National Association of Clean Air Agencies
Miles Keogh is executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies and former director of the NARUC Research Lab.
For this panel, we have two association executives, two policymakers, and a leader at a DOE National Laboratory All have long histories in the energy sector and national perspectives. Our objectives were to elicit potentially competing perspectives on what the future of the electric industry may be, and for those responses to stimulate readers to develop their own perspectives and initiate similar discussions within their own organizations.
PUF: In the next five to ten years, what technological advancement will most impact the electric industry? Why? How?
Miles Keogh: The most important revolution that's transformed the economy at large has yet to fully disrupt the power sector: data, information, and intelligence. The public still flips a switch without thinking much about what's happening back there, and that affects what they buy, what they do, and how they vote.
As commercial and industrial clients see systems better, and as the public has better information that helps them understand the link between flipping a switch and the pollution in the air they breathe, they'll buy differently, vote differently, and demand differently.
PUF: During the pandemic, many people worked from home. Will this be a trend in the industry? If, yes, what are its implications?
Miles Keogh: Telework in the office arena will expand, and it'll change the kinds of things we want at home - home office space, for example - and at work - more dedicated conference rooms, fewer coworking spaces, more bullpens for weekly meetings, and fewer cubicle farms. Telework will change, but not eliminate, office work. In blue collar work - still the majority of the economy - it's not going to be a big change.
PUF: What will determine the future of renewable energy - Economics? Public opinion? Regulatory environment? Technological advances? Transmission development? Other?
Miles Keogh: It'll be national-level regulation and legislation, adopted for long enough to create incumbency by those resources. I still have yet to see a voluntarily-adopted RPS.
The only way to drive clean energy is to require its adoption. Sometimes the way to have a good idea is to stop having a bad idea. There are still vast subsidies for fossil fuels. The only way they'll stop is for legislative and regulatory incentives to be actively eliminated.
PUF: Will the pandemic's impact lead to more distributed generation and/or better utility-customer and customer-customer interactions? If yes, how?
Miles Keogh: I'm genuinely not sure what the pandemic will do to the power sector. It'll strengthen those companies with balance sheets deep enough to weather the downturn, and captive rate base makes those companies nigh indestructible, by design.
Smaller companies counting on disruption are going to have a problem in a declining load and economically devastated environment. Conversely, the link between PM emissions and virus mortality is a serious wildcard, and if it gains traction in the marketplace of ideas, may cause political and regulatory leaders to ask some fundamental and potentially transformational questions about the best way to provide power to people. But my bet is that economic devastation probably presses a long, hard pause on any discussion of, say, a Green New Deal.
PUF: The current federal Administration has relaxed regulatory and environmental rules regarding fossil fuel emissions. Will electric utilities change their strategic and operational plans in response? Please explain.
Miles Keogh: Power companies would be crazy to think the march toward protecting people and the planet is transient. A re-elected Trump administration with expanded deregulatory ambitions will only harden and broaden the state and local revolt against the dismantling of public health protections, so even there the power sector will face regulatory and legal requirements to reduce and eliminate fossil fuels.
An electoral blue wave will result in a first hundred days of roll-forwards that will whiplash those companies who counted on stopping the clock in 2016. And either way, power companies don't prefer pollution - these are their communities, and as the regulatory environment and the framework of market incentives get further out of step with what we know about public health and climate damage, the moral burden will grow heavier on the shoulders of people in the power sector who serve and live in those communities.
At some point operational and strategic directions will need to align away from what obviously hurts communities and the planet, and the longer companies are reluctant to do that, the more painful the eventual change will be. And there's money to be made in putting pollution aside. Smart companies will grow toward doing right by doing good now.
Our Panel of Veteran Leaders on Electric Trends:
- Paula Glover, CEO, American Association of Blacks in Energy
- Pat Wood, Former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Public Utility Commission of Texas
- Miles Keogh, Executive director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies (and former director of the NARUC Research Lab)
- Ron Melton, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- Jeff Morris, of Schneider Electric (former Washington State Representative)