VOL. 133 | NO. 67 | Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Young Takes Helm at MLGW With Look At Storm Measures, Better Communication
By Bill Dries
The new president and CEO of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division has seen a storm or two in his career, including hurricanes.
“No two storms are the same,” J.T. Young said of his experience as general manager of customer service and marketing for Gulf Power in Pensacola, Florida.
Nominated by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and confirmed by the Memphis City Council, Young has been in his position as head of MLGW for about two weeks. He is a 30-year veteran of the utility industry, much of it in different positions with Gulf Power.
“It is my understanding that MLGW has done a great job trying to maintain its facilities the best it could, given the funding it had, to withstand the storms that we anticipate. … That’s going to be an early focus of mine,” Young said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”
“But the thing we are not able to do in this business is guarantee reliability following any type of storm. You just never know what you are going to have to endure,” he said. “But we do have to make sure our facilities are hardened in whatever way is reasonable and a way that our funding allows it to be.”
Young is familiar with calls to put utilities underground, a call that was renewed by some city council members in the wake of the Memorial Day weekend storm, called the Tom Lee storm, last May – the third largest power outage in the city’s history.
“Undergrounding is extremely expensive,” Young said. “If you have failures with underground equipment as well, it is often difficult. You can’t see what’s failed often times. It’s not a panacea. … If you were to take our entire system and go underground with it, it would be extremely costly and probably not practical in certain areas, depending on where that would be.”
Former MLGW president Jerry Collins estimated taking all of MLGW’s utilities underground would cost billions of dollars over several years.
Young said underground utilities can also fall victim to natural forces like erosion.
“We try to make sure we’ve got the right balance between underground and overhead that’s efficient, that makes economic sense,” he said.
A city council committee is reviewing utility operations including storm responses as well as “blue sky outages” – outages that are unrelated to the weather.
Those kinds of outages will be a focus, Young said, as will more frequent communication from the utility on all types of outages that allow customers to prepare for them.
“We’re going to be putting out even more content to our customers regarding alerts and the outage map, which is already out there. People can see the status of outages in their community and understand about when they may be back on based on resources that we have and severity and all of that,” Young said. “So we will be doing another push to make sure that gets out there for customers to be able to have that in their hand with their mobile device so they can be alerted and know what is going on.”
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Young takes office with rate hikes for water and gas taking effect in July that go toward maintaining and upgrading infrastructure for those two areas. The utility had requested higher increases in those rates over several years. But council members balked at that, choosing instead to raise the rates by a smaller increase for a year as Young determines whether additional rate hikes are needed next year and beyond.
“The services that we provide depend heavily on the infrastructure that we have. And much like any asset that you own, it’s imperative that you maintain those assets and that you continue to invest in those assets so they can deliver the value they were designed to deliver,” Young said. “We are going to continue to find more efficient ways to do what we do. … We are charged just like any other business with ensuring the things we do every day, that we are doing them in as efficient and innovative way as possible.”