Power Lines Blog

In the land of Zion: working together in public power

Visiting the Land of Zion: Working Together in Public Power

Photo on left
L to R: Sue Kelly, APPA President & CEO; Mark Jones, Nephi City Mayor & APPA Policymakers Council; Rust Finlinson, Nephi City Electrical Superintendent; Layne Burningham, UMPA COO/GM

Photo on right
L to R: Kelly Peterson, Spanish Fork City Electrical Superintendent; Sue Kelly, APPA President & CEO; Steve Leifson, Spanish Fork City Mayor & APPA Policymakers Council; Layne Burningham, UMPA COO/GM

The week before Easter took me to scenic St. George, Utah, to attend the 2016 Annual Member Conference of the Utah Municipal Power Agency. I had been to Salt Lake City many times, but had never visited the southern part of Utah.

I actually flew into Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove past the mega-developed Strip — a new high rise every time I come — taking I-15 North. I went through some of the most scenic and lovely, but lonely, country I have ever seen. It is about 2 hours from Las Vegas to St. George, and the last thirty miles is spectacular — you wind your way through the Virgin River Gorge with rock formations towering above you on all sides. St. George is the gateway to Zion National Park, and a vibrant, growing community in its own right — there was an arts festival going on while I was there.

UMPA is a joint action agency with six member cities: Provo, Spanish Fork, Nephi, Salem, Manti, and Levan. Its annual conference was well attended, with many city council members, mayors, and other policymakers in addition to utility personnel.

The two-day conference program was packed, with presentations by Tim Blodgett of Hometown Connections who talked about strategic planning and utility governance and Mike Mower from Governor Gary Herbert’s office. Mason Baker of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems talked about the Clean Power Plan and UAMPS’ ongoing examination of small modular nuclear reactors as a possible future source of carbon-free baseload power.

UMPA’s hardworking staff team — Kevin Garlick, Scott Lynsky, Marianne Shepherd, and Jake Chrisman — provided updates on everything from power supply resources to finances. We even heard a presentation by a professor from BYU, Burke Jackson, on how to boost your creative thinking. I gave an update on APPA’s implementation of its strategic plan, with emphasis on our work on the Clean Power Plan and distributed generation issues.

One thing that I have learned as I travel to our meetings around the country is how seriously we in public power take our college football. Our dinner speaker was Brian Santiago, senior associate athletic director of Brigham Young University’s athletic program. He talked about BYU’s recent hiring of its dynamic new football coach, Kalani Sitake, who once played football for BYU, the changes he is bringing to the team, the prospects for BYU’s basketball and baseball teams, the benefits of BYU’s relationships with ESPN and Nike, and the challenges of being unaffiliated with a “Power Five” conference. The difficulties on this last score arise in large part because BYU teams do not play on Sundays. Despite this, Santiago firmly believes that BYU is “nationally relevant” when it comes to collegiate athletics and is on the road to becoming even more so.

It was very interesting to listen to someone who is as passionate about what he does as we in public power are about what we do.

UMPA is celebrating its 35th year. This anniversary was made all the more memorable because the UMPA members recently signed new long-term contracts with the agency, renewing their commitment to work together to procure power supply and transmission services. To celebrate, Layne Burningham, UMPA’s CEO, gave each member system an extremely cool gift, at least if you are an electric utility wonk — a lamp made from a beautifully restored original 1920s electric meter, with real gold fittings. Check them out at www.classicmeters.com! I was honored to help hand the lamps out to each member system at UMPA’s celebratory banquet.

UMPA is another example of the strength that public power gains from working together to accomplish things that would be very hard for individual member utilities to do on their own. As our industry gets even more complex, and retail electric customers grow to expect an ever expanding array of services, working together through joint action agencies will be even more important to meet customer needs.

So thanks to UMPA for giving me the opportunity to get out to St. George and learn about BYU football! I plan to come back so I can actually make it to Zion National Park and enjoy the spectacular beauty of this corner of Utah.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO


  1. Thank you for your column. I am a BYU grad and am also excited about the new football coach and his staff. I can’t wait for opening kickoff against Arizona. I have had the opportunity to hear you speak at several NNOG and APPA conferences over the years. Your presentations are always informative and interesting. Thank you for leading APPA – I’m confident we are in good hands.

    • Dear Tom:
      I actually just saw your response to my April column today, as I was reviewing my posts for the year. Thanks so much for responding, and for the vote of confidence….Sue

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