Head of Alameda's electric company leaving for new job

Head of Alameda's electric company leaving for new job

Michele Ellson

Alameda Municipal Power General Manager Girish Balachandran is leaving Alameda for Riverside. Photo courtesy of the City of Alameda.

The head of Alameda’s electric company is moving on to a new job after a half dozen years at the helm.

Alameda Municipal Power General Manager Girish Balchandran, who has been widely praised for extracting the utility from its failed telecom venture and for initiating efforts to pull the utility into a higher-tech future, will head Riverside Public Utilities, a much larger municipal utility. His last day on the Island is January 3.

“Girish turned AMP into one of the most successful public utilities in California,” City Manager John Russo was quoted as saying in a press release issued Friday afternoon. “During his tenure he led AMP with an open communication style, a willingness to resolve difficult issues and a focus on strategic planning, resulting in a solid foundation to ensure AMP’s success in the future.”

It wasn’t clear who would be taking Balachandran’s place or whether the city would be conducting a search to replace him; an e-mail to Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen wasn’t immediately returned.

When Balachandran came to Alameda after 16 years at Palo Alto’s electric company he faced a number of major challenges, Alameda’s financially failing telecom venture chief among them. He sold the telecom business to Comcast in 2008 and has battled lawsuits pressed by bondholders since then, scoring court victories in two and losing a $1.95 million judgment from another (the case is on appeal).

“When Girish arrived in Alameda in 2007, the utility was in turmoil with a failing telecom business,” Public Utilities Board president Madeline Deaton was quoted as saying in the release. “Through a structured and collaborative process which included the City Council, Public Utilities Board, AMP employees and community, he guided the organization out of crisis and into stability.”

Balachandran led the utility to top residential customer satisfaction rankings and instituted safety procedures that have helped the utility go five years without an accident that caused lost work time. He also led an effort, in 2012, to sell excess renewable energy credits to the California Department of Water Resources, in a four-year deal that could net the utility up to $24 million to spend on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The utility is in the planning stages of an effort to install a smart electric grid and other advanced technology, and to make sure AMP has staff properly trained for the future.

Balachandran said he has mixed feelings about leaving and that he and his wife will miss Alameda.

"I am proud of what the AMP team has accomplished together in the last seven years," he said.

Riverside Public Utilities has 107,500 electric customers – compared to AMP’s 30,000 – and 64,600 water customers, with a budget of $326 million and a staff nearly seven times the size of AMP’s.