A Q&A with Mike Hummel, who retired from Salt River Project in Arizona in May 2023. Hummel served 40 years in several executive-level positions at SRP, including as general manager and CEO from 2018–23. Hummel is a registered professional engineer, and he completed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Nuclear Reactor Technology Program. Hummel currently serves on boards of directors for Teach for America, Electric Power Research Institute, Greater Phoenix Leadership, Large Public Power Council, and Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited.
How did you come to work in public power?
I worked for two years as an engineering intern at Tucson Electric Power while I was going to school. I started at SRP when I graduated in 1982, as a rotating engineer, and since then I have been fully committed to SRP. The thing I’ve always liked about SRP is the purity of the community-based, not-for-profit mission. Our mission has always been and will always be to make our customers and our community successful. We don’t focus on quarterly earnings. We don’t focus on dividends. That gives us the ability to make long-term decisions that are in the best interest of our customers. I believe in that mission and am proud to be part of it.
What key lessons have you learned from working in this sector?
It is critical to develop a staff that believes in the mission of your organization and wants to make that happen. I’ve also learned that it’s important to be actively engaged in the community so you can better understand where your public power utility can continue to add value.
The biggest leadership lesson I’ve learned over the years is to surround yourself with people who don’t think and act like you do. Don’t try to take people who have been successful and change their styles to fit yours. There are different approaches to success. Bring in talented people who approach things differently and will challenge you. It can be more frustrating, but at the end of the day, it will build trust and lead to far better solutions.
Is there an accomplishment you are most proud of from your time in public power?
I’m very proud that SRP has become a utility focused not only on reliability and cost, but on being a clean and sustainable energy and water provider. In just a few years, we have fundamentally transitioned from a utility based on fossil fuel to one that has embraced renewables on a large scale. SRP has one of the largest commitments to solar and storage in the West, and that is no small feat.
We established a robust set of 2035 Sustainability Goals and provided the path forward for both describing the future of our goals and for achieving these aggressive targets. As a public power provider, it was important that these goals be supported by and developed with very broad stakeholder engagement. Building on our role as an industry leader, we articulated not just carbon goals, but a broad suite of goals that included water, waste stream management, supply chain, and employee engagement. We have already made significant progress on these goals while ensuring service reliability and affordability.
I’m also proud to have accomplished what we did while keeping our employees safe through the COVID-19 pandemic — providing them with the flexibility and support to recover from it.
What would you like future public power leaders to know?
I’ve seen more change in the utility industry in the last five years than in the 35 years prior. Renewables will be a fundamental part of this country’s energy generation going forward. Solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro will all have an important role. Continuing to add intermittent resources without effective storage solutions just doesn’t work, which is why natural gas will continue to be a needed fuel until at least 2050. I understand many people don’t want to hear that, but until storage technology improves and becomes more cost-effective, quick-start peaking plants will continue to be required to effectively add renewables to our system.
Regardless of what the future energy mix will be, public power leaders should establish a clear vision for bringing value to their customers and community and create a culture where employees understand their role in achieving this vision.