Last week I attended the 2015 Annual Conference of the Northeast Public Power Association (NEPPA), which represents the interests of New England’s public power and rural electric cooperative utilities on legislative and regulatory issues and offers training for its members. Because this year marks NEPPA’s 50th anniversary, they went the extra mile (literally and figuratively!), and held the meeting at the Mount Washington Resort in the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This historic hotel, completed in 1902, hosted the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference — known colloquially as the Bretton Woods Conference — in 1944, which led to the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, set the $35-per-ounce gold standard, and designated the U.S. dollar as the backbone of international exchange. The conference room where the foundational documents were signed is called the “Gold Room.”
NEPPA Interim Executive Director Savas Danos and his staff put together a great program. We heard an excellent keynote presentation by John Jimison of the Energy Future Coalition, who laid out very clearly the enormous transition our industry is embarking on, given the wave of new technologies and the mandate to decarbonize the electric generation fleet. He noted that overall demand for electricity will be flat, and could even decrease. But he thinks — like I do — that public power systems are ideally suited to be the “middlemen” for this transition, given that they have a longer-term perspective than investor-owned utilities and are service- rather than profit-driven. We also heard presentations on municipal fiber installations in New England, new natural gas pipeline capacity coming into the region, and an excellent retrospective by their Washington lobbyist Deborah Sliz on the 50 years of the legislative issues NEPPA has faced.
There were also plenty of opportunities for networking and socializing. There was an excellent awards banquet in the Grand Ballroom, including the awarding of Sharon Staz, the recently retired general manager of Kennebunk Light and Power in Maine. She served on the APPA board, and was the longtime chair of NEPPA’s legislative committee. She worked tirelessly on public power’s legislative agenda for many years. Having personally seen her in the trenches on Capitol Hill and at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, I can attest to her strong leadership.
But the most telling part of the conference was the engineering tour of the hotel, held the morning after the awards banquet. About 30 people in our group got up early in the morning (after a late night!) to tour the “back of house” of this grand old hotel, including the boiler room, laundry, trash/recycling dock, and carpenter’s shop. And then we tramped in the rain down the hill to the out-building housing the on-site steam facility, asking questions all the way about the No. 6 fuel oil supply that powers the current boiler, when the facility was converted from coal to oil, and how the coal deliveries were made (by rail), etc. The best part of the tour for many was going into the back of the building, past the now-abandoned boilers, to see the ancient electric generator that powered the original lights when the hotel opened in 1902. (It is said that Thomas Edison himself had a hand in designing the system.) One attendee said he had read about these generators, but never seen one.
This tour brought home to me just how hands on, curious, and dedicated public power people really are. Talk about your busman’s holiday!
Congratulations to NEPPA and its members on NEPPA’s 50 years of service. May you continue to serve your public power communities for many more!