July 13-16 Memphis, TN 2021
Well, it all started with a lovely Southern breakfast at the Greyhound just down the street from the historic Peabody Hotel here in Memphis, the locale for this year’s TMEPA conference.
As you walk through the polished brass doors, you’re instantly transported back to the late 1920’s.
Meandering through the intimately lit lobby you feel the marble, crown moldings, and vaulted ceiling with stained glass skylight set the stage for an epic visit.
I had the good fortune of arriving in time for the daily, World-Famous Peabody “Duck Parade” where Duck Master, Kenon Walker takes visitors on a virtual history tour of the hotel complete with rolling out the red carpet for the feathery guests of honor.
You can learn more fun facts about the ducks and watch some footage of the ceremony here.
When the ducks aren’t cavorting in the main lobby fountain, they spend their time in the rooftop “Duck Palace” which for all intents and purposes is a beautifully built house complete with duck bath in the back!
As I made my way up to the rooftop to see the “palace” and to take in the view of downtown, I was treated with yet another visual surprise in the original tile work on the floors and the hotel sign perched majestically on its scaffolding overlooking the city. There’s even a small museum of hotel memorabilia from the turn of the century!
Meanwhile, vendors kicked off registration and set-up in the 2nd floor Exhibit Hall. There was also golf being played that morning but alas, I found the ducks more entertaining!
I’m glad the organizers included the TMEPA App sponsored by Sensus, as I found it extremely helpful to keep the day’s events organized and as a quick schedule reference at my fingertips while out soaking up Memphis and all it has to offer.
After grabbing the shuttle bus, we headed over to the Reception Dinner at Lafayette’s Music Room. It was a fun venue, complete with stage, dance floor and mezzanine where members relaxed with the blue tinted, signature drink of the night called “The Power Up” and Tracy Lawrence performed all his favorite country hits!
Day two…rise and shine with plenty of signature Peabody coffee as we gathered for a breakfast buffet in the Exhibit Hall sponsored by Desoto County Electric. Much needed after staying up late, at the Jerry Lee Lewis Karaoke club on Beale St.
I was blown away by talented attendees Lindsay Bowman (TMEPA) and Evann Freeman’s (EPB) duet of “Aladdin’s, A Whole New World” …it felt like we were watching a Broadway show. Hopefully we can get a repeat performance at next year’s conference!
Brian Solsbee, Executive Director/CEO of TMEPA, led us back to the Peabody for a night cap.
I was so happy to see my coworker and partner in crime, VP of Development at FlexGen, Jason Abiecunas! After working remotely for so long it was great to see him in person again! After the Call to Order, we were informed by President/CEO, J.T. Young of MLGW regarding the status and future strategy of the organization leading into the Tennessee Legislative Report, where it seems broadband projects were the hot topic with grant money becoming available.
The TVA Awards Luncheon with Guest Speaker, APPA CEO, Joy Ditto was inspiring as her message reflected the importance of serving customers and the amazing job that the TMEPA member utilities had done to “keep the lights on” throughout the pandemic. Many amazing folks were presented awards including my new friends, TMEPA’s own Susan Sherrill for her commitment to the organization and Evann Freeman of EPB of Chattanooga for their dedication to Community Service. We had some delicious food/dessert as well!
The panelists from TVA, TDEC, World Resources Institute, and East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalitionshared some great knowledge about how EV infrastructure can pose both a challenge but also an immense opportunity for growth for Municipal Utilities. We all know it’s coming, so getting out in front of our transportation transformation will be important…really made me want to take up Johnathan Overly’s offer to get out and test drive his EV!
Next, we heard from President and CEO of TVA, Jeff Lyash. Concerns were raised about a recent merger that has set a precedent moving forward for Munis and the TMEPA attendees seemed to unanimously disagree with the position that TVA had taken on the matter. I hope that TVA can work to repair the damage and be more transparent and collaborative with TMEPA in the future.
John Greer, of the TN Comptroller of the Treasury Office stepped up to the plate and did not disappoint with information about The American Rescue Plan, delivered more like a standup comedy routine than what you might expect. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned what projects will qualify for the Federal money and what projects will get you an audit from John’s office! If in doubt, give him a shout!
The Shufflegrit gang entertained with some great sounds back out in the Exhibit Hall…
By happenstance, Jason and I were headed out of the hotel and ran into Susan Sherrill, Toby Smith, Sean McCarty, and Shane Heartsill who were also headed out for dinner to celebrate Susan’s award earlier that day. We teamed up and found a gem called The Majestic Grille! The food was fantastic and the company even better. The restaurant was a converted movie theater opened in 1913 but they still run black & white movies from the silver screen on the wall!
Friday morning rolled around and promised even more opportunities to learn, including perspectives from Congressman David Kustoff from Washington D.C., and Kim Vance from Baker Doelson refreshing us on changes to Human Resources laws.
Our Keynote speaker for the day was retired Air Force Engineer, Test Pilot and former Astronaut, Colonel Jack Fisher. What an amazing message! I really enjoyed how he related his military leadership experience, running toward danger, as something the folks who work in utility services do daily as well, to restore power and save lives. His words on “using the right tools” to work with people by caring, learning and setting a foundation of common ground and respect really resonated with me. The images from his mission to the Russian Space Station were unbelievably beautiful. How fascinating to continue to learn and grow in 0 gravity!
Talk about a tough act to follow…it was time for the final panel of the conference: Flexibility Considerations for Solar and Energy Storage. I was so excited to see Jason Abiecunas, VP Development at FlexGen, Pete Candelaria, COO at Silicon Ranch, and George Reed III of Origis Energy, lend their insights on how Municipal and Coop utilities can start to benefit from renewables and energy storage projects.
As TVA now allows for up to 5% of their generation to come from outside sources including renewables that can add some significant savings, especially when the utility is charged for coincidental peak by TVA. Just another tool in the belt of these members to reduce the cost of power to their customers, and who knows, maybe TVA will allow an even greater percentage in the future. 🙂
After the panel discussion wrapped, Jason and I met up with the guys from Silicon Ranch: Pete, Dylan, and John at Rendezvous, a famous BBQ joint tucked back in an ally that had some amazing graffiti and mural art.
I had a blast at the conference and made some really great new friends! I hope I get to attend next year to bring you all even more exciting news! I even snapped a few pictures of artwork at the Memphis airport and one was of the Peabody!