Although regulatory reform and increasing public awareness are still at the top of the National Hydropower Association’s campaign agenda, it is refocusing to meet its members’ changing needs. Suzanne Pritchard explains why NHA is striving to become a one-stop shop for the US hydro industry
‘I’ve had an excellent year,’ Mike Murphy said, reflecting on his presidency of the national-hydropower-association (NHA) in the US. At NHA’s annual conference, held in Washington, DC from 3-5 April 2000, Murphy spoke about the Association’s most recent achievements.
‘A lot of things have happened,’ he says. ‘At the beginning of the year we set out to move licensing legislation forward, and this is starting to take shape. We’ve brought together a lot of people who are beginning to understand that hydro power is an issue and that we need to do something about it.’
NHA must be commended for its efforts in trying to spread the word about US hydro. Murphy says the Association has really started to tell the industry’s story, particularly as energy issues do not bring people from their homes to protest or to speak with their congressman.
‘Our role is to raise the conscious level of hydro power over the next few years. And we have been doing this. We have had numerous articles published worldwide,’ he adds. ‘We have ensured that we and the hydro industry are part of the news. When people want to know about hydro power, whether they are for or against it, we have been successful in ensuring that they call us up, and not organisations such as American Rivers.’
But how has NHA managed to achieve this? Chris Hocker, who succeeded Murphy as president at the conference, says: ‘When your industry has been criticised and is under assault, it is easy to develop a bunker mentality. You’re constantly playing defence, reacting to disprove a negative aspect of your work; always saying “no, we don’t do this or that”. I think that this is an easy trap to fall into, and is even more difficult to get out of.’
‘The opposite to this is something which NHA has done well,’ says Hocker. ‘It has taken advantage of its oppor-tunities in a positive way, but at the same time has still documented the problems of the existing system. We haven’t just been saying “we’re not treated fairly”. We’ve highlighted our problems, such as the loss of valuable peaking power, but have also played as much offence as defence.’
Murphy agrees. ‘Hydro power has a good story to tell,’ he says, ‘and we must not be afraid to tell it. We should acknowledge our weaknesses but must stop apologising for them all the time. We need to make this resource work for everyone and just can’t be shy about it.’
Both men speak about their industry with great enthusiasm, and even pride.
So what does it mean to them to be president of the NHA? ‘It means a number of things,’ says Murphy. ‘In part it is incredibly humbling and a great hon-our to think that you, as an individual, are representing the hydro power industry.
‘A lot of energy comes to the president via the NHA staff and its members. They all have so much belief in hydro power. That’s the wonderful thing about it. Most people who work in the industry believe they are doing a good thing. They don’t go home at night and just say “I went to work today”. They go home knowing they are fighting a battle which is important for our future. It is great to represent an industry where people are so committed to their jobs.’
‘It is true that we view hydro as something we like to do,’ Hocker adds. ‘From the very top to the part-time workers who clean the trash racks, there’s something about hydro which really gets people motivated.’
Speaking about his new presidential title, Hocker describes it as ‘quite an assignment’. ‘I take it very seriously to be the leading spokesperson for the industry,’ he said. ‘And to the extent that we
gain more attention and publicity, the role of the NHA president becomes increasingly important.’
An important change for NHA in the past year was that it started to work out-side of Washington, DC. ‘We’re working hard to bring NHA to our members,’ Murphy explained. ‘Washington is an interesting place for our annual confer-ence as it gives members the chance to meet the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and members of Congress. But a lot of our members can’t fly out to Washington, especially those in the Pacific Northwest and the Mid West.’ To rectify this NHA has held regional conferences. Its aim is to get input from more people who will have different thoughts and ideas to those who might go to the annual Washington conference.
‘We’re working hard to expand the services NHA provides,’ says Murphy. ‘Historically NHA was thought of as a regulatory/legislative body. There is a lot of truth in that and one of our greatest tasks is to help people figure out relicensing and where it’s going. We also want to expand the Association. We have really done a good job on the public affairs and information area but now want to expand on the technology side.’ NHA aims to provide assistance to its member companies on operation, day-to-day compliance and post-licensing issues. It wants to help the plant operator who is having problems with his wicket gates or another component of his facility.
‘We have an R&D committee which is taking a look at these issues and will expand on them,’ Murphy adds.
‘We want to make sure that we become a one-stop shop for people. We want to be a full service provider so our members don’t need to join another organisation or get technical assistance from elsewhere. We want our members to come to us for technical and regulatory assistance. We aim to provide all of this.’ ‘Last year,’ Hocker says, ‘the leadership of NHA made the conscious decision to incorporate this one-stop shop concept.
It was really for our own survival. Three years ago we predicted that our member-ship would have fallen off by now, but it hasn’t. In fact it has grown because we have tried to look to the future.
‘With the electricity industry restructuring as much as it is we have had to figure out how we can retain our membership. How do we stay at the top of everybody’s list? With so many conferences and so much competition, how do we keep NHA at the forefront and get others involved?’ NHA saw the one-stop shop scenario as the way forward.
‘A responsibility I have as president is to continue to expand on issues which are meaningful to our membership,’ says Hocker. ‘The number one thing is going to remain meaningful licensing reform— regardless of whether this is achieved through legislation or adminsitrative efforts – that is what our members expect. We have built on that expectation and this has to continue.’