From quality time with engineers to the Sunflower State

The end of April and beginning of May found me on the road again.

First up was our own Engineering and Operations Technical Conference, held in Raleigh, NC, April 29-May 2. Our national Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo was held the prior Friday and Saturday (April 27-28) in Wake Forest, with ElectriCities of North Carolina, Wake Forest Power, and the North Carolina Association of Municipal Electric Utilities hosting us. I did not go to the Rodeo this year because I was going to be on the road the entire following week. My mistake — by all reports it was a wonderful event. Our hosts and a small army of volunteers, working alongside many Association staffers, made it all go smoothly for the apprentices and teams that competed.

See the Rodeo results here and a great highlights reel from Wake Forest shared on our Facebook page here. And to top it all off, the weather was perfect. Quite the contrast to the 2016 Rodeo I attended in Shakopee, Minnesota, with the temperatures below freezing and the wind blowing the snow around!

The E&O Conference was just excellent; many on the Association staff labored to make it a success. We had over 500 attendees (one of the largest counts ever!) and a large Expo filled with vendors. We honored utilities that attained our Reliable Public Power Provider or RP3 recognition and earned safety awards — proof positive of their commitment to serving their customers reliably and safely.

At the DEED breakfast, the DEED Award of Continued Excellence was given to Silicon Valley Power. We then applauded outgoing DEED Board Chair Diane Bell, who brought us close to tears with her heartfelt farewell (she is retiring from Santee Cooper in a few days, so this really is goodbye!).

The E&O programming was very good — I attended breakout sessions on Redteaming (where a utility secretly hires an outside expert firm to test its cyber and physical security measures) and electric vehicle charging infrastructure and rates. It is great to see our member utilities doing these things, and even better, sharing what they have learned with their peers. Our Engineering and Operations section leaders and their committee counterparts did a great job of planning the meeting content and pinning down the speakers. We on staff feted these volunteers at dinner on Tuesday night to thank them for their good work.

From Raleigh, I flew to Wichita, Kansas, for the Annual Meeting of Kansas Municipal Utilities (the state association of all municipal utilities in Kansas, be they electric, gas, water, wastewater, or telecom). The weather in “Tornado Alley” was threatening, with many storm cells, but luckily it held off until I landed in mid-afternoon, so I avoided having to cool my heels in O’Hare. A few hours after I landed, however, the Kansas skies darkened ominously and the heavens opened up in true Wizard of Oz style.

I was invited to dinner that night with the Kansas Power Pool folks, including the Board and CEO, Mark Chesney. We were treated to an absolutely amazing slide presentation by Colin Hansen, KMU’s Executive Director. He recently went to Africa and hiked (not climbed, according to him!) Mount Kilimanjaro. He modestly claimed that anyone in the room could have done it, but by the end of his slide presentation I was totally convinced that, however spectacular the views, it probably was not for me. While I like a good day hike, going 40 miles in eight days, many of them at very high altitudes, and with no plumbing or showers the entire time, is not my cup of tea!  But Colin and his girlfriend Lorraine did it (in fact it was her idea), and when they finally reached the top, Colin proposed and Lorraine accepted! He claims it was oxygen deprivation on her part, but I think Lorraine knows a good life partner when she sees one. I am very happy for the two of them, and loved hearing about their travel adventure.  

Colin runs a great annual meeting (this was my second KMU conference since I became CEO). I was happy to open the first day, talking about the new products and services the Association has developed to help our utility members tell their story in their own communities, and retool their services to meet the changing expectations of their retail customers. I had the pleasure of being introduced by Debra Ary, Utilities Engineer for the City of Wichita, and KMU’s second female President. She has a great career story — she lucked into working for the City by getting an internship, and by her own account fell in love with the interesting and important work utilities do. Colin also pointed out that both of us are singers — she sings in a barbershop quartet with a Sweet Adelines group in Wichita. (My own choral activities are sadly on semi-hold at present because I am out of town so much, and missing so many choir practices!)   

We then heard from Jim Gulliford, the new EPA Region 7 Administrator. He talked at length about the water-related issues KMU’s members face, and vowed to take a collaborative approach to working with state and local entities to address Kansas’s pressing water quality and infrastructure issues. He specifically mentioned an innovative program the City of Wichita is doing with upstream jurisdictions to address agricultural run-off issues. The idea is to nip in the bud downstream water quality issues for the City. As he noted, the cleaner the water is when it reaches the City, the easier it is for the City to treat it and comply with the relevant EPA regulations. His commonsense approach clearly resonated with his audience.   

In the afternoon, Colin, Brad Mears of KMU staff, and Dan Gruenemeyer of Sawvel & Associates previewed the KMU distributed generation toolkit. KMU is developing this toolkit to assist its member utilities in accommodating retail customer requests for DG interconnections. KMU has taken a comprehensive approach to developing model interconnection policies, agreements, and potential rate options that member utilities can consider.

We all then adjourned to a large ballroom with tables, where short breakout sessions on 10 great topics were repeated three times, so that attendees could float among them. I went to the sessions on the new amendments to Kansas’s service territory law, cost of service/rate design for small utilities, and cybersecurity threat hunting. I always learn something by attending the sessions when I go to a member meeting, and this one was no exception.

That night was the 90th KMU Annual Meeting Banquet. In what has become a tradition, Colin supplemented the standard awards ceremony with an often-hilarious roasting of those being honored (and some innocent bystanders as well, just for fun). Congratulations to: Tim Maier, General Manager of McPherson Board of Public Utilities who received the Schowalter Award for his contributions to KMU and municipal utilities in Kansas; Steven Wilkinson of the City of Anthony, who received the mutual aid award; and His Honor, David Alvey, Mayor of Kansas City, and former member of the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities board of directors, who received the personal service award. (David has also served as a member of our Association’s Policy Makers Council, so I personally know how deserving he was of this award.) The passing of the presidential gavel from outgoing President Debra Ary to incoming President Larry Paine of Hillsboro completed the proceedings.

Going out and meeting with our members at their meetings is really among the most rewarding parts of my job. Many members have become friends over the years, and it is wonderful when good things happen to them. So, I close by saying Mazel Tov and best wishes to Colin and Lorraine!