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.
Not necessarily, but if there are compliance issues, that has to go to the top of the list. So if a regulated mandate comes out from our commission, or even from the federal level, we have to comply with it. That would go to the top of the list, despite where the company is headed. Sometimes there’s alignment and sometimes not, but you just have to do those things because that’s what it takes.
Much of that is around renewables and, I believe, clean-air legislation. We have very minimal fossil-fuel generation in California. The other thing is PG&E already has a very robust renewables program. We’ve been at the forefront of those types of things. Ever since I’ve been affiliated with the utilities industry, PG&E has always been known as one of the leaders in renewables and renewable energy.
Fortnightly: What are your plans for the company year?
PL: One of the programs PG&E is embarking on is transformation—understanding our current state today and going through this exercise we did earlier this spring to reset our vision, objectives, and goals. We did an analysis of what it’s going to take to move us from where we are today to get better aligned with this vision and objectives.
Most of the technology spend is around improving customer service. When you look at our advanced metering project, what it does for us is enable us to do time-of-day metering, do predictive outages so we can dispatch crews before we get the phone call, and begin to work on problems.
It will allow us to read meters more accurately and produce better bills. Especially in some of our outlying areas it’s challenging to get the meter reads, and you can imagine in San Francisco proper, with the hills and inside meters, how challenging it is to get meter reads at times. Those are the kinds of investments we’re making through this process.
The other [investments] I described are in and around our service personnel—being able to do more automated dispatching, know where they are in relation to an outage, and being able to dispatch the crew that’s closest; knowing where all our vehicles are. If we need a specific kind of vehicle or truck, we’re able to identify that vehicle in the yard and know where it is, so someone can get the closest vehicle. It’s all around better customer service.
Fortnightly: PG&E announced it would close several bill-payment offices. Did you have any input into that decision?
PL: While it sounds almost counterintuitive, [the move] actually is to provide better customer service. We have offices that are open that maybe 13 customers all day walk into and pay their bills. What we want to do is take those dollars we’re spending to keep those offices open and use it to provide better customer service to another footprint.
We’re opening and enabling a lot of remote offices that will be open longer hours—just like you see banks and grocery stores that have extended hours. The offices we plan to close are only open 9 to