Power Lines Blog

On the trail of Paul Bunyan


I just got back from three days in the great state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA) held its summer conference in Breezy Point, on a lovely lake near Brainerd. Driving through the pine forests of Minnesota reminded me just how vast the state is. (One state legislator who came to receive a service award from MMUA joked how he had driven four and a half hours south from his district, (which is on the Canadian border) to get “Up North” to pick up his award.) I knew I was not in the Twin Cities any more when I saw signs designating my route as the “Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway,” complete with a picture of Paul and his Babe the Blue Ox,.  You can learn more about it at the byway’s website.

State association meetings allow public power utility staff and policy makers to meet and mingle with their peers, get the latest scoop on issues facing the industry, and learn about the latest products and services from expo vendors. I spoke to the group about the challenges facing public power due to new technologies, changing consumer preferences, and our changing workforce, and how APPA is implementing its strategic plan to assist them in dealing with these changes. It was interesting to hear Laura McCarten of Xcel Energy talk about many of these same issues in her presentation to the group.  All electric utilities are facing the same challenges, although public power’s responses will likely differ.

Bob Jagusch of MMUA staff spoke about EPA’s final 111(d) rule to cut CO2 emissions from power plants. Minnesota is one of those states that did much better in the final rule than in the proposed rule, as its CO2 emissions goal is now more “doable.” But a number of neighboring states are in the opposite situation — their final goals are much more onerous than the proposed ones. And many of the public power utilities in Minnesota are served by coal-fired generation units located in those neighboring states. In short, it’s complicated!  It will be extremely important for APPA’s members to participate in the discussions to formulate their state plans. For its part, APPA is currently analyzing EPA’s proposed federal plan, with an eye to commenting on it.

Dan Skaar of the Midwest Reliability Organization also spoke. His message was that the risks facing utilities of all sizes, large and small, are growing more complex, and that smaller entities need to practice good cybersecurity hygiene to protect their systems. APPA is current offering a series of webinars on cybersecurity well suited for smaller utilities without substantial staff or travel budgets, as Allen Crowser of Alexandria, Minnesota, (a former APPA board member!), pointed out to the crowd.

MMUA also honored a number of individuals and systems that have made noteworthy contributions to public power and their communities. One person already well known to me who got an award was Larry Johnston, who recently retired from Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. Best wishes to Larry!  And Owatonna, home of APPA Policy Maker Council’s Chair, Mayor Tom Kuntz, won an award for its innovative renovation of its local power plant into a great headquarters building, complete with a community meeting space.  What a wonderful way to honor the contributions of public power to the community!

Going from the clouds, mist and 60 degree weather in Crow Wing County, Minnesota, back home to the 90 degree plus heat and humidity of Northern Virginia in one day was one more reminder of the diversity of our membership. If you add up all of the public power systems across the country, we serve 1 in 7 Americans. While we are spread all over the country, if we speak and act as one, and learn from each other, we can accomplish great things.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO