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BPA staffer’s brainstorm leads to streamlined billing
2/5/2014 12:00 AM
BPA’s Annamarie Weekley of Finance and John Wellschlager of Bulk Trading celebrated with the cross-agency team that helped figure out how to put Weekley’s billing innovation into practice in time for the debut of a new generation-inputs product.
When Annamarie Weekley had a light-bulb moment last spring, she had no idea if the epiphany would even be possible.
With a new power product in the pipeline, the Finance staffer thought she saw a way for BPA to eliminate half of the four billing steps it ordinarily follows whenever energy is sold between its two business lines, Power Services and Transmission Services.
She wasn’t an executive or even a manager. She didn’t work in billing, although she had experience with creating revenue codes. The idea was definitely in someone else’s silo.
“I whole-heartedly expected people to laugh in my face,” says Weekley, whose job title is financial analyst.
But she believed in saving time and resources, while better serving customers. And she knew the timing was right for such innovation.
BPA’s need for balancing reserves had outgrown the capacity of the Federal Columbia River Power System. Weekley was working with the team in Bulk Marketing tasked with purchasing imbalance capacity from third parties on behalf of Transmission Services. The new reserves would help manage the increase in wind and solar generation in the BPA Balancing Authority area, providing capacity to deal with unforeseen scheduling inaccuracies.
Bonneville was undertaking these purchases for the first time, helping to address what BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer has called “a critical objective of the agency.”
Like every other chunk of electrons bought and sold at BPA, the new product would receive a unique financial label called a Revenue Info System (RIS) code. Hundreds of these electronic codes allow BPA to track and report financial transactions. The codes map to budgets, general ledger accounts and work orders, following each transaction from cradle to grave.
Streamlining a knotty and established piece of the billing choreography at a $3 billion a year federal agency wasn’t exactly Weekley’s job. But it wasn’t anyone else’s either.
Back when she was hired at BPA in 2008 as a contract worker in data management, the so-called ancillary services needed to support wind integration were modest, provided entirely by the FCRPS. But by 2010, when she joined Finance as a federal employee, ancillary services had grown with regional wind generation to such an extent that purchasing additional supplies from third parties would soon be necessary. Because the transactions would no longer just be between BPA’s Power and Transmission business lines, but with outside parties, the billing would become even more unwieldy.
Weekley knew that inefficiencies in that ill-defined territory between BPA’s two business lines made most people want to duck down in their cubes and grab their position descriptions. It would be her challenge to persuade an array of colleagues, many of whom she had never worked with, to take part in exploring her proposal.
In her thoughtful, soft-spoken way, Weekley is a tenacious problem solver who has a way with people. She proved to be an ideal, if unlikely, person to take on an internal practice so arcane and complex that most others just accepted it as “the way we’ve always done it.”
She initially approached John Wellschlager with her idea in spring 2013. The trading floor’s account executive was wrestling with the challenge of procuring, testing, scheduling and deploying the crucial new reserves by the Oct. 1 deadline set in the generation inputs rate case settlement. Wellschlager leads the VERBS and DERBS team (Variable or Dispatchable Energy Resource Balancing Service) in Bulk Marketing.
Wellschlager knew very well how the existing “between business lines” billing went:
Power Services purchases energy for Transmission (using one RIS code);
Power sells to Transmission (a second code);
Transmission pays Power (a third code);
Power pays the supplier of the energy (using the original code).
Weekly proposed this shortcut for the new VERBs and DERBs product:
Power buys energy on behalf of Transmission (using a new transmission RIS code);
The supplier is credited on its Transmission bill (using the same code).
While this had never been done before, Wellschlager immediately saw the merit in its efficiency. By booking any purchases made by Bulk Marketing on behalf of Transmission directly against a Transmission RIS code, the organization requesting and using the service would pay for it directly. This approach would also begin to transfer some of the acquisition responsibility to Transmission Services, a long-term goal of both business lines.
With Wellschlager’s input and support over the next six months, Weekley wove together a grassroots working group spanning Power and Transmission. After getting the go-ahead from the legal department, a revolving cast of four dozen staffers took part in weekly meetings to puzzle out the processes necessary to make the new method work.
“Because Bonneville is such a large and complex organization, implementing new processes can sometimes be like turning the Queen Mary,” Wellschlager says.
But turn it they did. Weekley’s epiphany became operational reality just in time for the launch of the new imbalance capacity product in October.
In an era of sweeping demographic change across BPA’s workforce, the project reflected a highly successful and somewhat unique collaboration between staff leaders who represented the talents and experience of two different generations at BPA: Weekley, 32, and Wellschlager, 56.
Among the project’s other key contributors were Laura Green and Meri Foeller of Customer Billing; Matt Schroettnig and Janet Klippstein of Power’s Long Term Sales and Purchases team; Troy Simpson of Transmission Real Time Scheduling; the Transmission Policy and Strategy team, including Chris Gilbert; Scott Newlon of Power Transfer Scheduling; Eric Carter of Transmission Sales; and the General Accounting team.
“There’s lots of rhetoric about ‘One BPA,’” Wellschlager says. “But this project really did embody it.”
A December celebration to honor the team’s work drew a number of appreciative executives. Mainzer, who was in Washington, D.C., sent a message of congratulations.
“I wanted to let you know how impressed I am with the work you have been able to accomplish in bringing third-party resources into our balancing operations and how much I appreciate all your efforts,” the BPA administrator and CEO wrote. “Expanding the range of resources available to BPA for balancing will only prove to be increasingly valuable over time as the demands on the FCRPS continue to grow. And the highly effective cross-agency coordination and problem-solving that you all demonstrated is a great example of BPA at its best.”
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