Surreal, exciting, familiar, motivating…these are just several words that came to mind on my first day at the American Public Power Association as President and CEO. Walking into the office where I last worked almost four years ago in a different role – that was surreal. Seeing many familiar faces and remembering who we all represent – that felt like home.
But let’s pause for a bit of history. For the last four years, I’ve been the President and CEO of the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), a group that’s been around almost as long as APPA (UTC 72 years and APPA 80 years this year!). UTC is a trade association representing a cross-section of public power, rural cooperative, and investor-owned electric utilities and several gas and water-only utilities exclusively on their information and communications technology issues. It was encouraging to see the entire electric sector collaborate closely in that space on policy issues like access to reliable spectrum for wireless communications, federal utility pole attachments, cybersecurity and physical security, joint use of wireless and wireline technologies deployed by utilities, and utility broadband.
Needless to say, I learned a lot about utilities’ deployment of their own “private” telecommunications networks to support reliability and enhance efficiency. While I had touched on some of these issues during my previous 15-year tenure at APPA, the deeper dive at UTC was tremendously helpful. I had several “light bulb” (pun intended) moments there: 1) communications are a key, but sometimes overlooked, element of the “utility of the future;” 2) communications networks impact reliability, resilience, efficiency, clean energy deployment and security; 3) it matters who controls the networks; 4) we would have no cybersecurity concern without digital communications on our electric infrastructure and in our corporate processes (websites, billing systems, etc.); and 5) the cyber genie cannot be put back in the bottle (see 1 and 2), so the risk must be managed into the future.
Interestingly and seemingly illogically, the deeper dive into these niche issues actually broadened my perspective on what the utility sector, writ large, is facing. It’s a perspective that I bring back to APPA where I will again be exclusively representing the not-for-profit, community-owned part of the utility sector. APPA’s role as a “full-service” trade association — where we represent our members on nearly all the policy issues impacting them — is a big job. We also combine policy representation/advocacy with other services important to our members like benchmarking and engineering services support, data analysis, education and training, and networking at conferences. In my first several days back, I’m reminded of the complexity that public power utilities face both operationally and in the public policy arena. It is APPA’s job to help them manage that complexity and to minimize the federal government’s desire to add to it.
I believe we can help the federal government — whether in the legislative or executive branches — recognize when they are overreaching or creating unnecessary barriers to the deployment of affordable, reliable, safe, and – increasingly – clean electricity. Public power utilities were created to always have the customer in mind. Their community focus and the local decision-making about rates and infrastructure deployment should be encouraged. In the 19 years I’ve represented public power, I’ve seen incredible innovation in reaction to customer demand, rather than restrictive or preferential federal policies.
I look forward to working with our members, our mighty 70 person staff, fellow trade association partners, and – yes – federal government partners to unleash public power utilities as they respond to their customers’ desires for enhanced services now and into the future.
It’s good to be home.