“We are better together in this time of unprecedented change.” That is the message that kicked off TVPPA President & CEO Doug Peters’ report to the association at the 2020 All Member Meeting, held February 5 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The gathering of 144 managers representing 91 member utilities was the largest in the five years of the annual event.

Divergent viewpoints on the pending sale and acquisition of one member utility by another, the interests of members that have signed TVA’s Long-Term Partnership Agreement and those who have not, the potential for members to “give notice” that they will break ties with the Valley, and a perceived transition in TVPPA’s role on behalf of its members were among the issues on the minds of attendees. Notwithstanding disparate utilities and diverse opinions on the issues of the day, a strong message of unity reverberated throughout the day’s events.

“We are at a great point in time to think about things differently than we have in the past,” said TVPPA Chairman David Wade, Chattanooga EPB’s president and CEO. “We need to start asking ourselves slightly different questions. We have the benefit of discussion and the collective wisdom of this group and our team ‘back at the house’; and when we harness that collective wisdom, we can’t help but be successful.”

All seven Tennessee Valley districts were represented on the “District Roll Call,” a panel discussion of the region’s priorities and highlight of the event. While each district reported priorities differently, the following four themes played out among them:

Protect the Public Power Model in the Valley

Jason Griggs, chair of the Western District Managers Association, set the tone of the panel discussion with a sentiment shared by districts. “There is kind of a civil reverence for the public power model and we are the keepers of that, the collective voice of it. That’s a great responsibility,” said Griggs, superintendent of Milan, Tenn., DPU. “Our differences on today’s issues can be a wedge that divides or the glue that binds us together. We can remain strong by focusing on what joins us together.”

Flexibility to Respond to Changing Marketplace/Customer Demands

Panelists cited the flexibility to operate their businesses in this changing environment and respond to customer demands and expectations as a top priority. Representatives reported a desire to realize increasing power supply flexibility as their load grows over the next decade.

TVA Wholesale Rate Competitiveness

Most districts reported rate competitiveness as a high priority, believing that cost is extremely important and should be a focal point of TVA’s efforts. It was noted that TVA and distributors could benefit from engaging in dialogue about collectively changing today’s load shape through aggregated technology solutions to reduce TVA’s future generation costs. Panelists and audience members alike stated that affordable cost and fair rates go hand-in-hand with protecting the public power model and the ratepayers themselves.

TVA’s Role as Regulator

TVA’s role in ensuring the proper treatment of all parties in the sale of Mufreesboro, Tenn., ED to Middle Tennessee EMC, was a point of significant interest for districts and individual TVPPA member managers. In particular, there was much discussion regarding how TVA will view the use of funds stemming from the sale as it considers the transfer of the wholesale power contract to MTEMC.

Other highlights of the meeting included:

Seven States Executive Vice President Betsey Kirk McCall shared an update on the substantial progress with members and partners within the 3 Strategic Focus Areas to grow revenue, invest in significant research and develop strategic partnerships.  The result of this work empowers members to meet customer demand for renewable energy in an evolving marketplace – the Seven States’ mission

A highlight of McCall’s report was the organization’s extensive operations in the electric vehicle space, partnering with members to design, develop and deploy charging infrastructure across the Valley and with industry leaders to promote the benefits of electric vehicles. She also highlighted Seven States’ work on DER management software solutions, backup generators, solar and battery storage, cyber security solutions and interconnected fiber. Seven States experienced significant growth in 2019 and has a pipeline of innovative technology solutions for 2020.

Nathalie Strickland, TVPPA vice president of communications, shared the results of the 2019 Member Survey. She said the survey provides insight into members’ priorities for the association, an understanding of how well they think TVPPA is performing, and an understanding of where there is opportunity for improvement.

Comments from the audience included unwavering support for TVPPA and improving its relationship with TVA, support for an ongoing role for the Rates & Pricing Committee, and a call for unity on the core interests of members. Likewise, the group called for strengthening the public power model by continuing the interaction between TVPPA members and the TVA board through TVPPA.

“I’d like to rise in support of thinking about what unifies us. For instance, we all have a shared respect for local control and we are all dealing with a complex business,” said Huntsville Utilities President & CEO Wes Kelly in the open microphone portion of the program. “TVPPA is very unique. The Valley has had a spirit of collegiality that I think is unique in the nation, so I think the challenge before us is to find a few high-level principles that bind us together and then build programs around those things.”