Thursday, February 21, 2019

Carias, Buffington Smoothly Assume MOPC Leadership

By Tom Kleckner

NEW ORLEANS — For a historic moment for SPP, the ascension of two women to the RTO’s Markets and Operations Policy Committee leadership was fairly low-key.

NextEra Energy Resources’ Holly Carias began her term as MOPC chair Tuesday by simply saying, “Thank you for letting me be the MOPC chair.”

Then it was down to business for NextEra’s director of regulatory affairs. She ran the meeting efficiently, wasting no time in moving from agenda item to agenda item. She conducted the votes quickly and brought the committee back on time from breaks.


NextEra’s Holly Carias (center) opens the January MOPC meeting as SPP’s Lanny Nickell and KCP&L’s Denise Buffington listen. | © RTO Insider

“I’m glad to see you in a leadership position,” Jim Eckelberger, SPP’s chairman emeritus, told Carias during the lunch break.

Board Chair Larry Altenbaumer offered his own unsolicited comments during the opening introductions. “I think it’s a good leadership team,” he said.

Serving as MOPC’s vice chair is Denise Buffington, director of federal regulatory affairs for Kansas City Power & Light. She and Carias are only the second and third women to take a leadership position at MOPC.

Asked if two women leading a male-dominated group — as is typical in the electric industry — is a good sign for women, Buffington replied unequivocally, “Yes!”

“Obviously, I’m excited for the opportunity to take a leadership role at the board level,” she said.

Diversity and Balance

Whereas SPP made a concerted effort to increase the diversity of its Board of Directors by adding two women as members last year, SPP Vice President of Engineering Lanny Nickell said that was not the case with the MOPC appointments.

“I don’t think the Corporate Governance Committee recommended Holly and Denise to serve as MOPC chair and vice-chair, and the board approved that recommendation, to increase diversity,” said Nickell, himself a new addition to MOPC as staff secretary. “The recommendation was made because these were the two best candidates for the positions.”

Both positions opened up late last year when Chair Paul Malone cycled off and Vice Chair Jason Atwood left Northeast Texas Electric Cooperative. Having already sent out one solicitation for vice chair, SPP sent out a second for chair or vice-chair.


NextEra’s Holly Carias chats with SPP’s Antoine Lucas before the MOPC meeting begins. | © RTO Insider

If anything, the board and CGC followed an unwritten rule in ensuring the MOPC chairs represented either a transmission user (Carias) or transmission owner (Buffington). As an added measure, Carias is also the first independent power producer representative to chair MOPC since Dogwood Energy’s Rob Janssen.

“Certainly, diversity of thought and skill sets and experience is important,” Nickell said. “If you look at the history of chairs and vice chairs of MOPC, you’ll note there has been an attempt to have a balance of perspectives.”

Nickell said Carias is a collaborator who tries to find creative solutions “that tend to serve the interests of a broad group of parties.”

“She seems to have SPP’s regional interests in mind when she participates in our stakeholder discussions,” he said.

And Buffington?

“She’s very passionate,” said Nickell. “She’s very good at asking the right question to get [to] the root cause of an issue. She makes us think about what we can do and what we can do better. I think they will work together to be effective leaders for the MOPC.”

Nickell has his own large shoes to fill, those of COO Carl Monroe, who served as MOPC’s staff secretary for 18 years. Claiming he won’t be as smart as Monroe, the self-deprecatory Nickell did admit, “I’ve got good people around me, so we’ll be fine.”

‘All About Process’

Carias became an MOPC member just last year, though she had previously attended the committee’s meetings in her role as director of wind development for NextEra Energy Resources. She has been with NextEra for more than 11 years, following her discharge as a captain from the Air Force.

The leadership nametags. | © RTO Insider

Buffington has been a steady presence on MOPC for several years and recently chaired the Z2 Task Force. She joined KCP&L in 2010 after 13 years with the law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, and she holds a law degree from American University’s College of Law and an MBA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Buffington said she will focus on ensuring stakeholders receive meeting materials on time, a common complaint in annual stakeholder surveys.

“I’m a lawyer. I’m all about process,” she said. “If you’re trying to elevate the conversation at MOPC, people have to get the materials on time. I don’t like getting materials the day of the meeting and the continual updates to the meeting materials.”

That will be the least of the changes for MOPC in 2019. Under Altenbaumer’s leadership, the board has delegated additional authority to the committee, relinquishing its approval of changes to SPP’s Tariff or criteria. Unless there’s a dispute requiring an appeal to the board, MOPC will now have final authority for those changes.

“That’s a huge change,” Carias told stakeholders. “These are exciting times in SPP.”

Nickell said he and Carias plan to adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order, which was evident during Tuesday’s meeting.

“The result of [some] debate won’t go to the board anymore,” he said. “If that puts more emphasis on MOPC resolving those issues at MOPC, we’ll have to get better at following those rules. I think motions need to be clearly understood, and the best way is seeing those in writing on the screen before a vote is taken.”

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