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  • Powerhouse Q&A: Horace Horn

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    Horace Horn is an authentic “people person.” The Vice President of External Affairs for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative routinely meets with, collaborates with and works alongside a wide cross section of people and is energized by every interaction.
     
    What brought you to PowerSouth? After college, I worked with a pharmaceutical company before getting into the building construction and poultry industry. In the early ‘90s, I was appointed to a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which included working with the rural utilities. Gary Smith became President and CEO of PowerSouth in January of 2000, and I accepted a position as a part of his management team.

    What is PowerSouth’s primary service? We are an electric cooperative, and we are a generation and transmission co-op, meaning we generate and sell power to our member cooperatives. We have 20 members, including electric co-ops and several municipalities. In our model, all members serve on our board of directors, and they actually own PowerSouth. Our service area includes 39 Alabama counties and 10 Florida counties.
     
    What are your primary duties at PowerSouth? I’m responsible for all of our governmental affairs operations in Alabama and Florida and at the federal level in Washington, D.C. I’m also responsible for our economic development efforts in Alabama and Florida. PowerSouth’s main office is in Andalusia, but my main office is here, and that’s the same for our governmental affairs and economic development staff.
     
    What drives PowerSouth to be engaged in economic development? We’ve always been involved in economic development, but about 20 years ago, we really ramped up that effort, and that happened under our CEO who hired me, Gary Smith. By helping the communities in our service areas recruit more industry and create jobs, it helps us create more businesses and households to serve. But many times, we assist in recruiting industry that we might not serve. The “rising tide floats all boats” idea applies. We may serve the households that come from new jobs in that industry or the other businesses that its presence spurs into opening.
     
    It is important to our member systems, especially the more rural areas, to have someone looking out for them and recruiting industry to their area. And we do serve a lot of rural sections of the state. But not all. Dixie Electric, which serves a good bit of Montgomery is a PowerSouth member, as is a large portion of Alabama and Florida’s Gulf Coast, which is not rural.
     
    What got you interested in economic development and governmental affairs work? I’ve always been interested in politics. I worked in some governmental affairs roles on a volunteer basis for several agricultural trade associations in my previous career and enjoyed the politics of that. I’m able to put that longtime interest to work in my role now, as politics and economic development are very closely related.
     
    What challenges are the energy industry and coops like PowerSouth currently facing? In the power generation business, we are all dealing with environmental pressures. We just closed a large coal-fired power plant due to continuing environmental demands. It costs a lot of money to comply with regulations; we have spent multi-hundreds of millions of dollars in years past with no guarantee that we’d be able to keep operating that plant in the years to come, so it didn’t make sense. We are almost out of using coal entirely and are mostly natural gas now. But more and more stringent regulations from the EPA remain a big challenge for us. COVID has been a challenge too. In our business, it is imperative that we were able to keep the power plant and control room staffed and keep that team strong. It took some time and effort to figure out how to do that, but we did it, and I’m proud of the way we managed the pandemic.
     
    What’s on the horizon for the energy industry? There continues to be a major push for renewable energy in our industry. People who do not understand the industry believe you can go to 100-percent renewables, but we do not see that as a real possibility. Still, we have invested in some solar, and we continue to look at other renewable resources.
     
    But the bottom line in our business is keeping the lights on, and we’re doing that quite well. There are always challenges, but we are very optimistic about the future. We have a topnotch management staff and good people at every level of our company. That means we know we are well equipped to continue providing dependable electricity at a very affordable rate. With that knowledge, we have a bright outlook on our future.
     
    What is the most rewarding part of your work? From a personal standpoint, I’m very rewarded by getting to work with so many different people. We are in a people business. In governmental affairs, it’s all about relationships. If you’re going to work with legislators and other leaders, you have much better success if you have a relationship with those people. It’s the same in economic development. You have to work hand-in hand with multiple people to bring projects to our state. Of course, it’s extremely rewarding when things go your way on those fronts, but dealing with people in general is always fulfilling to me. I’m really proud to be a part of PowerSouth. I’ve now been here 22 years, and we’ve made a lot of progress in that time. Plus, it’s a fun place to work.
     
    What is your impression of Montgomery’s current business climate? We are very pleased with the state of things in Montgomery and the direction the city is headed. I am very interested in and pleased with the announcement of the new intermodal facility coming here. I serve on the board of the Alabama Port Authority, and that project will be a big driver for the entire region.
     
    What are your interests outside of work? I have grandkids, here and nearby in Auburn, so I have a lot of fun doing things with them. I have a farm in Butler County and spend a lot of time quail hunting. Through PowerSouth, I’m very involved with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and also serve on a number of boards and commissions outside of PowerSouth. I love working with all of those groups.
     
    Tried & Tested Leadership
    “The Chamber and Ellen McNair in economic development have enjoyed a lot of success over last few years, and continue to do so, in terms of jobs and capital expenditures. It’s all looking very good, and there’s no reason to think that will not continue,” Horace Horn said. “In a lot of communities, the chamber is separate from the economic development arm. I think it serves Montgomery very well that its economic development efforts are under the umbrella of its chamber. Anna [Buckalew] has provided a lot of top-notch leadership and navigating challenges like COVID, that tested that leadership. I think she and the entire Chamber came out with flying colors.”
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