New Braunfels Utilities CEO Ryan Kelso previously held the position of interim CEO following the departure of Ian Taylor in June 2023. Taylor announced in April 2023 his plan to retire from public service after 17 years with NBU. Kelso has held various positions at NBU since starting with the company in 2015, including Control Center Supervisor, Director of Water Services, Chief Operations Officer and more according to NBU.

Community Impact spoke to Kelso about plans for the utility’s future. The following has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the utility industry?

I never really dreamed that I would work for a utility. I worked in oil and gas coming out of college, and I really fell into utilities by accident. ... I spent the first few months of my career with NBU thinking ‘well I’m just waiting on the next opportunity to get back into oil and gas’ ... but I started to understand what public service was, where I previously did not really have an understanding or an appreciation for what what this business does for the community. You get to spend your days around some of those altruistic, kind, loving people that are just here to serve and I really identified with that; nine years later—here I am.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing NBU in the next 5 years

I believe the biggest challenge is going to be maintaining affordability. To accomplish it, we focus on operational efficiency, adopt cost-saving technologies, responsibly master plan our system, seek out grants, and offer utility bill assistance programs. I believe affordability is a really high priority and utilities aren’t alone in this challenge these days. You go to a supermarket, or to the gas station; everything’s more expensive these days. And utilities aren’t exempt from that. We buy some of the same commodities and things that make our business work that are driving the operating expense to provide utilities.

How do you plan to balance the need for affordable utility services with the need for sustainable, responsible practices?

For sustainability and environmentally responsible, they’re expensive sometimes. Oftentimes, they’re not the low-cost option. So whenever we’re prioritizing projects in our capital plans and conducting our water resources plan, we have scoring criteria that go beyond just what is the cheapest, you know, because the cheapest isn’t always going to accomplish the best, I guess project or product for the long term as it relates to sustained sustainability and protecting the environment and also public health. So balancing those needs is difficult because doing the right thing comes at a cost.

How do you plan to engage with NBU customers?

We have a lot of work to rebuild our relationship with the public. We’ve had some really tough years as a utility. ... NBU is launching a project to focus on the customer experience. And what I mean by that is, we’re going to look in all facets of how we interact with our customers and make such a big effort to, to make doing business with NBU as enjoyable as possible.

What strategies do you plan to implement to keep utilities affordable for NBU customers?

We’re always focused on operational efficiency. We try to drive as lean of operations as possible, while providing the best product possible. And we adopt cost saving technologies where we can responsibly master playing our system so that we build just the right amount of infrastructure and don’t build too much or find ourselves behind. And we always seek out grants and opportunities to offset those costs of infrastructure as well. And going beyond that, the step beyond just having rates that promote affordability. We also have a utility bill assistance program that the food bank administers. It’s in place for folks that have trouble paying for their utility bill and there’s adequate funds there. For people to go seek out to help them pay their bills.

How do you plan to attract high-quality candidates and keep employees motivated and engaged?

Utilities aren’t a career path that’s really pushed by colleges or universities. And it should be it’s you know, we’ve got many great jobs. And really, even high schools like you need to be pushing work in these trades, because we have to run the gamut of types of jobs. I feel we are very much a blue collar organization. We do have some support services and jobs obviously like mine that are more in the office. I’m not turning a wrench every day. I get out there and do it as often as I can climb poles with the guys and I wish that was my day to day but I get to sit in the office instead but to attract high quality talent, you know, some of the some of the things that we’re doing is we’re, we’re offering competitive salaries and benefits. We have really good benefits as a utility company.

How will NBU stay updated on the latest technology and trends in the utility industry, and how will you incorporate them into the company’s operations and services?

Technology is a challenging space, especially for utilities. And the way that we’re [keeping up] is we participate in conferences where we network with peers in the industry and a time sometimes where we innovate, where appropriate, and establish new trends in the industry. And it all requires investment and I feel like we have the right amount of both operational and capital funding in place to keep up with technology because again, we’re being measured against some of the giants and in the industries.

What are your long-term goals for the company, and how do you plan to achieve them?

Strengthening our community by providing resilient essential services. That’s our mission. So every day that we come to work, that is what we’re here to accomplish. Our vision is to be a trusted community partner dedicated to excellent service. My primary focus right now is repairing our relationship with the community and accomplishing our vision of being that trusted community partner. And to do that I rally the company to execute on the strategic plan which is aligned to accomplish that vision.