Power Lines Blog

Southern swing


Fall is a very busy time in the public power world — many joint action agencies and state/regional associations hold meetings then. So while the last week of October found me in the Pacific Northwest, the first week of November I traveled to the Tennessee Valley and then to Georgia.

I went to Nashville November 1-2 to speak at the 2016 Tennessee Valley Distribution Marketplace Forum, jointly held by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association.

As the largest federal public power utility in the country, TVA is the wholesale power supplier to the 154 “Local Power Companies” in the Tennessee Valley, all of which are consumer-owned utilities.

TVPPA represents the interests of the public power and cooperative utilities in the Valley, both with TVA and with the Valley’s Congressional delegation. TVPPA is a close trade association partner with APPA in many efforts, including mutual aid and federal lobbying.

This was the second year that TVA/TVPPA held this Forum, and I was very happy to address the LPCs this year. My topic was APPA’s effort to help our utility members across the country address the technological and operational changes coming to public power (and all other electric) utilities – which we call “Public Power Forward.” APPA is holding our second Public Power Forward Summit in Arlington, Virginia on November 17-18 and we held the first one in November 2015. I was struck by the parallels between our Public Power Forward Summits and the TVA/TVPPA Forums — many of the issues and themes were very much the same.

I shared the stage with Jim Matheson, the new CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. I was struck by the similarities in our two presentations — NRECA and its members approach these issues from a very similar perspective, which makes sense given our respective member utilities are all customer-owned and not-for-profit. Jim will make a great leader for NRECA.

Our session was moderated by Jay Stowe, who until recently was the CEO of Huntsville Utilities in Alabama, but who a month ago became TVA’s senior vice president of distributed energy. While I was sad to see Jay leave APPA membership, he will bring a great perspective to TVA’s work with its LPCs on distributed energy resources.

As always, I learned more than I taught at this event. E Source and the Electric Power Research Institute gave great presentations on work they are doing on customer research and distribution system modeling tools. The TVA LPCs are very blessed, in that TVA pays for the LPCs to have access to the many resources that E Source and EPRI provide.

Becky Williamson of Memphis Light, Gas and Water gave a real testimonial for E Source; she explained the extensive research services E Source has provided her and other MLGW staff, describing it as almost like having another employee on hand when and where needed. I serve on the E Source Advisory Board, and have been quite impressed with its staff, operations and services. I wish more APPA members (especially our smaller members) could take advantage of E Source’s services.

At the close of the Forum, Scott Dahlstrom of Trenton Light Gas and Water gave a call to action, urging the LPCs in attendance to take the information and ideas they had heard at the Forum home to their local utilities and act on them.

I headed back to DC, and on November 3 spoke at the opening session of the Center for Energy and Workplace Development’s 11th Annual Summit. CEWD’s mission is to help energy companies develop the skilled and diverse workforce they are going to need, especially as our many baby boomers retire. APPA joined CEWD as part of our strategic initiative to assist our members with their workforce challenges. It has been a great resource for us and the public power utilities who are members.

On November 4, I flew to Atlanta and then drove to Lake Oconee, Georgia, to speak at the 2016 Mayors Summit put on by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. MEAG Power is the joint action agency for 49 Georgia public power distribution utilities, providing them with wholesale power supply and transmission services. I got to hear Jim Fuller, MEAG Power’s CEO, report on MEAG’s current activities, including a video highlighting their member community of Thomasville and their customer, Flower’s Baking Company. I encourage you to take a look at it here.

Jim also reported on the substantial progress being made on the two new nuclear units at Vogtle (Units 3 and 4) that MEAG is participating in with the Southern Company. Georgia as a state has a very high percentage of carbon-free nuclear power in its portfolio. So it was also interesting to hear from Tony Pietrangelo, a senior vice president at the Nuclear Energy Institute. NEI is helping the nation’s nuclear operators to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, and is educating policymakers about the important role that nuclear power can play in reducing the nation’s carbon emissions.

Georgia is a state that prides itself on its pro-business environment and its strong economic development ethos. Tom Croteau, the Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (and a MEAG alum), talked to the mayors about what businesses thinking about locating or expanding their operations in Georgia look for when they make their decisions. One thing he noted was how much information about potential communities such companies glean before they even start the search process. They come to Georgia with a list of four or five communities they want to look at, rather than just asking the department what communities they should investigate. And their wish list is long — they look for appropriate sites with easy access to rail and highways, reliable and reasonable utility service, a progressive community, good schools, and an educated workforce. While tax incentives can help land a deal when it comes down to a few finalists, having the “right stuff” is even more important.

APPA board member and MEAG board chair Steve Rentfrow is from the Crisp County Power Commission, a MEAG Power community, that is walking the economic development walk. His hometown, Cordele, is hosting an “inland port” which will bring substantial jobs and economic activity to the community.

One of the strengths of public power is its grassroots — including the mayors and council members from public power communities. MEAG Power is very smart to have an annual forum to educate these folks about the current issues facing public power, and to hear their concerns about what is going on back home. I was pleased to be able to help with that by speaking at their Mayors Summit.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO