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In this episode, SalterMitchell PR President Heidi Otway discusses all things energy with Florida Municipal Power Agency General Manager and CEO Jacob Williams, who leads FMPA’s efforts in advancing and improving the utilities industry. His agency serves more than 2 million residents and 10 percent of Florida’s power. In a state dubbed the Sunshine State, that is no small undertaking.
In fact, Floridians use twice as much electricity as people in California and New York thanks to the heat and humidity. To make power more affordable, Williams is working to provide clean, low-cost solutions, such as solar power, and reduce FMPA’s CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2027.
Tune in to learn more about the energy we enjoy everyday to power our lives and how agencies such as FMPA are utilizing new sources to create an energy efficient future for Florida.
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian podcast, featuring the Sunshine State’s brightest leaders talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. In this episode created by SalterMitchell PR, our executive producer Heidi Otway, the president of SalterMitchell PR, talks to Jacob Williams, the general manager and CEO of Florida Municipal Power Agency.
Heidi Otway: Jacob, thank you so much for being a guest on the Fluent in Floridian podcast. We are thrilled to have you today.
Jacob Williams: I'm glad to be here.
Heidi Otway: Wonderful. So you are not a native Floridian, but you made your way here about four years ago from the north. Tell us what brought you to Florida?
Jacob Williams: Actually, the opportunity to work here at Florida Municipal Power Agency brought me here to lead up the agency, which serves about 31 cities throughout the state of Florida.
Heidi Otway: So now that you're in Florida, tell us a little bit about what you're doing now in this role that you have with this organization?
Jacob Williams: FMPA is a municipal power supply agency. We supply electricity to 31 cities throughout the state of Florida, from Tallahassee area, Havana, places all the way over to Jacksonville beach, down to Key West and parts in between Kissimmee, Ocala, et cetera. So it's been a neat opportunity. We supply electricity to the cities that serve over 2 million Floridians, for about 10% of all Floridians give power in part or fully from what we supply to those cities.
One of the unique things about coming to Florida is the fact that Floridians and people in the south in general, use a lot of electricity. So coming down here, electricity is such a huge part of what goes on because it's hot and humid most of the time, and everybody needs to run their air conditioning. So it's a neat role. It has a big impact on Floridians around the state.
Heidi Otway: So what are the things that you're learning as you go visit with some of your members and what they're doing to provide services to their customers?
Jacob Williams: When I got here, one of the first communities I went to was down to Fort Pierce. It's one of our member cities, and we've met with them, and we talked about that they wanted low cost electricity. They didn't just want electricity, they wanted it low cost, because Floridians use twice as much electricity as people in California and New York, not because we're energy gluttons, because it's hot and humid.
So the price of electricity is really important. You stack that up with the fact that Floridians about 25 to 30% of Floridians pay 10% of their after tax income to pay the electric bill. And you start to realize what we do really matters to families, everyday families. If you have such a large fixed and then low income population in a normal amount of them with all this fixed income population here. So electricity prices mean something. And that was kind of eye-opening to realize how important that was. And each one of the cities says, we need affordable electricity for our everyday citizen.
Heidi Otway: How does that process work for them to provide the energy? Everyone's familiar with FPNL and Duke Energy and all of the bigger electric providers, but what is that process for lay people who just may not understand how the electricity gets to them from these big providers and your members?
Jacob Williams: Sure, sure. So what we did is we own on parts of, or fully own plants, let's say down in Kissimmee, we own quite a number of facilities, and down in Fort Pierce. Those generating facilities will generate, put the power on the grid, on the transmission system, and we'll pay either Duke or FPL transmission rates to move the power to the individual cities we serve. And then the individual cities distributed to the homes and businesses in that area.
So Key West, we'll pay for the power to flow all the way down the Keys, and then Key West will deliver it to the citizens there. They do all the customer service work, each of our cities does. We do the wholesale power stuff and get them that. And if you think about it, our cities, we probably are 70% of their cost of power, is in the bill they get from us. The other 30% is their T and D or their distribution operations, customer service, meter reading, et cetera, that goes on.
Heidi Otway: That's so interesting. So if you drive up and down the interstates and read some of the news in Florida about energy, we're seeing a lot more about solar. Here in North Florida along I-10 they're building these huge solar farms Down in Babcock Ranch, down in the Fort Myers area they're building a huge solar farm. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that impacts your members or what they're doing?
Jacob Williams: Our member cities said they wanted to make sure that they had low cost power. And so first when we got here, they said, let's wait a little bit on solar. The price of solar energy has come down in the last couple of years, and they've now invested in, and we're starting to supply solar power to the cities. We did a survey when we first got here, and they went out and surveyed like 3 to 600 customers in their communities and said, how many of you want solar? And like 70% said they want solar. But then you asked the next important question. How many of you were willing to pay like 10, 20% more for that power to get it? And the answer was 5 to 15%, depending on what community you're in. If you were in Key West, might have a higher percentage there. If you were in some of our communities, the answer was close to zero.
And so what we started to do is say, okay, for those cities who want solar power, you can invest in and you'll get some of your power from solar. For those communities that said price was the most important thing, some of them said, we don't want any, or we want a small amount. And so that's allowed each community to decide where they're at on the curve.
But it is growing and certainly our members and we got our first project come on this summer. It's a 75 or 150 megawatts worth of solar came on, where we're going to more than double that in the next few years. And in 2023, we'll have our other sites online. And this week we're actually having a strategic planning session where we're likely discussing adding more later on in 2025, 2027. And we'll get into the climate in a minute, but part of that has actually reduced the CO2 footprint of the cities.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, I think that's a good transition to talk about how solar could help offset some of the concerns that people have about climate change. Because obviously it's happening. I'm from South Florida and we did a project about the sea level rise. You know, what is Miami-Dade County going to do to mitigate the rising seas and the king tides that's flooding the city. What are you all hearing? And how does climate change impact the work that you do?
Jacob Williams: Well, the utility sector as a whole has already been in reducing CO2 emissions for the last 15, 20 years. Example, FMCA, we're down about 35% in our CO2 emissions from 2005. And our board has already said, we need to get down by 50% by 2027. And that's what I call the easy part. And most of that was shifting away from coal using our very efficient, low emission gas units, and then adding a fair amount of solar.
But then the real work begins because if you want to get to what the current administration has proposed, to 100% CO2 reduction, that is a Herculean effort to get to that level, and a price that would probably double or triple the price of electricity in Florida. There's got to be a balance. How do you balance environmental justice and economic justice to families?
And so what we are doing is continue to make very strong progress and we'll keep adding solar. And then the other side of the discussion is how do you build the infrastructure in Florida to withstand a foot, two foot rise in the sea levels over the next century? Because whether or not we do anything in the United States, it's probably going to rise to that level. You know, we can debate man-made or not, and all that stuff, but the fact is it's rising, right?
And so it's going to rise probably no matter what the United States does, and so we need to have the discussion about what infrastructure needs to be in place. What does it look like on those coastal areas? We shouldn't be putting underground cable right next to the ocean, things like that. We shouldn't be putting substation or critical infrastructure should be lifted up.
Heidi Otway: Yeah. So when you talk about climate change, Florida is very prone to hurricanes, and I think you've been here now to experience some of the worst hurricanes that we've had hit the state of Florida. What was that like for you, coming from the north?
Jacob Williams: It was funny because as I was driving down here, Hermine it just hit you all in Tallahassee. If you remember Hermine, in 2016. And so I'm talking to people about what's going on, and then we get here and then Matthew hits. My daughter and I were, at that time our youngest daughter and I were the only two in the state transitioning. And she said Dad, I'm going to ride it out. And we looked at her and said, no, you're not.
But you know, obviously what we have learned and all Florida knows, is you prepare way in advance. And the utilities and everybody else, they go through our drills every year to get ready for what could be the big event. And obviously Irma, the one that ran the entire state, was really the wake up call for everyone in terms of how bad it can be. We've learned a lot. Our cities have invested a lot to storm harden the system, tree trim to clear things off, but also then to work together and coordinate.
I remember in October 2016, after Hermine and Matthew, Governor Scott at the time had a dinner for all the utility executives and CEOs. And he brought all the electric utility executives together and he said, look, I'm not here to talk to you about how we should do this at all. Most important thing I want you all to do is actually know each other's phone numbers, so when the storms hit, you all can talk together and solve these problems, because you're the ones that are going to solve it. And believe it or not, it has helped a lot because those contacts and now we work together quite a bit. And that's something that's changed since '16.
Chris Cate: The Fluent in Floridian podcast is brought to you by SalterMitchell PR, a communications consultancy focused on helping good causes win. We provide strategic insight and guidance to organizations seeking to make an impact in the nation’s third most populous state. Learn more at SMPRFlorida.com. Now back to Heidi’s interview with Jacob Williams, the general manager and CEO of Florida Municipal Power Agency.
Heidi Otway: So let's talk about the Florida Municipal Power Agency. It has quite a history in the state of Florida. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about the organization, how it got started?
Jacob Williams: Purpose of a power agency is like any other public power agency around the United States. They all came out of around the 1970s and early '80s, when municipal electric owned systems decided, we can't build our own little power plants in our own little cities anymore and be cost effective. And so they wanted to band together and work together as a group, a co-op of cities so to speak, and invest in power plants, and then move the power back to each of the cities.
And so the federal regulations at the time started allowing you to pay to use the transmission system of the FPLs of the world and Dukes, et cetera. And so all of them came together. Florida was no different. We came together in that time and slowly started investing in this power plant and that power plant and slowly came together to what we are today, which is 31 cities that are working together for power supply. We supply about 22 of the 31. Others are members that we may do some other things for. But that has grown in strength, and now today we own essentially all of our power plants to supply our members for the most part.
Heidi Otway: And those power plants, what kinds of energy are we talking? You mentioned, we talked a little bit about solar. Earlier you mentioned gas, and you've also mentioned getting out of the coal business. Can you tell me a little bit about the types of energy you all produce?
Jacob Williams: Yes. Yeah. FMPA is about 80% of our energy comes from natural gas units. They're very clean, low cost gas units. We have 15% and declining amounts of our power from coal. We're part owners in the two Stanton coal units here in Orlando and Orlando has announced they'll be converting those to gas in 2025 and 2027. So that'll be both a cost and emissions reduction, a great project for Orlando.
We have about 5% of our power from nuclear. We participate in the Port St. Lucie nuclear plant, which is a plant owned by FPL. And then we have 1% right now, solar, but we'll grow it to 5 and ultimately probably 7 or 10% solar over the next seven or so years, in terms of how much solar that we have on the system.
Heidi Otway: Okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about you. So where did you grow up?
Jacob Williams: I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, originally, and in the middle of the state, and then went to the University of Illinois to get an electrical engineering degree and then started working up in Wisconsin, and then got an MBA while I was working up in Wisconsin.
Heidi Otway: What fueled your desire to get into this industry, or did you fall into it?
Jacob Williams: I kind of fell into it, but in electrical engineering, the University of Illinois is a unique school because the creator of the transistor, Bardeen, was still a professor there. So you have all the semiconductor work, you have the microprocessors and we were part of the power side. And so we got into the power area, completely different, which naturally led to an electric utility.
And once you got in there, you started to realize that most of the dollars and most of the business around it was really tied to the generation side. That's where all the heavy investment was. And so slowly over the career, you got involved with the energy side of it, the big generation. And then when I got down to St. Louis and worked for Peabody Energy, one of the things we started looking at is how much affordable electricity changes societies and changes people's opportunities for a higher quality of life.
Both in the United States, you could see that, but especially when you got around the world and you could go to India, where when I first was there about a third of the Indians did not have access to electricity at all. And to watch the revolution that occurred as people were getting electricity for the first time and how that dramatically changed the quality of life. And you can see in China, they were further down that curve. And then you can go to parts of Africa where you see the same kinds of changes, where water was now delivered to the house versus having to walk for 10 or 12 miles a day to get fresh water. Your world changes, your education changes, your quality of life. So that's the neat part of energy that I've come to enjoy.
Heidi Otway: So I hear you're a world traveler. Where else did you travel in your work to learn more about electricity and water to different communities?
Jacob Williams: Well, we have offices in Beijing and in India, so I ended up there, and big operations in Australia. So you were in Australia and then in Europe. So you could travel around the world and unfortunately, like a lot of issues go to a city and go to a meeting and then get on the airplane and leave. So you didn't get to see a lot other than… you know. But it was always interesting when you get out and see and kind of drive through the countryside. That was always fun to do.
Heidi Otway: I hear that you do a lot of traveling around the state of Florida in your current position. Have you been to all 31 cities that you all serve?
Jacob Williams: The first year I was in all 31 and we're in all 31 essentially every year. So we get up and down 75 quite a bit. And I tend to head all the way out as far as [00:20:48], which is farther out in the panhandle and then get down to Key West and everywhere in between. So we get to know that the state was pretty doggone well.
Heidi Otway: Well tell me a little bit about what you love about Florida now that you've here? What is the biggest thing you've seen and experienced in Florida that you're like, yeah, I'm in a good spot.
Jacob Williams: My wife and I both ran track and cross country our whole lives and so to get out and run and ride bikes every day, it's just a huge benefit to be able to do that. Maybe back in the Midwest right now, it's snow and ice and 10 below or something. You can't do any of that stuff. So that's really neat to be able to get outdoors every day and enjoy it. It's been really neat to do.
Heidi Otway: And how's your family, how many kids, family, did everyone transfer to Florida with you?
Jacob Williams: Well, we have four children and our two oldest were either graduated or the other one was playing college basketball in St. Louis, so she completed her career up there. Our two younger ones went to the school down here and our youngest just graduated from FSU. And so in fact, and then our other daughter, she's going to complete her studies and teaching from UCF. So she's on her way to doing that.
Heidi Otway: That’s great. So, I read that you all wrote a position, I guess, for your organization on supporting diversity and inclusion in your industry. And is there a lot of diversity and inclusion in the energy industry?
Jacob Williams: It's interesting because here in Florida in our member cities, they are so diverse when you go to Kissimmee versus Fort Pierce, Ocala to Key West to Tallahassee or Havana or Quincy or places like that. You've got tremendous diversity across our member cities. And so it's actually quite nice because we represent all of Florida and it's bits and pieces and so you see that.
So it's important for us. As it would have it, starting with our board, our board I would say it's one of the, at least our board officers is one of the most diverse officer group, you're going to find where Barbara Quiñones from down in Homestead is our board chair. The vice chair has Lynne Tejeda out of Key West, and you have others involved. And so we've got quite a balance.
You wouldn't see that kind of male female mix in most utility boardrooms, but that's kind of what we have at least in our officer level. Within the organization itself on the leadership team, I think we're about 50 50 in terms of men and women. Our CFO, Linda Howard, who's African-American, and our CFO and a UCF grad and a lifetime out of Plant City. So we're quite an interesting group in diversity in that respect.
Heidi Otway: Jacob, did you push for that when you came into the organization or was the diversity already in place as it is now?
Jacob Williams: It was not as diverse when we got here and we organically made changes and as every opportunity came up, you had some neat opportunities and the best candidates came forward. And if you opened up to make sure that people from around the state and around the region, you got the resumes, or you got the openings available to everyone, the candidate pool and then to grow. In the past, I've had the fortunate pleasure of being involved with the American Association of Blacks in Energy, spoken at several of their events and that.
And so you push the resumes out into that community as well, and all of a sudden people start being aware of the opportunities that you might have, and your candidate pool can change a little bit. We are much more diverse than the average US electric business. We aren't perfect with the central Florida demographics, but I'm not sure you can ever quite get there given some of the interesting dynamics. And until we get more people in the STEM programs and they graduate on the other end, that's somewhat limited.
Heidi Otway: Yeah. That's good. I'm glad to hear of the effort you all are doing in your industry.
Well, at the end of every interview, we always like to ask our guests a couple of questions. So I'm going to ask you our four questions, okay?
Jacob Williams: Okay.
Heidi Otway: So the first question is what Florida person, place or thing deserves more attention than it's currently getting?
Jacob Williams: I guess I would say one person who I've always enjoyed and actually he stepped forward during some of the turbulence recently and spoke very wisely with Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy, who you know, being a Buc’s fan.
Tony stepped into the discussion in a very thoughtful way about recognizing the unrest that was occurring and the issues that were at play. And he actually challenged, being a Christ follower he said, the Christ followers have to step forward right now. And stand, they're the ones that have to stand. I've always admired him and how he coached his game from a very quiet, but strong way, how his team responded, not by him screaming and yelling, but by him slowly leaning in. And he always talked about character, and he's a class individual, and I've always enjoyed listening and reading his material.
Heidi Otway: Good. Good. Where is your favorite Florida place to visit?
Jacob Williams: Favorite place would be a balance of Key West, that's a lot of fun to be there versus actually, as I said earlier, Key West and then the alternative is driving through the hills of Ocala, Leesburg, and up in those areas, just to see something really different, the neat topography, the springs that are in that area. So it looks real different so to speak.
Heidi Otway: Okay, who is a Florida leader from the past or present who inspires you?
Jacob Williams: Inspires me. Tony would be the one. I will tell you the other person who I've enjoyed, and I'll pick on this because you usually ask about who your favorite Florida teams. And unfortunately, I'm dyed-in-the-wool Packers fan, Green Bay Packer fan.
They had to take Green Bay out, but there is a well-known Floridian that started what is now a huge tradition at Lambeau Field. And that Floridian's name is Leroy Butler. Leroy Butler, who was, I don't know if you know who he was, an FSU grad, a safety. And he's on the All Century High School football team in Florida. But in a game, he recovered a fumble, actually, Reggie White [inaudible 00:30:17] fumble. He picked it up, ran it in for a touchdown. And then he jumped into the stands to do what's called the Lambeau leap, very first player to ever do the Lambo leap.
And it was a safety from Florida, from Florida safety. He ran in and did that and he's still with the Packer organization to this day. It's been a neat story to watch and trying to get into the Hall of Fame right now. And one of these years he's going to get there. So I don't know if he's the most influential, but I always enjoyed the-
Heidi Otway: That's a great story. That's a great story. And then of course you mentioned, do you have a Florida sports team? You mentioned the Packers, any teams in Florida?
Jacob Williams: I'd have to say I'm more of a basketball fan and bow to Cameron, I have enjoyed recently the Florida State men's basketball team and actually the women's basketball team as well. Those two teams have done well. And my wife was actually team doctor for the Wisconsin Badgers and a young assistant by the name of Sue Semrau was on that team and now she's the head coach at Florida State. So we had not with them as their other team down here.
Heidi Otway: That's great. That's great. Jacob, thank you so much for being a guest on the Fluent in Floridian podcast. I really enjoyed this conversation with you. Thank you so much.
Jacob Williams: Alright. Thank you, Heidi.
Chris Cate: Thank you for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter, with additional support provided by Heidi Otway and the team at SalterMitchell PR. If you need help telling your Florida story, SalterMitchell PR has you covered by offering issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy, and media relations assistance. You can learn more about SalterMitchell PR at saltermitchellpr.com. You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian podcast and listen to every episode of the show at fluentinfloridian.com or by searching for the show using your favorite podcast app. Have a great day.
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