Sheila Tipton, a shareholder with Belin McCormick PC, was recently appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad to the Iowa Utilities Board. She has specialized in utilities law her entire career. Her first position in 1980 was with Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave PC in Des Moines, where she practiced for 19 years prior to joining Dorsey & Whitney LLP. In the community, she serves on the boards of AIB College of Business, the Downtown Community Alliance and the Des Moines Embassy Club. She joins the Utilities Board Aug. 19 and will serve through April 2015. 


How did you first become interested in utilities law? 

I graduated from law school in 1980, and I worked for a law firm that represented what was then known as Iowa Power & Light, which is now MidAmerican Energy. As the newest lawyer in the firm, you get put where the work is, and that was a very busy area at the time because a lot of the power companies were building power plants at the time. At that time, there were seven investor-owned utilities in the state of Iowa. ... At one point or another, I have represented all seven of those. It’s a very small bar that represents or does utility work, so once you do it, your name kind of gets out there, so it’s been pretty much a full-time practice for me. 


Were you surprised when your name came up for the board? 

I’ve been asked to consider being nominated before; the timing was just never right when my children were growing up or in college. I always thought it would be interesting to do, because you have a more direct influence on energy and infrastructure policy than you do when you’re on the other side of the bench advocating for a particular client. 


What trends do you see in energy law in Iowa? 

Energy supply is a big issue, and how it’s going to be supplied is an even bigger issue. You can choose any type of generation, and there will be people who don’t want it, whether it’s coal, natural gas, nuclear plants. Obviously, the transmission infrastructure is aging and is overloaded. And there are constraints that are keeping renewable projects from being built in the state, so there are these large “multi-value projects” that are being built to take some of the pressure off the current grid. On the water and gas side, the pipes have been in the ground for over 100 years; they’re aging and need to be replaced. It’s going to be a balancing act to figure out how to pay for that in a way that’s fair to both the companies and the customers, because it’s expensive. 


So you got a bachelor’s degree in zoology? 

When I went to school, the options for women were somewhat limited. At that point, you became a nurse or a teacher or went into medical technology. I actually started out as a medical technology major and then switched to zoology. The science background has been very helpful in my practice because you do deal with a lot of science-related issues, engineers, nuclear scientists. So I’m not intimidated by all the technical jargon. 


What made you decide to go to law school? 

I had just graduated and was living in Ames; there was an opening for the director of the Ames Tenant-Landlord Service. ... I liked the advocacy part of it, and while I was in that position, we worked on getting the Uniform Landlord-Tenant Act passed, so it involved not just advocating for tenants but also working with property owner groups to come up with good legislation to protect that relationship. So I thought, I should go to law school, because that’s what I’m doing. 


I see you’ve joined three new boards in the past year.

I’ve been on a lot of boards over the years; for example, I think I was on the opera board for 14 years. I think boards need turnover and they need new ideas, so I thought for a while I would concentrate on my practice and getting my kids educated. Then I was approached by AIB College of Business; I had done legal work for them in the past and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for them. The Downtown Community Alliance actually approached the firm ... I said yes. My husband and I are  selling our home in Clive and we’re moving downtown to the Liberty Building. And Bill and I have been members of the Embassy Club for years. I’m an easy mark sometimes, depending on when you get me. 


What interesting books have you read lately? 

I read a lot of biographies and political biographies. I just finished the Lincoln book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I thought was an amazing piece of work – it read like a novel. I’m in a book club ... It’s a good way to get introduced to other works and authors.  And I love to buy books; I have an e-reader, but it’s just great to have a book in your hands.