On August 25, I traveled to Kearney, Nebraska, for the annual meeting of the Nebraska Public Power District. This was my fourth trip to Nebraska in the last year and a half, but I always notice something new. I flew to Omaha and then drove to Kearney, almost 200 miles west on I-80.
I drove past the exit for Grand Island, and was sad to see that I was going to miss the Nebraska State Fair! When I went to the NMPP Energy meeting in Grand Island back in March, we visited the fairgrounds and had dinner in the Nebraska Building, where I toured the “Raising Nebraska” exhibit. It was cool to see the “pivots” that I had learned about at the exhibit actually deployed in the fields along the Interstate, watering the corn. The corn is getting high — not yet as “high as an elephant’s eye” (like the song from Oklahoma says), but it is almost there. And poking above the corn here and there were volunteer sunflowers, always a cheerful sight. The waving tassels on top of the corn reminded me about the hardest, hottest, and dirtiest summer job available to girls when I was in high school in Belton, Missouri — detasselling corn. I was able to get a job waitressing at the Rexall drug store fountain on Main Street for a $1.05 an hour (plus tips — not!), so I did not have to go out into the fields like some of my girlfriends did. I counted myself lucky.
NPPD put on a very information-packed half day meeting, after an awards dinner the night before at which some very hilarious door prizes were given out, but I will say no more about that. First we heard from the City of Kearney’s Mayor Stan Clouse (who is also an account manager at the NPPD Kearney office) and City Manager Mike Morgan. Then we heard from Pat Pope, NPPD’s CEO, who provided an update on issues important to NPPD and its customers. He discussed market conditions, operations at the Cooper nuclear station, transmission expansion plans, and the innovative Monolith project at Sheldon station, where one of NPPD’s generation units is being converted to burn hydrogen as a fuel. He made a point that I agree with — while traders thrive on market price volatility, which increases their profits, public power is in it for the long run, and having a diversified portfolio of generation (“iron in the ground” as he called it), acts as a physical hedge against future price increases. Tom Kent of NPPD expanded on Pat’s theme, discussing steps NPPD is taking to streamline its generation operations and surgically cut fixed costs to help address low market prices.
David Bracht, director of Nebraska’s Energy Office, talked to the group about the Energy Office’s weatherization and loan program for energy improvements. His office has done very good work on behalf of Nebraskans, improving the housing stock in a state that has a shortage in some areas. I have heard David speak before, and was again impressed by his presentation (and not just because he is another recovering lawyer)! He is a born and bred Nebraskan who milked cows on his dad’s farm growing up, so he was in tune with his audience.
Joanie Teofilo, CEO of The Energy Authority, talked about how TEA partners with NPPD to maximize the value of NPPD’s generation assets in the Southwest Power Pool market and hedge NPPD’s market risks with financial products. I have run into Joanie many times out on the public power speaking circuit, and continue to be impressed with both her leadership and with the great job TEA does for the public power systems it works with. I had the opportunity a few years ago to tour the TEA headquarters facility in Jacksonville and it was very impressive.
It struck me while she was speaking that TEA and APPA share something in common — unlike the public power utilities we serve, our organizations really do not have substantial “hard” assets. We have office space, computer systems and above all, skilled and dedicated employees with very specific knowledge sets. So both our value propositions come from the services we provide to public power utilities. It was good to get to spend some time with Joanie.
I enjoyed visiting with NPPD’s staff and members — NPPD is a well-run utility and puts on a good meeting. And I appreciate that Nebraskans are willing to overlook my Mizzou degree and continue to invite me back to visit!