Unique Perspectives, Universal Views: Annual Stakeholder Meeting Highlights Strategic Vision in Times of Change

A group of seasoned experts shared learnings and longings from their careers in the electric industry at MISO’s annual stakeholder meeting.  While their journeys to and through the world of electricity varied greatly, common insights emerged during the discussion.

Gathered in the heart of Ozarks, MISO’s stakeholders – representing a diverse collection of businesses, organizations and governmental entities – spent time with each other and MISO exploring challenges and opportunities presented by transformative changes occurring in the energy field.  Mike Curran, Chair of MISO’s Board of Directors, stressed that while change can be unsettling, we can take comfort from our history of successes arising from our ability to band together as a community focused on a shared sense of greater good – delivering reliable, least cost electricity to the 40 million consumers in the MISO region.

The panel of electricity executives reflected the diversity of MISO’s stakeholders.  A utility regulator with a background in public policy and finance – Libby Jacobs, former Chair of the Iowa Utilities Board.  An electric cooperative CEO who served in the military and in federal government – Jim Jura, retired CEO of Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.  A long-time executive of an investor-owned utility with deep roots in MISO – Tom Voss, retired CEO of Ameren Corporation.  And a leader of a newer MISO member, with experience in power marketing and trading, as well the natural gas industry – Bill Mohl, retired CEO of Entergy Louisiana.

Each shared unique perspectives based on their breadth of experiences.  Voss discussed challenges associated with steering a utility located in two states with distinctly different regulatory models – Missouri, which is rate-regulated, and Illinois, a retail choice state.  Jacobs noted that as a state senator, she took part in utility restructuring debates in Iowa.  Later, as a utility regulator, she oversaw implementation of the legislature’s decision to maintain traditional utility regulation while focusing on investment in generation to build Iowa’s future.

Jura led a member-based cooperative that saw regional transmission organizations grow up around it; he reflected on the growing range of business models and agendas that need to coexist with each other.  With his merchant generation experience, Mohl witnessed circumstances where adoption of uncoordinated policy objectives led to unintended consequences.  Unlike other regions, where state policies have the potential to fracture wholesale markets, Mohl cited MISO’s collaboration and respect for state jurisdiction as better suited to accommodate a variety of state policy choices.

While each leader followed a different path, all witnessed a great deal of change in the industry.  Jura stated that the only thing that hasn’t changed is uncertainty about what the future holds.  Yet change has been coupled with innovation, both in technology and in policy.  Growth of wind happened much more quickly than expected in the MISO region, and successful integration drove creative solutions in transmission (Multi-Value Projects) and reliable operations (Dispatchable Intermittent Resources).

Each panelist reflected on the growing role of states, as well as the need for cooperation and collaboration at the regional level.  Likewise, all noted the benefits of diversity.  In a region like MISO, we collectively benefit from differences in fuel types and operational attributes of resources; when peak demand happens; and how each state and utility plans for the future.  Voss also highlighted people diversity, which was one of his keys focuses as Ameren CEO.  In addition to being the right thing to do, it makes good business sense – diversity of experience and thought leads to better performance and outcomes.

Each speaker stressed the importance of a customer-oriented focus.  We have a tremendous responsibility to deliver reliable and cost-effective electric.  In fulfilling this commitment, it is critical that we listen to and understand our customers’ needs and preferences.  At the same time, Mohl urged us to be proactive, to lead change – for the very reason that our customers are counting on us.  Sharing wisdom of Mark Twain – “The secret of getting ahead is getting started” – MISO CEO John Bear echoed that theme, stating that we need to take action now to position ourselves for the future.

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