The last two weeks have been a blur of events and airports. I have been to meetings in Key West, FL, Denver, CO, Omaha, NE, Bloomington, MN, Austin, TX and Monument Valley, AZ, and traversed the airports in Miami, Chicago (O’Hare!), Charlotte, and Dallas/Fort Worth en route. We were in the last two weeks of the APPA staff movement challenge, and many of my steps came trotting from plane to plane. (Sadly, my team did not do so well — travel is not conducive to exercise)!
I started in Key West, a public power community, for the APPA Legal Seminar. We were welcomed by Lynne Tejeda, General Manager and CEO of Keys Energy Services, who talked about the unique problems of “Powering Paradise.” (Most public power systems contend with squirrels, but Keys has to deal with iguanas)! Our keynote speaker was FERC Chairman Norman Bay, and he had a great message. He talked about how competitive wholesale power markets should benefit electricity customers, and the need to examine market performance to ensure that they do so. The audience of 150-plus public power lawyers from around the country very much appreciated his presence and his remarks.
We also held a Women in Public Power breakfast featuring Shelley Sahling-Zart, General Counsel and Vice President, Communications and Corporate Records, of Lincoln Electric System, and Mrg Simon, Legal Director of Missouri River Energy Services. Our own Delia Patterson, APPA’s General Counsel, moderated the session. It was very inspiring to hear Shelley’s and Mrg’s stories, how they got to where they are today in their careers, obstacles they had to overcome, and their advice to others seeking a legal career in public power. Thanks, Shelley and Mrg!
From Key West I flew to Denver for the Advisory Board meeting of E Source. If you don’t know E Source, check them out at www.esource.com. They do great research in the area of energy efficiency. APPA has recently developed an energy efficiency research offering for its utility members called DSM Research HQ, which provides access to a curated library of E Source’s most relevant research. I enjoyed meeting the other members of the Advisory Board and hearing what E Source is working on in this very important area.
I then went on to Omaha for the Association of Women in Energy’s “Power Matters” conference. AWE’s President, Becky Motal, is a former General Manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, so she is a public power veteran. Check out AWE’s website at www.AWEnergy.net. As one of APPA’s strategic priorities for 2016-2018 is workforce development, I was pleased to open AWE’s conference. They had an engaged audience, many of whom worked for public power utilities, and I really enjoyed the Q and A session. I snagged a nifty AWE t-shirt with “Eat Fear for Breakfast” emblazoned on the front before I ran for the airport.
The next stop was Bloomington, MN, where I spoke at the annual meeting of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. They had a great program, including a presentation on energy trends by Dr. Michael Webber, a professor at UT-Austin, and a very inspirational presentation by Eric McElvenny, a Marine veteran and endurance athlete. His personal story about losing his leg while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, recovering from that injury, and deciding to become a triathlete and run an Ironman was very inspirational. When you think you have problems, hearing a presentation like this can put it all in context. One of the things he said that struck me the most: when his wife told his young daughter that her dad had been injured in combat, had lost his leg, and would be coming home in a few days — his daughter thought about it for a moment, and then expressed her happiness that Dad would be home for Christmas. We could all use a bottle of that attitude!
After going home to do my laundry and say hello to my husband, I headed back out for Austin and APPA’s own Customer Connections Conference. This is the last major “subject matter” conference of the year for APPA’s hardy meetings staff, rounding out the Engineering & Operations and Business & Finance conferences and Legal Seminar.
Customer Connections is programmed for public power utility employees dealing with customer services, economic development, energy services, key accounts, and public communications. These are the folks who will be on the front lines as public power utilities implement the new products, services, and rates supporting more dynamic and two-way customer relationships, with increased use of distributed generation, demand response, energy efficiency, and new technologies. We had a record crowd. Attendees had their choice of sessions dealing with everything from producing videos shot on smartphones to time-of-use retail rates to using sustainability as an economic development tool. Wanda Reder, Chief Strategy Officer for S&C Electric Company, did a great general session presentation on workforce issues. She really brought home the pressing need to address the retirement of baby boomers in our industry and to replace them with new employees with new skill sets. One of her core messages — we need to help stimulate the STEM pipeline and make our industry interesting to prospective employees, starting as early as 4th grade!
From Austin, I made the trek to Monument Valley, AZ, for the fall meeting of the Transmission Access Policy Study Group, hosted by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. To get there, I flew to Durango, CO, and then drove through some of the most majestic and lonely country in the entire U.S. If you have never been to Monument Valley, you should make it your business to go. It is where John Ford filmed a series of Westerns with John Wayne (think Stagecoach), and he went there for a reason. The rock formations are iconic and the country awe-inspiring. Many filmmakers have followed in Ford’s steps to Monument Valley — I went on a tour where the guide showed us the exact spot used in “Forrest Gump,” where Forrest decides he has run far enough. There is even a Wikipedia page listing all of the movies and TV series that were filmed there.
While Monument Valley is beautiful country, it is hard to serve from an electrical perspective. Wally Haase, CEO of NTUA and our host, explained to the TAPS group that NTUA’s service territory is over 27,000 miles, and has the lowest customer-per-mile density in the U.S. Many Navajos live on large isolated tracts of land in traditional hogans or modular housing, and the unemployment rate is very high. Approximately 27 percent (15,000 out of 55,000) of homes in the Navajo Nation have no electricity, and the Nation lacks a modern 911 system. Under such circumstances, providing reasonably priced and reliable electricity is not just a service, it is a cause and a necessary platform for economic development.
Wally is an inspiring spokesman for NTUA, and has logged countless miles advocating for it in Washington D.C. and other venues. Having the opportunity to talk in this venue to TAPS about increased coordination of advocacy efforts among APPA, TAPS, and the Large Public Power Council was a pure pleasure and a great way to cap off two weeks of cross-country travel. We have a great variety of groups in public power; if we can work together and leverage our strengths, we can go far.