Power Lines Blog

NatCon 2016: gathering in the Valley of the Sun


I just got back from APPA’s National Conference, which we held in Phoenix, Arizona, June 10–15. It truly was a major effort for APPA staff and the members of the Local Arrangements Committee to mount, but all that hard work paid off. Salt River Project ably led the local support effort, and we had help from many utility members in Arizona.

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix and Mark Bonsall, CEO of Salt River Project, welcomed attendees to Phoenix, and reassured us that they had turned the temperatures “down” to 100 degrees or so just for the Conference!

What most members attending an APPA National Conference see are the general sessions, the breakout sessions, and the Public Power Expo, all held Monday to Wednesday. This year we had great general session speakers. We heard from Kimberly Dozier, CNN contributor and former CBS war correspondent, who gave us the sobering lowdown on the extremely volatile situation in the Middle East. General Russel Honore’, US Army (ret.), shared his experiences helping New Orleans recover from the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, advising us on how we can be more resilient and prepared. Politico Correspondent Glenn Thrush shared his sharp (and often funny) insights into the current Presidential campaigns and the upcoming election.

We also had a special general session panel on how to meet changing customer needs. Josh Lich from OPower, Kevin Gertig from Fort Collins Utilities, Lonnie Carter from Santee Cooper, and Bill Malcolm from AARP were on the panel. We discussed how we need to tailor service offerings to different types of customers and be prepared to engage in a big outreach push.

Sandwiched in between the general sessions were over 30 breakout sessions covering current industry topics from solar developments to environmental regulations to workplace practices. Attendees also visited the Expo, where they had the chance to meet and talk with vendors of a broad array of products and services that electric utilities need to carry out their public service mission.

We closed on Wednesday morning with the leadership transition from outgoing APPA Board Chair Doug Hunter, CEO of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, to Andy Boatright, deputy director of Independence Power and Light, Missouri. Mark Kelly, astronaut and naval aviator, sent us on our way with an inspiring talk about leadership and dealing with immensely difficult situations, including the horrific shooting of his wife, Rep. Gabby Giffords, and their emotional journey together during her long and arduous recovery.

But these meetings and sessions are only part of our National Conference. On the Friday before the official start, over 100 attendees participated in our 9th Day of Giving. APPA does this every year, coming to the conference city early to volunteer with local service projects. This year we worked at three sites. At Feed My Starving Children, we assembled meals to be sent to food insecure regions around the world. At Tumbleweed, a homeless shelter for teenagers and young adults, we did yardwork and carpentry. At Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, we prepared donated items for its thrift store (and I picked up a great designer jacket for a cool $5!). Doing these projects reminds us how blessed we really are, and the responsibility we all have to help those who have a harder road.

The National Conference is the venue for many meetings, where the association’s business gets done. The APPA Executive Committee and Board met, as did the Legislative and Resolutions Committee, the Retirement Planning Advisory Committee, the Finance and Audit Review Committee, the Dues Committee, the Membership Committee, and the Public Power Inc. Board (which manages APPA’s interest in Hometown Connections, Inc.). The PowerPac Board met, as did the PMA Customers Committee. The capstone was the Association Business Meeting on Tuesday afternoon, where we elected new board members and adopted policy resolutions.

The National Conference is also a great place to socialize and meet your public power peers. We had an opening reception and a concert with a great dance cover band. We held a Women in Public Power reception, and a Young Professionals Happy Hour. And these were just the “official” social events — there were lots and lots of informal hallway conversations, sidebar meetings, and chats at hospitality events put on by vendors and sponsors. The meeting is a veritable “who’s who” of public power — you cannot walk down the hall without running into at least three people you know.

We honor the best in public power at the National Conference with awards. I won’t name all the award winners here, but you can learn more on our website. I do have to give a special shoutout to Gary Stauffer, retired CEO of NMPP Energy and former APPA board chair. He received APPA’s highest award, the Alex Radin Award, named after APPA’s long-time executive director, and a true force in public power. As Gary led the search committee that selected me to be APPA’s CEO, I personally owe him an immense debt. But we all do — he skillfully led APPA through that leadership transition and contributed countless hours of service to the association during his board tenure. Gary is such a believer in public power that even in retirement, he volunteers time to Hometown Connections.

So even though we on staff pretty much collapse with our name badges on when the Conference is over, we do so knowing that all that work was worth it. As APPA employees, our job is to serve our members. Putting on the conference is one place where the rubber really meets the road in member service. When we pull off another successful one, we all take pride in the effort and the results.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO