Formed in 1889, ALP Utilities in Alexandria, Minnesota is among the oldest electric utilities in the nation and well known today for delivering excellent electric, water, and business communications services. Yet, the organization faces many of the same infrastructure, financial, customer engagement, energy resources, and workforce issues as utilities across the U.S. As a new general manager determined to unify his board and staff on the future direction of ALP Utilities, Ted Cash launched in 2019 a five-year strategic planning process. He and his public power peers at Provo Power and the Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency chose as their strategic plan facilitator Hometown Connections, Inc., the non-profit utility services organization specializing in the unique challenges facing community-owned utilities.
Through onsite facilitation, workshops, and follow-up consultations, Hometown Connections guides the utility staffs and governing boards through the development of a step-by-step blueprint for transformational results and organization alignment.
Hometown Connections believes strongly that a strategic plan can only be successful if it has full ownership by all stakeholders. To this end, Hometown Connections designed its strategic planning process to be inclusive and reflect the priorities of customers and the community.
Serving about 10,000 electric meters and 4,000 water meters, ALP Utilities employs a staff of 36 and is governed by a five-member utility board known as the Board of Public Works. Hometown’s strategic planning process allowed the ALP board and personnel to assess ALP’s strengths and weaknesses, better understand the resources needed to support its changing community, and set major priorities for the next five years.
“I believe strongly in bringing in a neutral third party to facilitate a strategic planning process,” Ted Cash said. “We all have the tendency to pursue projects that match our current strengths or experiences and avoid those that feel unfamiliar or risky. But just as we need help pursuing projects beyond our comfort zone, it’s equally important to bring in a facilitator that is very familiar with organizations like ours.”
Cash noted, “Throughout my career, I have been through strategic planning efforts that failed spectacularly because they were run by people who did not know our business. Within the first fifteen minutes of our first workshop with Hometown’s Steve VanderMeer, I knew this process would be successful. Steve has worked with dozens of utilities like ours and his personality is engaging and reassuring. He put everyone immediately at ease.”
According to Cash, his staff enjoyed in particular the ability to describe in detail the values of ALP Utilities personnel including support for all efforts toward a safe environment, helping improve the communities where they work and live, working as a team for better outcomes, acting with integrity and respect, and being dedicated to satisfying customer needs. As the ALP Utilities board and staff embrace the priorities identified by the strategic plan, the organization will track its success against specific goals related to financial stability and strength, community engagement, utility infrastructure, products & services, and the workforce.
With more than 35,000 meters, 380 miles of distribution lines, 48 miles of high voltage distribution lines, 18 substation transformers, and 60 employees, Provo Power is the largest municipally-owned electric utility in the state of Utah. The leadership of Provo Power recognizes that in order to serve the community successfully far into the future, the utility must invest in new technologies, promote renewable energy resources, maintain a qualified workforce, and develop the flexibility and vision to adapt to a fast-changing electric utility marketplace.
As Provo Power prepared its 2019 capital improvement budget, the staff reviewed a twenty-year plan and SWOT analysis prepared in 2014. They noticed that many of their assumptions had changed related to energy resources and competitive threats. Their governing body, the Energy Board, expressed concerns about the future financial impact as customers pursue distributed generation. In order to update and broaden the scope of their previous planning efforts with the support of an external consultant, Provo Power issued a Request for Proposal and selected Hometown Connections for strategic planning facilitation.
“Hometown Connections submitted the best proposal for a utility of our size, demonstrating a true understanding of the challenges we face as a municipal power department,” said Travis Ball, Energy Department Director. “The Hometown strategic planning process includes internal and external stakeholder input and provides a path that is easy to follow. Their well-organized, 8-step approach was a major decision point for us.”
According Travis Ball, Provo Power is currently updating its capital improvement and operations & maintenance budgets using the new strategic plan as a guide. “Each manager is using information from the strategic plan to drive their budgets and yearly goals. The plan is helping Provo Power document a clear direction through 2025.”
In 2015, eleven municipal electric utilities entered into an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement creating the Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency (KYMEA), a joint public agency. KYMEA facilitates effective collaboration among its members to serve the current and future electric power and energy requirements of the members. “As a new agency, KYMEA understood how vital establishing a strategic plan would be for the long-term success of the agency,” said Doug Buresh, President and CEO. “We believed that a five-year plan would help KYMEA develop an identity as well as establish key priorities that will drive agency activities in its early and formative years.”
KYMEA created a comprehensive search criterion for selecting its strategic planning facilitator, including experience working with joint action agencies, deep understanding of the electric utility industry, access to technology services and solutions, and affordability.
KYMEA selected Hometown Connections as best fitting the selection criteria. Tim Blodgett, President and CEO of Hometown Connections, facilitated the KYMEA strategic planning process. Buresh noted, “Tim shared with our board that the planning process would help develop the goals and culture that our members wanted. The sessions created the perfect environment for directors to express to staff and each other what they want their agency to look like and the services they want to provide.”
Buresh continued, “Tim was very organized and systematic throughout the entire process. He explained to the staff and the board what to expect in each session and how the sessions would build upon each other. Tim is a fantastic facilitator and created a comfortable atmosphere for brainstorming and collaboration. His wealth of knowledge in industry practices and board governance was helpful as the agency navigated through the sessions and many vital decisions. “
Buresh described the planning steps as organized and thoughtful. “Tim was flexible and able to work around the board’s schedule, essentially creating a customized process for KYMEA. The Board members appreciated the one-on-one visits and phone calls early in the planning process that allowed them to contribute valuable feedback and insight individually. With Tim’s many years of experience, he was able to guide us through a variety of scenarios other joint action agencies have pursued.”
Ronald W. Herd, P.E., KYMEA board member and General Manager of the Corbin City Utilities Commission, said, “The Strategic Planning process was very beneficial for the directors and staff to work together to develop a plan to guide the agency. Tim Blodgett did an amazing job in facilitating the planning process.”
The objective of KYMEA’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan is to create an inspirational vision and to align the agency’s efforts to achieve the vision through its mission, core values, and strategic priorities. “The Strategic Plan has been a great tool for board members and staff,” Buresh stated. “It lays out a clear direction for the agency. Rather than a dust-gathering shelf document, KYMEA’s strategic plan is the roadmap that we center all agency activities around. It keeps us focused on the goals and culture that were developed for long-term success and drives our daily activities. It has also been a very valuable tool for business partners and other stakeholders who are interested in the agency’s success.”
For More Information
Main: (320) 763-6501 | Direct: (320) 759-3763
Travis Ball, PE
Energy Department Director
Director, Administrative Services & Communications
Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency