By Philip Reed
On Aug. 1, WAPA welcomed Bart Barnhart as senior vice president and Rocky Mountain regional manager. Prior to this, he served as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, where he provided executive leadership and directed the management and operation of America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
His journey to WAPA ended up being one that was 30 years in the making.
Barnhart spent 34 years in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately achieving the rank of colonel. In 1990, while stationed at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, he had his first experience with WAPA.
“I was the base utilities engineer," he said. “I was in charge of certifying the utility bills that we got. Someone came up with the idea that we could buy power from different sources out there! I was young and I was not familiar with that sort of thing yet."
His colleague suggested WAPA, and that was the first time that Barnhart heard of the organization.
“I learned about WAPA through the negotiation process," explained Barnhart. “We negotiated a power purchase deal and Public Service Company of Colorado, the local utility in the Denver area, wheeled the power to us."
Afterward, he became more familiar with the organization and its role in powering the West.
“I learned that, in addition to marketing power, WAPA maintained actual transmission lines, and that was really interesting to me," he said. “Ever since then, I've always wanted to be part of that piece of the industry."
The affinity that he felt for power marketing and transmission went hand in hand with his role at Lowry.
“One of the engineer squadron's primary jobs was to keep the lights on," he summarized. “So, I've been around the power business at the distribution end, and I wanted to get more into the business when I retired from the Air Force. My career path led me in a different direction, though, before the opportunity presented itself."
His career took him to the Department of Energy, which he joined in 2015 as a member of the Senior Executive Service in the Office of Environmental Management.
“I was involved with the budget for a while, and I worked on decommissioning nuclear facilities," said Barnhart. “Some of them went all the way back to the Manhattan Project. When it comes to nuclear facilities, you can't just knock them down. You need to be cautious and decontaminate them. It's very involved."
His work was interesting, but he was eventually reminded of an earlier ambition.
“At the time, I didn't know that the power marketing administrations were under the DOE," he said. “Then one day I realized WAPA was part of the DOE and thought, 'Look at that! That's part of the Office of Electricity.' It rekindled the interest that I had 30 years earlier."
From then on, he kept an eye out for relevant opportunities at WAPA. With his Air Force experience – as well as his status as a licensed professional engineer, a project management professional and a certified facility manager – he wanted to make sure he could find the right fit for his background.
“The RM regional manager position opened up, and that dream kind of came back to me again," he said. “I figured, why not finally give it a shot?"
The application process and interview went well enough that Administrator and CEO Tracey LeBeau had some good news for him.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather when Tracey called me and invited me to come to work," he said. “I'm actually part of WAPA now, and that's been in the back of my mind since 1990. We've come full circle after 30 years!"
As SVP and RM regional manager, Barnhart is excited to work in the industry, get to know the people involved and learn more about power marketing.
“Power marketing is the really interesting thing to me," he said. “In the Air Force I learned a lot about maintenance and engineering. I don't take them for granted and I know I will have a lot to learn about how they work at WAPA specifically, but I can speak those languages. But power marketing, rate setting, interacting with customers, all of that is new to me. It's a little mysterious right now, but I'm very interested in it. I can't wait to learn that part of the business."
Barnhart knows that WAPA's complexity means that it will be a while before he truly masters the intricacies of his region. He also knows that it will require many meetings and collaborations with customers and members of his staff.
“It won't be something I pick up next week," he said, “but I'm excited to do it."
Specifically, he is looking forward to serving as a permanent fixture of leadership, following the two acting regional managers who preceded him. He praised Vice President of Transmission System Asset Management for Desert Southwest Jack Murray and Senior Vice President and Colorado River Storage Project Manager Tim Vigil for their work in this capacity.
“They've done an outstanding job," he said. “But I think the staff will be happy to have the stability. I want to accomplish getting them comfortable with me and making RM a place where people want to come to work and are proud of it. If we can accomplish that for the staff, we will have really done something great."
Of course, he's not only looking forward to professional development; in his new location, Barnhart will have an opportunity to explore his personal hobbies.
“My office in Loveland is right next to two of the things that I'm interested in," he said. “I'm a private pilot, but I haven't flown in a few years. Now that I'm right next to an airport, I'll be able to do that quite a bit easier than in the D.C. area. Also, I've been riding Harley-Davidsons since 1990, and riding motorcycles since I was 15 years old. There's a Harley-Davidson shop right near the office as well. Those are the things I like to do the most, so I think it's a good location!"
In closing, he emphasized his commitment to safety.
“I am very much focused on the safety of our people," he said. “I am trained as an electrical engineer. I know that you don't get a second chance in the high-voltage business. Here, we need to get safety right, first time every time."
He continued, discussing his appreciation for WAPA's culture of safety.
“It's not just the linemen on poles and towers," he said. “It's a mindset in everything we do that needs to be pushed from the top, and it takes continual effort on the part of the Safety staff. I look forward to working with them to keep that mindset out there and get folks thinking about that. We need to take care of each other and do things smartly, and make sure that we all come back to work tomorrow. That safety focus is a good piece of who I am, and I will continue that here."
Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.