By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A two-time graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) recently assumed the top leadership role for a non-profit organization charged with leveraging innovative technology to design, develop and deploy new energy solutions across seven states for power distributors.
That organization is Seven States Power Corporation, formed in 2007 as a generation and transmission cooperative by power distributors in the Tennessee Valley as a way to help support the generation fleet of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Earlier this year, the Board of Directors of Seven States approved a plan whereby Seven States would stop sharing staff with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, a trade association also located in Chattanooga, and establish its own four-person, full-time team. In addition, the Seven States’ Board also authorized the creation of a subsidiary – Seven States Energy, LLC – as an implementing vehicle for its long-term strategy to best serve its members.
Leading Seven States as President and Chief Executive Officer is Betsey Kirk McCall, an individual we knew from her student days. We reconnected with her at the “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” held in June at the new UTK Student Union. She was one of the panelists and, in a subsequent follow-up interview, reviewed the history of Seven States and elaborated on its exciting mission of innovation and empowerment that involves research, partnerships and revenue growth for the 153 municipalities and power cooperatives in the seven-state TVA region.
“The Valley’s power distributors need an entity with capabilities that extend beyond simply understanding distributed energy assets, rather (they need to know) how to rapidly deploy them and learn how they will impact our industry. . . test it (a new technology), design a solution, , bring it to market for members, and form new industry partnerships,” McCall explains.
That philosophy is underscored by a description prominently posted on the Seven States website.
“As the demands for distributed energy resources and renewable energy options continue to increase throughout the Valley, so does the need for a trusted energy solutions advisor who can guide local power companies as they evaluate the range of innovative technologies and environmentally conscious energy solutions available to them,” Seven States writes. “The launch of Seven States Power Corporation as a self-sustaining business means that members and their consumers now have access to a staff of pros with extensive industry experience, dedicated full-time to the delivery of cost-effective energy solutions.”
McCall says that Seven States concentrates on turnkey products and services in areas like EV (electric vehicle) chargers, solar arrays, , battery storage, fiber deployment, backup generation, cybersecurity and distributed energy resource management systems.
“We’re focused on research, partnerships and activities that drive sustainable revenue and growth for our members,” she adds, noting several factors that made the continued sharing of staff no longer workable.
“Our book of business grew so much (in the past few years) that we outstripped sharing staff with TVPPA,” McCall said, adding that the friendly separation “also helped establish our independence to bid on contracts.”
She joined TVPPA and Seven States in late 2017 as Executive Vice President for Market Strategy and Corporate Operations where her assignment was to answer a two-part question: (1) was there a need for Seven States in the future; and (2) if so, what was that strategic role?
“My assignment was reimagining Seven States to give it a renewed purpose and focus,” McCall says, explaining the unique role the organization serves for its members. With increased focus nationwide on carbon reduction, renewable resources, and digital solutions – and with unprecedented flexibility from TVA to provide cleaner, greener power supply – power distributors across the Valley are rapidly evolving.
“As we relaunched Seven States in 2018, we knew the industry was changing and saw the need for an organization to design and deploy solutions that align with our member companies and TVA’s shared vision for distributed energy resources that support grid resiliency, economic development, and carbon reduction efforts,” McCall adds.
Seven States is 100 percent member-owned by the power distributors in the Tennessee Valley which makes it more than an equipment provider or execution arm. Seven States is an energy services cooperative, meaning its member-owners not only benefit from the deployment of innovative technology in their service territories, they also benefit from the cooperative’s growth and shared learning.
Prior to joining TVPPA, McCall was with TVA for more than seven years, last serving as the utility’s Director of Fleet Optimization, and was in a private law practice for four years before that. “It was not my plan,” she says of her role in the utility sector. “It was totally God’s plan.”
Today, McCall is energized by the mission that Seven States has, working closely with TVA and looking at energy issues and opportunities through the eyes of the local utilities. “TVA sets policy, then Seven States helps the local utilities implement it,” she says. “We wake up every day focused on how best to come alongside our members and TVA to meet the demands of this evolving landscape and develop innovative communities across the Valley.”
On the research side, McCall emphasizes the importance of getting new technologies into the hands of users. “There’s a lot we don’t know about technologies and how people will use them,” she explains. “Rapid deployment of these assets will help us understand how customers will use them.”
On the partnerships front, McCall says Seven States works with research entities ranging from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to UTK’s Heath Integrated Business and Engineering Program. One example was a project last year between the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and Huntsville Utilities to deploy “Project Liftoff,” a small microgrid combining a solar canopy, battery storage, and EV charger stations constructed in the parking lot adjacent to the Saturn V Rocket.
Earlier this year, Seven States celebrated its 100th EV charger installation in less than three years – with the milestone being reached through a partnership with BrightRidge and East Tennessee State University. And Seven States will end the year celebrating a project deployed with partners Rock City and Electric Power Board of Chattanooga with the commissioning of a unique solar arbor to greet tourists at the main entrance of the gardens.