia Tech Power Plant traditions of homemade breakfasts, complete with gravy from scratch, venison, and more. Over the years, there were many hot dog and chili luncheons, smoked meat days, and even charitable golf tournaments.

“Working with the guys at the plant - they’ve become my second family,” said Dudding. “When you’re here for 33 years, you get to know everyone’s families.”

Dudding encouraged all those entering the workforce to take every educational opportunity presented. “My first boss told me to be the hardest person to be replaced,” said Dudding. During his career, he became a certified welder and a vibration monitoring technician. He also received his associate's degree in power plant technology and became a member of the American Society of Power Engineers.

In 2009, Dudding received the President’s Award for Excellence for his consistent stellar performance and exceptional dedication to duties. 

“Billy has been instrumental in helping Virginia Tech achieve its Climate Action Commitment throughout his service at the power plant,” said Chris Kiwus, interim senior vice president and chief business officer. “His service to the university has been second to none. I wish him all the best in retirement.”

In retirement, Dudding looks forward to playing more golf, hunting, and fishing. But Dudding won’t be very far from campus. His wife, Sharon, also works for the university, and his daughter and son are Virginia Tech and Radford University alumni.

Todd Robertson has been appointed the new associate director of utilities-power plant effective July 10. Robertson brings over 27 years of experience in power plants and other utilities.

Virginia Tech Power Plant employees in 2020. Photo by Sarah Myers for Virginia Tech.
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