Fortnightly speaks to five CEOs who exemplify industry leadership: David L. Sokol, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.; Peter A. Darbee, PG&E Corp.; Jeff Sterba, PNM Resources; Peggy Fowler...
The CIO Forum: The Changing Face of Energy I.T.
Budgets are expected to increase, even as new IT challenges present themselves.
says $3.4 billion will be required going forward. How much of that goes toward technology spending?
MCW: If you looked at it on an IT basis, it’s probably not that dramatic—$10 million plus or minus for what we consider IT or high-tech. But of that $3.4 billion, probably a good half a billion is in some of these material sciences technologies—better concrete, better wire, like we’ve been talking about.
We continue to look at improvements in transformer technology. There’s been a lot of study in how you make transformer cores to reduce losses. Of course, that’s on a life-cycle basis. Using the electricity to heat up material that’s used in the transmission process is an utter waste of everybody’s money. As we look at life-cycle costs, things like transformer core material become very important to reduce the transformer losses. Some of the terminal equipment—the capacitors and reactors that keep the power factors on the system within the right tolerances for reliability—have huge improvements in material science that reduce losses.
Fortnightly: What about office IT spending?
MCW: We have a much more inclusive system at ATC than is probably the utility norm, so the vice presidents—and there’s only five of us—get together periodically to talk about major expenditures across areas. You get a good briefing, and you get to weigh in before we make a final decision on any major costs.
Fortnightly: How do you anticipate your job will evolve in the coming years?
MCW: Two things really have changed: public involvement and regulatory approval. We now approach public outreach as though we were doing local election campaign politics. That’s our model. We go out and invite everyone in a study area, literally tens of thousands of people, to get involved in the siting and routing process of new transmission lines.
We do a lot of direct mailing, town-hall meeting things, where we bring in our experts and invite people to come talk about the issues and get them involved in the routing and siting process. Then we get the regulatory community involved early on with the local people, so we can, in advance of seeking regulatory approval, assess where the best place to put these facilities is. They don’t feel like they get stuck with the project when it’s all done. It comes as no surprise.
It takes us a couple of years before we ever file with the regulatory community. That’s probably the single biggest difference with how we go about just getting started with projects. The 10 Year Assessment is our vehicle for doing that, so we try to publish that broadly. We let everybody in an affected area—huge swaths of our service territory—know that these things are coming. We try to push a dialogue with them on how to get involved with the key regulators, [and] with who at our [company] makes the key siting decisions. That’s been the single biggest change.
Fortnightly: How difficult is NIMBYism in your service area? Is it a growing problem?
MCW: I don’t think it’s growing. You’re always going to have a few