Community Engagement

Connecting with public power in the Heartland

I spent April on the East and West Coasts. Since then, I have been travelling in the Nation's Heartland. I have eaten dinner with Harry and Bess Truman (really!) and the members of the Transmission Access Policy Study Group (TAPS) at the Truman Library in Independence, MO, had brats and beer with the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma (MESO) in the parking lot of the Embassy Suites in Norman, OK, and partaken of an elegant meal at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa (truly a beautiful place--check it out at with other attendees at the SPP Board meeting. I finished up this last week with dessert overlooking the Arkansas River in Wichita, KS, with the Kansas Municipal Utilities (KMU). My only regret was I had to make three separate trips to MO, OK and KS, instead of doing it all in one fell swoop!

In the Midwest, our state associations and joint action agencies are especially important cogs in the public power machine. We have many small public power utility members in the Midwest: in KS, the median size of a public power system serves well under 900 meters. They are well wired into their respective communities (pun fully intended) but joint action agencies and state associations give them the scope and scale they need to keep abreast of wholesale market developments in RTOs like the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), learn about new technologies, and advocate for reasonable state and federal regulation/legislation. For example, Dave Osburn, General Manager of the Oklahoma Municipal Power Agency, is on the SPP Member Representative Committee (MRC) and does an able job there of representing public power in the SPP footprint. He invited me to attend the recent SPP Board meeting in Tulsa. I was impressed by the transparency of the SPP governance model--MRC members sit at the "big kids" table with SPP's independent board members, everyone hears the same presentations by SPP staff and other members on issues coming before the Board for action, and the MRC members cast advisory votes on these issues before the Board members vote. (I can think of some other RTOs which could benefit from such open governance practices.) SPP has also taken its reliability responsibilities very seriously; for example, it has examined the issue of how EPA's proposed CO2 regulations could affect reliability in the SPP region, and released some very thoughtful analyses on the topic.

State association meetings give their utility members the opportunity to learn from each other. KMU had the utility version of a "speed dating" session at its annual meeting, with ten presenters at different tables in a large ballroom giving their presentation three times (limited to 30 minutes!), with attendees free to float among them. One of the presentations I sat in on was by David Mehlhaff, Chief Communications Officer of the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (BPU). He talked about BPU's efforts to develop science curricula for public schools in Kansas to help science teachers meet newly enacted state requirements. The lesson plans BPU developed are being used with 4th graders, middle schoolers and high schoolers in the 3 school districts BPU serves. Best of all, BPU is using these lessons to let middle and high schoolers know about career possibilities at BPU — a real need given that electric utility workforces are predominated by soon-to-retire boomers! Check out BPU's efforts at

As usual, I enjoyed this most recent round of visits with APPA members. I always take away useful knowledge about what our members are doing that I can share back at APPA world headquarters, and hopefully we can spread the word to other APPA members. Disseminating members' best practices is an important part of what APPA does, and the more we know, the more we can share."