Walter Haase, chair of the American Public Power Association’s Board of Directors and general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority said that public power utilities must hold on to their legacy of safely providing reliable, low-cost electricity while protecting the environment and giving back to the communities they serve. He urged utilities to focus on providing excellent customer service.
Haase made his comments at the opening of the Association’s 2017 Legal and Regulatory conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Haase noted that change is coming from all sides, and the very ways in which we live and work are changing. We know it’s no longer business as usual. We must get our heads out of the sand and take several actions including investing in new technologies and hiring and training a new generation in the workforce.
But even as utilities adapt to these changes, “We cannot lose sight of our fundamentals. We cannot forget that we are powering strong communities and we are there for the community,” Haase told conference attendees.
“We must never lose sight of our roots. We must continue to be involved in our communities and help the people we serve take pride in public power,” he added.
Utilities are working with people who want choices, interaction and outstanding customer service. They must educate, engage and empower our customers and be able to serve them well, he noted.
“We do not exist if we don’t have customers,” Haase noted. “We must realize that as electric utilities, we are in the customer service business. We’re not simply catering to ratepayers, managing load, or dealing with city officials.”
Haase explained that the Association has an array of services and resources to help member utilities keep up with technological advances and changing customer preferences.
Electrification and solar on the Navajo Nation
Haase also described NTUA’s efforts to bring electricity to families on the Navajo Nation.
About 15,000 families on the Navajo Nation have no electricity. “That means 60,000 people, or 75 percent, of all the people in the United States who don’t have electricity live within the Navajo Nation,” he said.
The NTUA provides electricity, water, wastewater, natural gas and off-grid residential power for the greater 27,000 square-mile Navajo Nation across northwestern New Mexico, northern Arizona and southwestern Utah. The headquarters is in Fort Defiance, Arizona.
“We’ve already connected more than 3,000 families,” Haase noted. “When we electrify the area, what happens is our requests for electric service increases in that area. People who have been living off the Navajo Nation move back to be near their parents or grandparents because electricity is available. So every time we hook someone up, it isn’t a one-for-one trade.”
NTUA this year completed construction of a 27.3-megawatt solar facility, the first large scale solar facility on the Navajo Nation. Fellow public power utility Salt River Project is purchasing the project's environmental attributes.
The additional dollars generated will in turn help to bring electricity to families in the Navajo Nation, according to Haase.
He also noted that during the Obama administration, NTUA submitted a stimulus package application for a broadband project, which was subsequently awarded.
“I’m very proud to say that we built the whole system in the three years that we were allotted, even though we weren’t allowed to turn shovel or dirt for a year,” he said. NTUA focused on areas that had no broadband service whatsoever or were underserved.
NTUA has more than 24,000 customers. The utility has over 90 towers in place only three years later and there were no grant dollars for those 90 towers. The project also provided employment for 84 people that did not have jobs earlier. The Navajo Nation has close to a 50 percent unemployment rate, so every job makes a difference, Haase noted.