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Top 11 movers and shakers

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NAMING THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS OF THE ELECTRIC utility industry is always a tough call, and it's especially tough this year, as there are so many of them, and I am limited to choosing only 11.

There were many standout utility leaders this year, as the continuing evolution of our industry moved very quickly, especially in the latter half of the year, as long-awaited stimulus grant contracts were finally signed with the U.S. Department of Energy and projects began to move forward in a meaningful way.

The electric utility industry has often been accused of moving slowly, and many would agree that there are numerous reasons for that cautious approach. Some are political, and some have more to do with the traditional focus of the industry: 99.999 percent reliability.

But there are also those who, while still careful and cautious in their approach, have a vision of the future that is clearer than most. Yes, there are most definitely more than 11 of these leaders, and therein lies the difficulty. Whom do I choose? Whom do I leave out?

It's been a hair-pulling winnowing process, and there will be those who won't agree with my choices. I welcome you to submit your own, and we'll keep an ever-growing list as the year goes on, for review at the end of 2011.

HERE, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER, ARE INTELLIGENT UTILITY'S 11 MOVERS AND SHAKERS.

TERRY BOSTON The president and CEO of PJM Interconnection has a 35-year history in the electric utility industry, and leads or has served on a massive number of integral industry committees over those years. PJM and its members have been industry leaders in working together to adopt new technologies and new ways of using electricity and technology to enable more renewable energy and greater energy and cost efficiency.

ANN CAVOUKIAN While not an electric utility leader, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner managed this year to make an enormous impact on the utility industry with her Privacy by Design approach to utility customer data. Optimizing the interests of both electrical reform and privacy, the approach embraces a "positive-sum" principle, seeking to accommodate all legitimate interests and objectives in a win-win manner.

STEVEN CHU Love him or hate him, the United States Secretary of Energy has made no bones about his passions: energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart grid, and more. Under media scrutiny at the end of the year concerning rumors of his early departure from the Secretary's office, Chu has remained stalwart in his focus. Remember: one man does not a department make.

PETER DARBEE The chairman, CEO and president of PG&E Corp. has stared adversity in the eye over the past year and not let it bow him or the company he leads. Faced with consumer pushback (and the resultant and overwhelming media coverage) in a few of the utility's smart meter deployment areas, Darbee stood tall, argued the meters' and the company's merits, and has focused his utility on moving forward and incorporating lessons learned.

CHARLES DICKERSON PEPCO Holdings' vice president of customer care has shown a prescient focus all along on the ultimate importance of customers in the smart grid equation. In fact, he said in an interview early last year that many in our industry have focused too much on the devices-the technology-and not enough on what he calls the "end game," or changing customers' behavior. Dickerson's point: education is about conversations, not commercials.

LEE KREVAT The face (and director) of San Diego Gas & Electric's smart grid initiative, Krevat is part of the leadership team which is managing a dizzying number of rollouts,from smart electric and gas meters to a desert-based microgrid demonstration project, and plug-in electric vehicles to demand response and energy efficiency programs. The goal: supplying 33 percent of customer energy needs with renewable resources by 2020. SDG&E has topped the Intelligent Utility/IDC UtiliQ list of the most intelligent utilities in the U.S. two years running.

BEN LAPIANTA As vice president of distribution grid management for the Toronto Hydro-Electric System, LaPianta led the rollout of both smart meters and time-of-use rates for virtually all of Toronto Hydro customers. One of the largest municipal electric distribution utilities in Canada, the utility was mandated by the Ontario government to introduce smart meters and time-of-use pricing, and Toronto Hydro has done so with very few bumps in the road. In fact, it was one of the only utilities in Ontario not to have issues reading meters that resulted in billing inaccuracies. LaPianta was awarded the 2010 Intelligent Utility KITE Award for Operations Leader of the Year.

MICHAEL LOWE Salt River Project's customer service executive has shaped service delivery as a means to increase competitive advantage at the third-largest public power agency in the nation. His team has accomplished what many believed to be impossible-providing pre-pay and dynamic pricing systems to over a third of the utility's customer base using a legacy CIS and billing system. He received the 2010 Intelligent Utility KITE Award for Customer Service Leader of the Year, acknowledging his pioneering leadership.

JAMES ROGERS Duke Energy's CEO is a no-regrets innovator, walking a tightrope of designing new products for the customer, listening to what the customer wants, all the while keeping in mind that "the customer doesn't necessarily know what he wants yet" but not operating in a mother-knows-best role at the same time. Sound confusing? Welcome to 2011-every utility in the country will be walking that same tightrope this year.

GLENN STEIGER The general manager of Glendale Water & Power has been a busy man lately, leading his utility in deploying one of the most comprehensive smart grid projects in the country. In addition to deploying smart meters to its 84,500 electricity customers, it is simultaneously rolling out 33,400 smart water meters within its territory. In the near future, Glendale's customers will receive real-time data on both their water and energy usage.

MAHVASH YAZDI Senior vice president for information technology and business integration and chief information officer for Southern California Edison, Yazdi has been a recognized innovator in the industry for the past decade. Since she joined Southern California Edison in 1997, she has shepherded the utility through a massive ERP system implementation and associated business transformation initiative. She received the 2010 Intelligent Utility KITE Award for CIO of the Year in recognition of her efforts.

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