Under Marc Gerken's leadership, the municipal electric provider built one of the first commercial wind turbine projects in the state, and its hydroelectric fleet along the Ohio River is one of the largest in the country.
When American Municipal Power CEO Marc Gerken steps down next year, he’ll be leaving a significantly different organization from the one he started leading two decades ago. While the challenges AMP and Ohio’s energy industry face may have changed, the organization’s mission remains one of advocating on behalf of its members to keep public power affordable and readily available.
Headquartered in Columbus, AMP is a nonprofit corporation that purchases or generates electric power to sell to its members, using pooled buying power to drive down rates for members, which are primarily municipalities. Founded in 1971, AMP had 82 members in three states when Gerken was named CEO in 2000; the nonprofit now includes 135 members in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Maryland and Delaware.
Increasing AMP’s electricity generation assets was one of Gerken’s top priorities. “When I took over, we were going from market-based rates to a commodity-based, open-market structure. And we were seeing where the organized markets, their prices were really starting to track up,” he says. “We were fairly asset-poor at the time, so our board came up with a pretty strategic resource generation plan to diversify that portfolio.”Stay up to date with the region’s thriving business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
At the time, AMP had only two generating assets—the Belleville hydroelectric plant on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River southwest of Marietta and the Richard Gorsuch Generating Station, a 1950s-era coal-fired plant near Marietta. (The plant was retired in 2010.)
AMP built four hydroelectric plants on the Ohio River, generating about 313 megawatts of power, and purchased a combined gas cycle plant in Fremont from First Energy. It also signed a deal committing to buy about 23 percent of the output from the Prairie State coal plant in Illinois, representing about 368 megawatts.
Along with an emphasis on hydro, AMP has focused on increasing its percentage of solar and wind generation. “That’s one thing I’m really proud that we’ve accomplished—our focus on renewables. I’d say we have probably one of the cleanest generation portfolios in Ohio,” Gerken says. “We had one of the first commercial wind turbine projects in the state, and we own and operate one of the largest run-of-the-river fleets in the country.”
The AMP board has established a search committee to find Gerken’s successor, and an executive search firm is assisting in the process.
Looking forward, an advisory council created in 2016 keeps tabs on the future of the electric utility sector and advises AMP members on how to prepare as the industry evolves. That includes keeping renewables in the portfolio. “Having that eye on the future of our industry has been really beneficial, and is going to be critically important in the next five to 10 years,” says Chris Monacelli, chair of the council and electric utility manager for the city of Westerville, an AMP member. “Recently, AMP has been helping us with transmission, which is probably our fastest-growing cost. AMP has also been a really big advocate for us at the Statehouse, lobbying on our behalf.”
AMP’s voice is regularly heard at the national level as well, with Gerken testifying before congressional committees and federal agencies on issues affecting the wholesale power industry.
“AMP definitely has a role to play on the national stage in terms of helping my organization formulate its position on climate change as we discuss legislation here in Washington,” says Sue Kelly, CEO of the American Public Power Association, which represents more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities across the country. “People are still having discussions and thinking about how to address these issues, and it’s people like Marc who help us figure out the membership consensus position.”