By Mark A. Gabriel
WAPA recently celebrated a milestone anniversary, turning 40 on Dec. 21. This is the perfect time to reflect on our organizational journey. I absolutely love the part we play in the story of the rural electrification of the West. I am passionate about what we do. We have had a phenomenal year and I am looking forward to what the future has in store.
We help provide power to communities that would not otherwise have affordable access to electricity. We help generate economic growth in communities that do not have other competitive advantages. We help businesses afford to stay afloat, which keeps people employed and families thriving.
The electric utility industry is changing rapidly, and while our critical and noble mission remains the same, our role in the industry is evolving. We must keep pace. We must evolve. WAPA must be present, be heard and be visible, across our footprint and within the Beltway, as we comply with regulations and help shape the future of markets in the West.
Values drive value
We recently refreshed our organizational core values. These new core values are intended to guide you at critical decision points:
- Listen to understand, speak with purpose.
- Seek. Share. Partner.
- Respect self, others and the environment.
- Do what is right.
- Be curious, learn more, do better. Repeat.
- Serve like your lights depend on it.
There should be no surprises here. These core values should already resonate with you, and I am optimistic that they will inspire you, too. I am proud of them and confident they will serve as a foundational reference point for decision making.
Responding to the call
A recent demonstration of our value to "do what is right" was our role in the power restoration efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. I visited St. Thomas in November to tour the work our crews performed. It was an absolutely transformative experience, both for our crews and for me.
We gained a lot from restoring power to those communities. We gained more experience responding to unexpected situations. We increased recognition of the value of our processes and our craftsmanship. We learned lessons about how to improvise in challenging circumstances.
My biggest takeaway was being humbled by our collective efforts to directly support tens of thousands of Americans. Crews worked in difficult terrain and challenging conditions. For more than 60 days, WAPA employees sacrificed time with their families to assist this effort.
Our work in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico reminded me of the value of common work practices. Crews from all regions were able to work together flawlessly because they use the same operational processes. We are reminded of how seamlessly we can perform combined crew work and joint projects, saving money and increasing value for customers.
Getting things done, making a difference
WAPA provides value in all corners of our operations. Just before the fiscal year ended, WAPA's Continuous Process Improvement program surpassed $55 million in saved and avoided costs. At the close of its third year, the program saw a 172-percent return on investment.
- Physical security and cybersecurity: We made great strides to assess and mitigate potential risks at our facilities. We replaced signs, repaired locks and secured gates. In total, we closed 367 of 370 remediation actions. WAPA also continued to improve its cyber performance throughout the year. We reacted to and closed 99.6 percent of cyber incidents in three days or less, and did not experience a single significant cyber event.
- Inclusion and Diversity Committee: The Inclusion and Diversity Committee focused its work on communication, training and embedding inclusive practices in daily operations. This effort ties to the "respect others" core value. When WAPA creates space for employees to bring their best, when it leverages the best each employee has to offer, that is where we can find innovative solutions and expand the value we provide.
- Inclusion, Innovation and Technology Summit: In May, WAPA held its second Inclusion, Innovation and Technology Summit to recognize and celebrate our innovators. The event highlighted the role inclusion plays in unlocking innovation, which is essential to remain at the forefront of the electric utility as it evolves. Thirty employees were recognized for their innovative work on various projects.
- Asset Management: Our Asset Management program continues to evolve, and we are reaping the benefits of the investments we have made. In the coming year, we will focus on further leveraging information to make data-driven decisions and maximizing the value of our enterprise assets. It is my vision that we completely integrate all assets to understand necessary investments for just-in-time capital projects. We have some work to do to get there; it will take some new tools, some new processes and a shift in culture.
- Power Repayment Study tool: We made giant strides toward a single, secure software solution for our Power Repayment Study. In April, we awarded a contract to a software development company to build a tool that will provide a reliable, transparent means to calculate rates and track repayment for the rate-setting systems that support our power and transmission projects. This has been a long time coming. The design and planning phases of the project are complete. We will continue the buildout through January and then begin testing. We will be ready for production in April.
Big picture, long view
We must be laser focused on our jobs while simultaneously preparing for the future. Our world is changing at a rapid pace with impacts far greater and at a speed much faster than in the past. Being prepared for these changes is a critical piece of our work.
On Dec. 4, the Southwest Power Pool set three wind- and renewable-related records:
- Wind generation hit 13,271 megawatts, serving 56.25 percent of SPP's load.
- Total renewable penetration hit 58.23 percent.
- Peak wind generation hit 13,588 megawatts.
The business is changing. Operations are changing. Times are changing. We must not only keep up with the pace of change, but anticipate it and plan accordingly.
This is exactly the kind of thinking and planning that is driving the development of an Office of the Chief Administrative Officer and the realignment of some programs that have traditionally fallen under the Office of the Chief Operating Officer.
This change represents not only a commitment to being more effective, efficient, focused and strategic, but to our core value of "be curious, learn more, do better. Repeat." We cannot be complacent. We cannot operate under a that-is-how-things-have-always-been mindset. To remain relevant and agile, to protect our operation as the industry evolves, we must relentlessly seek opportunities to improve. We must check our assumptions and ask difficult questions.
Thank you for your commitment and dedication to our great organization. I am excited for the year ahead, and all we will accomplish together as we continue marketing and delivering clean, renewable, reliable, cost-based federal hydropower to people across the West.