EL&P: Following up on that, some of your service area is 80 to
90 percent dark in the winter and almost 24-hour sunny in the
summer. How does your utility adapt to that on a seasonal basis?
Grimm: The seasonal aspect of operations is also impacted by
the extreme temperature range of up to 80 F in the summer to -80
F in the winter. Our electrical load increases in the winter months,
which is when hydropower potential is at its lowest. We try to avoid
new construction in the winter. From an operational standpoint, we
must maintain electric service during periods of extreme cold, as
electricity is essential to survival during severe winter weather. The
local stores are open, schools are in session and life in these rural
Alaskan communities continues just like any other rural community.
The hardy residents of these rural areas adjust to the extreme climate
EL&P: Someone who nominated you for CEO of the Year
commented on your “comfortable” persona. Your leadership team
meetings are “quite a hoot,” we’re told. Can you tell us more
about having fun on the job while accomplishing big things?
Bassham: We all work hard and spend a lot of time at work. What a
shame if it was serious all the time and you couldn’t have fun. I have
learned a lot in my three years in the CEO job. I started by insisting on
decision through debate with the executive team. And man, did they
take me up on it. I like to think our meetings are open and honest, but
they are also challenging and fun—probably not your typical utility
senior staff meeting, and that’s a good thing.
EL&P: In addition to operating in a unique physical
environment, some would argue that AP&T also operates
in a unique cultural environment. Under your leadership,
AP&T has partnered with Alaska Native entities and tribes
to form renewable energy joint venture companies. Please
comment on these partnerships and why they are important.
Grimm: Some background is necessary before answering this
question. Alaska is the largest state in the Union at about 424 million
acres. In 1971, barely one million acres was private land. This was a
serious handicap to building a sustainable economy for the Alaska.
Under Section 6 of the Alaska Statehood Act, 104 million acres
would eventually be transferred to the state. In 1971 the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act tranferred 44 million acres to regional
and village corporations owned by Alaska Native people, in exchange
for extinguishment of their indigenous land claims. This transaction,
which made construction of Alaska’s pipeline possible, was an
alternative to the “indian reservation” model, which was extremely
unpopular at the time.
In round figures, the land ownership in private hands increased
to about 148 million acres previously controlled wholly by the federal
government. This resulted in about 35 percent of Alaska in state
and private ownership. Currently 65 percent remains under federal
ownership and has been made into national forests, national parks,
national wilderness and monuments, which are not readily accessible
for development. Some areas remain predominantly under federal
control—for example, southeast Alaska, where AP&T provides utility
services. In southeast Alaska, which spans the same linear distance as
Florida, 95 percent of the land is federally owned. By contrast, in
Texas, 95 percent of the land base is in private ownership.
The point of this discussion is that even though Alaska is
the largest state, the land base that is accessible for development
is limited. This means that partnering with private land owners is
essential. The largest private land owners are the Alaska Native
corporations. Partnering with them makes good business sense.
These partnerships are important; they have allowed AP&T to
develop renewable energy in a sustainable manner on private lands
which benefits our customers and shareholders, many of which are
Alaska Native. They also help Alaska Native corporations provide
for the well-being of Alaska Native people by creating new sources
of revenue, and more affordable energy. There are sometimes
cross-cultural issues and lack of trust that must be resolved. In my
experience, however, it has been much easier working with Alaska
Native entities than with the federal government.
EL&P: Terry, we’ll throw you a hardball question to close.
The lights burned bright for the Royals and Kauffman Stadium
in 2015, didn’t they? How did KC winning the World Series
energize a city that had not seen a major sports title since 1985?
Bassham: I know that every team and every city enjoys the winning
of a major sports championship. But Kansas City has already been on
an incredible run with the resurgence of downtown, the expansion of
an already world-class arts community, and our other sports teams, the
Chiefs and MLS Champion Sporting KC. Overlay that background
with a two-year run by the KC Royals, first sweeping into the World
Series (in 2014) and leaving a runner on third base with two out in
the bottom of the ninth in game seven, to winning the World Series
the very next year, was incredible. To see the hundreds of thousands
of people in blue line the streets for the post-World Series parade and
celebration in Kansas City was something to behold.
Previous EL&P Utility CEO of the Year Winners
Year Division Winner
2014 Large Utility: Theodore Craver Jr., Edison International (California)
2014 Small Utility: Joseph Isabella,Vineland Municipal Electric Utilities(New Jersey)
2013 Large Utility: John DiStasio, Sacramento Municipal Utility District
2013 Small Utility: Tom Husted, Valley Electric Association (Nevada)
2012 Large Utility: Joseph M. Rigby, Pepco Holdings Inc. (Washington D.C.)
2012 Small Utility: Walter W. Haase, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (Arizona)
2011 Large Utility: Gale Klappa, Wisconsin Energy Corp.
2011 Small Utility: Robert A. Heinz, Dawson Public Power District (Nebraska)
2010 Large Utility: Ann D. Murtlow, Indianapolis Power & Light
2010 Small Utility: Larry Doran, Peterborough Utilities Group (Ontario, Canada)