Powering Strong Communities

Thompson details goals as AMP President and CEO, priorities as APPA board chair

Jolene Thompson recently detailed her goals as President and CEO of American Municipal Power (AMP), how AMP and its members have successfully responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and what she is focused on in terms of her responsibilities as chair of the American Public Power Association’s Board of Directors.

[Thompson in April assumed the role of President and CEO of AMP and in June was installed as chair of APPA’s Board of Directors]

Question: Can you detail your short- and long-term goals as AMP’s president and CEO?

My first few weeks were during the early days of COVID-19, so my initial focus was working with our executive team on procedures to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees and their families. We also established information-sharing forums for our members.

AMP is a strong organization and my goal is to work with the AMP Board and employees to build off that foundation. There are always opportunities to strengthen employee culture, refine business processes and tighten budgets—and we’re working on initiatives in those areas. I’m also focused on outreach to AMP members, policy relevance, economic development and making sure we’re on top of the changes taking place in our industry. Innovation was a priority for Marc Gerken and that will continue.

Under his leadership, AMP initiated a member-led Focus Forward Advisory Council, employee Innovation Team and most recently six employee-led Moonshot Initiative Teams. The teams are developing solutions to challenge statements and I’m excited to see what they come up with. My long-term goals are to meet or exceed our members’ expectations, manage their resources wisely, advance their interests in the policy arena, and provide solutions that they can leverage to stay on top of technology and customer trends. To be successful on those fronts, it’s imperative that AMP’s culture supports collaboration, creativity and diversity. 

Question: Can you describe how AMP and its members have successfully responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The full duration of the pandemic remains to be seen and governmental guidelines have been a bit of a moving target, but I think most of us have settled into a routine rooted in strong procedures and virtual platforms to keep business moving. In the Spring, we recognized that AMP could support our members by providing a forum for them to exchange information. As a result, we populated a resource site on our member extranet and began hosting regular member calls. Those calls have now transitioned from weekly to periodic. The AMP Board also established a COVID-19 Task Force to discuss the impacts on member systems. We worked with The Energy Authority and reached out to individual AMP members for information about their local experiences. As you would expect, AMP members have been impacted to varying degrees depending on their customer base.

AMP leadership also found the member calls organized by APPA and engagement via the Electric Sector Coordinating Council very helpful.

Question: What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities for the power sector over the next five to 10 years?

It’s common to hear the current changes impacting the power sector described as “disruptors.” Both because the pace of change is faster than it used to be and there are different players than in the past. Key disruptors – including technology developments, a shifting generation resource mix, heightened customer engagement, climate policy, “organized” markets, and workforce dynamics, all present both challenges and opportunities. It’s especially important for public power to have a seat at the table and minimize the disruptions, which is where APPA, joint action agencies, and state and regional associations must play a role to support their members.

Question: How are public power utilities and joint action agencies such as AMP uniquely positioned to thrive as the power sector undergoes changes in that timeframe?

The foundation of public power – customer-ownership, local control, stewardship, reliability and affordability – are all attributes that can be leveraged to help navigate industry disruptors. There seems to be a growing spirit of altruism that matches well with the public power business model.

Question: AMP earlier this summer received the Energy Innovator Award from APPA in recognition of AMP’s public power electric vehicle planning toolkit and guidebook. Can you detail how the planning toolkit and guidebook benefits AMP member communities? Has AMP heard from member communities as to how they are successfully utilizing the EV planning toolkit and guidebook?

AMP’s members are using the DEED Public Power EV Planning Toolkit & Guidebook as a resource to model EV adoption scenarios across their distribution system. This modeling allows public power systems to evaluate EV adoption costs associated with transformer upgrades and impacts to peak demand, as well as benefits from additional electricity sales.

Question: What are you focused on in terms of your responsibilities as the chair of the APPA Board of Directors? Also, how is APPA positioned to succeed under the leadership of Joy Ditto as the power sector and associations face a variety of challenges these days?

Because my time as Chair coincides with our new CEO’s first year, it’s incumbent on me to ensure there are strong and open lines of communication between Joy and her team and the APPA Board. Joy outlined a vision for the organization that resonated with the Board when she interviewed, and she has been working from day one with the very talented APPA staff to implement that vision. Joy’s time with the Utility Telecommunications Council provided her with a strong understanding of the technological developments impacting our industry. She also had the opportunity to lead a team that was able to move that organization forward. She brings those talents and a passion for public power back home to APPA.