A look ahead: APPA Customer Connections offers economic development training

Utilities support the economic health of their communities by providing reliable power at affordable rates, but they will discover they have much more to offer at the Customer Connections Conference You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 18-21 in Austin, Texas.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) has put together a full track of economic development sessions for not only utility professionals, but local officials and city staff, board members and regional economic development and marketing specialists, too. All are encouraged to attend the event at the APPA member rate.

Improve key account service
A roundtable session will kick off the economic development track on Monday morning, Oct. 19. Key account and economic development professionals will come together to discuss the best practices for working together toward common goals. Participants will learn how to identify roles and actions, as well as how to collaborate on projects to attract and retain businesses.

Customers Speak is an afternoon panel that brings the large customer into the mix. Representatives from Whole Foods, Samsung Austin Semiconductor and other Austin-based key accounts will talk about what they expect from utilities and what drives customer satisfaction and decisions on location and expansion.

Bring business to town
Strategies for making your community stand out as a business-friendly environment are the focus of two more sessions. Retail Recruitment: Tips and Strategies for Building Stronger Communities looks at proven techniques to recruit and retain retailers and foster local entrepreneurship.

Finding creative solutions and new opportunities in environmental regulations is the topic of Using Sustainability as an Economic Development Tool. Hear from utilities that turned energy efficiency and sustainable innovation into drivers for economic growth.

Set sites high
Location may still be king, but it does not have to be your community’s destiny. On Tuesday morning, Oct. 20, participants will learn from experts how to identify and market to the right sectors, and discover what selectors really want in a site. The session Using Analytics and Visualization to Create Economic Development Opportunities will provide tools for evaluating the assets in your service territory and focusing your economic development efforts.

Later that afternoon, Site Selection Panel: Business Trends 2015 delves deeper into the trends and location priorities currently driving economic development activity in a number of industry sectors. A panel of site locators will talk about what they’re looking for when they visit your community, meet with local leaders and go through the incentives and negotiations process.

Do it right
The final two panels look at best practices in economic development. Successful Economic Development from a Statewide Perspective explores the programs and policies that make Texas one of the best states for business. Economic development representatives from Texas talk about business recruitment and expansion, incentives to expand and cultivate industry clusters and creation of a unified and proactive approach to economic development.

The track raps up Wednesday, Oct. 21 with Utility Economic Development Best Practices: Roundtable Discussion. After hearing about a national survey on the topic and reviewing utility case studies on successful economic development projects, strategies and practices, attendees will have the chance to share their experiences. There will also be a discussion on how utilities measure the value of economic development efforts and how to articulate success.

Public power professionals involved in economic development, key accounts, energy services, marketing, public communications and customer service can contact APPA at 202-467-2921 to learn more about this educational and networking event. The International Economic Development Council You are leaving Western's site. recognizes the Customer Connections Conference as a professional development event and offers continuing education credits to attendees.

Sharpen public outreach skills at APPA Customer Connections Conference

Communicating with utility customers is becoming an increasingly important part of our job as power providers. The Customer Connections ConferenceRedirecting to a non-government site in Jacksonville, Florida, Oct. 26-29, is an excellent opportunity to explore the challenges of engaging our consumers, and the strategies and tools that can help.

American Public Power Association sponsors this annual event for utility professionals who work in customer service, economic development, energy services, key accounts and public communications. Meet with colleagues from utilities across the country to network and find answers to questions communicators face every day.

Program looks at today, tomorrow
This year’s agenda offers 40 breakout sessions highlighting the latest trends in communication, including:

  • DIY: Creating and Using Compelling Visual Communications
    Learn how to connect with customers through low-cost, easy-to-produce yet high-impact photo and video.
  • Five Ways to Measure What Matters
    Discover the latest trends and tools to measure results for your media relations, website performance, social media and marketing efforts.
  • Are We Communicating Effectively with ALL of Our Customers?
    This session looks at the challenge of engaging different audiences and shares secrets that can help meet the challenge.
  • Taking a Seat at the Strategic Planning Table
    Explore the lifecycle of the strategic plan from creation with utility executives to execution, and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Public Communication Roundtable
    Join your public communications colleagues for two open discussions on key challenges and tactics for success in the communications field.
  • Surviving the “Info Avalanche”
    Learn tips and tricks to process all the news, articles, feeds, blogs, emails, reminders and tweets that inundate utilities daily. Be ready to share and gain support from fellow infoholics.

Early bird learns more
Those who can make it to Jacksonville early will be rewarded with an impressive menu of pre-conference sessions on Sunday, Oct. 26. These seminars offer a deep dive into hot topics, with smaller classes, longer class times and a more interactive format. Sessions include:

  • Managing Change: Creating a Playbook for Utility Success
    This course will cover how to prepare for some of the most important industry changes that are coming in the next few years (new technologies, environmental regulations, economic pressure, market dynamics, new customer expectations, etc.) and provide practical examples of and a comprehensive approach to developing effective change management and strategic planning skills.
  • Customer Engagement for Advanced Grid Technologies
    A new guidebook to be published by APPA in the summer of 2014 provides information and resources on how to better communicate with customers about new grid technologies and their advantages. The tools and resources in the guidebook will be previewed at this pre-conference seminar.
  • Build Your Brand, Tell Your Story: Developing and Marketing Web & Social Media Content
    Participants will learn how to build a strategic content development plan and use video and social media to broaden the utility’s reach. The instructors will use a public power case study to demonstrate how rich content and social media channels can be used to market stories to media and customers while engaging all audiences.

Both pre-conference seminars and main conference sessions may be eligible for Continuing Education Units, Continuing Professional Education Units or Professional Development Hours. APPA provides a recommended credit level for each session.

Meet, eat, recognize excellence
In addition to abundant education opportunities, you will hear from expert speakers, network with colleagues and honor creativity and ingenuity in communications.

The opening keynote speaker, Dr. Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence,Redirecting to a non-government site will talk about the issues that will dominate the coming year, and how they will affect our communities. Consultant Dennis Snow, a former Disney executive, will wrap up the conference with a presentation on creating a service-driven culture.

Special events include networking receptions hosted by industry sponsors, meals with friends at local restaurants, and “The Year in Public Power Videos” reception. Attendees will view video submissions from other utilities and present their own at an informal reception. Viewers will then vote for their favorite video and the “Audience Choice Award” will be presented at the closing session on Wednesday. All spots must be received by Oct. 10, and a utility representative must be at the conference to present the entry.

Ideas wanted for 2013 Customer Connections Conference!

The American Public Power Association (APPA) is asking utility professionals to help them design the program for the 2013 Customer Connections Conference Redirecting to a non-government site. The annual event is coming up November 3 to 6, at the Hilton Hotel and Executive Tower in downtown Portland, Ore.

Share your ideas for what you’d like to see on the program by filling out a survey Redirecting to a non-government site by Wednesday, March 20.

The Customer Connections Conference offers informational sessions and roundtable discussions for public power utility professionals in the areas of:

  • Customer services
  • Economic development
  • Energy services
  • Key accounts
  • Public communications

Your suggestions for session topics and speakers will help the planning committee create a program that is relevant and valuable for APPA member utilities. If you have thoughts or suggestions not covered in the official survey, or would rather provide your input directly, please email APPA.

Customer Connections Conference offers focus on energy services

The American Public Power Association’s 2011 Customer Connections Conference,  Nov. 6 to 9 in Savannah, Ga., will feature a full track of sessions devoted to energy services topics.

The conference will cover:

  • Low-cost ways to deliver Smart Grid benefits to your community
  • Smart grid stories: sharing smart practices
  • Justifying your utility’s energy-efficiency programs
  • Energy-efficiency technologies for C&I customers
  • Programs to meet your energy-efficiency and renewable portfolio standards
  • Changing infrastructure developments

The Customer Connections Conference also offers sessions on key accounts, public communications, marketing and customer service, as well as roundtable discussions, networking breakfasts, receptions and other opportunities for networking and information exchange.

Conference participants will have the opportunity to attend a full-day pre-conference seminar on Sunday, Nov. 6, on “Energy Services that Work: Commercial Energy-efficiency Programs.” This in-depth seminar will focus on commercial energy-efficiency activities, energy audit programs and the importance of evaluation, measurement and verification (EM&V) of results. It has close ties to the new APPA publication, Energy Services That Work, produced with the association’s Demonstration of Energy-Efficient Developments program.

Conference fees are $645 for APPA members and $1,290 for non-members who register before Oct. 14. Pre-conference seminars require a separate registration fee.

APPA Customer Connections Conference opens facing future

Although the American Public Power Association is celebrating its 70th year in 2010, it was the future, rather than the past that speakers focused on at the opening session of the Customer Connections Conference, Oct. 24, at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim, Calif.  

After showing a video on the history of the association, APPA General Manager Mark Crisson moved on to discuss the challenges facing the utility industry. “Public power is well positioned to address these challenges,” he told more than 225 attendees.

At APPA’s recent fall meeting, the board of directors developed the list of priorities the association will focus on in the coming months.  APPA had fall meeting a couple of weeks ago.

  • Climate change and emissions regulations potentially coming from the Environmental Protection Agency topped the list. Congress is unlikely to act on any climate legislation, leaving the EPA to step into the void.  Utilities are not yet on the list of industries the EPA will be able to tell how to regulate and control emissions.  However, with almost half of the power in the United States coming from coal, the industry is experiencing a lot of uncertainty. There are series of regulations in EPA queue that will drive electric generation to gas and away from coal.
  • New infrastructure is needed for utilities to meet their mandate for reliability, demand growth and renewables integration. Already in Midwest there are places where more wind is being generated than economically can be integrated. Siting and cost allocation issues are very contentious. There is consensus in the industry that increased Federal authority is needed on siting rules. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in process to address both issues.  Most public power utilities want to own and operate their own renewable generation. APPA has made progress on getting legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate that would remove the caps on Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. Public power needs incentives that are comparable to the private sector.  Crisson said that the jury is still out on nuclear, but the low-carbon resource can help reduce emissions and provide base load to firm up renewables.

    APPA recently released a study identifying challenges of a large-scale switch from coal to gas.  The cost of changing over the entire coal-fired fleet could cost $750 billion. Even the likelier scenario of converting 25 percent is very costly. The study has initiated a dialogue with EPA about challenges of transporting and storing natural gas and retrofitting power plants for the fuel.

  • Pending financial regulation legislation creates potentially gives the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) jurisdiction over financial products in regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs). APPA is concerned that the CFTC doesn’t understand utility industry.
  • Public power utilities must now meet mandatory reliability standards.  APPA is working with the National Energy Regulatory Commission (NERC) to develop the standards.Cyber security is an issue of great concern to Congress. Crisson warned that the House Grid Act could include distribution, which would interfere with NERC-FERC process. APPA is closely involved on this since if the industry doesn’t act, Congress will.
  • Workforce development continues to be an issue but APPA members are dealing in creative ways.
  • Demand-side initiatives should be pursued and integrated into resource planning. These measures are a good way to develop customer relations, to explain why changes are important to customers as well as the power provider.  Members need a strategy for demand-side initiatives, or someone else will step in. You can work with third party providers.
  • APPA members have adapted to restructured markets, but the market bias does not work well for the public power model. Developing meaningful RTO performance metrics will help, but it is unclear how effective markets will be in providing for new demand.

Future outlook

Crisson identified several trends going forward that the industry will have to grapple with:

  • Upward pressure on energy costs. Increasingly expensive to access oil and gas.
  • Transition to low carbon economy. Public power will be impacted no matter how rules proceed.
  • Technology will play an expanded role. We will need to be smart about how we employ it. It can enhance customer service.
  • Relationship with customers is more important than ever. They need to understand why PP is doing what they are and get their support.

However, he noted several reasons why public power has the advantage over investor-owned utilities in negotiating these challenges.  As nonprofit entities, the utilities can aggressively pursue energy-efficiency strategies that are best for the customers without worrying about satisfying investors. Public power can also do 100-percent debt financing for building infrastructure.

 Equally important are the utilities’ strong customer relationships. Compared with IOUs, customers are more likely to trust that their cooperatives will do the best thing for the consumers.

The tradition of service, reliability and financial integrity is one of public power’s greatest assets. “And that is why I am confident we can meet this mission,” Crisson concluded.

Join us at the Customer Connections Conference

The American Public Power Association’s annual Customer Connections Conference happens Oct. 24 through 27, in Anaheim, Calif. This event promises lots of valuable information and insight for utilities at a time when we must create a new definition of customer service.  That’s why Breaking News will be covering Customer Connections live.

Bookmark this site and check in frequently during the conference to learn what the experts are saying about designing and implementing programs that meet your customers’ needs and help your utility meet its goals. We will be reporting from these dual track sessions (Pacific Time):

Monday, Oct. 25

  • 10:30-noon:  Customer Service Roundtable
  • 1:30-2:45p.m.:  Can You Prove the Savings for Your Energy Efficiency Program?
  • 3-4:15p.m.:  Social Media: Building the Case, Executing the Strategy, Capturing the Learnings

Tuesday, Oct. 26

  • 8:30-10 a.m.:  Top Five Smart Grid Communications Challenges
  • 10:15-11:45 a.m.:  New Age Distributed Generation: Emerging On-site Generation Options for Your Customers
  • 1:15-2:45 p.m.:  Integrated Marketing Communications: What’s the Right Mix?
  • 3:00-4:15 p.m.:  Joint Action/State/Regional Organization Roundtable

Our coverage isn’t just for those who can’t make it to Anaheim. Attendees are free to add their views in the comments section, too. Or e-mail the editor, and you just might get yourself a guest contributor spot.