AMP 50 Years — Stronger Together12 min read
By Michele Lemmon, Manager of Public Relations and Digital Media
The growth that American Municipal Power, Inc. (AMP) experienced from its founding in 1971 to its 50 year anniversary in 2021 mirrors the advancements in technology during the same period. In 1971, the No. 1 technology news story was Intel introducing the microprocessor. In 2021, two of the top technology trends are the explosion of artificial intelligence and machine learning — followed closely by cybersecurity.
In 1971, AMP was a fledgling organization, with no computer to its name. In 2021, AMP has grown into a mature organization with expertise, assets, programs and technology designed to meet the needs of 134 member public power systems.
“As we experience continued shifts in generation and the changes at the edge of the grid driven by new technology, new players and increasing customer engagement, our ability to adapt, be responsible and remain relevant is even more critical than it was when AMP was formed,” said Jolene Thompson, AMP president/CEO. “While AMP’s primary focus today is on strategies to move the organization forward to benefit its members, the half-century mark provided the opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments, battles fought and innovative thinking that built AMP — and how that positions us for the future.”
“The situation before AMP-Ohio was that we were wholesale customers of Ohio Edison, and when I say customers, I mean, they were the boss. We had to deal with them in an adversarial way,” said William J. Lyren, retired director of public service and city engineer with the City of Wadsworth, former AMP Board chair and treasurer, and AMP Wall of Fame honoree. “They would impose restrictions on us and impose what I would call anti-competitive activities (which) were a norm.”
In the 1950s, in Ohio alone, there were about 130 municipal electric systems. By the 1970s, that number had dwindled to about 80. According to John Bentine, former AMP senior vice president and long-time general counsel, the economics of generation and transmission were changing at that time, as large electric utilities built larger fossil fuel plants, more transmission systems and interconnections between utilities
“It was very difficult, if not impossible, for municipalities to take advantage of those kinds of things,” said Bentine, an AMP Wall of Fame honoree. “They didn’t have the reliability because the big utilities would not interconnect with them, unless they either sold or forfeited their plants or agreed to become full-requirements customers of those utilities. That sort of gave rise to joint action. As Wall of Fame member and former AMP Board of Trustee officer Bob Dupee used to say, ‘We either hang separately or we hang together.’“
The movement to form AMP began after the City of St. Marys and other public power systems established the Midwestern Ohio Municipal Power Pool (MOMPP), said Ken Hegemann, retired AMP president/CEO, former AMP Board of Trustees officer, who served as the safety service director in St. Marys at the time AMP was established.
“(MOMPP) was not popular with Dayton Power & Light,” said Hegemann, who is also an AMP Wall of Fame honoree. “We ended up in Washington before an administrative law judge. … He basically said, ‘Go back to Ohio, have a bigger group, and we’ll require the IOUs to provide transmission service and interconnection.’”
Not long after, five representatives from Bowling Green, Cleveland, Dover, Hamilton and Westerville signed AMP’s articles of incorporation, filed by an official from Piqua with the State of Ohio on Sept. 29, 1971. The group aimed to gain economies of scale in power supply, elevate their voice and fight for transmission access previously blocked by investor-owned utilities (IOUs).
“We put together the group that we asked to incorporate,” Hegemann said of Bob Hillwig from Bowling Green, Warren Hinchee from Columbus, Willard Seibert from Dover, John Engle from Hamilton, and Paul Kaiser from Westerville. “They were heavy hitters. They were much more in tune, size-wise, with the politicians and with the investor-owned utilities. So that was the beginning.”
1974 Merger of AEP and Columbus & Southern Power: In 1969, American Electric Power (AEP) filed at the Securities and Exchange Commission for authority to acquire Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Company, which was headquartered in Columbus. As a result, the City of Columbus and other municipalities that were interconnected with Ohio Power intervened. As a result, AEP agreed to move its headquarters to Columbus from New York City, and, in a separate agreement that came to be known as the “1974 Agreement,” AEP agreed to interconnect with and provide transmission services to municipal systems in Ohio.
“That gave us access, not only to Ohio transmission, but all across the AEP system,” Bentine said. “We could then import power that we could purchase in other states. …. It gave us a much bigger market upon which we could rely for purchases of power.”
Nuclear Licensing Provisions: When Toledo Edison, Ohio Edison and Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (now known as FirstEnergy) filed for licenses to build the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Justice Department required an antitrust review of the actions of the utilities applying to build the plants.
“For some unknown reason to me, they decided that I would be helpful in testifying before the licensing commission with regard to how we were being treated by the investor-owned utility, in this case Ohio Edison,” Lyren said. “It was easy for me to explain to them the various anti-competitive activities that had been going on for years. As a result of all this, the conditions that were placed on the license for them to build this plant were very favorable to us.”
The Justice Department sided with the municipal systems in Ohio and ordered as a condition of the nuclear license being issued that the IOUs would provide interconnections and transmission to municipalities on a reasonable basis, and not require municipal electric systems to be full-requirements customers.
Richard H. Gorsuch Generating Station: In the 1980s, as AMP began looking for sources of power, it learned that Elkem Metals had surplus capacity at their power plant in Marietta, Ohio. Eventually, AMP-Ohio decided to purchase the plant and in 1987 assumed a 70-percent ownership of the plant, which was the first large generation asset financed and owned by AMP. The plant was named for Richard H. Gorsuch, AMP’s first president/CEO, who passed away in 1987 and is also an AMP Wall of Fame honoree. In 1999, AMP took full ownership of the plant, which provided baseload power for 48 participating AMP members; the plant closed in 2010 as part a U.S. EPA Consent Decree.
The purchase of Gorsuch Station proved that AMP had the necessary expertise to own and operate a facility, according to Hegemann, who succeeded Gorsuch as president and CEO of the organization.
Joint Ventures and Joint Action Financing: AMP had sought ways to jointly finance projects and AMP’s legal counsel identified a mechanism in Ohio law for municipal joint ventures. A number of joint ventures were formed, resulting in the addition of diesel, wind and hydropower generation to the organization’s portfolio — along with a transmission project. The largest of those undertakings was the development of run-of-the-river hydroelectric plant at the existing Belleville Locks and Dam on the Ohio River, along with associated back up diesel generation. Construction on the 42-megawatt hydropower facility began in 1995, with commercial operations in 1999. Belleville, estimated to have an 80- to 100-year lifespan, delivered its 5-millionth net megawatt hour on Dec. 10, 2018, hitting that goal nine months sooner than projected.
Marc Gerken, a former AMP Board member from Napoleon and co-chair of the OMEGA JV5 Construction Oversight Committee, became AMP president and CEO in 2000, succeeding Hegemann. Gerken envisioned great growth for the organization.
“Our growth for me was really the megawatts,” said Gerken, a big proponent of hydroelectric power who was named to the AMP Wall of Fame in 2021. “The growth as we went forward was probably one of my No. 1 issues.”
AMP worked with MWH Global, now part of Stantec, to evaluate the top 10 sites on the Ohio River, an analysis that showed that Meldahl was the No. 1 site, followed by Cannelton, Smithland and Willow Island.
“We just felt like that was a good portfolio, and it was renewable,” Gerken said. “And we knew how to run them. We knew about them, and so we had a strong push to get those done.”
The transition to a multi-state organization was a major milestone for AMP, said Jon Bisher, former city manager for the City of Napoleon, former member of AMP Board of Trustees, Board Chair from 2009-2014 and Wall of Fame honoree.
While AMP experienced growth in its first 25 years, it was not until 1997 that AMP — still known then as AMP-Ohio — became a multi-state organization when Philippi, West Virginia, became the first member outside of Ohio. In the years that followed, communities from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky, Delaware, Indiana and Maryland joined AMP. In recognition of this growing member footprint, the organization’s Board of Trustees voted in 2009 to rename the organization, dropping Ohio from the name.
In the same time frame, the organization undertook strategic development of additional generating assets with the goal of providing more portfolio diversification. These efforts included the acquisition of an ownership share of the Prairie State Generating Campus, a supercritical mine-mouth coal plant in southern Illinois along with the development of the four run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects located at existing locks and dams along the Ohio River and the purchase of the Fremont Energy Center natural gas combined cycle facility.
Today, AMP has members in nine states and provides a range of services and programs designed to help meet their unique needs. The organization has a diverse resource portfolio including hydropower, natural gas, coal, solar, wind and diesel generation. MP is a strong advocate on behalf of its members in various policy arenas. The numbers illustrate the growth: In 2000, AMP had 82 members, $222 million in electric sales and $248 million in assets. Now, in 2021, AMP has 134 members and about $1.1 billion in electric sales and $6.6 billion in assets.
AMP’s achievements can be grouped into three categories explains Jolene Thompson, a long-time AMP staffer who was named AMP president and CEO when Gerken retired in April 2020:
- The dedication, innovation and sheer grit demonstrated by AMP’s early leaders to embrace joint action;
- The foundational, legal and regulatory battles that helped AMP and its members continue to successfully operate municipal electric utilities; and
- The strategic growth that AMP has experienced in its membership, advocacy, portfolio and subject matter experts.
In 2021, the AMP Board of Trustees adopted five new strategic priorities and related initiatives aimed at preparing AMP and its members for the revolutionary changes currently occurring in the industry, and those yet to come.
“I think what’s ahead for all of us is just dealing with the changing technology,” said Jeff Brediger, director of utilities in Orrville and the AMP Board of Trustees Chair. “These strategies that we’ve developed will help the members sift down to the specifics they need to help them adapt to their individual needs and concerns back home.”
Those who helped found AMP in 1971 couldn’t envision where the organization would be in 2021, said Lyren and Hegemann, who were around in the beginning. Both shared the same confidence that Thompson has now — that AMP and its members will continue to thrive in the future.
“What I know about public power and what I know about AMP is that the organization and our members have the critical qualities that will position us for success in the future,” Thompson said. “I am confident that AMP will continue to be a strong membership organization for the next 50 years.”