Power Lines Blog

Blowing the cobwebs out in Branson

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While it still feels like summer, public power’s fall season of conferences and meetings is already in full swing. APPA held its Business and Financial Conference in New Orleans on September 13-16. The “B&F” is our annual gathering of accounting, finance, IT and HR professionals from public power systems around the country. We had around 450 attendees this year, and they were an active and engaged bunch. On Monday morning we held a general session with presentations by Doug Hunter, CEO of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and APPA’s Board Chair, and me on the changes coming to our industry and the challenges and opportunities they pose for public power. The meeting then divided into tracks based on subject matter (customer accounting, HR, IT, pricing and market analysis and general accounting/finance/audit). This way, people could spend an extended period of time in break-out sessions with their peers on sometimes arcane, but extremely important topics in their own interest areas. For the first time, we also held a “Rookie Camp” session for folks new to public power, which was very well attended.

Finally, we decided just a few weeks before the conference to try holding a breakfast for public power women. The response was so strong we had to move it to a larger room! I was privileged to moderate the session with two very dynamic public women—Joanie Teofilo, CEO of The Energy Authority, and Heather Bailey, ED of Energy Strategy and Electric Utility Development for the City of Boulder, Colorado.  It was inspiring to all of us to hear their “origin stories,” how they advanced in their careers, and their advice to other women coming up. We will be doing additional sessions like this at the Customer Connections Conference and Legal Seminar later in the fall.

One great thing about the B&F is that it is geared so specifically to the topics of interest to the attendees. One accounting professional who came to public power from another industry collared me in the hallway and gave me an unsolicited testimonial. She said that the B&F, the subject matter committees, and the Accounting and Finance List Serve were all invaluable to her as she came up the steep learning curve our industry requires. So hats off to the APPA staff and member volunteers on the committees that planned and put on this meeting!

From New Orleans, I flew to Springfield, MO to attend the Annual Meeting of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) in Branson, an hour down the road. But first, I made a whistle stop at City Utilities of Springfield (CU). I spoke to a group of about 60 of CU’s employees and to its senior team, and recorded a video interview with Scott Miller, CU’s CEO. CU has long been a very well-run, progressive public power utility, and its employees are impressive. They asked very good questions in our meetings, and are clearly working to anticipate and meet customer needs in the community. CU provides gas, water, telecommunications services and even bus service, so it has lots on its plate. Scott, in addition to his many duties at home, has made the time to serve on the APPA Board and Executive Committee, and represents public power on the government-industry Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (which deals with cyber and physical security issues). We at APPA are grateful for his volunteer spirit!

From there, I drove to Branson, and holed up in the hotel for a few hours to catch up on email. But as I was working, I kept looking out the window to the Branson Landing development along the waterfront of Lake Taneycomo. There was a zip line going across the lake, and every so often, I would see people whizzing out over the water and back. It looked like scary good fun. When I finally finished my lap top session, I went out for a walk (after all, it is Movement Challenge month at APPA!), and lo and behold, found myself at the take off point. Having been a cautious and deliberate type for so many years (guess it is the lawyer in me), acting on impulse does not come naturally. But after about 3 seconds of internal debate, I thought “what the !@#$, that looks like fun” and before you know it, I was strapped in the chair with one of their employees and off we went for three rides over the lake. Woo wee! It certainly blew the cobwebs out of my brain—which I really needed. Thank you Parakeet Pete’s for taking me out of my comfort zone and giving me a much needed adrenaline boost.  If you get to Branson and are up for a thrill, check them out at www.ParakeetPetesZipline.com

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Once I came back to earth (literally!), I broke bread with MPUA’s Executive Board at dinner. The next morning I spoke to their members about APPA’s strategic planning effort, and the industry changes facing both them and APPA. They were a very engaged and engaging group, asking lots of good questions. We then heard from Peter Herschend, Co-President of Herschend Family Entertainment.  He recounted how his family had taken over the lease of Marvel Cave in the 1950s, when the area around Branson had few paved roads and hardly any utility services. From that humble beginning (they got 5,000 visitors to the cave their first year) they developed the nearby theme park, Silver Dollar City, which now gets 2 million visitors a year. It really was a fascinating infrastructure story. I was sorry I could not stay for the rest of the meeting, because Duncan Kincheloe, Floyd Gilzow and their team put together a great program.

On the drive back to Springfield, I started thinking—those of us in public power are in for some real changes in our industry in the next few years. We can stand on the shore and watch others ride the zipline (perhaps with our customers!), or we can take the plunge, strap in and go on the ride ourselves. Of course we need to plan our strategy first (unlike me, I admit!) but we cannot let fear and our natural caution paralyze us. So let’s not be afraid to try new things—to blow those cobwebs out.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO

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