Ed Martin, a tough and skilled professional engineer who helped create a generation and transmission cooperative and guide it through an uncertain and challenging era of power supply change and wholesale market formation, died Feb. 24. He was 81.
“He literally grew a generation and transmission company from a vague idea to an operation with value and tangible assets,” said Don Morton, former general counsel of Wabash Valley Power Alliance, who first met Martin in 1976. Martin arrived in Peru, Indiana, as organizers began to seek and develop generation assets for the fledgling G&T and spearheaded its move to Indianapolis.
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“He was a professional engineer without a lot of experience on how to run a company, but he was quick to go out and find people who did understand things and he put together a great team,” Morton said.
Martin was the second general manager of WVPA, which he helped grow and shepherd through turbulent times from soon after its formation in 1976 until his retirement in 2006.
Those early generation development efforts included participation in the Marble Hill Nuclear Power Project. Plans for the nuclear plant, plagued by cost overruns and regulatory uncertainty, were eventually abandoned, leaving WVPA with crippling liabilities that had to be addressed and covered through reorganization.
“He was a very tough CEO. When he ran into difficult problems, he confronted them head on and stayed with them through methodical solutions,” said Morton. “When we emerged from the Marble Hill situation, we were well positioned to pursue much more diverse approaches to asset management.”
In the 1990s, as WVPA developed its role in wholesale power markets and regional grid operations, Martin took on leadership roles with Midcontinent Independent System Operator and ACES Power, a Carmel, Indiana-based co-op power marketing company.
“I will miss Ed and remember him as a good friend and one of ACES’ biggest supporters,” said Michael Steffes, now CEO of ACES Power, who first met Martin in 1999. “I recall during the meeting Ed scolded me about the fact that municipalities with the word ‘co-op’ in their names weren’t really co-ops. It was an auspicious beginning to something grand.”
Steffes said Martin was a passionate proponent of cooperative principles who helped shape ACES in its early years, ensuring a significant role for co-ops in the evolution of wholesale power markets.
“When I joined ACES in 2001, Ed’s warm welcome was coupled with an in-depth discussion of the evolving energy industry and the importance for electric cooperatives to work together to improve the quality of life for the cooperative communities throughout the country,” said Joe Brannan, a former ACES executive who now serves as CEO of North Carolina Electric Membership Corp.
Brannan remembers Martin as a visionary leader and devoted ambassador for electric co-ops.
“I will never forget his passion for the cooperative mission and continue to see this spirit in the many individuals serving in our cooperative network today,” Brannan said.
Always active in national co-op affairs, Martin’s influence on the development and growth of G&Ts extended well beyond the Indiana, Illinois and Missouri territories served by WVPA.
“I became closely acquainted with him through the formation of ACES by the four founding G&Ts: Wabash Valley, East Kentucky Power Cooperative, Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, and Buckeye Power,” recalls Roy Palk, a former CEO of East Kentucky Power who now serves as an energy consultant. “Ed was an excellent teacher about the power supply industry and the cooperative model. He was focused and tenacious, executing precisely and following through.”
Palk said Martin remained active in industry affairs long after retiring from WVPA. He was always aware of current power supply issues and exercised his continued influence in the industry.
“Ed was laser-focused on getting the right fit in a CEO from the energy trading business that would accept the electric cooperative principles,” recalled David Tudor, who was hired as ACES’ first official CEO in 1999. “He was truly a mentor to me and pushed me out of my comfort zone many times through the years.”
Tudor, now CEO of Springfield, Missouri-based Associated Electric Cooperative, recalled one particularly challenging period for the utility industry.
“When Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, he called me in a panic wanting to know what our member’s collective exposure was to the bankruptcy,” said Tudor. “When I told him it was minimal since we saw it coming, he said, ‘I’m gonna kiss you on the lips.’”
Others recall Martin’s commitment to creating opportunities that helped to change the culture and character of the industry.
“When I first started attending co-op meetings in the 1990s, it was not unusual for me to be the only woman in the room,” recalls Kathy Joyce, vice president of marketing for WVPA.
Joyce said Martin helped cultivate career opportunities that established a cadre of female utility executives that included senior vice presidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when such roles were almost exclusively male.
“He believed strongly in gathering different perspectives, which was evident by his hires,” said Joyce.
Before joining WVPA, Martin worked for investor-owned Southern Companies as a consulting engineer, frequently hired by distribution co-ops and then-developing G&Ts. Those experiences ultimately led him to influential leadership roles within the co-op network and decades-long friendships with co-op executives throughout the nation.
“Ed was the consummate cooperator and was in so many ways a Renaissance man. With my encouragement, he enrolled in a few philosophy courses toward the end of his career,” said Martin Lowery, a now-retired senior executive vice president of NRECA.
“For Ed, cooperative philosophy trumped all else, in particular the importance of cooperation among cooperatives,” said Lowery. “He had a great mind and understood the nature of real friendship and mutual support. We can best honor his memory by continuing to build a strongly connected electric cooperative network as he would wish.”
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Martin, a Georgia native, is survived by his wife, Charlotte, and their children and grandchildren.