Seattle City (spot)Light: James Alexander

James Alexander is a line crew chief for Seattle City Light operating out of the South Service Center. He started in 1999 as part of the pre-apprenticeship lineworker program and in the last eighteen years he has risen through the ranks to his position in charge of an overhead line crew. We sat down with James to discuss his journey at City Light for Lineworker Appreciation Week.


Line Crew Chief James Alexander at the South Service Center

“We had a class of twelve when I started the Pre-Apprenticeship Lineworker program. I didn’t know too much about the job before then. My stepdad worked for Tacoma Power, and he asked me if I was afraid of heights. I told him I didn’t care for heights but I wasn’t afraid of heights. I figured I’d give it a shot,” said James.

“I took the test twice; the first time I made it to the interview round, but didn’t get a seat. The second time, I got into the program. There were almost two thousand applicants, so it was pretty competitive.”

“When you’re first hired, you have six months as a pre-apprentice. At the end of five months you take climbing school. Then you’re given another round of testing to enter the apprenticeship. One night a week during your apprenticeship, you have four hours of book time after you’ve worked your day. Even after you finish your apprenticeship, you learn every day on the job. You’re always learning different tools and techniques.”

“After seeing some of the senior guys retire, I decided to step up and take on a leadership role. I had good training from my former crew chiefs that I’d worked for, so I was prepared for it.”

“Depending on the crew size, I’m a working crew chief or on safety watch. Much of the work is safety; running the jobs and planning the jobs takes a lot of planning to make sure nobody gets hurt. There is a lot of responsibility involved. We work hard to make it home to our families safe every day, hopefully with all of our fingers and toes intact.”

“I’ve always been a hands-on person; I learned that from my grandfather. I like being outside and having a different problem every day. One day I might be working on a 20-30 foot pole, and the next I might be working on a 120 foot tower. I’m like to see what I’m working on. With overhead work, you can trace the lines and see what’s going on.”

“There are some sacrifices to being a lineworker. We get calls in the middle of the night. I’ve missed a lot of soccer games and dinners and full eight hours of sleep. It was a little grueling, but it pays off in the end.”

“It’s all about keeping the lights on for everybody else. We have a lot of pride in our work when we are out there. Even if we are cold and wet, we know we are working to keep people warm.”

City Light Sign Getting a Facelift

The iconic CITY LIGHT sign is getting an upgrade.

Seattle City Light has contracted with Seattle-based Western Neon Custom Sign Builders to replace the neon lights in the iconic City Light signs at its South Service Center at 4th Ave. S. and S. Spokane Street with LED rope lighting, beginning July 26.

The iconic signs will go dark during the project, which is expected to last up to two weeks. Once complete, the new lights will resemble the classic amber color of the original signs, which were built in the 1920s. The signs do not have Seattle landmark status, but they are the last remaining pair of full “CITY LIGHT” signs from that era. City Light historically had similar signs at its Yesler Substation and control center, the Cedar Falls powerhouse and the Lake Union steam plant.

“Historic signs give continuity to public spaces, becoming part of the community memory. They sometimes become landmarks in themselves, almost without regard for the building to which they are attached, or the property on which they stand,” said City Light Historic Resource Specialist and Architectural Historian Rebecca Ossa, quoting from the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief on Historic Signs.  “This project allows City Light to preserve a bit of its early history while demonstrating energy efficient lighting for the thousands of people who pass by the sign every day.”

Replacement of the neon lights in the South Service Center signs is needed because they have outlived their expected life span and have become hard to maintain. Using LED lighting will save energy and save money while maintaining the historical look of the signs.

A team of employees from City Light’s Facilities and Customer Energy Solutions divisions and its Lighting Design Lab designed the changes. The last upgrade to the signs was in the late 1980s.

The City Light signs are actually 18 separate signs. Each letter is its own, separate sign. One set faces west and one set faces east toward Interstate 5.

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.