At the American Public Power Association Public Power Expo in June in Minneapolis, The Energy Times gathered together four of the country’s leading lights in public power for a roundtable discussion on issues facing not only public power, but all electric utilities today and in the future.
Participating were Sue Kelly, American Public Power Association president and chief executive officer; Doug Hunter, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems chief executive officer and general manager; Scott Miller, City Utilities of Springfield general manager; and Decosta Jenkins, Nashville Electric Services president and chief executive officer. The discussion was sponsored by Burns & McDonnell.
ENERGY TIMES: There is a lot of talk about the utility of the future. What does that look like to you on the public power side?
KELLY: The future for us is what we call Public Power Forward. That includes a whole umbrella set of issues about distributed generation, new technologies and new consumer choices. We have different parts of the country that are going through change at a different pace, and we’re hoping that our early adapters can help the rest of us figure out what works, what doesn’t, and help us distinguish between the fads and the trends. We feel like there are opportunities for us, as
public power, because we’re organized at the community level, so we can work through those choices with our customers and help figure out what they want and try to deliver that to them.
JENKINS: My customers, particularly my small commercial and my residential customers, love me, except when they get their bill. Because they have no control. We’ve done things like budget billings and things like that but never have we ever given the customer an opportunity to have an opportunity to impact his bill. So that is something we will have to focus on in the future.
Hunter: It’s going to be a much more competitive period – way more competitive than we’ve seen before. There’s a lot of people out there that want the end-use customer. The technology cost to get to those customers is dropping rapidly, and it’ll just get cheaper. So we have to make sure we’re competing along with that. We have to start to look at our business model and continue to realize that many technologies depend on the utility. A solar, 9-gauge wire is not going to run your compressor for your air conditioner. And neither is that battery. Plus with PV solar on a rooftop we may have excess power. It’s got to move someplace. That’s how we’ll start to fold in with our customer in a very competitive market .
MILLER: We have a double-edged sword. When people are trapped, and feel they don’t have an option – they’re looking for something, and what
technology is providing is an opportunity for somebody else to come between us and our customer. I don’t think our customers understand who we are. So I think we have to start telling our story. We have an advantage because we are customer owned. We’re there, we know our customers, but we have to listen to them better – we have to figure out how to provide those value-added services. We’ve got to look at technology not as an enemy but as something that we can utilize in a way that allows us continue to have a good relationship with our customers. So if they look at us as an asset, a community asset, a value added asset, we can do well.