In the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone from spending a few days in the heartland of the country (Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where UTC’s Region 5 meeting was held) to being back in D.C. testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Two very different, seemingly disconnected, locations. But the Region 5 meeting couldn’t have been better preparation – and a literal and figurative shot in the arm (more on that in a bit) – for my testimony the following week.
Region 5, which includes the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and with the expansion of the U.S. northern tier regions into Canada, the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, has long been an engaged group that holds a robust annual meeting. This year, the region’s leadership decided to move the meeting from the spring to the fall – not because it’s warmer there in the fall vs. the spring (ha!), but to limit potential overlap with the UTC annual conference and other late spring events. There was good attendance from our core utility members as well as our vendor partners at the meeting, and detailed discussions/presentations on field area networks, NERC CIP standards, and OPGW lifespan, among others.
While there, I gave the UTC advocacy overview, reminding the group of our ongoing efforts at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and elsewhere to push for utilities’ Information and Communication Technology (ICT) needs. The presentation highlighted the ongoing disconnect between the FCC’s views of electric utilities’ needs and the expectations of the rest of the federal government – i.e. the FCC generally sees utilities as commercial enterprises whose needs are no more important than the local pizza shop while the rest of the government has partnered with utilities in a highly specialized way to help ensure reliable and resilient operations. This was a theme I planned to emphasize in the Senate hearing.
It was also great to hang out with our utility and vendor members in a less formal way during the networking time – one of which was a sporting clays shooting event (yes, you read right!). For those who have never done sport shooting, the event was structured like a competitive golf tournament with foursomes going as a group to shoot from seven or so different booths (I’m sure that is not the right name for them) where machines release the clay pigeons from different angles – similar to how different golf holes have varied terrain that make them unique challenges. Well, I was in a group of three (one of our team couldn’t make it) with two experienced marksmen and me – never having shot anything but a handgun at a shooting range. We had a pump-action shotgun that my partners insisted I keep close to my upper chest, just below my clavicle, but I thought it hurt there, so put it against my upper arm/bicep.
After shooting about 60+ rounds, let me say that I definitely felt like I had a literal shot in the arm! But the figurative one I got from interacting with our members and being reminded how hard they work for their utilities and their customers put things in perspective before going back to D.C. and testifying the following week. What a great group of dedicated professionals! Major kudos to Paul Lambert of East River Electric Cooperative for chairing Region 5 and putting on the event, including the clay shoot. BTW, I hit about six of the targets – 10%! Not very good, but at least my partners were good so we didn’t get the prize for being the worst shots…
Onward to the Senate hearing the following week with the massive bruise on my arm luckily only looking horrific, but not really hurting. I just had to be sure to cover it up for the hearing! Good excuse to buy a new outfit…thanks, Paul!
I’m very grateful that Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) invited me to the hearing and that Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) supported the invitation. As you can see from the picture, it was distinguished group of panelists testifying on the issues surrounding black-start after a major grid disruption. As has been reported elsewhere, it was a helpful hearing, with the Senators on the committee who attended highly engaged and interested. I was able to encourage a much greater level of understanding, collaboration and dialogue between the FCC and FERC – with the plan that this dialogue will lead to better policy. Chairman Murkowski indicated her agreement that greater collaboration between these two agencies is necessary — and we will work with her and her staff on the specifics. The bottom line is that making this happen will, hopefully, minimize the disconnect – both literal and figurative – between the FCC and the electric sector.
Until we meet again…