Power Lines Blog

Not my first rodeo

not-my-first-rodeo

I have spent much of the last few weeks on the road. I traveled in late April to Point Clear, Alabama, to attend the 2017 Power Supply Conference held by the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority. AMEA is a joint action agency composed of 11 public power utilities which serve some 350,000 customers, and its CEO is Fred Clark. I have known Fred since the mid-1990s, when I was working at NRECA as its Senior Regulatory Counsel, and he was the Executive Director of the Alabama state association of rural electric co-ops. I have long admired Fred’s political and diplomatic skills, and the way he has of cutting right to the heart of a matter.

I arrived at Point Clear in the early evening, frazzled after spending a long day on our nation’s airways (I need not tell you that the skies are pretty unfriendly these days!) and then getting stuck in my rental car in a massive traffic jam on the causeway that traverses Mobile Bay (no alternate routes available there!). But Fred, Lisa Miller, and the rest of the AMEA staff took me well in hand, putting on a great reception and dinner. Even better, they had arranged for two old friends, Mike and Karon Dugger, to come to the dinner so we could catch up. Mike is the now-retired General Manager of Riviera Utilities in Foley, AL, but during the 1980s and early ‘90s, he was the Gas Superintendent at Riviera, and one of my favorite clients in my law practice. His wife Karon and I were pregnant at the same time (we gave birth only a few weeks apart, and now our kids are 28). Karon and I had a good time pulling Mike’s leg about how he’d had to deal with two pregnant women at once! It was great to be able to catch up with them both, and to hear about their son Chris and their travels in retirement.

The evening was topped off when Fred gave me the 2017 AMEA President’s Award. I was truly honored by this award, because past recipients have generally been part of the AMEA family in Alabama. Fred joked that I was an honorary resident, given all the time I had spent in South Alabama while I was practicing law. I was very grateful to be honored in this way, and to see so many old friends.

The next morning, I spoke to the group about tax reform, cybersecurity, and other current priorities of the American Public Power Association. AMEA is one of the joint action agencies taking advantage of an offer under our Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Energy to hold a tabletop cybersecurity exercise for its members — to take place in June in Montgomery. Hats off to Mark Ennis of AMEA for having the foresight to put on this exercise for his members.

May found me back on the road, first in Florida, then in Texas. I went to Florida to attend a conference put on by the Women’s Energy and Innovation Network. The attendees were a very powerful (pun intended) group indeed — women executives from utilities, state public utility commissioners, consumer advocates, mayors, and state legislators. I was on a panel of women trade association CEOs, along with Julia Hamm of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, Dena Wiggins of the Natural Gas Supply Association (and fellow energy lawyer) and Paula Glover of the American Association of Blacks in Energy. Our panel was moderated by Stephanie Tomasso of Russell Reynolds, a well-known executive search firm, which assisted our board in the CEO search that resulted in my hiring. Paula Gold-Williams, the dynamic new CEO of CPS Energy, was also there, speaking on a panel about the future energy landscape. And one of the most interesting panels was about how women can make inroads on corporate boards. One piece of advice from that panel which stuck in my mind was “Don’t be agreeable — be memorable!”

I went straight from this estrogen-rich environment to the exact opposite — the national Public Power Lineworkers’ Rodeo in San Antonio. CPS Energy was our host utility, so I was reunited with Paula Gold-Williams at the Rodeo opening ceremony. CPS did the day up right, from the largest American flag I have ever seen to the all-woman Mariachi band that did a great rendition of the National Anthem. The weather was great (very different from the extreme cold and snow flurries in Shakopee, MN last year!). This was the biggest Rodeo ever — close to 160 apprentices took the written exam and competed on the field, along with over 70 journeyman teams. I love strolling the Rodeo grounds to watch the events and check out the artwork on the lineworkers’ t-shirts and trailers. I took some photos that you can see here.

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That evening, we had 1,100 people at the Rodeo awards banquet. We gave out trophies to the winning apprentices and teams (see the list of awardees) and the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame inducted its 2016 class of honorees. I was thrilled to see the first woman, Rosie Vasquez, inducted to a standing ovation from her peers. In introducing her, it was noted that she was climbing poles when she was 6½ months pregnant — wow!

And we raffled off a fantastic quilt made with love by Rita Kelly of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association from t-shirts donated by teams from the 2016 Rodeo. The proceeds went to benefit the Highline Hero Foundation (more on that later), so I was happy to buy some tickets, even though I did not win the quilt (and it was a good thing I did not, as I was the one that drew the winning ticket out of the barrel!).

After the Lineworkers’ Rodeo, we went straight into the Association’s Engineering and Operations Technical Conference. This too was a banner event — we had more than 470 attendees, the most ever. We started with a breakfast honoring the winner of the 2017 DEED ACE award (Lincoln Electric System took that prize), and our Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) and Safety Award honorees. Andy Boatright, the Association Board Chair and Deputy Director of Independence Power and Light in Missouri, set the tone for the conference by talking about how we as utilities need to stretch ourselves and get out of our comfort zones.

At the opening general session, I talked about current Association initiatives, including our new logo/branding, our cybersecurity efforts under our Cooperative Agreement with DOE, and our work on Public Power Forward and workforce issues. But the highlight of the morning was Tracy Moore, Founder of the Highline Hero Foundation. Ms. Moore talked about having a brother and husband who were lineworkers, and the pain and trauma she and her family experienced, first when her brother was badly burned on the job, and later, when her husband died in a work accident. Her story was extremely moving. If anyone there needed reminding of how hazardous linework is, and how important it is for lineworkers to follow safety procedures and watch out for their fellow workers, they certainly got that message by the end of her presentation. You can find out more about her efforts at www.highlineheroes.com

After the general session, the conference continued with numerous breakout sessions and a Vendors’ Expo. I attended sessions on fiber installations, natural gas generation, and the future of nuclear power — when I go to our conferences, I always try to attend some of the breakouts to find out what our members are doing, and increase my own knowledge of the industry. One session that I especially appreciated was on the new Cyber Mutual Assistance effort that the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council is coordinating. Dave Batz of Edison Electric Institute and Mike Fish of Salt River Project explained the effort, and there were lots of great questions from the audience. We at the Association really want to see public power utilities sign up for this new effort, so I was glad to see there was so much interest.

And I cannot close without mentioning the Women’s Breakfast we had on the second morning of the conference. Ursula Schryver, our VP of Education and Customer Programs, moderated a panel featuring Stacy Cantrell, VP of Engineering at Huntsville Utilities, Alabama, and Barbara Quinones, Electric Utility Director of Homestead Energy Services, Florida. Both had started their careers at Florida Power and Light, but moved on to public power. They talked about how they had advanced in their careers, and who had helped them along the way. We had a great audience discussion at the end — it was very affirming to hear each other’s experiences and trade perspectives on thorny topics such as how non-engineers can better relate to engineers!

Putting on the Rodeo and the E&O Conference is a total team effort for our Association. Mike Hyland and his Engineering Services folks put in countless hours both in advance and on site at the Rodeo. Volunteers from many public power utilities serve as judges and take on the myriad other duties that make the Rodeo work. But many employees from other parts of our Association come to help out each year, doing everything from collecting score sheets to selling t-shirts. Ursula Schryver and her team then take the lead on the E&O, and Pam Cowen is in charge of the Expo, but again, many employees help out with breakout sessions and other tasks. They are backed up by Association employees who support the Rodeo and E&O, but who do not get to go onsite, including our Integrated Media and Communications team and our Office Services employees. And our host utility, CPS Energy, really pulled out all the stops to assist us while we were in town.

Events like this show public power at its best — pulling together to share our knowledge and help train those coming up. So, thanks to all of you who helped make the Rodeo and the E&O such a success in 2017.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO

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