Midlands Business Journal May 8, 2020 Vol. 46 No. 19 issue

Page 5

Midlands Business Journal • MAY 8, 2020 •

Energy & Utilities

A section prepared by the staff of the Midlands Business Journal


May 8, 2020

Energy and utilities industry focuses on diversity in resources, aids customers during pandemic by Gabby Christensen

Despite the obstacles generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the energy and utilities sector is rapidly changing in today’s landscape, according to area experts. From shifts in energy generation resources to customer preferences, Laura King-Homan, chair of communications for Nebraska Power Association, said Nebraska utilities plan for the future while ensuring reliability and affordability for customers. “We are also keeping an eye on changing customer preferences toward electric vehiPorter cles and energy technology to see how we can help them navigate these options and use them to meet their individual energy goals,” she said. According to King-Homan, the emergence of COVID-19 has not slowed down the work of Nebraska utilities to serve customer-owners. “We understand that customers need our energy now more than ever to stay connected to work, school and loved ones far away,” she said. “To keep them connected, our employees are practicing health safety guidelines so they can stay healthy and keep providing reliable energy to customers.” King-Homan said Nebraska’s public power utilities quickly recognized the economic impact that the COVID-19 directed health measures could have on customers and moved to temporarily suspend disconnections of electric service due to nonpayment. “Nebraska utilities are proud of our public power history,” she said. “To live up to that promise, we will continue to focus on our record of providing reliable energy to customers, while incorporating a diverse mix of generation resources, including solar and wind. As COVID-19 continues to change the way we live our lives, we will also need to maintain a healthy workforce to maintain reliable service.” During the pandemic, Kelley Porter, manager of customer and corporate communications at Lincoln Electric System, said LES continues to help customers who are struggling by temporarily suspending disconnections for nonpayment and waiving late fees. “We’ve recently changed our outbound calling guidelines to make courtesy calls to customers who are significantly behind on their electric bills, offering to set up a flexible payment plan and sharing helpful financial resourc-

Steve McGreer, president at Asset Environments. She said LES is also urging the public to es,” Porter said. “LES asks customers to stay vigilant as there’s an uptick in pandemic-related keep their distance from utility crews to help scams. While we are making courtesy calls to them deliver safe, reliable service during this certain residential and business customers who pandemic. “Electric work is essential, especially may need our assistance, we will never demand during severe weather season,” Porter said. immediate payment by phone.”

“We ask our crews to follow guidelines of medical professionals when working in the field. Residents can help by not approaching crews and keeping a safe social distance of six feet or more.” Steve McGreer, president of Asset Environments, said one interesting long-term trend in the industry is that the total fossil fuel consumption in the U.S. has leveled and is showing signs of decreasing. “This is due to several factors including reduced heavy industry in the U.S., less coal use, greater energy efficiency and growth in the renewable energy sector,” McGreer said. With the on-going pandemic, he said it will be interesting to see the long-term impacts of extremely low prices at the pump. Additionally, McGreer noted reduced pollution levels, especially in urban areas, as fewer people are driving and using energy. He said this provides a window into what pollution levels could look like if efforts continue to decarbonize the economy. “This is a time of real change in the energy industry,” McGreer said. “Renewables are getting cheaper all the time, electrical energy storage is becoming possible, electric cars have arrived and end users are reducing their consumption. Change is hard and there will be winners and losers as we transition, but the technology, economics and environmental issues are all too compelling to remain at a status quo.”