Features

Susan Abernathy – Cedar Falls Utilities 

A vision for future energy 

Susan Abernathy’s elevation to the position of general manager (CEO) at Cedar Falls Utilities signifies a significant milestone in the utility’s journey and her career. Drawing from her extensive public service and law background, Abernathy brings a depth of experience and a forward-thinking perspective to her new role. As the company’s first female general manager, Abernathy says she is dedicated to serving the community and pursuing excellence in every endeavor. 

Susan Abernathy | General Manager (CEO) | Cedar Falls Utilities 

Susan Abernathy | General Manager (CEO) | Cedar Falls Utilities

Having honed her skills through years of dedicated service, Abernathy’s leadership style is rooted in understanding the intricacies of public administration and the law. Her tenure as a legal practitioner and her role at CFU have equipped her with invaluable insights into the challenges and opportunities inherent in the utility sector. 

Abernathy’s visionary approach promises to usher in a new era of innovation and progress for CFU. Her commitment to collaboration and inclusivity ensures that the voices of all stakeholders are heard, shaping policies and initiatives that resonate with the community’s needs and aspirations. 

“As we embark on this new chapter at CFU, I am honored to lead our team toward a future defined by innovation, collaboration, and community service,” Abernathy tells Vanguard magazine. “Together, we will navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead, striving always for excellence and the greater good.” 

Steering innovation in utility services 

As CFU embarks on transformative infrastructure projects, Abernathy’s leadership is steering the utility towards innovation and sustainability. At the forefront is constructing a new reciprocating engine generation plant, a monumental $65 million venture. Unlike traditional power plants, these engines can start up instantly, providing rapid power production capabilities to meet fluctuating energy demands.  

“Our strategic vision ensures that CFU remains at the forefront of efficiency and reliability in energy provision,” Abernathy says.  

Susan Abernathy | General Manager (CEO) | Cedar Falls Utilities 

In addition to the reciprocating engine plant, CFU is exploring establishing a liquefied natural gas storage and/or manufacturing facility, leveraging LNG technology to enhance energy storage and flexibility. This forward-thinking approach underscores Abernathy’s commitment to exploring innovative solutions for the utility’s future. 

Abernathy’s leadership extends beyond infrastructure projects. She fosters a culture of community involvement and civic responsibility, collaborating with local citizens, the Board of Trustees, and municipal organizations. Through her guidance, CFU continues to enhance its service offerings, ensuring reliable and affordable utility services for the community. 

As Abernathy assumes her new role, her journey exemplifies a harmonious blend of legal expertise, public service dedication and visionary leadership. Under her guidance, CFU is poised to navigate the energy industry’s complexities while remaining committed to its mission to serve the community. 

“At CFU, we’re forging ahead with transformative projects. These initiatives ensure reliability and affordability for our community. I’m committed to leading CFU, focusing on innovation and sustainability, staying true to our mission of serving our community,” Abernathy says. 

Finding fulfillment in impactful work 

Amidst the global shift towards sustainable energy, CFU confronts the pressing dilemma of balancing reliability with environmental responsibility. The quest for cleaner energy sources while ensuring uninterrupted power supply in adverse conditions poses a formidable legal and operational challenge. With most of Iowa’s power sourced from wind energy, the utility grapples with harnessing renewables’ potential while addressing intermittency issues.  

Susan Abernathy | General Manager (CEO) | Cedar Falls Utilities 

“This challenge demands a delicate equilibrium between technological innovation, regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction,” Abernathy explains.  

The vitality of any organization lies in its workforce, and Abernathy is at the forefront of nurturing and retaining top talent. In an evolving labor market, recruitment and retention strategies become crucial. Offering competitive wages and comprehensive benefits and fostering a culture of inclusivity and growth are essential in attracting and retaining skilled professionals. Balancing the company’s needs with employee expectations requires a nuanced approach, where flexibility and adaptability become indispensable virtues. 

As stewards of public trust, CFU operates within a framework of ethical conduct and responsibility towards its ratepayers. Striving for transparency, integrity, and accountability permeates every facet of the organization’s operations.  

“Whether in hiring practices, customer interactions, or decision-making processes, ethical principles remain non-negotiable. Upholding these standards safeguards our reputation and fortifies our bond with the community we serve,” she says.  

Embedded within the fabric of CFU is a sense of purpose and fulfillment derived from meaningful work. Every employee, from line workers to customer service representatives, is integral in fulfilling the organization’s mission of providing innovative, high-quality services to the community.  

“The convergence of individual contributions toward a collective goal fosters a sense of pride and camaraderie, driving the organization forward amidst challenges and triumphs,” Abernathy says.  

From passion to profession 

Abernathy’s journey to success is a testament to her dedication and passion for making a difference. With a degree in public administration from the University of Northern Iowa and a JD from the University of Iowa, Abernathy embarked on a career focused on advocating for justice and positive change. 

After nearly nine years in private practice, Abernathy transitioned to public service, serving as the city attorney for Cedar Falls for over a dozen years. Her experience in the private and public sectors equipped her with invaluable skills and insights into the legal world. 

Susan Abernathy | General Manager (CEO) | Cedar Falls Utilities 

In March 2013, Abernathy embraced a new challenge as the general counsel at CFU. Her role expanded in June 2024 when she took on the additional responsibilities of the general manager, further solidifying her position as a leader in the organization. 

Outside of her professional endeavors, Abernathy finds solace and inspiration in nature. A lover of the outdoors, she enjoys hiking, exploring new trails, and spending time with her horses. Abernathy’s adventurous spirit and dedication to her family and community are evident in her pursuits on and off the job. 

“My journey reflects my commitment to service and passion for effecting positive change. Every step has been guided by a desire to make a difference. With each experience, I’ve gained valuable insights and skills that have shaped me into the leader I am today. Together, we can continue to build a brighter future for our community,” Abernathy says. 

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: June 13, 2024

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