Jones reflects on an evolving power industry after ten years with Heartland

Evolving market environments as well as increased regulation and oversight have led to many opportunities and challenges for utilities, and Nate Jones deals with both on a daily basis as Heartland’s chief operations officer. Jones celebrated ten years with Heartland in November, and over the past decade, has witnessed a transformation of the power industry. Today’s energy environment is challenging, but both he and Heartland have adapted.

Jones joined Heartland in  2005 as a senior electrical engineer, hired to assist with transmission and generation planning as well as the Whelan Energy Center Unit 2 (WEC 2) and Wessington Springs transmission line projects. At that time, the Mid-Continent Area Power Pool was still active and transmission service under their tariff was still in use by Heartland, meaning power was delivered from the generator to the end use customer on a physical basis, or from point A to point B. A few short months later, Heartland began serving load within the boundaries of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). At the same time, utilities in Nebraska were joining the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), and Heartland’s service territory was soon surrounded by Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs). The wholesale power industry which Heartland was accustomed to was rapidly transforming to a market-based environment.

“When I first started in the power industry, specifically regarding wholesale energy, RTOs were just getting established in the Midwest,” said Jones. “I gained experience with the more physical aspect of power supply, such as vertical integration of delivery to the end user, but the market environment was growing. Fortunately, I had the advantage of being introduced to markets and became familiar with MISO at my previous employer.”

Jones’ knowledge and experience led to an increase in market involvement for Heartland. In order to gain more control over market decisions being made, as well save Heartland substantial outsourcing costs, he began performing power marketing in-house.  As market operations manager, he was responsible for performing the daily scheduling of power purchases and sales, aiding in negotiating and administering short- and long-term power supply arrangements, performing energy accounting, and managing Heartland’s renewable energy trading program.

In November of 2014, Jones was named chief operations officer and became responsible for managing and maintaining Heartland’s operations including power supply, transmission access and wheeling arrangements as well as operation and maintenance of power supply facilities. He also oversees the marketing of power and energy surplus, and takes part in legal matters concerning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and contracts.

A major challenge Heartland has faced over the past decade is increased regulation. However, Jones says Heartland and its customers are not alone in facing adversity due to proposed environmental regulations and other rate pressures.

“The transparency of the power industry has brought forth more regulation and more scrutiny, and utilities are under a microscope in the way we conduct business. Heartland, and specifically speaking for our operations staff, continues to act in the best interest of our customers. There will not be one silver bullet to solve all the problems but we have a very talented and hard-working operations staff always striving for more answers to tough problems. It’s going to take a multitude of actions and it’s something we are working on every day.”

While working in the power industry presents many challenges, Jones is grateful he joined the Heartland team and for all the relationships he’s built over the past decade.

“I am thankful for all the people I have worked with over the past 10 years, especially those at Heartland. It has been a very enjoyable time in my life.”

Jones is a registered professional engineer and graduated from South Dakota State University in 2004 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. In 2009 he obtained his MBA from the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. Prior to joining Heartland he performed power marketing duties for Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. He and his wife Andrea live in Dell Rapids, SD with their four children Chase, Caidy, Connor and Camden.

Photo: Heartland CEO Russell Olson, right, presents a 10-year plaque to Chief Operations Officer Nate Jones.