Graff honored with Award of Excellence

When Adam Graff joined Heartland in 2008, he quickly immersed himself in Heartland’s power supply portfolio, helping to manage resources to best suit customers’ needs. This led to him quickly being named resource manager.

Today, Graff  serves as director of power supply for Heartland, where he is responsible for the company’s power supply portfolio with additional responsibilities including facility planning, integrated resource planning, system forecasts and more.

For the past ten years, Graff has also served as chair of Public Power Generation Agency’s Engineering and Operations Committee. PPGA is the interlocal agency established for the sole purpose of constructing and operating Whelan Energy Center Unit 2 (WEC 2), a major component of Heartland’s resource portfolio.

To celebrate his years of service and accomplishments on the committee, Graff was honored at Heartland’s recent Annual Meeting with an award of excellence.

Graff’s direction vital to operations

When Graff  began working at Heartland, WEC 2 was three years into design, development and construction. It became commercially operational in May of 2011. Shortly after, Graff took on the role of chair of the engineering and operations committee. As such, he plays a very significant role for PPGA and Heartland.

The 220 megawatt coal-fired generating plant is located in Hastings, Nebraska. As a participant of PPGA, Heartland owns a 36% entitlement share in the project. It serves as the largest generating resource in Heartland’s power supply portfolio, making up 53%.

Exterior of Whelan Energy Center
Whelan Energy Center Unit 2

WEC 2 was built for approximately $700 million and is utilized by five different utilities for reliable, baseload power. It also represents 46% of Heartland’s capacity and 35% of its energy portfolio. The success of the plant is directly linked to the success of Heartland and ultimately, Heartland’s customers.

As chair of the engineering and operations committee, Graff oversees all major operating decisions made at the plant and makes recommendations to the PPGA board. During his tenure, he successfully led the transition of the plant into the Southwest Power Pool, advised and navigated the project on many staffing changes, and consistently ensures sound budgets.

Currently he’s directing the project on environmental concerns regarding Whelan Energy Center Unit 1 that impact WEC 2.

“PPGA is lucky to have Graff in this role, as is Heartland,” said Heartland Chief Operations Officer Nate Jones. “His expertise fortifies our ability to provide reliable, safe power to our customers at the lowest cost possible.”

WEC 2 burns low-sulfer coal from the Power River Basin. It meets all the latest pollution control standards with an air quality control system that includes equipment to remove fly ash, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and mercury. Heartland’s power supply portfolio also includes 51 megawatts of wind power from the Wessington Springs Wind Energy Center located in Jerauld County, SD.

Pictured: Heartland Director of Power Supply Adam Graff, center, was honored for ten years and continued service on the E&O Committee for baseload resource, Whelan Energy Center Unit 2. Presenting the award were Heartland CEO Russell Olson, left, and Chief Operations Officer Nate Jones, right.

Graff marks ten years overseeing Heartland resources

An evolving energy industry, fluctuating market and major change in Heartland’s structure impacts day-to-day business for director of power supply

When Heartland began operating within Regional Transmission Organization Southwest Power Pool (SPP) in late 2015, the historic change occurred mostly behind the scenes. While day-to-day operations for Heartland customers were largely unaffected, the opposite was true for some Heartland staff.

“Since the integration, my workload has largely become SPP-related,” said Heartland Director of Power Supply Adam Graff. “My overall responsibilities have remained the same, but it has certainly changed the way I do my job.”

Graff marked ten years with Heartland in February, and reflected on how his role has evolved over the years.

Managing Heartland resources

Adam Graff graduated from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In 2012, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota. He’s retained a Professional Engineering license since 2008. He lives in Montrose, SD with his wife Stephanie and their four children, Riley, Madeline, Bennett and McKenna.

Graff joined Heartland in 2008 as resource manager. Among his immediate responsibilities were managing Heartland’s generation and demand-side resources and assisting with power supply planning.

“Traditionally, we scheduled resources based on what our customer load was and what our needs were,” Graff said. “Historical data allowed us to predict future load and manage our resources with some ease.”

Since October of 2015, however, this straightforward process has become much more complicated.

“Operation within an RTO means we are primarily buying and selling power within the wholesale energy market. This environment gives us many more factors to consider when managing our resources, because we are susceptible to market conditions,” he said. “Not only do we need to ensure our resources are reliable, but we also need to make them as low-cost and flexible as possible in order to cover fixed costs, and responsive to the market in order to create revenue.”

Graff utilizes his knowledge of market conditions to set rates and make financial projections. He also handles all of Heartland’s communication infrastructure, which is critical in SPP’s fast-paced market environment.

Protecting Heartland’s interests

SPP is a customer-driven organization, and relies on its customer utilities to help develop policies, market rules, planning processes and more.

As such, Graff represents Heartland on SPP’s Markets and Operations Policy Committee and Supply Adequacy Working Group.

“SPP expects a high level of participation, and we have a lot at stake, so it makes sense for us to be heavily involved,” he said.

He must also remain educated on the market construct and ensure Heartland’s power supply is in compliance with market guidelines.

Performing day-to-day operations

Although much of his days are devoted to SPP activities, Graff has other responsibilities related to Heartland’s baseload resources.

He helps manage budgets and develop capital plans, and oversees resource planning, development and regulatory compliance programs.

He is nearing his 7th year as chair of the Engineering & Operations Committee for Public Power Generation Agency, which owns and operates Whelan Energy Center Unit 2. He’s also a member of the E&O Committee for Missouri Basin Power Project, which owns and operates Laramie River Station.

Graff also continues to administer Heartland and customer IRPs as well as implement and oversee demand side management and data management programs.

Rising to the challenge

Over the years, changes in structure and regulations plus a fluctuating electric industry and energy market have led Graff to be adaptable in his work environment.

According to CEO Russell Olson, he has always met the challenge.

“Adam is an incredibly valuable asset to our team and we are lucky to have him,” said Heartland CEO Russell Olson. “There is so much behind the scenes work that goes into making sure we deliver reliable power in the most efficient manner possible. It is truly a complex business and we couldn’t do it without Adam’s expertise.