Keynote speaker

Nick Brown, CEO of the Southwest Power Pool gave the keynote address at Basin Electric's 2017 Annual Meeting.

Nick Brown, president and CEO of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) was the keynote speaker at Basin Electric’s 2017 Annual Meeting.

He stressed the power of relationships. “Never, ever underestimate the value of relationships,” he said before telling the more than 1,000 attendees about the history of SPP.

He said it was the relationships of 11 regional power companies that formed SPP in 1941 as part of the war effort. With the need for aluminum to support the national defense needs and the demand for electricity exceeding what was available, these companies banded together and pooled their resources to build high-voltage transmission lines to provide around-the-clock power to an aluminum factory in Arkansas.

Today, SPP is a nonprofit organization that ensures the reliable supply of power, transmission, and competitive wholesale electricity prices for a 546,000-square-mile region including more than 60,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. SPP has members in 14 states. Basin Electric joined SPP in 2015.

Brown said SPP’s main service is to be “reliability coordinator,” likening this to the responsibilities of an air-traffic controller. “It is our function to make sure everything runs the way it should.”

Because SPP is a nonprofit organization, it never charges its members more than what it actually costs to provide its services. Brown said SPP’s cost/benefit ratio is 11 to 1, which is a “conservative calculation.” He says if costs increase, it’s because its value has increased.

SPP recently set a wind penetration record, or the total load served by wind at a given time, of more than 52 percent. “If someone would have asked me 10 years ago if that was possible, I would have laughed,” he said.

Brown said it can be a challenge to try to look into the future of the electric industry because it is so volatile. “If I would have told people 10 years ago how low natural gas prices would be in 2017, they would have thought I was insane,” he said. “Or if anyone on my board in 2007 would have said that we would have 18,000 megawatts of wind in 10 years, he would have been laughed out of the room.”

He said while cybersecurity does worry him, a “battle of the currents” doesn’t. “I believe that the bulk electrical grid can work with microgrids not in competition with them,” he said. And that distributed generation is a “tremendous opportunity,” allowing consumers to make decisions they were never able to make before. “I truly believe that consumers will depend on utilities to guide the electrification of their homes.”

Brown commended Basin Electric on the construction of its new Headquarters addition, having toured it the day before, saying “you will definitely reap the benefits of that building when it comes to employee efficiency and collaboration.” He also praised Basin Electric Senior Vice President of Transmission Mike Risan, saying he is “very highly respected among SPP’s members committee” and that he represents Basin Electric’s interests very well.