The life of Evangelista, ‘Ange’, Albertini draws uncanny parallels to the iconic Tasmanian institution he has come to preside over. As the son of an Italian migrant father, Ange inherited the same indomitable work ethic and sense of community that has stood the Hydro in good stead for over a century. This larger than life character grew up with the descendants of European migrants who worked on the Hydro’s ambitious construction schemes.
After quietly making his way through the state school system in Hobart’s working-class northern suburbs, at 15 Ange was offered a traineeship at the Hydro as a technical officer. “Part of that involved studying engineering at Hobart Technical College which I found very fascinating, despite the night school. That very first role in my teens with the Hydro was the start of a career that has provided me with some incredible experiences.” Ange’s pale blue eyes light up as he recalls his past, “Looking back now I fully appreciate that the training I received was exceptional and that it gave me the confidence to throw my hat in the ring for all sorts of future challenges.”
Exuding a natural warmth, Ange is an easy man to share relaxed banter with. His towering frame is no barrier to friendly conversation and a wander across a Hydro site is peppered with pauses to engage with staff. “We have a very flat hierarchy here now, which is just great,” he explains. “Back in my day it was unheard of to approach management for a chat, but these days it’s encouraged and I enjoy the contrast. I even remember being chastised for saying hello in a casual manner to a senior engineer in a lift once! Each one of our staff can teach me something new and I love how our projects continuously bring a diverse set of skills together to overcome challenges.”
Ange describes his earlier Hydro years living in Tasmania with fondness but explains how a search for social acceptance took him off the island. “Back in those days Tasmania wasn’t as welcoming as it is now. My surname attracted unwanted attention and I ended up moving to Melbourne seeking greater social acceptance. Over there an ethnic background was not so much of a novelty.”
That early move initiated a series of roles that loaded Ange’s experience bank with professional challenges. “I worked on a high-rise building in Collins Street that, quite ironically, now houses Momentum Energy. It was a memorable experience…I continue to find the engineering involved in high-rises fascinating. Following that, work in the oil and gas industry in the North Sea, on a refinery in the Middle East, and in mining and petrochemicals in Western Australia gave me some very fulfilling experiences that I am able to draw upon here,” nods Ange.
Tasmanians have relied on hydropower for over 100 years. The challenges of the past century today produce over 9000 gigawatt hours of clean renewable electricity each year – enough to power about 900,000 homes and businesses. It’s a story fueled by resilience and ingenuity, and one that requires constant learning and adaptation.
“I’ve always been one that gets excited by potential and by interesting projects. I was never focused on gaining a certain position; rather I’ve just embraced opportunities as they’ve arisen. Luck, circumstance, ability…it’s a mixture of all that. I’m a perpetual learner, so when opportunities have presented themselves throughout my life I’ve tended to grasp them with both hands. It’s that real desire to always be learning.”
“I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve ever had,” Ange reflects. “It’s something I learnt early on about myself. If I wasn’t enjoying something, I regrouped and moved on to something that I did enjoy. To me, it’s important to be passionate about what you do and go to work every day feeling like you can make a difference.”
Driven but calm, intelligent but accessible, imaginative but practical – Ange is the perfect leader for the next generation of the Hydro. “We moved back to Tassie when my wife was pregnant with our first child, Giorgio. The initial plan was for it just to be for a year or two as we had actually intended to go and live in Italy for a couple of years. But here we are almost 20 years later,” he laughs. “Looking back, I think that decision was a real sliding doors moment. Tasmania or Europe? The choice turned out to be perfect. The kids have benefitted from a childhood in a small rural village just 20 minutes from the city and I’ve embraced some exciting professional challenges. I love that Tasmania offers both – the kids were able to wander the countryside and explore…there’s not too many places now where that kind of childhood still safely exists… and I’ve been able to contribute to a company that is quite unlike any other. I still pinch myself all the time.”
It’s clear Ange is genuinely passionate about the Hydro. “Sometimes people ask me how I could stand to work for the same organisation for so long. But the work here is so stimulating and always evolving so there is never time to be bored,” explains Ange. “There are so many layers of attraction to me…the technology, the engineering, the environment, the people and the history. Our power stations are located in some iconic places and working out in the field is a true delight,” he explains enthusiastically.
Prior to taking on the role of CEO, Ange’s responsibility was as Chief Asset Manager and Investment Officer, and preceding that he was the company’s Chief Operations Officer. “With 30 power stations, 194 dams, 52 lakes, many kilometres of water conveyance infrastructure and even a large road network, there’s a lot to maintain and a lot of potential opportunity to always be improving. Our infrastructure footprint is over 150,000 hectares so the scope here is huge.” Pausing he adds thoughtfully, “But it’s also a lot more than that. Hydro workers are unsung heroes. Tasmania places a lot of expectation on them without even realising it – they constantly have to deliver every time in terms of efficiency, safety, sustainability and foresight. It’s one reason our workforce has such a great sense of community.”
The heritage of the Hydro holds a unique place in the hearts of many Tasmanians. “It’s quite unlike any other business,” says Ange. “And that sense of community is very real – we have a significant number of long serving employees, some of whom have served the company for the whole of their working life. That’s rare these days for any business and so is the concept of multi-generational families, we get that quite a bit too. But it’s not just their commitment that is impressive…their skill level is simply astounding. Roles at the Hydro now are very competitive as people have realised the level of skill that’s required. We have specialists joining the ranks from all over the world, but despite that over half our workforce continues to be Tasmanian.”
“The pioneering spirit has always defined the Hydro. For our earliest workers, in the early 1900s, things were dangerous, difficult and remote. Conditions improved somewhat in the 1930s and 1940s as Hydro villages were established. Families had secure housing, equipment had improved and awareness of safety issues increased. Many Tasmanians have rich memories of villages and the sense of community they fostered. Large numbers of migrants were recruited to construct the dams and power stations and the isolated locations meant that they all relied on one another. And to our credit, those same core values remain true today.”
“The timely refurbishment of Hydro’s infrastructure was crucial in my previous role and I’ve spent the last decade creating capacity so that we can build our momentum.” Ange goes on, “The scale of those projects can be huge. Sometimes it takes a year to complete the intricate planning and another year to make the components. We’re talking projects costing tens of millions of dollars. When you throw in fires and floods and all sort of unexpected challenges, problem solving becomes the norm. It’s just the nature of this work.”
It’s interesting to stop and consider that some of the Hydro’s refurbishments are generations apart. “The equipment we’re refurbing now may have been installed 50 years ago, so those engineers are no longer working. That means our team have to deal with something they may not know anything about. The same goes for the new equipment we are installing – it may not need to be touched for decades so we have to consider how we transfer that knowledge to the next generation. Balancing skill and experience is a constant here.”
Ange is quick to identify favourite aspects of his role as CEO, “There are two key drivers,” he explains. “A passion for renewable energy and the engineering that supports that, and the ability to develop pathways for the next generation. Ange continues, “As a little boy my uncle showed me how to pull apart a pump and I was enamoured with how water could flow in and out of it. There’s something serene about flowing water and I’ve always had a fascination with it.”
“Hydro employees do things that you just couldn’t do anywhere else in the world, and a big part of that is that we do it all ourselves rather than outsource parts of the business, which is the norm for other energy providers. Doing what we do and getting to live here in Tasmania is a dream,” smiles Ange. “The life we lead here is pretty incredible and working on projects that are globally leading is the icing on the cake. If you’re a tradie, engineer or scientist, this is undoubtedly the most interesting work in the state and for me, being able to orchestrate their development and build exceptional teams is very rewarding. The mechanical skill level is huge, but there is also an amazing science behind this work. Often a literal hairsbreadth of error makes the difference for some of this equipment.”
Dwarfed in the huge workshop that plays home to the constant maintenance of turbines, major valves and hydro turbine components, Ange chats readily with staff on the front line. “These machinists and fitters are skilled artisans,” he says. “In here it’s very hands on and the scale of these works is truly super-sized. Not much is routine – the Hydro maintain and refurb all the major components themselves so it’s essential that staff can come into this workshop and learn how our equipment works. They then take that knowledge straight back out into the field and apply it. Our engineers rotate through here regularly to upskill themselves.”
“Lots of our original equipment is still functioning today,” continues Ange proudly. “Much of it was European built – a product of our history and the early machines that were imported. Some of those have served Tasmania for a century and we continue to deal with those very same companies. Overseas, the Hydro is held in very high regard by others in the industry.”
The Hydro has also been embroiled in some of the great environmental battles that have played out in Tasmania’s history. In the 1960s and 1970s a national spotlight on the controversial flooding of Lake Pedder and the saving of the Franklin River became major political issues. “Things have certainly progressed since those days and we are far more prepared to listen now and to invest in environmental heritage. As an example, we’ve recently completed a project at the Trevallyn Dam to allow native eels to move freely in order to breed. I’m confident more projects of this nature will be supported as we move forward.”
Innovative projects such as the major wind farm developments and the Hybrid Energy Systems now powering King and Flinders Islands are something Ange has overseen in recent decades. “Those power grids now allow the islands to run on only renewable energy for extended periods of time. Residents themselves can monitor the island’s energy use and outputs via an app. It’s great to see the community invested in the future like that.”
Speaking of his current focus, Ange says, “It’s applying traditional values to modern challenges. The electricity market is currently in a period of rapid change with the impact of solar and wind now being felt. The energy market is experiencing very low prices and decreasing company profits, hence our attention is now firmly on the sustainability of the business and ensuring the attributes of our generation – highly flexible, dispatchable and backed by deep storageare maintained. The long term prospects for Tasmania are great, but the short term period presents us with a number of interesting challenges.”
On delivering the Battery of the Nation project: “It’s a project that’s well and truly in the national conscious now,” says Ange. “The Hydro is on the cusp of another huge effort in construction and if fully realized we expect to see a 10-15 year boom in employment and investment in the renewable energy sector. Tassie’s renewable goal of generating 200% of our energy needs by 2040 is something that is going to require engineers, construction teams, designers…and like the construction of the original Hydro schemes, has the potential to be truly transformative for Tasmania.”
The Battery of the Nation is a priority for Ange and his team. “That’s a pretty exciting project to be leading. It’s requiring us to be leaner and more agile than ever before and to work at an unprecedented pace. Things are progressing quickly and we are learning to stand on a fresh footing. I see the future being defined by ‘profit with purpose’ and for us to make a material contribution whilst treading even more lightly on the environment.”
Ange confirms that the Hydro is a much more approachable organisation than in the past, “I think this is key to getting the best out of individuals whilst still achieving commercial outcomes. I’m still working with two guys I completed training with as a teenager. They certainly keep me grounded. Things at Hydro require enormous team effort. The good times are far better shared and the bad times are lessened when you have a supportive team around you.”
What Ange preaches is seen in practice. He has no office, preferring to grab a seat amongst his staff. “I like the fluid interactions this brings,” he says. “Fantastic things happen through incidental contact, and I’ve seen many recent examples of staff working closer when not bound by office walls. It’s an approach that sees people interact when they wouldn’t have previously ever crossed paths.”
“When you think about it, the Hydro has seen villages established in the wilderness, roads built where there were none, truly awe-inspiring intergenerational infrastructure built, new cultures welcomed from abroad, and engineering overcome huge hurdles. It’s had a significant impact on our state and the next chapter holds exciting opportunities. It’s a privilege to lead such highly capable and passionate people who are as committed to a clean energy future as I am.”
Like to know more? Check out the Hydro Tasmania website.
This article was a collaboration with Hydro Tasmania.