Mark Bonsall retired as general manager and CEO of Arizona-based public power utility Salt River Project this year. In a recent Q&A with the American Public Power Association, he reflected on his long tenure at SRP, detailed how SRP will be in good hands with his successor, Mike Hummel, and offered his thoughts on the dramatic changes underway in the electric utility sector.
Q: You started working at Salt River Project in 1977. How has SRP has evolved over the years that you worked there and in what ways has it stayed the same?
When I started working at Salt River Project we had about 269,000 electric customers — that number has nearly quadrupled, and the number of employees has nearly doubled.
In the very early days, we were transitioning from oil-fired generation to coal and nuclear. We went through several major recessions, the deregulation days and now are transitioning the portfolio to adhere to an aggressive emissions reduction target. Those are all major changes.
SRP has also evolved from a predominantly construction and manufacturing organization to mostly a service organization. We still do both, but the strategic emphasis has shifted to a grid- and technology-based provider of services to our customers. We have been recognized many times for excellence in this regard.
What has stayed the same is the dedication and loyalty of the employees to the enterprise and our customers. SRP is a nationally recognized leader in the utility industry because of employees who strive daily to serve our customers and steward our resources.
Q: As you look back on your time as general manager and CEO of SRP, what would you say were your key accomplishments?
I am proud to have spent my entire career at SRP. For more than a century, SRP has demonstrated foresight in managing and protecting the essential resources that have helped the Valley of the Sun grow into one of the most vibrant metropolitan areas in the country. It has been my honor to be a part of that legacy for the last four decades.
I have not only enjoyed what we do at SRP and how we do it with the public power model, but most importantly with whom I have worked. SRP’s success has been due to having a clear direction and wonderful employees in the organization.
I am humbled that as a result of our efforts, SRP ranks among the very best utilities in the nation for reliability, safety, service, financial strength and community standing. We have trophy cases filled with J.D. Power and many other awards to reflect the tireless dedication and hard work of our employees.
For example, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently recognized SRP as the “Company of the Year,” and the Department of Defense honored SRP for our Veterans Employment and Assistance programs.
Protecting Arizona’s natural resources is and remains at the heart of SRP’s mission. We continually explore innovative approaches that effectively reduce our environmental impact at a reasonable cost. About one-third of SRP retail energy sales are being met with a mix of carbon-free sources including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, nuclear and energy efficiency.
SRP also was the first utility in the nation to establish comprehensive sustainability goals. “SRP 2035” is a package of sustainability goals that are reflective of the complexity of SRP’s operations and provides an avenue for every employee at the company to help contribute to achieving goals ranging from carbon emission reductions to water resiliency and supply chain and waste reduction.
We all take great satisfaction in these various accomplishments.
Q: You said that Mike Hummel, your successor as SRP’s general manager and CEO, is eminently capable of dealing with the challenges public power utilities face as the industry moves into a new era. What are the key strengths that Mr. Hummel brings to the table that will allow him to succeed in his new role as SRP’s general manager and CEO?
Mike Hummel has been an SRP team member for the past 35 years. He has worked his way up the ranks at SRP. Mike takes the helm with deep and wide experience throughout many areas of the company. He is very much a co-designer of our new directions.
Employees and the community respect and trust Mike because he listens and has a great, longstanding record of accomplishments within the utility arena as well as with community involvement.
SRP has been moving in a strategic direction of “leaner, greener and even more customer-centric” to address the business environment we see ahead, and meet the diverse needs of the customers we serve. We have kept our prices low, reduced our carbon intensity by 23 percent in recent years with substantial additional reductions forthcoming. Mike has been at the epicenter of all these improvements. SRP is in good hands under his capable, knowledgeable and caring leadership.
Q: There has been much discussion about the rapidly changing nature of the power sector and the “Utility of the Future.” What do you envision the power industry looking like in 10 to 15 years?
The utility industry and SRP has some big challenges and unknowns that lie ahead. Profound changes are taking place in our industry reflecting increased expectations from customers looking to us to provide more resource, service, pricing and partnership opportunities.
Most essentially, the industry and SRP needs to move much further away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to a platform flush with options and differentiated service levels in all respects. I have full confidence the new executives and talented employees at SRP are up to these challenges. SRP is built on always doing what is best for our customers.
Q: What are your plans now that you have retired? Will you remain active in the public power community and in the broader electric utility industry?
We plan to travel and spend more time with our one new grandchild, and am hoping for more grandchildren soon! I also plan to become more fluent at speaking Spanish. I will continue to play music and remain active in the community. My wife Mary and I are even considering building a new home. I am unsure whether I will remain involved in the utility industry. As I enter this new chapter of my life that is dependent upon on what, if any, opportunities come my way.