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CEO Kecia Wolf on Modernizing the Grid with Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative

4 min read

Kecia Wolf, a certified public accountant, was named president and CEO of Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative in November. She has worked for the cooperative for 13 years, serving as the vice president of finance and accounting, member services and personnel, as well controller and accountant.

Wolf graduated with honors from Texas A&M-Texarkana, receiving both her BBA and MBA degrees there. She also earned an associate degree in applied science in electric power technology from Bismarck State College in North Dakota.

What is your cooperative doing to ensure it meets its members’ needs during times of high heat and other extreme weather?

We consistently monitor prevailing weather conditions, enabling us to prepare and allocate our resources effectively. We maintain a sufficient inventory of equipment, such as transformers, to expedite our response to any power outages. We have mutual aid agreements with different states to call on extra crews for help when storm damage is extensive. We have also implemented a demand response program to manage the high demand for power during extreme heat or cold. We strive to keep our members informed about any potential weather challenges. This communication includes alerts and updates through our website, social media platforms, emails and the SmartHub app.

What challenges do you face upgrading the grid to meet modern-day needs such as electric vehicles?

The biggest challenge we face when upgrading our electric system is keeping electricity reliable, affordable and responsible for our members. The most reliable electric system that never experiences an outage is not affordable. A system that only utilizes intermittent resources and emits no carbon is considered responsible by many but is neither reliable nor affordable. With the forced retirement of coal and nuclear baseload generation plants and their replacement by mostly intermittent resources, such as solar and wind, we may not have the ability to provide enough reliable electricity to new loads in the future.

What policy changes would you like to see to help electric cooperatives?

During Arkansas’ last regular session, the General Assembly passed the Cost-Shifting Prevention Act, which aims to eliminate a shift in costs from customers who can afford to install solar to those who cannot afford it. The sponsors of the bill, Sen. Jonathan Dismang and Rep. Lanny Fite, did an outstanding job listening to and balancing the interests of the stakeholders. As for future policy changes, I would like to see the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent power plant proposal be struck down. If passed, this proposal will impose unworkable regulations on new and existing power plants. These proposed regulations are based on the use of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS), which are promising technologies but are not yet commercially viable or available in many parts of the country.

In addition to being a CPA, you have an associate degree in electric power and technology. How has that helped you in your current role?

I started out as an accountant at Southwest Arkansas Electric, so I was proficient on the financial side of the industry. However, after listening to many conversations involving the electric system, my curiosity was piqued. I really yearned to know what those on the operations and engineering side of the business were talking about when they mentioned transformer sizes, current transformers, conductor sizes, etc. Therefore, I completed the associate degree program in electric power technology to fill that gap in knowledge. Now, as president and CEO, I am reaping the rewards of that program. I not only understand conversations regarding the electric system but can add thoughtful input to those conversations.

What was your biggest career mistake and what did you learn from it?

I have seen mistakes made in communications at every company I have worked for throughout my career. This includes upper management, mid-level managers, entry-level employees and everyone in between, including myself. For that reason, I have an open-door policy. Employees can and do enter my office at any time throughout the day to discuss issues with me. I also have a monthly staff meeting for managers and have just scheduled my first non-manager meeting, the goal of which is to ensure that I meet with every employee multiple times throughout the year. I want all my employees to know that it is safe to discuss any topic with me at any time and there will be no resulting retribution. I don’t follow the “need to know” philosophy. Instead, I think the more employees know, the more empowering it is for them. When communication is transparent, respectful and inclusive, it helps establish a culture of honesty, integrity and mutual respect.

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