Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has named a longtime Flathead Electric Cooperative board member and a former fighter pilot to represent the state on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
The two men—Doug Grob and Mike Milburn—join as the Council kicks into high gear to finish its 2021 Power Plan.
Grob brings nearly 20 years of utility experience to the Council. He has served on the FEC board of directors since first winning a seat in 2002, and during his tenure served as a board member of the Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association and Northwest Requirements Utilities, and alternate on the Public Power Council Executive Committee, and as president of the Western Montana Electric Generating & Transmission Cooperative.
"We are in a time of really rapid change; the most dynamic time that public power might have had period," Grob told Clearing Up.
It has been more than two years since the Council had its first briefing from staff on the 2021 Power Plan. Dozens more presentations have followed. The pace—and complexity—of staff presentations to the full Council and its Power Committee are increasing as the draft plan takes shape before its July deadline. The final plan is slated for release in October.
Grob said he expects he will get up to speed, but acknowledged he is coming in close to the end.
He sat in on the January and February Council meetings, and will take over as the Montana representative on the Council's Power Committee in March. The state's sole current representative, Bo Downen, will move over to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee until Milburn joins the Council.
Milburn currently is heading the gubernatorial transition team for Gianforte, and plans to join the Council after the state legislative session ends on May 1.
Both men told Clearing Up their job on the Council is to represent Montanans as residents of the state and the region.
Ensuring reliability in coming years is a priority, especially as the region moves away from thermal-fired generation, Grob said. "It gets cold in Montana and Idaho, and we need reliability that so far renewables haven't been able to deliver."
That shift accelerated after Washington and Oregon passed laws restricting coal- and natural gas-fired resources in utility portfolios.
"Washington and Oregon have to do what they need to do," he said. "They are an important part of the region, but so are Montana and Idaho."
Rate spikes in 2001 prompted Grob to run for the FEC board the following year. After retiring at 51, he had planned to travel. After winning his race, he put his travel plans on hold.
Milburn has plenty of stories from his years flying everything from fighter jets to lumbering cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force and then the Montana Air National Guard.
Despite not having a background in energy, Milburn said he volunteered for the job.
"I jump into things like this," he said.
While he is a longtime Republican, Milburn said, his appointment is nonpartisan.
Grob said he has no ties to the governor, and he applied for the position. He said he is a political independent.
There are currently no women serving as members of the Council. Grob's predecessor, Jennifer Anders, resigned at the end of 2020.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has nominated Chuck Sams to succeed Ted Ferrioli on the Council (CU No. 1990 [7.2]).
Brown also plans to nominate a successor to Richard Devlin later this year, Brown's press secretary Liz Merah told Clearing Up in an email.