The last week of October found me out West, again. I was asked to keynote the Annual Conference of the Oregon People’s Utility District Association, held in Newport, Oregon, on the wild and beautiful Oregon Pacific Coast. Having never been there, I was excited to go.
Debra Smith, general manager of Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, and Chris Chandler, Central Lincoln’s public affairs manager, made sure I was treated like public power royalty from the moment my plane touched down on the tarmac.
OPUDA’s state lobbyists, Danelle Romain and David Rocker, picked me up at the Portland Airport. We drove through beautiful rolling hills and vineyards to the coast, with a stop at one of Oregon’s many fine foodie emporiums. Not every day can you get fresh-off-the-tree hazelnuts prepared with bacon and herbs for lunch! I had a great time talking trade association shop with Danelle and David—no matter what the association and its line of business, many of the membership issues are the same.
On the way, we went by the Evergreen Museum, an aviation museum which houses Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose—the plane has its very own building!
The festival of food continued when we got to Newport. OPUDA put on a wonderful reception and seafood dinner at the Pacific Maritime & History Center. Debra actually made much of the meal herself! (Dear APPA members, much as I love you, I will never cook for you, and that probably is a good thing for all concerned…) The highlight of the dinner was the fabulous Dungeness crab, locally caught by Central Lincoln’s operations manager, Randy Grove. The Center was once a gracious historic home (and later a restaurant and bar) that overlooks Newport’s working harbor, but sadly it was a stormy night, so I could not admire the view.
The conference opened the next day with an address by State Representative Caddy McKeown (D-Coos Bay). She is one of those state legislators who are so important to public power — she understands our industry and knows how important having a local, community-owned electric provider is to the communities she represents (Central Lincoln serves most of her district). OPUDA Chairman Curt Abbott gave her an OPUDA “Rock Solid” award for her service to her district and public power, and it clearly was well deserved.
After I spoke about APPA’s current initiatives to help our members, we heard from Bonneville Power Administration’s new Deputy Administrator, Dan James. He gave a very engaging talk, providing some of his background — he grew up in Western Montana, and previously worked for PNGC Power, a G&T co-op. He talked about the issues facing BPA, including how BPA will engage with the Western energy imbalance market, the new “Bio-op” proceedings BPA will be participating in, and the ongoing negotiations regarding the Columbia River Treaty. Clearly, it behooves BPA’s utility customers to participate actively in all of these issues, to make sure that customer and consumer interests are considered.
At the end of the morning, I had to hoof it back to Portland, but I had great company on the drive back — Shauna McReynolds and Val Koss of the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee. Shauna is PNUCC’s executive director and Val is its deputy director. I did not know much about PNUCC when we got in the car, but by the time they dropped me at the airport, I knew a lot more. The concept of a regional association composed of all types of electric utilities that can “check their guns at the door” and work together on issues of common concern, is pretty unique in our industry, and well worth thinking about.
Rather than going straight home, I detoured to Seattle to speak the next morning at the Advanced Seminar on Public Power put on by the National Federation of Municipal Analysts. NFMA is a very interesting group — it has employees from ratings agencies, bond insurers, banks, mutual funds, and other investors among its membership. These folks are not afraid to go into the weeds. They had spent the whole prior day examining the implications of distributed generation, renewables, RTOs, and new nuclear technologies on public power utilities. They had an all-star cast from public power there — during the short time I spent with them, I heard Jim Tracy, CFO of SMUD, Marc Gerken, CEO of AMP, and John Bonnin, VP of Energy Supply at CPS Energy, all speak. And it was wonderful to hear John Murphy of Fidelity Investments tell the assembled group that they should all consider becoming associate members of APPA, because of our high quality publications, research, and conferences!
I talked about the current issues facing public power utilities, spending a lot of time on potential threats in Washington to tax-exempt municipal bonds stemming from possible tax reform and budget troubles. We expect to spend considerable time on this issue in the next Congress, and the best defense is a good offense.
While coast-to-coast travel is always wearing (as I get older, I find it harder to adjust to the time zone changes), this was a trip well worth making. I really enjoyed meeting more of our Oregon members, and the NFMA members are a very important constituency for public power, as they rate, underwrite, and buy our bonds. Thanks to OPUDA and NFMA for the opportunity to visit with them!