Power Lines Blog

August: The calm before the storm


August is a prime time for public power meetings. I went to two this year: the American Public Power Association’s Advisory Committee summer meeting in Portland, Maine, and the annual meeting of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.

The Advisory Committee is made up of the heads of the state and regional public power associations. These associations do many of the same things for their members in their states and regions that we do at the federal level, so we are practitioners of the same craft. I always enjoy this summer meeting, because it is an opportunity to catch up and compare notes. This year, guided by the able hand of our Chairman, Ewell Lawson of the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, we dished on everything from state legislative trends (can you say small cell legislation?) to association management software and conference apps.

David White, the Executive Director of the New England Public Power Association, ably acted as our host, providing us with local entertainment options and ideas for our free afternoon. I took the opportunity to go to the Portland Historical Society Museum, located in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House on Congress Street.


I learned all about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who it turns out is a native son of Portland. He did much more than just write those long narrative poems we (well, at least I!) had to read in junior high (middle school to you younger readers) like Paul Revere’s Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He spoke many languages, was a professor at both Bowdoin and Harvard, studied in Europe, and suffered much in his life (his first wife died after only a few years of marriage and his second wife burned to death in a tragic accident). His English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy was a standard text for many years. It is sad that so many people (like me) know of him only through such doggerel as “one, if by land, and two, if by sea.” (He clearly was a believer in commas!)

The Advisory Committee also got to hear from Calvin Ames, Superintendent of the Madison Electric Works in Madison, Maine. He filled us in on the challenges of operating a public power utility in rural Maine, dealing with everything from very high ISO New England transmission charges to retaining trained lineworkers and managers. The dedication and service ethic of so many public power utility managers in small cities and towns across the country continues to amaze me, and makes me proud to help them do their jobs. Calvin is surely one of them.

Late in August, I travelled to Brainerd, Minnesota for the Summer Conference of MMUA. It was held on Gull Lake — one of Minnesota’s famous 10,000 Lakes, complete with calling loons. Jack Kegel, Rita Kelly, Mike Willetts and all the able MMUA staff put on a great meeting, with general and breakout sessions, a vendor expo, governance training for policymakers, a very nice banquet and individual and utility awards.

I spoke about our Association and some of the strategic issues we are working on for our members: raising awareness of public power and cyber and physical security being two prominent ones. I also talked about the joint project we are undertaking with MMUA, developing a Public Power Forward toolkit for our Minnesota members, to help them address the changes in our industry.

Attendees also heard a colorful presentation about what is going on in DC from Michael Nolan, MMUA’s Washington Representative, and from Tim Blodgett of Hometown Connections about new industry trends and how Hometown can assist utilities in staying abreast of them.

It was great to have a chance to socialize with our Minnesota members, including the staunch public power advocate and Association Board member, Wally Schlink from Rochester Public Utilities.

I also got to attend MMUA’s annual banquet honoring member utilities, policy makers and employees with awards. I was glad to see Troy Adams of Elk River get an award. Troy is a real up-and-comer—one of the next generation of managers that we really need to move public power forward. He has just been appointed to the Association’s RP3 review panel, and I know he will do great work there. Steve Thompson, CEO of Central Municipal Power Agency/Services, received MMUA’s President’s Award, and Steve Moses of Heartland Consumers Power District received the Community Service Award. I don’t think either of them knew they were getting these awards until their names were called—and their reactions were really heartwarming (they sort of choked up and so did we all).

Just as I had felt when I heard Calvin Ames in Maine, spending time at MMUA reminded me of the exceptionally fine — and usually unsung — men and women who dedicate their careers to making public power work on the ground.

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, the craziness here inside the Beltway will (re)commence. Congress will be back, and we will be plunged into the debt ceiling, budget, and tax reform debates. In such an environment, it is easy to lose your perspective on why we here at the Association do what we do. So I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with members in Maine and Minnesota during August — it reminds me of why we do what we do, and even more important, who we do it for.

Sue Kelly

Sue Kelly

President and CEO