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Public power utilities recognized for their efforts to shift to modern, carbon-free energy systems

April 15, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
April 15, 2021

Five public power utilities have been recognized by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) for their efforts to transition to a modern and carbon-free energy system.

SEPA noted on April 14 that it launched the inaugural Utility Transformation Challenge to make a comprehensive, honest assessment of U.S. electric utilities’ progress towards a modern, carbon-free energy system.

SEPA said it conducted and analyzed multiple surveys designed to measure meaningful progress across multiple dimensions of utility infrastructure, programs, strategy and operations. Insights derived from these survey results form the basis for a new report: the 2021 Utility Transformation Profile.

SEPA received survey responses from 135 individual utilities, representing more than 83 million customer accounts, or approximately 63% of all U.S. electric customer accounts.

The report examines the utility industry’s transition to a clean and modern energy system by exploring four dimensions of utility transformation: clean energy resources, corporate leadership, modern grid enablement, and aligned actions and engagement.

With respect to what was learned from evaluating the utilities leading the clean energy transition, SEPA listed the following:

  • Explicit commitments to carbon reduction are an important and necessary first step for utilities. Utilities with stronger commitments have made the most progress;
  • The transformation goes beyond clean energy resources. A comprehensive approach is needed that touches all dimensions of the utility business and operations;
  • A transformation of utility culture is necessary. Leadership, transparency and accountability facilitate the transition to a clean and modern future; and
  • Utilities can’t achieve a carbon-free system alone. Leading utilities are proactively and strategically working with stakeholders to facilitate the transformation.

Utility Transformation Leaderboard

SEPA also unveiled the 2021 Utility Transformation Leaderboard, which SEPA said recognizes the ten utilities that have demonstrated the greatest progress in the transition.

Five of the 10 utilities on the leaderboard (in alphabetical order) are public power utilities (bolded):

  • Austin Energy (Texas)
  • Consolidated Edison of New York
  • Green Mountain Power
  • Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (Massachusetts)
  • Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
  • Pacific Gas & Electric
  • Sacramento Municipal Utility District (California)
  • San Diego Gas & Electric
  • Seattle City Light
  • Southern California Edison

“I am grateful for this prestigious recognition from the Smart Electric Power Alliance and appreciate the hard work of HG&E employees,” said James Lavelle, Manager of Holyoke Gas & Electric.

“As a municipal public power utility, HG&E is committed to providing innovative and sustainable energy solutions to our community through investments in a diverse power supply portfolio, energy storage, efficiency and conservation programs, as well as development of emerging clean energy technologies,” he said. “The State of Massachusetts has established a road map to net-zero by 2050 and HG&E is well positioned to meet this goal, as well as the incremental targets set for 2030 and 2040.”

“We are honored to be a part of SEPA’s Utility Transformation Challenge,” Seattle City Light General Manager and CEO Debra Smith said. “I think we all recognize the need to transform is a constant in our lives, businesses, and society. Creating a carbon-free energy system is never truly complete. City Light will continue to lead these efforts as our region moves toward a cleaner energy future.”  

“We’re proud to be leading the way in decarbonizing our economy,” said SMUD CEO and General Manager Paul Lau. “We’re at a point where we must commit to ambitious goals in order to achieve meaningful carbon reductions that benefit our community and the world.  Creating an inclusive, clean, green economy will improve economic, health and environmental outcomes, as well as drive a new, clean workforce and that’s something everyone can be excited about,” said Lau.

“We are honored to be on SEPA’s 2021 Utility Transformation Leaderboard,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy General Manager. “Austin Energy is committed to grid modernization and affordable, carbon-free energy as approved by the Austin City Council. Inclusion on this list reinforces how important it is for the utility to continue these efforts and remain an industry leader.”

SEPA offers recommendations

SEPA provided recommendations for utilities of all sizes, types and geographies as they pursue their own path of transformation.

SEPA recommended utilities strengthen carbon reduction commitments by setting ambitious, science-based targets with interim goals and detailed plans to achieve them.

It also recommended that utilities address the transformation comprehensively across the organization through changes to processes, programs and structures that will accelerate clean energy adoption. 

Examples include pursuing integrated distribution planning, interconnection processes, evaluating non-wires alternatives (energy efficiency, demand flexibility, storage, etc.) to meet demands, developing a transportation electrification strategy and efficiently integrating and leveraging distributed energy resources.

Utilities should also embrace the clean energy transformation as a core element of the utility mission and culture. “This will require changes, such as linking executive compensation to reduced carbon emissions, establishing transparent emissions tracking and reporting programs and pursuing internal sustainability and carbon reduction programs (e.g., fleet electrification and supply chain programs),” SEPA said.

SEPA also recommended that utilities engage customers, technology partners, peer utilities and regulators early and often. “Common understanding and shared vision of new initiatives and technology deployments is critical to facilitate innovation,” it said.

In addition, SEPA said that utilities should integrate equity considerations and goals into efforts and programs to ensure all community members are able to participate in and benefit from the clean energy transformation.

The 2021 Utility Transformation Profile report and Utility Transformation Leaderboard are available here. Download the executive summary here.