I have the good fortune to work for a company where my personal philosophy meshes perfectly with our corporate vision. Here is the vision we live by at Penton Media:

We will be at the heart of our markets where community and content intersect. We will provide critical insight, expert analysis and relevant connectivity to drive results for our customers.

So my role here at Transmission & Distribution World is to provide you with timely, critical and accurate information while connecting you with your peers so you can more easily improve performance. And I love doing just that.

My role became significantly easier when I hosted a panel session at the EPRI's 5th Power Delivery Asset Management Conference last fall in Dallas, Texas. Having had a hand in stacking the panel deck, I knew passion would be on display. I asked each of our executives to speak on at least one critical asset-based initiative ongoing in their utility. Our panel focused on the critical issue of designing, building and maintaining our hard and soft assets to maintain maximum value.

But, before we get into the specifics, take a look at this lineup of thought leaders and strategy executors:

  • Jim Greer, Senior Vice President, Asset Management, Oncor

  • John Baker, Chief Strategy Officer, Austin Energy

  • Kenneth Mercado, Division Senior Vice President, CenterPoint Energy

  • Michael Hervey, Senior Vice President, Operations, Long Island Power Authority (LIPA)

  • William Herdegen, Vice President, T&D Operations, Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L)

  • Mike Bartel, Vice President, Asset Management, AltaLink.

I have committed to keep up with these thought leaders (many are personal friends). They continue to amaze me with their ability to synthesize, prioritize, garner support for and execute. What follows are the issues some of my favorite thought leaders are addressing.

Jim Greer, Senior Vice President of Asset Management with Oncor, on transmission investments:

In 2009, we had 11 transmission-based construction initiatives, two default projects, seven priority projects and two subsequent projects that address base-load transmission. Default projects fit within the traditional footprint of the utility. We are working with Lower Colorado River Authority to complete the default projects by 2011. Priority projects are new lines or upgrades to better integrate existing wind capacity and relieve congestion. And subsequent projects support new wind coming into the panhandle area of Texas.

Wind generation and the transmission to connect this generation to load centers took off in 2005 when the Texas legislature passed the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) initiative. The Texas Public Utility Commission developed a transmission plan to support these wind zones and ordered the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to develop the transmission plans to support 18 GW of wind with 2200 new miles of transmission and 800 miles of upgraded transmission.

Eight parties — made up of five traditional Texas transmission operators and three new entrants, including the Spanish company WETT — were selected to build out the transmission.

This effort in building out transmission resources has provided us at Oncor with exciting challenges from an engineering asset management perspective.

John Baker, Chief Strategy Officer with Austin Energy, on smart grid:

The Austin city council is asking us to set substantial renewable energy targets, conservation targets and solar targets. Austin is setting new sustainability targets with a new building code going into place in 2015, which will have significant implications for Austin Energy.

We realize that utilities have the responsibility of maintaining system reliability, which creates a deliberate, cautious and risk-adverse approach to building out the delivery system.

On the customer side, we now see products developed at a rapid pace with short product life cycles. Many of the new entrants come from the information communications side of the business and are interested in providing utility customers with new technologies while simultaneously addressing energy issues.

Here at Austin Energy, we call the utility side Smart Grid 1.0 and the customer side Smart Grid 2.0. Although we clearly need an interface between the two grids, the functionality and approaches to achieve value are quite different. We expect to see conflicts in expectations and product development come into existence as the two parts of smart grid come together.

Austin Energy would like to be able to shift demand by gaining access to customer appliances and devices. We also anticipate exchanging energy with our customers who install wind and solar on their premises.

Kenneth Mercado, Division Senior Vice President with CenterPoint Energy, on an intelligent, strengthened grid:

I've been given responsibility for an advanced metering system deployment in a state with a deregulated electricity market for a company with a service territory in southeast Texas that is subject to hurricanes. We learned a lot responding to Hurricane Ike, during which more than 2 million customers lost power, and that knowledge will help shape our smart grid vision.

We are embracing ever more sophisticated, process-driven approaches to improve our response capability. As we put grid-strengthening initiatives into place, we are also adding a self-healing capability to provide quicker recovery from future storms. We are a technology-enabled utility focused on helping the Texas energy market prosper. We must wisely invest in technology to make sure our assets are enterprise-oriented and serviceable for years to come. Our customers have increasing expectations, which we intend to meet with the help of the smart grid AMI system we are building today.

We recently received quite a boost here at CenterPoint Energy when we were selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for a $200 million Smart Grid Investment Grant to support our sustainable energy business strategy. This gives us an incremental opportunity to incorporate technology to benefit the 5 million people in our service territory in or near the hurricane zone.

Mike Hervey, Senior Vice President of Operations with Long Island Power Authority, on technology risk and reward:

To help make good investment choices, I like to challenge myself to a game I call “Beat the CFO.” This means we have to be able to explain the consequences associated with the actions we might take to solve an outstanding issue. Before going forward, we must be able to state how an investment will actually decrease our cost structure, why we would purchase specific equipment and, just as important, what risk we are taking on if we reduce investments in a specific areas.

Because LIPA has a very large population (equal to the state of Oklahoma) and because LIPA is on an island with very limited connectivity, access to low-cost generation is key to success. So, instead of relying on expensive generation located on the island, LIPA added transmission lines to Connecticut and to New Jersey, thus leveraging state-of-the-art direct-current and superconducting cable technologies tied to dynamic var control.

William Herdegen, Vice President of T&D Operations with KCP&L, on merger efforts:

Since the July 2008 merger of KCP&L with our neighboring utility Aquila, we've had our hands full assimilating our distribution systems.

We quickly cross-pollinated the two organizations to tap into the talents of the good operating people who resided in both companies. The key was to get everybody on the same page and also to move people through the “cycle of grieving” as fast as possible.

KCP&L already had a sophisticated information platform from which to work, so over the next 16 months, we combined our asset management data, developed common engineering standards and revised our work processes.

Results are now rolling in. Our single set of standards are helping us reduce materials costs. We also took existing KCP&L intelligent switching schemes into our new service territory, and in the first year, we were able to reduce SAIDI by 50% on the 34.5-kV system.

It is important to take a lesson from the tortoise and hare story. We like to plod along incubating new ideas and improving our concepts on our “utility circuits of the future” where we try out sophisticated switching, automated capacitor control and demand/response schemes. This way, we can be sure our roll-outs will deliver the results we anticipate.

Recently, we received a stimulus grant to incubate both smart grid and energy-efficiency initiatives in a section of Kansas City we call the Green Impact Zone. We are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, to reduce T&D system losses and to reduce energy costs for our customers.

Mike Bartel, Vice President of Asset Management with AltaLink, on the value of a centralized online monitoring center:

Let's not forget about the value of bringing operational data from field devices into our monitoring centers as we build out our smart grid initiatives. We've found that when setting up a centralized monitoring center we should first set specific asset performance improvement goals. This allows information integration, monitoring and predictive technologies to be prioritized before building out the center. We have found that by staffing a center with a majority of field personnel management can avoid creating an “engineering think tank” or a parallel control room.

We are better able to meet our transmission business objectives by accessing online monitoring data and making decisions based on facts as we look to squeeze maximum life from our aging equipment. Additionally, the science offered by centralized online monitoring helps us show our customers and our regulators that we are making the right calls.

We have the tools. Let's put them into play.

I'd like to congratulate EPRI on a fine event as it works to deliver to its utility members the tools to evaluate the risks and rewards of specific investments in infrastructure, whether hard or soft. And now, with diagnostic sensing data, utility engineers are better equipped to make sound business decisions that directly affect the viability of our delivery business.

You've had the opportunity to hear from six industry cognoscenti who demonstrate vision and passion as they work with their cohorts to change our industry for the better. Each of us can demonstrate that same passion. Instead of buying into our corporate vision as a must-do — as in, “Catch the vision or catch the bus” — let's take it step further and “Catch the vision and drive the bus.”