The week of July 11 was a big one for APPA. On Monday, our Policymakers Council arrived from around the country for its annual “fly-in”— that is trade association-speak for an organized member visit to DC to meet with legislators. The Policymakers Council is composed of 45 members from 22 states — the council includes mayors, public utility district commissioners, and city council and utility board members. As elected and appointed public officials, they are a vital part of APPA’s grassroots efforts.
After a Monday afternoon briefing at APPA’s offices, they spent all day Tuesday wearing out the shoe leather, walking the halls of Capitol Hill, doing more than 100 visits. Even a security lockdown to deal with an active shooter report did not deter them — one had to hunker down in a broom closet, but he emerged ready to resume his appointed rounds!
The day ended with a reception in the House budget hearing room at which Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) spoke to our group. Rep. Hultgren was very well-received by the policymakers, as he (along with Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD)) has taken the initiative to form the House Municipal Finance Caucus. Rep. Larsen noted that his father had been a lineman for Snohomish PUD, which certainly roused the crowd! Rep. Grothman noted how important it is for APPA to bring in local constituents with actual examples of the issues that concern them to visit legislators. We on APPA staff certainly agree — our strong grassroots are the backbone of our lobbying efforts.
The policymakers regrouped at APPA’s offices the next morning to give staff the download from their many meetings, and to pass the Council leadership gavel from outgoing Chair Tom Kuntz, Mayor of Owatonna, Minnesota, to Katherine Schacht, Commissioner for the Emerald People’s Utility District in Oregon. I want to thank the policymakers who made the trip to Washington to help put our issues before Congress — their voices were definitely heard.
In the middle of the fly-in, I diverted to speak at a Tuesday morning event held by Bloomberg on The Future of the Grid — the topic of the day being cyber and physical security. The morning started with Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary, who spoke about the government’s partnership with the electric utility industry to address cyber and physical threats to the grid. During her presentation, she announced that Department of Energy is awarding APPA and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association up to $15 million in funding over three years to help their utility members improve security capabilities and enhance their security culture. APPA is scheduled to receive up to $7.5 million over the next three years. We are extremely appreciative of this funding, and will work to make sure our members get the best security “bang for the buck.”
Other speakers included Marcus Sachs of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, who spoke about the Electricity Sector’s Information Sharing and Analysis Center; Suzanne Spaulding, Under Secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security; Scott Aronson of the Edison Electric Institute; and retired General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director. Hayden injected a welcome note of realism into the proceedings, noting that he was less concerned with a large-scale grid attack that would take down the entire Eastern Seaboard, simply because only top-tier nation states have this capability, and they know the U.S. has it as well. He is more concerned about smaller-scale events being attempted by more isolated nation states with little to lose (think North Korea and Sony). Cyber and physical security keeps me awake at night, and I know many others in our industry are also deeply concerned. It will take government and industry working closely together to detect, deter, and respond to these threats.
On Wednesday, I flew to Nashville to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration and annual meeting of the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association. As you only turn 50 once, TMEPA pulled out all the stops for this meeting. It was held at the new Omni Hotel downtown, which adjoins the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The opening reception included an after-hours opportunity to tour the museum, and I took full advantage. The museum had a great exhibit on Bob Dylan and his time in Nashville, called “Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.” I was vaguely aware that Dylan had spent some time in Nashville, but I had no idea of the in-depth collaboration he had with Johnny Cash (they wrote songs together!) and the extensive work he did with so many fine Nashville musicians. It runs until December 31, so get by if you can!
TMEPA also included some panels at its meeting on TMEPA’s history. A number of “elder statesmen” who helped form the organization and nurture it during its early years were there. In addition to a legislative report from TMEPA’s state lobbyists and a keynote by Randy Boyd, Tennessee’s Economic Development Commissioner, there was a luncheon roundtable discussion with Don Collette, Dalton Smith, Joe Exum, Gene Ward, Bill Moss, and Joe Loggins. They talked about the early days of TMEPA and TVA. Collette told us about the “Tent Shows” that TVA put on in the 1950s, traveling around the Valley to demonstrate electric appliances to local residents (especially housewives!). And Exum discussed the need for public power utilities to tell their stories, so that their customers understand the benefits of being served by a public power distributor. I was really taken with that message — truly, the more things change, the more they remain the same. “Raising Awareness of Public Power” is one of APPA’s six initiatives under the 2016-2018 Strategic Plan! Collette and Exum are both are former APPA board chairs, and it was good for me to hear their memories and perspectives.
On Thursday night, TMEPA had its annual banquet, at which it handed out individual and utility awards. Brian Skelton, General Manager of Tullahoma Utilities Board and outgoing TMEPA President, received an award and handed over the gavel to Jim Ferrell, incoming President and CEO of Jackson Energy Authority. Duane Thorpe, a Tullahoma board member, also received the much-deserved Power of Excellence award (given to non-managers such as senior staff, lobbyists, policymakers, etc. for their contributions to public power) for his public power advocacy. Steve Sax, General Manager of the Murfreesboro Electric Department, was honored with the TMEPA Outstanding Service Award (clearly a surprise to him) and a rousing ovation to go with it. Steve helped to guide the department through a very stressful period in 2015-2016, weathering a buy-out attempt by Middle Tennessee Electric Cooperative, so this award was well deserved. Community service awards were awarded to Nashville Electric Service (large system), Columbia Power & Water (mid-size system) and Ripley Power & Light (small system).
Mike Vinson, executive director of TMEPA, and his staff put on a great meeting. They sent folks home with a fabulous commemorative poster, done by Hatch Show Print (the company that for many years did the posters for country music shows at the Ryman Auditorium). Mike, thanks for a great meeting and a great souvenir!