Community Engagement

Deep in the heart of Texas public power

July found me back in San Antonio (site of the Association’s Lineworkers Rodeo back in May) for the Annual Meeting of the Texas Public Power Association. TPPA is one of the state public power associations that do many of the same things for their member utilities at the state level that the American Public Power Association does at the federal level. TPPA lobbies, educates, and serves as a strong platform for collaboration.

I find when I attend state public power meetings like this one, I always take away something I would not have otherwise found out.

Take, for example, the Argentinian Monk Parakeet. This is a very eye-catching, but non-native, bird species that has been causing issues for electric utilities in many major metropolitan areas, including Texas. These birds build very large communal nests — someone described them at the TPPA meeting as “condominiums” — out of twigs, unfortunately often in transformers and power lines. These nests can, and do catch fire, causing many reliability headaches for utilities that must deal with them. I had certainly heard of the outage problems that squirrels can cause, and even learned about the problems with iguanas when I visited Key West, but the parakeet issue was a new one on me.

Bob Kahn, President of the Texas Municipal Power Agency and the outgoing TPPA Board Chair, presided over the meeting. He first introduced Paula Gold-Williams, CEO of CPS Energy, in whose hometown we were meeting. She talked about public power’s unique advantages in being an integral part of the communities we serve, and noted that CPS itself is celebrating its 75th year as a publicly owned utility in San Antonio.

Then we heard the state legislative update from Walt Baum, TPPA’s Executive Director. He noted that Texas’s public power utilities had been able to effectively advocate for their issues (including a small cell bill that was hotly contested) in the now-concluded regular session of the Texas Legislature. However, Governor Abbot has now called legislators back for a special session. A number of the initiatives he wants the legislators to consider would adversely affect municipalities in general, and could also have a negative impact on public power utilities.

When I heard Walt speak, I was reminded of Mark Twain’s comment that “no man’s life, liberty or money are safe while the legislature is in session.”

After my presentation on events inside and outside the Beltway affecting public power utilities, I asked if there were any questions. To my surprise, the question I was asked dealt with this blog — and specifically my career advice in a March post telling those coming up in our industry to remember that “nobody goes away,” and therefore “don’t be a jerk.”

I continue to be surprised as I travel around the country by how many people have read and talk to me about this blog. Thank you, dear readers, for your close attention — I will try to continue to merit it!

Before I had to leave for the airport, I heard a presentation by Erick Rheam of Automated Energy on the importance of nonverbal communications. He talked about the many cues we give and receive just from body language — everything from how someone shakes your hand to whether their arms are crossed while listening to you (generally not good) to whether they tilt their head or look right or left as they talk. We also learned the power of “steepling” your hands in front of you while speaking (a real power move!). Lots of food for thought there. I will try to pay more attention to my body language, and keep my arms uncrossed and my hands off my hips (an overly-aggressive posture)!

There is quite a lot going on with our public power utilities in Texas. We have well-known national utility leaders like CPS Energy and Austin Energy, but there are many others — Georgetown, with its 100% renewable power supply, Seguin with its city-wide installation of LED streetlights, and Bryan Texas Utilities with its 100% smart meter penetration. That is a direct result of the great people who work for TPPA (Walt, Debra Scarbo, Wendell Bell and team), and our Texas members — simply too many to call out by name!

Many of these folks could be making more money someplace else in the electric utility industry, but they are drawn to the same thing that keeps me fired up about public power — the opportunity to work directly for the customers they serve, and to add value to the communities in which they work and live. So, cowboy hats off to Texas public power!