Executive Conference Creates Forum to Discuss Opportunities, Challenges

Earlier this year, we held the first Electric Light & Power Executive Conference in Tampa, Fla. It was a successful event that featured many expert speakers. They talked about new technologies for smart grid and energy efficiencies, reinvestment in electric utilities and infrastructure, customers’ needs and expectations, climate policy, utilities’ changing business models, stimulus funding, electric vehicles and, finally, how utilities will raise the capital to meet future challenges and opportunities.

The opportunities discussed during the day-and-a-half conference seemed almost endless, but some of the challenges sounded downright insurmountable. The industry is on the verge of a transformation.

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoràƒ©, middle, delivered the Electric Light & Power Executive Conference luncheon keynote address Monday, March 22 in Tampa, Fla. He emphasized the electricity industry’s importance to the nation and discussed Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. Honoràƒ© said the U.S. is not prepared for another major disaster. Pictured with him are, from left, Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen; Associate Editor Kristen Wright; Publisher Michael Grossman; and master of ceremonies Tim Wolf, senior director with R.W. Beck.

Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and chairwoman of the Eisenhower Strategy Forum, talked generally about the perspectives, policies and politics inside the beltway.

She said American policymakers are no longer strategists, especially when it comes to energy and energy infrastructure.

Eisenhower said the electric utility industry needs to convey three major messages. First, it must continue to remind all policymakers that electricity is the lifeblood of the economy.

“Electricity must be equated with growth,” Eisenhower said.

We need to make cases about long-term investment in the industry, she said.

Second, although they are necessary, conservation, renewable energy and smart grid will not solve our energy issues. Policymakers and the American public need to understand this, she said.

“Bumper sticker solutions turn into bumper sticker policy,” Eisenhower said.

Finally, an education program needs to be established to teach the American public that conserving electricity will not wean our country off foreign oil, she said. To those of us in the electricity industry, this is easy to understand, but to the public, it’s not so clear. It illustrates Eisenhower’s bumper sticker comment. It sounds reasonable, doable and straightforward, so let’s go with it.

I heard Jim Turner of Duke Energy say at a recent meeting that greater electrification, not electricity conservation, will allow the country to reduce its dependence on oil and gas. Transitioning from gas-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles would make a huge difference in our country’s reliance on foreign oil and, consequently, its security.

Susan Eisenhower challenges attendees of the recent Electric Light & Power Executive Conference to “take over the conversation” on electric energy issues.

To do this would require an increase in electricity generation, which is all the more reason that the policymakers Eisenhower spoke about must get away from bumper sticker energy solutions. They need to create a comprehensive energy policy that will allow utilities to meet future challenges while keeping rates reasonable, reliability high and the environment clean.

“At the end of the day, it all gets down to leadership—on all levels,” Eisenhower said.

She said the industry needs to take over the conversation.

“We can’t allow wishful thinking to dominate,” she said.

Eisenhower urged the audience to get involved, especially engineers and technology developers.

“The scientific community must enter the conversation,” she said. “If America fails to rise to the challenge, we all will suffer.”

Eisenhower challenged the conference attendees to get involved and become advocates for the industry. I’m passing that challenge on to you.

Teresa Hansen, editor in chief

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