Nearly all utilities across the country, including the Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL), face significant change over the next five years. The BWL General Manager and Board of Commissioners, working with BWL staff, have prepared an updated BWL Strategic Plan as a high-level tool, providing a “road map” of strategic goals and objectives to meet these changes while supporting the BWL Mission and Values.
To develop this Strategic Plan, BWL staff interviewed BWL executive and senior staff, union leadership (IBEW 352), and subject matter experts across the organization. Each interview consisted of an evaluation of the BWL’s current mission and values statements and an assessment of the BWL’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges (SWOC).
The evaluation and SWOC assessment processes allowed for refinements to be made to the Mission and Values statements that were reflective of the common feedback gathered during the interviews. The revised Mission and Value statements serve as the foundation for the Strategic Plan.
The assessment processes also identified common challenges and opportunities, allowing the development of strategies and objectives to meet them. These strategies and objectives are the essence of the BWL’s strategic direction, allowing the BWL to addresses the challenges and opportunities while providing a common understanding of the strategic goals for communication and planning at all organizational levels.
The BWL’s mission statement explains the purpose and priorities of the company. The mission statement also helps direct the work of the BWL Board and employees, provides guidance, and makes a commitment to exemplary customer service.
The mission of the BWL is to provide safe, reliable, and affordable utility products and services to the Greater Lansing Region. Together, the BWL’s Board, management, and employees will plan for sustainable growth, be responsible environmental stewards, and be active participants in the Lansing Community’s economic and cultural initiatives.
The BWL’s values are the guiding principles to which its employees adhere in the conduct of the BWL’s business. They express the shared beliefs and behaviors that guide interactions with, customers, the community and each other.
Exceptional Service: The BWL is dedicated to providing exemplary and reliable utility products and services.
Competitive Rates: As a publicly owned utility, providing competitive and affordable rates is integral to the economic well-being of the Lansing region.
Safety: The safety of employees and customers is a priority.
Community Commitment: The BWL is committed to active corporate citizenship that advances the community’s economic and cultural well-being.
Integrity: The BWL will instill community trust by conducting business in a manner that is open, honest, and fair.
Inclusion and Equity: The BWL values and respects the individuality and diversity of our customers and employees, considers these an asset of the BWL and the community, and will strive to reflect that diversity in our workforce.
Environmental Stewardship: BWL practices and policies will demonstrate our commitment to a healthy and sustainable environment.
Some of the significant high level challenges and opportunities that were identified include:
Retirement of BWL Eckert Station: In 2015 the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) announced plans to close the coal-fired Eckert Station by January 2020. The retirement of Eckert will create a shortage in the energy and capacity available to serve the BWL’s customers thereby impacting affordability and reliability.
Changing customer expectations: With the advances in digital technology, information availability, and mobile devices, BWL customers now expect more information and control over their services. In addition to immediate feedback on outages and restoration to mobile devices, the ability to monitor and control electric usage by remotely reading meters and remotely controlling thermostats, water heaters, and appliances is needed. Technology will allow for more closely tailored services to meet customer needs. In addition, the BWL’s customer service will become more efficient, with “real-time” turn-on and turn-off services, along with enhanced online options, such as payments immediately posted to accounts.
Aging infrastructure: The BWL is in the beginning stages of an extensive five-year plan to upgrade and strengthen the resiliency of its electric transmission and distribution system. The last time extensive upgrades were made to this system was in the 1980s. In addition to the electric system, the BWL is also planning for extensive upgrades to its water and steam transmission and distribution systems and its chilled water infrastructure.
Aging and evolving workforce: Over 20 percent of the BWL workforce is eligible to retire, and within a couple years that number will grow to nearly 30 percent. It is imperative for the company to prepare for succession and transfer of knowledge from these employees. At the same time, the BWL must determine the best approach to train BWL employees that are either going to be displaced (e.g. those engaged in daily work at Eckert Station) or are going to be taking on new positions supporting technology that will be implemented as a result of following this strategic plan.
Evolving environmental and regulatory requirements: The BWL faces many new environmental regulations, including those related to concern over climate change, such as the Clean Power Plan. These new regulations have the potential for a significant impact on existing plants such as Erickson. Compliance requirements are an increasingly important component of long-term planning. In addition to environmental regulations, to support reliability of the electric grid, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the National Electric Reliability Company (NERC) have implemented rigorous reliability and security standards with which utilities like the BWL must comply. These standards are continually changing, becoming more stringent and impacting nearly every aspect of operation from access to the grid to protection from cyber threats.
Achieving financial performance targets: To address the significant challenges that have been identified, the BWL will make significant financial investments. Controlling the impact on customer rates and BWL competitiveness while supporting these investments will be an on-going challenge.
Water Regionalization: The BWL is already the largest publicly-owned supplier of high quality drinking water in the Greater Lansing Region. As regulations and focus increases on drinking water systems across the state and country, the BWL can play a larger role in addressing the challenges facing existing systems in the Greater Lansing Region.
Seven strategic goals were created from common themes that arose from both the interviews and SWOC analysis. These goals are designed to address the areas where there will likely be challenges to the BWL’s ability to meet its mission. These are areas where the majority of the company’s resources should be focused for this plan. For each strategy there are one or more objectives that need to be met in in order to address the challenges and take advantage of opportunities.
Unlike investor owned utilities, the BWL was created by the citizens of Lansing to serve their needs for water and electricity. The BWL has grown to offer additional services and to serve the greater Lansing community while continuing to be responsive to its community owners.
As a customer owned utility, meeting customers’ needs and expectations is very important. With the growth in the use of mobile devices and the growing interest in online services, the BWL has identified four Objectives to continue to enhance our customer experience:
As a municipally owned utility, the BWL is an integral component of the social and economic fabric of the Greater Lansing Region. Through participation and collaboration in community initiatives, the BWL plays an important role in helping to make the Greater Lansing Region thrive and remain economically vibrant as well as culturally and socially desirable. Attracting residents and businesses to the community with reliable utility services at a competitive cost helps to promote the community’s growth. For over a century the BWL has fulfilled this mission and has continued to expand its products and services into surrounding communities. The BWL has identified two Objectives to help achieve the goal of enhancing the well-being of our customers and community:
By owning its own production and distribution assets, the BWL has been able to fulfill its mission of providing reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound utility products. The BWL owns and operates a complex mix of production, distribution, and transmission assets. The BWL must continue to plan, construct, and maintain these assets in an efficient manner. To support the proper acquisition and management of physical assets, three Objectives are adopted:
Nearly all of the BWL strategic objectives depend on the use of technology to some degree. For example, technology is integral to enhancing the customer experience, asset management, transmission and distribution control systems, and systems that protect against cyber threats. The BWL has identified two Objectives to ensure the best use of technologies:
The BWL’s skilled and dedicated workforce is its strongest asset. To best serve our customers, the BWL must have a workforce that is motivated, has the skills necessary to safely and efficiently operate BWL assets, and is reflective of the cultural diversity of the greater Lansing region. Four workforce Objectives were adopted to emphasize the importance and value of “Hometown Power. Hometown People.”
All of the BWLs ongoing efforts and strategic initiatives require funding. The balance between providing this funding and its impact on rates requires a comprehensive financial plan and rate strategy. One Objective has been included in this plan to address Financial Stability:
BWL Leadership recognizes that in a changing world the BWL needs to not only change, but continually improve. Improvements to the BWL’s emergency resiliency plan helped the Company overcome hardships such as the 2016 cyber-intrusion and have made the company an emergency management hub for the region. Improvements in our renewable energy portfolio and energy efficiency have helped the BWL to become a leader in these areas as well. This culture of continuous improvement needs to not only continue, but be reinforced in order for the BWL to maintain its leadership role among municipal utilities. Our processes, revenues, energy portfolio, safety practices, compliance programs, and even our leadership and organizational structures need to evolve to meet the changing needs of the BWL and our community.