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Member visits highlight EN’s role as JOA

Feature story

Since stepping into the role of CEO a year ago, Bob Schuetz has reached out to Energy Northwest's member utilities with a focused message: Let's collaborate.

Schuetz has visited just over 30% of the 27 Washington utilities who are members of the joint operating agency (JOA) and comprise the agency's Board of Directors. Schuetz made a commitment to EN's boards to meet with them all. Spending time with utilities provides Schuetz with insights about the opportunities, challenges and concerns they are facing through the ongoing energy transformation. These perspectives create a synergy for EN and its members to work together in new and meaningful ways to benefit the region.

And it always comes back to the main message: Let's collaborate.

The role of a JOA

The Washington Legislature founded EN as a JOA in 1957. While much of EN's focus is on running Columbia Generating Station safely, reliably and cost-effectively, EN was created to do far more than run a single nuclear power plant.

“We were formed to help our utilities operate more effectively by working together," said Tim Nies, Energy & Professional Services. Nies is the regional services program manager and works closely with EN's members. “We need to focus on what our members need."

Other JOAs — often called joint action agencies or JAAs in other states — support their member utilities creating economies of scale and accomplishing things they couldn't do on their own at a lower cost.

As part of his rounds with members, Schuetz asks for feedback on the services EN provides and the types of future services members are seeking.

“What they are saying is that they need advances to support the clean energy transition — new generation, transmission, power aggregation, electric vehicle charging stations, things like that," Schuetz said.

The feedback helps EN focus its resources in the right places and offer the right services.

“We can't just think of big ideas and go push it on our members. We have to listen to our members' needs," Nies said. “We have to show that we really understand their needs; we are trying to serve them. We can help identify and provide solutions to meet their needs."

Areas for growth

Prior to joining EN, Nies worked on the public utility district side for 20 years. That helps him ask the right questions when meeting with members. He accompanies Schuetz on member visits, as well as attends regional utility-oriented conferences.

Energy Services & Development continues to provide core services to utilities.

“We’re developing generating resources. We have several members who are interested in solar, so we’re including them in the plan to develop the Ruby Flats Solar Project on 300 acres near Richland,” Nies said. 

Members are expressing interest in joint procurement opportunities, especially given the supply chain issues facing many industries. They’re also interested in workforce development. EN’s Public Power Internship program​ is one way that the agency is helping utilities develop a new workforce. 

And of course, advancements in nuclear technology and the potential for advanced reactors in Washington is an area of excitement for many. 

“There’s a lot of focus on new generation — including what we recently did at Horn Rapids​, exploring extended power uprate and second license renewal for Columbia and developing Ruby Flats,” Schuetz said. “It’s all about expanding the pool of carbon-free generation. We’re a reputational business. Our current performance is what will entice the good will of our members to serve them in the future.”

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