Power Lines Blog

NatCon 2015: the annual gathering of public power

Sue Kelly National Conference

APPA staff has just gotten back from our 2015 National Conference in Minneapolis, which went from June 5 through 10. The National Conference is our largest meeting of the entire year, and it truly is an “all hands on deck” exercise for staff.

The contracts with the hotels and meeting facilities in the chosen city are executed years in advance; right now, APPA is working on the contract for 2022!  We start working with the “local arrangements committee” (the group of APPA members in the city/state where the conference will be held) at least a year in advance to figure out everything from the morning entertainment to the contents of the welcome bags (this year it featured slices of Spam and hockey pucks!).

It takes months to plan the programming — our Education folks start working with staff in December to develop the programming for the breakout sessions and preconference seminars. We have to figure out the general session speakers and format, and the theme of the meeting. Our media and production staff have to design and produce the brochures, programs, and PR for the meeting, and work with the press who attend. Our meetings and accounting staff has to keep track of registrations, make sure that the dollars get properly accounted for, and that the many vendors get paid. Everyone has a part to play.

Since 2008, we have started the meeting with a Day of Giving on Friday, where we work with local charities on service projects. Again this year, we had well in excess of 100 volunteers take an extra day to weed, paint, assemble nutritious meals, and generally put their shoulders to the wheel to do some good in the host community. It is a wonderful way for members from across the country to meet other members, and work together on a common task.

For me, this year was also an opportunity to reflect on why I love my job: Thursday, I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and Friday I was weeding a rose garden at Lake Harriet!

The weekend is taken up with myriad meetings: our Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Retirement Plan Advisory Committee, Legislative and Resolutions Committee, Advisory Committee, Power PAC Board, Membership Committee, PMA Customers — the list goes on. These are all volunteer activities, and are vital to the functioning of our association. We on staff deeply appreciate the members who take their time to participate in these committees and groups.

Sunday night, we go into full-on National Conference mode with the opening reception. Monday and Tuesday we meet in both general sessions and in breakouts. In the general sessions, we hear top-notch speakers (this year we had Geoff Colvin of Fortune, Michael Levi from the Council on Foreign Relations, and Jack Uldrich, a futurist) talk about the future of our society and the energy sector and what it all means for our industry.

We heard from our board and staff leadership and honor deserving individuals and public power utilities with awards. In the breakouts, we learn from each other about how best to deal with the important issues we face (everything from environmental regulations to workforce issues to new technologies). My biggest problem was trying to figure out which breakouts to attend — too many sessions, too little time!

The National Conference is also important to the governance of APPA. We had our annual business meeting on Tuesday afternoon, where we elected new and returning board members, heard about the financial status of APPA, and passed policy resolutions presented by the L&R Committee for approval. And on Wednesday morning, the gavel passed from the outgoing chair of the board to the incoming chair.

Our outgoing Chair, Paula DiFonzo of New Braunfels, TX, did an awesome job this year, steering our strategic planning process in addition to her regular board duties and heavy speaking schedule (not to mention her day job!). The strategic planning process culminated in the board’s approval at the meeting of a strategic plan to guide APPA’s efforts for the next 3 years. Our incoming Chair, Doug Hunter of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, will help us implement the plan.

We closed the meeting with an inspirational presentation by Captain Gerald Coffee, a Vietnam POW who spent 7 long years in the Hanoi Hilton. Through sheer grit, determination and faith, he turned that experience into a journey of personal growth. He shared with us how he did it, and how we could use what he had learned to help us as we face our own challenges. He was truly awe-inspiring. The fact that Capt. Coffee is our own Joy Ditto’s step-dad made his appearance even more meaningful for us!

Now that the conference is over, we on staff will recharge our batteries and then go back into the fray, working to provide our members with the best possible advocacy, information, and member services. But I want to first take a moment to say “thank you” to everyone on staff and in our membership who helped make APPA’s 2015 National Conference a success.

Our annual gathering  is an opportunity to meet and learn from each other, and to remember why we do what we do. In the end, it really is all about the retail customers — providing them with reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible electric service. The ways we do that are going to change, but the mission will not.

So, see you in Phoenix on June 10-15, 2016, at the next National Conference!

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO

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