Friday, March 02, 2018
On a day like today when the wind is blowing with gusts up to 70 mph, and the power is impacted, it’s a good reminder that utilities need partners all the time. Mutual aid agreements exist among electric utilities so that neighboring utilities (and even utilities from across the country if the need is great enough) can quickly send crews to help restore power when one of their brethren need help and vice versa. This mutual aid culture is so fundamental that utilities which might vehemently oppose each other in certain arenas will literally drop everything to help each other in emergencies. I love this about utilities because it is an example of how relationships should work. Disagreements can exist, but when the rubber hits the road, we are there for each other.
Not to oversimplify the mutual aid arrangements – UTC is not involved in such agreements directly, but I know from my APPA days that much work goes into developing these arrangements from legal, logistical and practical standpoints. Once they are in place, and the utilities experience emergency situations where either they receive help, or they give it, trust between the signers of the agreements are more solidified and can even result in a more improved relationship on blue sky days.
In the policy arenas – here in D.C., in the states, in cities and towns – such “mutual aid” agreements also exist, but they are usually less formal and obviously not related to emergencies. They are extremely useful, however, to achieving mutually beneficial policy successes. Often called “coalitions,” they have either specific or broad areas of mutual interest and align themselves to achieve policy successes. Trade associations like UTC can align with other trade associations, with individual companies, and even with other coalitions. UTC typically works closely with groups such as EEI, NRECA, APPA, AGA, API, EPRI, GridWise Alliance, NATF, AWWA, NAWC, and others on a regular basis because we share members from the electric, gas and water sectors and often align on issues like spectrum allocation and cybersecurity. UTC hosts regular, quarterly meetings of many of these groups and we identify our strategy and check in on tactics on an ongoing basis. The alignments are natural, but they still require trust, an understanding of each other’s pressure points and priorities, and a willingness to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
APPA was in town for its congressional fly-in this week, EEI will be in town with its CEOs next week, and NRECA held its big TechAdvantage meeting this week – tis the season for engagement with policymakers and also with each other at conferences. UTC had or will have a presence in all these forums because we have focused quite a bit on reestablishing our relationships with these groups over the last couple of years. We very much appreciate these partners.
The groups that are equally in need of partnership but can be challenging to engage with are our “frenemies” – those groups that disagree with us often on policy positions, but occasionally align with us. These folks – often in the telecommunications arena – can be powerful allies when we can work with them (and powerful enemies when they oppose us – hence the importance of the relationships mentioned in the earlier paragraphs—ha!). But, to be able to work together in alignment when we have the chance takes development of relationships that are often difficult to cultivate. Trust is a key component of a successful partnership, but how to establish that trust with a frenemy? In my experience, while not easy, it is a matter of time and focus. Taking the time to learn about their needs, pressures and personalities, and finding people within the organizations who I can work with are key. Dipping our toes in the water on easier issues of mutual interest is also helpful so that if the relationship goes sideways on that first try, it’s not the end of the world.
These relationships can result in long-lasting and fruitful partnerships if there is acknowledgement of when we are not aligned and if we don’t take things too personally when one or the other of us wins during a time when we are on opposing sides. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the concept that we’ve heard about our whole adult lives – don’t burn bridges if you can help it. Be a gracious loser or a gracious winner and move on.
The bottom line is, we all need partners, whether true friends or frenemies, and we have to spend the time and energy to develop these relationships. I commit UTC to being the best partner it can be…by admitting when we have made a mistake, giving credit to others when they deserve it, being honest and transparent as much as possible and by not burning bridges. Until we meet again…