New general manager for Georgetown electric utility tackles energy crisis

Daniel Bethapudi is the new general manager for the city of Georgetown's electric utility. (Sally Grace Holtgrieve/Community Impact Newspaper)
Daniel Bethapudi is the new general manager for the city of Georgetown's electric utility. (Sally Grace Holtgrieve/Community Impact Newspaper)

Daniel Bethapudi is the new general manager for the city of Georgetown's electric utility. (Sally Grace Holtgrieve/Community Impact Newspaper)

Daniel Bethapudi began his role as the general manager for the electric utility for the city of Georgetown on Oct. 7. He will oversee the 75 employees and annual $77.4 million operating budget for the utility, which serves nearly 27,000 customers, according to the city. While at Texas A&M University obtaining his master's degree in agricultural economics with a focus on econometrics, Bethapudi researched how energy crises impact the economy on a community level. City officials also said in Bethapudi’s most recent position as assistant director for College Station utilities, he restructured and replaced multiple energy contracts for an average annual savings of about $15 million.

How does your past experience make you qualified for this position?

I started working for Mid-South Synergy in Navasota as an intern in 2001. After a couple semesters they offered me a full-time position and offered to pay for my school. I started there as a business analyst and helped with a lot of business issues. I progressed to the role of engineering and IT manager and from that transitioned into the chief financial officer role. I took over in 2008 when the economy tanked. The electric utility was going through a financial crisis, but within a couple years we turned it around to the point that, financially, the electric utility had its best year in its 70-year history.

Have you dealt with a situation similar to Georgetown’s?

The co-op was going through a financial crisis similar to what we are going through here with the electric fund. I worked at the electric utility 10 years, then I worked for the city of College Station utilities for five years. While there I dealt with energy issues, energy contracts, power-supply issues and things like that. ... Excess energy manifests in the financial issues the electric fund is seeing. At the end of the day, I firmly believe that financially you have to be strong in order to meet your other needs.

What first steps are you taking to address the city’s energy issues?

Coming into this role and going through the interview process, I was aware of the steps the city was taking to mitigate it. Everybody knows this is a challenging role, but one of the reasons I took this position was because I felt comfortable knowing the electric utility itself is a very strong utility. From a service point of view it has really good reliability statistics. I was also comfortable with some of the things city leadership was doing to address the energy issues. If I were in this role when we were trying to fix the issues I would have taken similar steps. Making sure a proper risk-management structure is in place so that something like this doesn’t happen again is an important step. When you’re trying to manage a complex situation, you need to make sure you have diversity of thought and the right people on your team. That’s where we went out and issued [requests for procurement] for an energy manager—so that somebody who has access to a bigger market can help us offload or address some of our excess energy issues. Those are the two main things we’re trying to put in place in the next month or two.

When can we expect to see changes?

We have to take some small steps, but in the next year or two we should start seeing things turn around quickly as far as power supply issues are concerned. If Georgetown was a community that was was not growing, then addressing the excess energy issue would be handled one way, but we are growing fast. We shouldn’t start from one extreme and go to the other extreme—we need to take some short-term, medium-term and long-term fixes so we are addressing the issue in a responsible manner. Just because we have excess energy now, we shouldn’t turn around and offload everything because we have excess energy; a couple of years down the road we may have to go out and procure more energy because we are a growing community. Bringing on somebody with wider energy management experience should help us address excess energy issues in the short term and be able to come up with what I call bilateral trades so we can start moving the needle straightaway. We don’t need to take knee-jerk reactions; we need to be measured regarding how we go about it.

What can residents expect regarding their utility bills?

That’s a tough question for me to answer right now. Everybody at the city is working hard to make sure the customers' impact is addressed. All the steps we are trying to take in addressing the excess energy issue will hopefully have an impact on the rates. I take that very seriously. Rates should be reasonable for the service we provide; we’ll do whatever it takes to address that issue.