By Mark A. Gabriel
In 2019, we focused on “Investing in a Connected Future,” acknowledging that the rapid changes in our industry and society will create a future more connected than ever before. These changes require us—and every utility in the developed world—to examine, prepare for and invest in new, modern ways of providing electricity to the millions of people who rely on it.
Many of these accomplishments set the stage for future efforts, such as refreshing our Tactical Action Plan to identify our specific goals and objectives over the next few years. Others were more tactical, including achieving more than $93 million in mostly cost avoidance in our Continuous Process Improvement program.
A number are critical and mandatory, such as transitioning to new reliability coordinators and returning $281 million to the U.S. Treasury. Although returns to Treasury are required by law and separate from our budget process, we should recognize the importance of being one of the few agencies that returns money to the government.
Most accomplishments, though, involved employees improving WAPA’s way of doing business, finding cost efficiencies and investing their time and resources into a successful future.
We continued to add new asset classes to the Asset Management program, including current transformers, capacitor voltage transformers, station batteries and network equipment. The first report on these assets is expected in 2020, which will help us plan appropriate investment strategies in our extensive transmission system.
We made strides in meeting our reserve balance thresholds and expect to reach our target amount of $393 million for purchase power and wheeling reserves in 2020.
The Organizational Approach to Markets initiative completed all Phase I activities more than one year ahead of schedule. Phase II will begin once we move into markets, so I believe we are about as ready internally as we can be for moving into markets.
We made decisions about moving toward new energy imbalance management solutions for WAPA, which will help us adapt to a changing energy mix while preserving the value of federal hydropower for our customers. After keeping the lights on and the power flowing, the effort to transition our energy imbalance activities will be the largest project facing us this year.
We continued to make strides toward implementing common tools, especially in Information Technology with projects like searching for a common supervisory control and data acquisition vendor. Using common tools across the enterprise results in fewer maintenance, service, installation, employee training and other redundant costs paid separately per region for the same service.
In the critical area of security, the Office of Security and Emergency Management avoided more than $1 million in costs by consolidating alarm monitoring, rightsizing the contract security force and implementing enhanced procedures for identifying security solutions.
We also purchased a new cybersecurity program, which will provide employees increased visibility into substation-to-control-center communications and is an additional in an umbrella cybersecurity defense network.
In maintenance, we used drones and helicopters to assist crews with projects across our territory. By using our Aviation program where it makes fiscal and logistical sense, we can complete more maintenance work for fewer dollars with less wear and tear on vehicles and most importantly, reduce the physical stress and risk to our crews.
We also reviewed and improved our vegetation management programs in multiple areas to lessen the risk of vegetation and power line interactions.
We have invested in our people as well. Based on our Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey we have, for the fifth year in a row, increased our employee satisfaction in virtually every area.
And with all of this work, rates have remained stable or decreased for 80% of our customers.
I have been asked why, with all this money we are saving, rates and expenditures are not further decreasing. The answer is simple: The money, materials and people are re-directed to the next big project or initiative, which are coming to us at an increasing pace from several places.
The cost avoidance and savings are necessary to create headroom to accommodate the requirements on the horizon, including greater scrutiny on complying with records managements laws, regulations and executive orders; new Critical Infrastructure Protection standards from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation; the ever-growing demand for more network capacity; the arrival of markets in the West; and the crucial need to secure our equipment from attack.
The more efficient we become, the better we will be able to hold down rates and appropriately prioritize the many demands facing WAPA.
Our theme this year is “Engaging in a World of Change.” The partnerships we share and the engagement we have with the many entities that work with us provide stability and help WAPA progress toward a successful, relevant and valuable future.
Stability and progress at first glance appear to contradict one another, but they are inextricably linked and, in reality, co-dependent on one another. We cannot be a progressive organization without stability in our purpose, finances, people and operations. We cannot be a stable organization without making progress in our ability to deliver on our mission in a changing energy world, modernizing our operations, securing our financing and developing our people into thoughtful, collaborative leaders and technical experts.
It is no coincidence that three of our six core values are tied to engagement:
- Listen to understand, speak with purpose.
- Seek. Share. Partner.
- Respect self, others and the environment.
To be successful in our mission, we must be involved in the other matters that affect WAPA, the grid and our customers. Failing to do so is equivalent to failing at our mission because we must proactively carve a place for ourselves in the future. That place is not guaranteed.
We secure a spot for WAPA and preference power by engaging with the many players in the energy industry: We engage with our entire customer base to understand and help meet their unique needs; with the generating agencies, DOE and other federal partners who have their own mandates to fulfill; with members of Congress who, in some cases, barely know who we are; with neighboring utilities that need us to move forward to their own bright futures; and with regulators who expect compliance.
I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to create a stable, progressive and engaged WAPA focused on delivering on our mission; operating safely, securely and reliably; and preparing for the new energy frontier. Thank you for incredible work you have accomplished at WAPA on behalf of our customers, our nation and our future.