Arkansas Living December 2011 : Page 4
&200(176 6WHDG\DV6KH*RHV Nov. 9 marked the end of an era for most challenging times in their history. His And, even though it wasn’t a popular posi-tion, he stuck to his guns on that one. Arkansas’ electric cooperatives. On leadership style was calm and steady. that day, the boards of directors of Arkan-sas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (AECI), and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) bid farewell to Gary Voigt, who had served as president and chief executive ofﬁ cer of the two Little Rock-based co-ops since 1996. Voigt, 56, announced in May that he would resign by year-end. After a distin-guished 15-year career at AECC/AECI, he was ready to move on and enjoy his new pas-sion, sailing. Voigt joined Arkansas’ electric coop-eratives at the age of 40. Although young in years, he was far from inexperienced. When he took the helm at AECC/AECI, he al-ready had 20 years of experience working for electric cooperatives. A native of Oklahoma, he attended college at Oklahoma State Uni-versity through a scholarship program of-fered by the electric cooperatives in Okla-homa. Part of the scholarship package was to work at an electric cooperative. His ﬁ rst job was as a lineman. He went on to serve as manager of Cen-tral Rural Electric Cooperative in Stillwater, Okla., before moving to KAMO Power, a generation and transmission co-op based in Vinita, Okla. In 1994, he was named chief executive ofﬁ cer and general manager of KAMO, and two years later, he became pres-ident and chief executive ofﬁ cer of AECC and AECI. AECC supplies wholesale elec-tricity to Arkansas’ 17 electric distribution cooperatives, while AECI is a statewide ser-vice organization for those cooperatives. Voigt was the third chief executive in the history of AECC and AECI, which were created in the 1940s as part of the nation’s rural electriﬁ cation program. Voigt shunned the spotlight, preferring to keep a low pro-ﬁ le as he led the co-ops through some of the 4 Nowhere was that style better demon-strated than during the rigorous debate over the restructuring of the electric utility indus-try during the late 1990s. The debate con-cerned how to open retail electricity markets to competition for the ﬁ rst time in Arkansas. It was a real David vs. Goliath scenario with the electric cooperatives in the David role as they sought to protect their members from potential rate hikes and unreliable service. At the time, the co-ops did not have a high proﬁ le among lawmakers or the general pub-lic, which made it more difﬁ cult for the co-ops’ voices to be heard. That would change, however, as the cooperatives stressed that they were different from the investor-owned utilities. As member-owned cooperatives, the goal is not to make money for shareholders, but to provide reliable electricity at the most affordable price possible. Voigt said the co-ops’ goal during the restructuring debate was to make sure that all customers were treated fairly. “The safe-guards we fought for clearly demonstrated that we were indeed consumer advocates,” he said. Voigt continued to stress the coopera-tives’ role as consumer advocates for the rest of his career as new challenges arose, such as the proposed cap-and-trade program that would have set limits for carbon emissions. Arkansas’ electric cooperatives opposed that plan, again on the grounds that it would hurt Arkansans by raising electric rates and could threaten the reliability of the electric grid. He also took issue with the prevailing view in the 2000s regarding the manmade global warm-ing theory. He studied the issue exhaustively and argued that the science wasn’t conclu-sive and that the debate should not be over. To base energy policy on the global warm-ing theory would be folly, he said. In short, it would hurt consumers across the country. Largely because of the climate change is-sue and the uncertainty of regulations related to it, planning for new generation has been extremely difﬁ cult during the last decade. But through Voigt’s leadership, AECC has continued to strengthen its generation port-folio so that it can meet its members’ grow-ing needs. AECC’s third hydropower plant on the Arkansas River was completed shortly after his arrival. Since then, AECC built a natural gas-ﬁ red power plant, refurbished another and bought another at a bargain price. AECC also joined with Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) to build the ﬁ rst new coal-ﬁ red plant on AECC’s sys-tem since the 1980s with the construction of the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant at Fulton, which is set to begin operation in 2012. While adding generation, Voigt also stressed energy efﬁ ciency and helped lead Arkansas’ electric cooperatives to become national leaders in that area. Among other things, it was his idea for the Energy Efﬁ -ciency Makeover Contest in which a co-op member’s home is selected for energy efﬁ -ciency improvements valued at up to $50,000. This popular program is in its fourth year. These accomplishments are just a few of the many of Voigt’s AECC/AECI career. His leadership, as the plaque given to him on Nov. 9 by the boards of directors of AECC/ AECI attested, was indeed “exemplary.” To-day, thanks to Voigt’s leadership, co-ops are no longer David, but also have no desire to ever be a Goliath. Voigt knew that the co-ops’ strength came from its members – the grassroots. He will be greatly missed, and we wish him well in his new endeavors. We are certain that if he is half as passionate about sailing as he was his work here, he is on his way to becoming a truly ﬁ ne sailor. We have no doubt he’ll keep it steady as she goes. • DECEMBER 2011  , $5.$16$6/,9,1*
Steady as She Goes
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