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'Bridges being built' by BPA's personnel exchange with tribes
5/3/2012 12:00 AM
Pi-Ta Pitt (left), from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is wrapping up his intergovernmental exchange at BPA. He'll welcome Daniel Howlett to Bonneville from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in June.
Daniel Howlett believes the chance to train at BPA is an essential step on a path that stretches back longer than he's been alive.
"I was destined to do the role I'm in," says Howlett, 30, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who is helping guide their energy future.
He was just 4 years old when his father, Kevin Howlett, and other leaders achieved a landmark goal for the Northwestern Montana tribes. After years of effort, they gained FERC status in 1985 to operate Kerr Dam as a co-licensee with an option to purchase it in 2015.
"The interesting part is the fact that my father sat on the tribal council and was integral to the negotiations in 1985," says Howlett.
The dam was built in the 1930s by Montana Power on land that is culturally significant to the tribes at the natural outlet of Flathead Lake. Its acquisition is profound for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai.
"After 80 years, it means the tribes will have regained control of a major asset and resource that sits in the middle of the reservation on tribal lands," Brian Lipscomb, CSKT director of energy, told the Missoulian newspaper.
The past five years have seen a whirlwind of preparation – both for Howlett and the tribes. The three-unit hydroelectric project, now owned by PPL Montana, has a total generating capacity of 194 megawatts. The price for its sale has not been determined.
Howlett began laying his own groundwork to contribute to the transition of the dam by earning a bachelor's degree in marketing and a master's degree in global energy management, specializing in renewables, both at the University of Colorado, Denver. In 2011, he became the first Native American to graduate from that master's program.
He's been working as the tribal energy coordinator, and was thrilled to learn of the possibility of spending two years at BPA on an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement, similar to the details BPA practices with fellow agencies. While Howlett cycles through different areas of BPA, his salary will be funded by his employer.
He follows Pi-Ta Pitt, a Columbia University economics major who joined BPA in 2009 from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. The Ivy Leaguer, who is often seen sporting his blue Columbia ballcap around BPA, is preparing to return to Warm Springs this fall, where he will help operate Pelton Dam on the Deschutes River.
One of the aspects he's valued most about being on the inside at BPA, Pitt says, is the opportunity "to pick the best brains." But there are broader benefits, too. "Bridges being built," he says, "wounds being mended."
BPA Deputy Administrator Bill Drummond toured Montana's Kerr Dam and the Flathead Indian Reservation with Howlett, as well as BPA staff and tribal leaders April 17.
"The relationship that's being created is different," Pitt says. "It opens communication between Warm Springs and BPA on a level that's going to benefit both sides. I strongly believe that."
Deputy Administrator Bill Drummond says Pitt's time at BPA has proven the value of the exchange program. Both of them joined a planeload of BPA staffers who traveled to Montana to tour Kerr Dam on April 17 and celebrate the new agreement sending Howlett to BPA.
"Just as with Pi-Ta, Daniel's time at Bonneville will benefit everyone," Drummond says. "Bonneville gets a bright, motivated young person who is able to contribute from the start. Daniel will have a wide variety of work experiences across the electric utility industry in just two years, and he will return to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes with an extremely valuable range of expertise."
Howlett will overlap with Pitt for about three months this summer. "I owe thanks to Pi-Ta Pitt because he paved the way in the program and opened doors for me," Howlett says. "I hope I can maintain that high level of integrity and work ethic, and help keep the lasting relationship between the tribes and BPA."
Kerr Dam, with a total generating capacity of 194 megawatts, will be purchased by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in 2015, and Howlett's training will provide added expertise for the tribes' energy plans.
(Photos courtesy of Rob McDonald/CSKT)
Bill Lamb of Power Services and Nathan Dexter of Tribal Affairs will supervise Howlett as he gets a crash course in everything from power scheduling and planning to market analysis and credit risk management.
Although he doesn't start until June, Howlett's all ready to jump in. He gets pumped up talking about learning the trading floor and how to model risk. "I'm excited to dive into topics I haven't had exposure to," Howlett says. "I feel blessed to have this opportunity to get to circle through BPA."
His father, who now serves as the tribes' director of Health and Human Services, is proud, too. "I think he's almost overwhelmed with how happy he is," Daniel Howlett says. "I don't think it's even hit him yet."
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