Increased regulation, reliability and availability of energy are shared concerns
By Geoff Oldfather and Lisa Meiman
Ensuring safe and reliable energy and planning for anything that might impact its availability are shared concerns for Western and the customers it supplies across a huge swath of the western United States.
“Keep in mind Western operates across a million and a half square miles and 15 states in many various jurisdictions. We’re constantly looking at what it’s going to take to make sure we keep the lights on,” said Western Administrator and CEO Mark Gabriel. “We’re dealing with a lot of broad issues, and at the end of the day Western is a collaborative organization with its customers.”
As part of that, for three days in mid-January Gabriel and Desert Southwest staff visited numerous customers in Arizona to continue this collaboration and discuss Western’s and customers’ shared goals and challenges in meeting our responsibilities.
As a first stop, Gabriel, Senior Vice President and DSW Regional Manager Ron Moulton and DSW Project Manager Mike Simonton visited Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives and AzGT CEO Patrick Ledger, Jan. 8, followed by a tour of the Apache Generating Station that was provided by AzGT director of power production Mike Nelson.
The trio braved cold wind and rain to make sure they got to see operations at Apache Generating Station, and Gabriel said it was part of a commitment he made when he took the helm at Western almost two years ago. “I’ve been in this job for 22 months and one of the commitments I made then was to get out and visit all of our employees and all of our customers within two years, and we’re coming up on that,” Gabriel said. “What you do here is absolutely critical for us, just as we are for you.”
“We want to thank Mark and his team from Western for taking the time and making the effort to tour our headquarters and the Apache Generating Station, to better understand who we are and the role we have in providing safe, reliable and affordable electric power to the rural people who rely on us,” said Ledger.
Gabriel said partnerships are going to be critical in the years ahead.
“We’re facing many of the same things, from increased regulation, to managing in a world with more intermittency, to the challenge of how do you keep rates low and competitive. Our primary concerns are keeping it safe and reliable. Those are just two of the things that we worry about and anything that impacts availability and capacity, as well as the availability of energy, is a concern for us,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel also spoke at the Irrigation and Electrical Districts of Arizona annual meeting, Jan. 9. IEDA is an association of public entities that are involved with water and electric delivery to agricultural, municipal and industrial customers throughout Arizona. “For too long now, we have been busy removing the small rocks from the roadway following a rock slide, while leaving the big rocks for later or for someone else to handle down the road. It is time that we focus our attention on the big rocks. In order to have the right discussions on the major opportunities and challenges facing Western and the electricity business it is crucial we are all speaking from the same place,” he said at the meeting.
“Big rocks” include issues such as aging infrastructure, drought, changing regulations, intermittent resources, physical and cyber security, high interest rates on existing debt, volatile purchase power and wheeling costs, markets and sustainable funding.
Gabriel said balancing financial issues on one end while dealing with reliability and system issues on the other will be another big challenge in the coming years. “How we balance these concerns over the next five to ten years will be something we watch, day to day,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel capped his whirlwind tour, Jan. 12-13, with visits to the City of Glendale, Salt River Project, Electrical District 5 Substation, Liberty Substation, Roosevelt Irrigation District and Buckeye Water Conservation and Drainage District.
“We are living in a world of unintended energy consequences where decisions in one part of our energy economy significantly impact another. Western and its customers should spend time understanding the consequences of what we are seeing in our world,” said Gabriel. “We all have to think broadly about the big issues, and look at the ‘big rocks’ we are facing.”
Oldfather is manager of communications and public relations for Arizona’s G&T Cooperatives. Meiman is a public affairs specialist with Western.