by Teresa Hansen
When I was a child, I loved summer. I spent hours outside, and I don’t remember being too hot or being told to drink a lot of water and stay in the shade. I even recall celebrating my best friend’s birthday for several years on Aug. 11 with a trip to the park and a picnic. We didn’t think about the heat.
My feelings have changed since then. As we suffer through another record-breaking summer, I wonder if my memory is failing me, or are summers getting hotter? I guess that brings up a discussion on global warming, but that isn’t this column’s topic. The point I’d like to make is that this record-breaking summer has created many challenges for utilities and their customers.
I just read on The Weather Channel website that in this fourth week of July, 64 percent of the country is in a moderate drought, and 46 percent is experiencing a severe drought. In addition, a plethora of records for hottest-ever temperatures and most 100-degree days have been set this summer. And many parts of the country have been hit by a record number of severe storms. Not only must utilities contend with record peak demand, overheated equipment on power lines, power plant cooling water issues and grass and forest fires related to drought and high temperatures, many must deal with major damage to their grids caused by unprecedented summer storms. As their employees work around the clock in extreme heat to repair damage and get power flowing again, customers are sweating in the dark and wondering when they’ll get some relief.
Many people and utilities impacted by this summer’s storms are accustomed to winter storm-related outages. When weather forecasters predict heavy snows and bitter cold, people prepare. Most customers even expect outages, and, unless the outages are prolonged, they don’t blame their utilities. They feel different in the summer when an unexpected severe thunderstorm pops up, topples trees, snaps utility poles and interrupts service, sometimes for days. Customers haven’t been forgiving. In some cases, neither have public utility commissioners.
It seems like more utilities are dealing with random, unpredicted natural events each year, creating tough questions, such as: How far should they go to harden their grids to reduce outages and their duration? Who pays for grid hardening? How much do outages cost electricity consumers? Are more durable grids worth the extra cost?
This is one of the topics that will be discussed Jan. 27 and 28, 2013, during the Electric Light & Power Executive Conference in San Diego. The Electric Light & Power Executive Conference advisory committee met in Denver last month to plan the event. We think this topic keeps many utility executives awake at night. Other topics planned for the conference include: How flexible is your utility? How can you help your commercial customers maximize the benefits of smart grids and smart meters? And how do you create, implement and manage your utility’s reputation and public relations message?
For some insight into content that might be covered in the utility reputation and public relations session, read the back page. Peter Wiegand, one of our committee members, has invited a Hollywood producer of whom he writes in his column to share ideas on how utilities can mold how they’re perceived and who they want to be. Peter also invites you to help educate Hollywood on our industry.
You’ll also want to read the chief operating officer roundtable beginning on Page 24 to learn how some of the largest investor-owned utilities keep the lights on in these tumultuous times. And if you’re looking for a way to keep cool during August, tune in to the Olympic water polo games! You’re likely to see Bob Power’s son, a U.S. Olympic Water Polo team member. He’s in London for his third Olympics. Bob is AEP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer and a participant in our roundtable discussion. Congratulations to Bob and his son!
Teresa Hansen, editor in chief