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Ditto emphasizes need to focus on diversity, highlights APPA’s efforts

In remarks made on the first day of the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Connect Virtual Summit and Business Meeting, Joy Ditto, APPA’s President and CEO, said that the power sector must be committed to increasing diversity at every level and detailed how APPA is moving to strengthen and renew its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor “are shocking and sad reminders that while we have made progress, much more work needs to be done to protect the rights and freedoms of black Americans,” Ditto said.

While justice and equal opportunity “may be our ideals they are not yet our reality. We must promote positive change,” she said, noting that she and her husband have had had several conversations with their daughters recently “to try to better convey the inhumanity of racism in light of recent events.”

At the same time, she said the power sector “must be committed to increasing diversity at every level. We are stronger when we have more diverse people, backgrounds and ideas.”

Underscoring her focus on this issue, Ditto issued a statement on justice and equal opportunity that accompanied her remarks at the conference.

For APPA, “We will continue build upon a commitment we made to diversity and inclusion in our strategic planning years ago,” Ditto said. “We will strengthen and renew this commitment by conducting training for all staff. Our membership and our board are to be commended for making it clear this is important to them. For us it is a top priority. We choose to be an organization that encourages constructive dialogue, while fostering a culture of acceptance, respect and tolerance.”

APPA will continue to review internal policies to make sure they are adequate and appropriately enforced, she said.

COVID-19 pandemic marks latest challenge to face public power over the years

Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Ditto noted that she didn’t anticipate that the first few months in her new role at APPA would involve focusing on a pandemic response.

“But I did know about such high impact, low frequency events being a possibility and I knew that our members understood that possibility, as did key APPA staff because they had actually had pandemic plans put in place,” she said.

Ditto took the reins as APPA’s President and CEO on Jan. 13.

At the same time, Ditto noted that the pandemic is just the latest in a series of challenges that have cropped up over many decades. These include storms and other natural disasters, recessions, depressions and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Immediately after APPA was formed 80 years ago in 1940, “we were in crisis mode. The founding meeting in September 1940 was a sub-set of a government-sponsored meeting about national defense and to ensure that the U.S. had enough electricity supply for potential wartime purposes,” Ditto noted.

During World War II, “our utility members focused on ensuring the power flowed to the factories, aluminum smelters, mines, docks and other infrastructure that enabled us to eventually win the war,” she said.

“Then as now, our industry has balanced responding to crises and changing industry trends with maintaining regular operations. Then and now we face decisions about what constitutes critical infrastructure and essential personnel.”

This has been an issue as APPA helps its members respond to the pandemic, she noted. “In the operational arena, APPA has been engaging across the industry – particularly with the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council.”

The ESCC serves as the principal liaison between the federal government and the electric power industry on national level response issues such as pandemics.

APPA has collaborated heavily “around what were the needs that we could help our members with at the federal level and help float down to the state level and to their communities.”

Among other things, APPA has contributed to the development of an ESCC Resource Guide tied to COVID-19, which has been updated eight times since March.

Ditto highlighted the fact that public power has had an impressive 84 participants in the ESCC’s Tiger Team efforts developed in response to the pandemic.

APPA has also taken a number of other steps as part of public power’s response to the pandemic including:

  • The development of platforms for discussion and learning on a range of topics;
  • Engagement with the media including the placement of an Op-Ed by Ditto in Real Clear Energy;
  • Sharing a sample Op-Ed with member utilities; and
  • Creating a video thanking essential public power workers, which was also shared with member utilities

Legislative and advocacy priorities

On the legislative and advocacy front, APPA understands that the pandemic has “somewhat uneven implications for some of our members, but we know that everyone is affected financially by the pandemic.”

APPA has focused on a “forgivable loan” concept “that would help our members who need the most help in this pandemic response, especially as we get further along in the year and even going into 2021,” Ditto said.

“That is our top legislative priority right now in the next COVID-19 package, which is being developed this month and next.”

In addition, APPA has been successful in efforts to secure additional Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds.

Moreover, APPA helped to modify the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, which will allow a greater portion of forgivable loans to small businesses to be used to pay fixed expenses, including utility bills.