OPINION: ‘Tribes are ready for transition’

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Three years ago, the company known in English as Energy Keepers, Inc., was created to manage the conveyance, and then subsequently operate, the Kerr Hydroelectric Project. Energy Keepers, a federally chartered corporation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, has been full steam ahead ever since that fall day in 2012.

The endeavor to acquire Kerr Dam has been over 30 years in the making. When acquisition takes place on Sept. 5, 2015, our tribes stand ready to take ownership and operate the Kerr Project.

For the tribes, establishing a corporation to break into the wholesale power market will be unprecedented — we will become the first tribes in the nation to own and operate a major hydropower facility and operate it as an independent power producer.

The moment will be marked in history as a milestone. For those of us at EKI, it will also mark a moment of pride knowing intimately what we have accomplished to get to this point, and understanding what is needed to succeed long beyond the initial days of producing, and marketing Kerr power in the wholesale marketplace.

Our staff here at EKI includes 26 of some of the brightest, highly-skilled and hardest working individuals in the energy industry. It consists of hydropower operators, accountants, engineers, HR and IT specialists, attorneys, and power marketing experts.

Our staff reflects the value the tribes place on creating meaningful employment that can support a family. And it demonstrates competency of the tribal work force with many of the jobs filled by highly qualified tribal members.

To meet modern needs of operating a major hydro facility, EKI has concentrated on developing and implementing a computerized maintenance management system, allowing for precise execution of maintenance and creating a record of this maintenance necessary for regulatory compliance, and the development and execution of a comprehensive dam safety program.

From a business perspective, we now have a robust internal accounting system to manage the considerable quantities of transactions anticipated in the wholesale energy marketplace. To manage the risks associated with a high volatility in this marketplace, we have created, and are executing, a thorough Energy Risk Management Policy.

Our IT systems are in place, including newly laid fiber and interconnectivity to the facility for communicating vital monitoring and operations data.

Critical to success, we have established contractual agreements with counterparties across the region, and have all the power scheduled for generation on Sept. 5 already sold.

From a resource management standpoint, managing Flathead Lake and the Lower Flathead River will look like business as usual. When it comes to operating a hydropower facility that is part of large complex system that extends from Montana through Canada to Bonneville Dam, there simply isn’t a lot of wiggle room to stray from the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license. This includes abiding by mandated lake levels as part of the Memorandum of Agreement between EKI as the operators, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and working within the parameters of a drought management plan that is coordinated across the Columbia Basin, critically important during years such as this one where the snowpack was minimal, and instream flows are low.

It also includes EKI meshing into the operation and management of the entire Columbia River Hydro Power System through a seamless transition into the Pacific Northwest Coordination agreement, a regionally based accord for comprehensive management of hydro resources in the Columbia River basin tiered off the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty.

Bottom line, we are ready.

But more importantly, 80 years after the dam was constructed — against the wishes of many tribal members, and at great expense to the community whose loved ones were lost in the construction — acquiring the Kerr Project will be a time to reflect on how something that impacted such a culturally sensitive place so important to the tribes and represented destruction to a way of life might now bring renewed hope and opportunity.

In another 80 years, I won’t be serving as the chief executive officer of Energy Keepers Inc., but I do hope that the foundation we have worked so tirelessly to provide continues to serve the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the local communities and the region. It is a foundation of success. Our work here today will be a platform to weather the ups and downs of an energy marketplace. But most importantly I hope it provides a means to heal some of the wounds that opened when the dam was initiated so many decades ago.

We are all ready for this.

Lipscomb, of Polson, is president and chief executive officer of Energy Keepers Inc.

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