The board of the Chelan County Public Utility District scored a major coup in hiring former Bonneville Power Administration top gun Steve Wright as its next general manager. He has the skills, leadership and breadth of experience to take the utility to the next level.
The economics of the energy industry is changing dramatically with the rapid expansion of renewables and it is going to take deft leadership and strong analytical thinking to drive effective decisions in the unstable and uncertain environment that is quickly emerging. Wright brings those capabilities and a whole lot more to the position.
He’s on a first-name basis with members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has three decades of experience with the federal power system, understands the importance of the Columbia River Treaty and has worked with the tribes and aluminum companies like Alcoa. He also brings a collaborative style that should resonate with employees, the board and the executive team.
Wright is the beneficiary of a dramatic turnaround at Chelan PUD engineered by former general manager Rich Riazzi and outgoing executive John Janney. In a conversation with us, Wright made it clear that he was not interested in performing a turnaround of a troubled agency so he looked long and hard at the financials, going so far as to talk to individuals who had audited the PUD’s books. He also assessed the strength of the leadership team. Wright said he’s convinced that the district is well managed and financially strong.
One of the opportunities that Wright will face is developing greater engagement with the public, something that was not a strength for Riazzi or Janney. He told us that not only he will be engaged in that effort but that he’ll make it a priority to make it part of the PUD culture — that everyone will have an opportunity to participate. Wright will have a learning curve on some aspects of the job, such as the management of a fiber network.
The district could use more leadership stability, after two short-term general managers. It would be nice if he would stick around for more than a few years.
Despite the fact that the district had two strong internal candidates in Gregg Carrington and Kirk Hudson, the board made the correct decision in hiring Wright. You can watch a video interview with Wright on wenatcheeworld.com by clicking on videos.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.