Power company upgrades to be discussed tonight
Managers of Alameda’s city-owned electric company need to replace the utility’s outmoded technology and figure out how they’ll attract new employees in the face of a shortage of qualified workers, according to a new consultant’s report to be discussed by the City Council and Public Utilities Board tonight.
The report calls Alameda Municipal Power “a very well-run utility” that offers good service to its 34,369 customers, but offers a list of recommendations for improving it that range from better ways to communicate with customers to employee attraction and retention efforts. It also says the city isn’t doing a good enough job providing key services to the utility and that it should take some of those services in-house.
Hometown Connections’ 85-page “Organization Check Up” report also questions the efficacy of the utility’s unique hybrid governance structure, which puts some matters under the purview of the Public Utilities Board and others under the control of the city. It suggests moving full governance of the utility to the public utilities board.
“While the structure appears to work today, it is the opinion of Hometown that this is mainly due to the high quality people serving in both governing bodies, and that the current structure is inefficient due to the misalignment of accountability and split governance roles,” the report’s authors wrote. “However, if changes are made to ensure clear accountability and responsibility, this can be an opportunity to position the utility on a better foundation to meet the numerous challenges that have been identified.”
Alameda Municipal Power earned three- or four-star ratings for nearly all of the dozen categories the consultants rated, though the utility received average, two-star ratings for technology and human resources. And the report identified those two items as major challenges facing most power companies in an age of rapid change.
While the utility has done some strategic planning around technology, it lacks an actual technology plan, the consultants said, and should enhance control systems and replace its metering technology. The report stopped short of calling on the utility to construct a full smart grid system; AMP’s managers have been holding off on such a move in order to gauge the quality and effectiveness of different technologies before making what will be a sizable investment.
It also called on the power company to prioritize efforts to address “workforce challenges” that include a dearth of properly trained workers, salaries that aren’t competitive and a slow hiring process. The report noted that the utility has experienced rapid turnover in its management ranks and in its energy resources planning department, which has caused projects to be postponed. In one instance, it took a year for the city to fill an open position because its human resources staff was stretched too thin to address it sooner, the report said.
The report said the utility, which pays an average of $363,000 a year to the city for human resources support, should take that in-house to speed hiring. And it suggested AMP also take on the task of tree-trimming, something the city’s public works department handles now, in order to reduce outages.
The Public Utilities Board is set to undertake a detailed discussion of the report at 5 p.m. today at the AMP Service Center, 2000 Grand Street. That discussion will be followed by an overview for the City Council at 7:30 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.