Fortnightly speaks to five CEOs who exemplify industry leadership: David L. Sokol, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.; Peter A. Darbee, PG&E Corp.; Jeff Sterba, PNM Resources; Peggy Fowler...
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people who are difficult and don’t want to deal with you. Their reaction is to find a million ways to say no. But that’s an extreme minority. Ninety-nine percent plus of affected people will, reluctantly, when you engage them [with] “walk in my shoes, here’s why we need it, let’s check it out, let’s dialogue for a while”—most people will reluctantly come to the conclusion that this stuff actually is needed. It needs to go somewhere. Society won’t work if we don’t site these facilities.
It’s a tradeoff in organized society. That actually seems to have resonance with people. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, but not unexpectedly. If you let people have a real oar in the water of how these facilities get approved both on a need and on a siting basis, 99 percent of the people are reasonable about it.
At the end of the day you get a few people whose beliefs are strongly held, maybe not based on fact, but they’re strongly held, righteous beliefs. Those people you can sympathize and deal with. But the NIMBYs—they get it but just don’t want it by them—get pretty isolated. Actually, you get their neighbors on them, just saying, “Put it somewhere else doesn’t solve anybody’s problem.”
Fortnightly: What’s ATC’s relationship with regulators like?
MCW: This one’s another positive story. After about our second year, both the environmental regulators—the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and our economic and construction authority regulators, the public service commission—realized that if we didn’t all get together and talk about how we were going to administer our building program, we would deluge their agencies in a way they couldn’t handle and slow things down to a point where we couldn’t provide the service that was needed. So as we’ve developed this public-outreach model and used this campaign model of how you get poles and wires elected to public office, we’ve involved them and they’ve been instrumental in helping us shape this program to the point where they now have compacts with each other, with our agricultural protection agency—because Wisconsin still has a huge rural component to it—and increasingly get compacts with the federal government and with us about how we jointly administer this work. So, for example, all the staff people get involved at the same time from these disparate agencies. You can make a coordinated decision and not have to go at these folks serially.
They’ve been just great at trying to work out interagency differences so that you get a common voice and common policy decision. They’ve actually formalized that both in written compacts and statutes between the agencies, and as it affects applicants, particularly us, since we’re by far the biggest user of their regulatory services. We have a statutory priority list with all these folks to determine where to put facilities in order of priorities.
Fortnightly: Does the Energy Policy Act of 2005 impact your business?
MCW: Not really. Many of the things in it we were already doing. The involvement of federal agencies in routing and siting—DOE’s going to coordinate that—we’ve already