Power Perspectives™: 2020 Power Industry Predictions and Trends, an Interview with Julie C. Parsley of Pedernales Electric Cooperative
image credit: PEC
- Jan 24, 2020 8:46 pm GMT
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An Interview with Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) CEO Julie C. Parsley
and Michael G. Albrecht, Energy Central Contributor
Today we’re talking with Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) CEO Julie Caruthers Parsley. PEC is the nation’s largest electric coop covering an 8100 square mile urban-rural service area. Before coming to PEC, Parsley was a founding partner of Parsley Coffin Renner LLP, a law firm specializing in utility regulations. A former commissioner of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Parsley also served on the Regional State Committee in the Southwest Power Pool.
MA: Thank you for talking with us today, Julie. What major issues and challenges are co-ops looking at in 2020?
JCP: At PEC we're looking at succession planning as a major challenge. That's going to be of significant concern for all utilities as the existing electric utility workforce nears retirement age. We’re taking action now so we can keep a stable workforce. Efforts are underway to recruit from colleges, the military, and career fairs in our service territory. This year we are establishing an innovative program by opening our own training facility in central Texas. We are also strengthening PEC’s employee engagement and incentives. For example, we're reviewing our 401k plan and establishing an innovative employee recognition program.
At PEC we also closely monitor evolving regulatory developments at the state and federal levels. This is due in part to my background as a commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission. I came on the commission right after the market opened to deregulation, and there were many fascinating, groundbreaking issues to decide and manage as we moved the markets through that transition period. I want to ensure that PEC stays abreast of regulatory issues.
MA: Can you comment on technology trends at PEC in the coming year?
JCP: Our approach is not to adopt technology simply for technology's sake, but to research and deploy technology with the specific aim of hardening our infrastructure and managing our systems. Our focus is to deploy technology that benefits our members and supports system reliability.
We've determined that moving to a point-to-point AMI meter system will give us the data we need to enhance outage recovery, and to understand what's going on in our grid. We're going to be able to do all this incrementally and save about a million dollars a year on our outlay for meter costs. We see this as a win-win; we get more information as well as better meters, and we have a better way to serve our membership.
In 2020, we're expanding our Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program (drones). We've been using UAS to help maintain our system; now, we're taking the program a step further and will train line workers on how to operate them. Some line workers will become licensed drone pilots and taught about their appropriate use. Then they will be able to use them for outage restoration, maintenance, or feeder reviews. We’ve seen an incredible improvement in our maintenance operations utilizing the drone program. Of course, we carefully operate our UAS program within state and federal guidelines.
We've also invested in system upgrades for reliability and outage response. We are upgrading our AVL and GIS systems so that we can respond to outages quickly, which has enabled us to drop our SAIDI to forty-five minutes on our rolling one-year average. We're very proud of that, because our complex, urban-rural service territory is about the size of the state of New Jersey.
Additionally in 2020, PEC is installing a 2MW battery backup system that we expect will go live in the second quarter. That battery is on the same feeder as one of our community solar arrays. We’ll be gathering data to study how those two systems work together.
MA: Those AMI meters will be generating a lot of data. Is PEC automating some of the distribution devices and processes?
JCP: We've installed Intelliruptor fault closers around our northern and more densely populated areas. We have automated portions of our distribution system, as well as more routine parts of our business, including member services and bill pay, which saves time and employee effort. Since much of our service area is rural, we are providing tools so field crews can communicate with our various systems remotely.
MA: Please share with our readers a few of your predictions for 2020.
JCP: I predict that it's going to be a good, strong year of growth at PEC and in Texas. With all of this growth, I think we will continue with tight summers and the need for increased energy efficiency. We are being very conservative yet forward-looking about the way we operate our system in the summer. We have instituted a program – Power Rush Hour – to get information to our members quickly so they can conserve and cut their energy usage. It's received such great feedback that the possibility of moving the program into other Texas markets is being discussed.
Energy efficiency, conservation, shoring up our employee base, and training our people wisely are some areas of focus for 2020. I'd also like to highlight the progress we’ve made with our cooperative safety program. This past year, we’ve gone almost 2 million man-hours without a lost time incident. We're very proud of that!
MA: Wonderful, Julie. Thanks for your time and observations, and best to you and PEC in the coming year.