Heartland hosts tenth annual Summer Conference

The sun was shining on July 7 as Heartland hosted customers, board members and guests for our tenth annual Summer Conference and Invitational.

The day began with Heartland CEO Russell Olson welcoming attendees including Mike Muirhead, public utilities director for recently announced new Heartland customer Garden City, Kansas. The event also included representatives from 18 other customers, staff members from the offices of South Dakota’s Congressional delegation, representatives of the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development and other state offices and entities.

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Blair Metzger of DGR addresses the importance of capital improvements planning at the Summer Conference.

Blair Metzger, engineering president for DGR Engineering, started the conference off with a presentation on planning for capital improvements. Metzger addressed why capital improvements planning should be done, when, how, the impacts, as well as how improvements expenditures affect the financial performance of a utility.

Metzger stressed that good capital improvements planning is essential for utilities of all types and sizes and that prudent planning is part of the fiduciary responsibility placed on the governing body and management of a utility. A formal, written plan with documentation should be done at regular intervals, the timing of which depends on the size of the utility, but no less frequently than every ten years. When appropriate planning isn’t done, reliability suffers, rates become unstable and the ability of the local economy to grow may be jeopardized. Finally, communication with stakeholders at all times during the planning process is essential.

The second presentation, Energy Storage and Solar Overview, was given by RJ Johnson, director of storage development for NextEra Energy Resources. Johnson began with an update on wind and solar, stating that turbine price reductions and efficiency improvements continue to reduce the average delivered cost of new wind installations. NextEra Energy remains the largest owner of U.S. utility scale solar projects and as solar installation costs continue to decline and efficiency improves, the gap on price competitiveness versus conventional generation continues to narrow.

NextEra Energy believes energy storage is poised to become an integral part of the energy sector in the very near future. Costs are declining and EPA proposed regulations will make siting new fossil fuel units more difficult in the future. High penetration of renewable resources requires innovative integration. Johnson stated that while still in its infancy, battery storage has the potential to be a game-changer for the renewable energy industry.

The conference was rounded out by Buzz Hillestad, principal consultant for Helix Security, who gave an overview of cybersecurity including the threat to cybersecurity, how it affects “business as usual,” and the steps necessary to defend an organization against the cybersecurity threat.

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Miller, SD Electric Superintendent Bill Lewellen tees off at the tenth annual Summer Conference and Invitational.

Hillestad gave examples of phishing, malware and vulnerabilities related to data security. He also gave an overview of the services Helix can provide a utility to protect their information. The first step of the process includes asset discovery, a vulnerability assessment, risk assessment and risk management, which includes knowing your environment, knowing your technologies and knowing your enemy. The second phase includes access control and vulnerability management. Phases continue to build to the fifth and final phase of full maintenance of a world-class information assurance and cybersecurity program.

Following lunch, Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland highlighted features of Heartland’s recently launched new website. Attendees then took part in a scenic boat tour of Lake Madison or the Heartland Invitational, a four-person, nine-hole scramble golf tournament.