Between the lines: What’s in our future?

Dawson PPD General Manager

Gwen Kautz, Dawson Public Power District General Manager

By Gwen Kautz, Dawson PPD General Manager
gkautz (at)

One of the things the directors asked of me in January was to create my own vision for Dawson Power. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. My risk taking before was always blanketed by the safety of a CEO. It feels different to crawl out from under the blanket and “BE” the blanket.

My thought process had to start at the end – not at the beginning (which I consider to be Dawson PPD). But this is where I got stuck – until the open house in May was wrapping up. I looked around at all the employees buzzing from one place to another – working in areas outside their comfort zone. That’s when I realized I don’t have to do this alone.

Central to my thinking – “think like a customer:” We promise low cost and reliable power – but in the future, customers will expect more than that from Dawson PPD. We cannot successfully serve our customers by remaining wholly tied to a traditional utility business model. Tomorrow’s customers will be looking for a wide-ranging experience that provides an anticipated value which meets or exceeds their energy-related needs.

We need to put a greater focus on distributed energy in a non-traditional sense.

I believe our future will be built around energy networks where microgrids are more the norm than the exception. Whether we like it or not, the utility industry is facing a paradigm shift. We need to decide if we will embrace the change or react to the change. We might need to change our philosophy of being the only game in town to one that partners with customers on a variety of strategies driven by technology.

I pulled this out of an article written by Neil Placer* in December 2016 and it’s printed here with his permission:

“Although it may be difficult for a utility to imagine, individual utilities could be displaced by 3rd party competitors or survive as a wires infrastructure company with limited clout and upside revenue potential. Instead, by taking regular steps forward along a defined pathway, a utility greatly increases their probability of becoming a successful “Utility 2.0 enabled” service provider that moves beyond energy as a commodity to provide energy-as-a-service.”

I don’t want to be “just” a wires infrastructure company.

When you think about it – all energy is the same whether it’s in Nebraska, New York or North Dakota. What separates kilowatt hours is the quality of service – not just reliability, but also the people behind the electric distribution system. We have to start thinking of the distribution grid as central to all things. Without it, electricity cannot be shared.

The obstacles are obvious – risk, investment capital, wholesale power contract and adaptation. Even I might be an obstacle. All of this should be developed using baby steps so that we can fall back “gently” when the path we took wasn’t quite right. However, if the path IS right, then we forge ahead, adding more building blocks until we get where we want to go.

One more central thought: Operating as a team is the only way we can tackle this challenge. This requires thinking outside the box and throwing status quo out the window. Who’s with me?

*Source: “Stepping Stones” – A proactive approach to navigate utility 2.0. By Neil Placer, Renewable Energy World.


June 2017

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