Vernon “Buddy” Hasten, an Iowa native, took over as president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. in October 2019 after serving in executive roles at Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. of Springfield, Missouri.
Hasten graduated from Auburn University in Alabama with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. He also earned certificates from Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In the service, he obtained a master’s degree equivalent from the Naval Nuclear Power School.
A 20-year Navy veteran, Hasten qualified for officer’s training after showing aptitude as an enlisted reactor operator on nuclear submarines.
Is there any way a cooperative business model, originally adopted to help rural areas get electricity, could work for urban and suburban electricity consumers? Has it ever been done?
America’s not-for-profit electric cooperatives deliver electricity to the most rural parts of and economically vulnerable consumers in America, serving 42 million cooperative members. The cooperative business model can work anywhere. It is being done today in the form of municipal power companies that are also nonprofit, with boards elected by city residents.
Is there ever any discussion of consolidating the state’s electric distribution cooperatives?
The distribution cooperatives have consolidated resources where it makes sense; they did so when they formed Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC) and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. [Both are based in Little Rock.] The 17 local electric cooperatives share the costs and benefits of operating and maintaining a cooperative generation and transmission system.
But each local electric cooperative is uniquely attuned to the specific needs of its community. The cooperatives provide local control to deliver superior service. The cooperative business model in Arkansas has yielded enviable affordability and reliability. This is notable as cooperatives have an average of six members per mile as compared with other electric service providers that have more than 30 customers per mile.
What are your long-term concerns for the infrastructure of the physical electric grid, and what changes are coming?
Reliability and affordability are my chief concerns. As we close traditional baseload power plants that were controllable from no load to full load at all hours of the day, and we replace them with resources that are intermittent and subject to the whims of nature, I am concerned that there will be more times when electric demand cannot be met for reasonable prices or at all. We have entered an era of “reduce carbon at any cost,” but the costs are significant. Time, technology and transmission are needed to achieve stated carbon goals reliably and affordably.
What were the lessons of the February freeze for utility resource planning, severe weather preparedness and response to unusual demand peaks?
AECC’s power plants performed well during the February polar vortex. Every time an event like this occurs, we adjust to do even better next time.
Two lessons learned: 1) Better winterization is needed to keep critical resources and fuel supplies online; and 2) More dispatchable resources with secure fuel supply are needed.
There is a dwindling source of dispatchable power that will create challenges in the future. Coal and nuclear power plants have the fuel needed for these events onsite and do not depend on real-time fuel delivery or cooperation from Mother Nature. We need to invest in either carbon capture technology or nuclear power as aggressively as we are in renewable energy.