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Corwin Says Public Power is Uniquely Positioned to Embrace Future of Industry

Public power is uniquely positioned to embrace the future of the electric utility industry, said Scott Corwin, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association, in remarks made at APPA’s National Conference in San Diego, Calif., on June 10.

“We are leaders in energy innovation, all manner of new energy management, the first offshore wind in federal waters, solar arrays paired with battery storage, iron flow pilots, fuel cells, hydrogen pilots, and pursuit of small modular nuclear,” Corwin said in his first appearance at APPA’s National Conference since becoming President and CEO in 2023.

Meanwhile, the critical baseload resources, hydropower, thermal, and nuclear -- the first new nuclear in decades -- with the dispatchable capacity to follow load, keep the system reliable, he went on to say.

“Some of our members are small and nimble, some large and well-resourced. All are directly accountable to our owners, so our strategies are driven by communities. That is a great strength, as is our ethic of helping each other in times of need, like mutual aid, or like Light Up Navajo, and in sharing best practices at conferences like this,” Corwin said.

“We are well positioned, but the swirl of state and federal policies seem at times bent on undermining our very mission for an affordable, reliable, sustainable future. How to plan and invest around this arresting array of technological leaps and regulatory constraints?  How to train and retain the team to take this on?”

Corwin told attendees at the National Conference that APPA’s mission is to shape that future “in partnership with you.” 

To deliver on this, APPA refreshed its strategic business plan “and our four pillars: advocacy, education and training, security resilience and technology, and our own internal collaboration and sound financials.”

In advocacy, a large part is informing and educating Congress, federal agencies, and the public “about our business and what is sensible policy, to avoid those ‘well-intended’ but misguided proposals,” Corwin pointed out.

Corwin told the audience of public power utility officials that they “all have a key role in this education of the public and politicos both at home and in DC at the legislative rally.”

Noting that advocacy “has been our bread and butter for 84 years,” Corwin said that this year some top issues were supply chain, permitting reform, tax exempt finance and climate and emissions policies.

In the area of supply chain challenges, “we made progress against the problem becoming worse for transformers,” he said, adding that “there is much left to do to ensure reasonable timelines and pricing.”

He said permitting reform is “critical to our ability to maintain, site, and build the generation and transmission customers demand; it needs to happen or reliability, affordability, and sustainability will suffer.”

Meanwhile, tax exempt finance “is always in play and often under attack, and critical to our communities,” Corwin said.

With respect to climate and emissions, Corwin said that public power’s examples of leadership in energy innovation and new resource development are many and varied.

“APPA not only advocates in this space, as in the new tax law and other incentives intended to enable more public power ownership of non-emitting resources. but we also provide information, education, working groups, and technical assistance,” he said.

“When EPA proposed their draft rule on greenhouse gas emissions we gave constructive and extensive comments that the state of the technology presumed for these targets on this timeline" is not yet achievable, is not yet adequately demonstrated, and would be costly when it is, he noted.

But the final rule “didn’t move on that, leaving the question of how enough generation could be maintained at a time of steady load growth. System operators warn us with specificity that we are already at increasing risk of outages, especially during summer and winter peaks.” 

To raise that concern does not question the broader objectives of many public power members dedicated to their own, local sustainability goals, Corwin pointed out.

“With members all across the spectrum of generation portfolios, APPA has had a strong process for years, including a CEO level committee, to balance our policies and resolutions with member interests on this topic. Now, with the administrative rule not moving enough in the final version, and without a viable legislative path, we joined a coalition of reasonable, like-minded utilities to bring our concerns about EPA’s rule to the only branch of government left.”

Supporting a Secure, Resilient Grid

Corwin said that grid security -- cyber and physical -- “is a key initiative for us with advocacy elements, operational elements, and educational elements.”

APPA is facilitating millions of dollars in cyber assistance to member utilities, most recently in an award through the Rural and Municipal Utility Cyber funding, partnering with the Department of Energy, he said.

“Grid security is also front and center in our work helping to run the Electric Sector Coordinating Council that interacts with the Executive Branch, and in organizing national mutual aid efforts in times of severe events and outages.”

APPA also recently established a wildfire resources page on its website, and a Wildfire Working Group that will advise on possible federal legislation and on other training and actions “we take on this continuously looming existential threat.”

Aiding Operational Excellence

As APPA’s members innovate, “we continue to find ways to support your operational excellence,” Corwin said.

“Our industry is not being asked whether loads should grow, new technology should be adopted, or employee and customer behavior should change. But, we are expected to make it all work as we always do.”

For excellence in operations, “more and more utilities are discovering the benefits of APPA’s Reliable Public Power Provider certification program that tests many facets how you measure up to your peers in industry operational and safety standards,” he noted.

“We also just established a new Safety Committee to advise on our manual, awards, and other services, and rolled out our new eSafety tracker tool created by and for members for better useability and applicability in the field.”

APPA’s R&D arm, DEED, provides grants and resources for innovation and APPA’s other Energy Innovation communities are sharing best practices on trends in tech, EV impacts, and new load shape and size dynamics, he told the audience of public power officials.

And APPA’s Smart Energy Provider program “has more and more applications and will have updated timing and pricing.”

Corwin acknowledged that some public power communities do not always have the staff and time to attend APPA events. 

“We get it. We’re bringing more and more content online virtually and looking to site some live events locally… ever mindful of working in partnership, in joint action, with other public power organizations who know the local customers best.”

Corwin Details New Online Platform

“Engage is part of our theme,” and is also the name of a new online web-based platform that is taking the place of APPA listservs, Corwin noted.

“It’s a transition, but should strengthen your voice, give you better focused topic groups, more options on how often to get emails, more interaction among members,” he said in encouraging public power utilities to take a closer look at the new platform.

“For me to engage and to listen to members, I have been traveling to learn about the public power communities I don’t know as well. Every day is interesting, trying to find better ways to serve the communities in 49 states, and five territories.”

Corwin also highlighted APPA’s Public Power Now podcast, which he said offers “some great bite-sized nuggets of public power knowledge. Last week’s was inspiring about how Princeton Public Utilities in Minnesota achieved a turnaround in operations and community outreach.”

Corwin Sees “Generational Opportunity”

Public power has “a unique opportunity that can be compared perhaps only to that of those who originally created this industry in the prior century. It is a generational opportunity -- really an imperative that has landed upon us to innovate and rethink the way we run our business, the way we acquire power, deliver it to load, manage our operations, and engage with our owner/customers,” Corwin said.

“All in this room are key leaders in the energy arena. And, when we look back on this opportunity years from now, we will know that a group of smart and energized souls innovated, engaged, and created a path together toward a bright future for public power.”

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