Power Lines Blog

Sliding home into the holiday season


I don’t know about you, but it has been a crazy busy fall at the American Public Power Association. Every fall, we draw up our budget and develop our work plan for the next calendar year. Our Executive Committee held its end of the year meeting on December 7, and approved both items, giving staff our marching orders for 2017. I know it does not sound sexy, but without this necessary spade work, we cannot carry out the core advocacy, education, and service work we do for our members.

We will be implementing year-two activities under our three-year strategic plan in 2017, and we have some big plans. Among other things, watch for a new “look” for the Association in 2017 — and no, I am not finally giving in and dyeing my hair!.

In October this year, the Board approved both a modest member dues increase for July 2017–June 2020 and a change in the formula used to calculate our utility member dues to add a new customer count component. These changes are in sync with the retail rate design improvements that many of our utility members are making. The goal is to keep the Association financially strong in the face of the major changes coming to our industry. The 35-day notice period for utility members to request a referendum on the changes that the board approved ended on December 9; under our bylaws, 1/5 of the membership must request a referendum for it to go out to a vote. Fewer than 10 members requested a referendum. We followed up with each of them individually, to explain what we are doing and why. We have over 1,400 utility members, but each and every one is important to us, and we want to go into 2017 strong and unified.

And we are going to need to be strong and unified. The outcome of the recent election means that the Republicans will control the White House, the Senate, and the House. Tax reform promises to be high on the Congressional agenda come January. And with tax reform proposals comes the inevitable spotlight on tax-exempt financing, and calls to repeal or weaken the tax-exempt status of bonds issued by units of state or local government. Given that tax-exempt bonds are the number one financing tool that public power utilities use to fund new and upgraded infrastructure, we are going to have to be strong advocates for retaining this important arrow in our financial quiver. Our staff is already working with our state and local government allies and other constituencies on our advocacy efforts. We will need all of you to be engaged on this issue next year.

I took this message on the road recently, speaking to the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities 6th Annual Conference in Altoona, Iowa last week. Troy DeJoode, Executive Director of IAMU, put together a very strong program, including presentations from a panel of school superintendents about how smaller school systems are sharing services — a model that small public power utilities are also considering — and presentations from both me and Bert Kalish, CEO of the American Public Gas Association. Given that I spent the first 15 years of my legal career representing public gas distribution companies, including APGA and many of its members, I really enjoyed catching up with Bert and hearing him present on the current issues facing public gas.

After coming back to DC for our own Executive Committee meeting, I left town again to go to Portland, Oregon, for the Public Power Council’s 50th Anniversary celebration. PPC, under the leadership of its Executive Director, Scott Corwin, always puts on a great meeting, and this time was no exception. They pulled out all the stops, with live poetry, a high-class official tribute video, a not-quite-so-high-class but humorous unofficial tribute video, and a live public power band covering Roll Columbia Roll and Wild Thing!  Marty Kanner, PPC’s DC lobbyist, was on the drums and Elliott Mainzer, the BPA Administrator, was blowing on his sax in his shades. Dan Bedbury from Clark PUD was on lead guitar and Pat McGary from Mason PUD #3 on lead vocals. From PPC staff, Bo Downen was on rhythm guitar and Chris Weber on ukulele. It was quite a scene.

Marty, Elliott, and I did a panel on what public power might face in the next 50 years — Marty and I both noted the need to be vigilant in defense of the PMAs, as many new administrations tumble to the misguided idea that “selling the PMAs” or selling their power at “market rates” could be a boon to the federal treasury. One more reason for us to be strong and unified as we go into 2017.

So, to all of you in public power, I want to say from all of us at the Association, thank you so much for putting your trust in us through your membership. We take our work on your behalf very seriously, and will do all we humanly can to further your interests in 2017. Enjoy the best this season has to give — the time to relax and enjoy family, friends, and an opportunity to reflect on our many blessings. And then, on to 2017!

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO