Forum Showcases the Changing Role of Utilities and Illuminates how Economic Developers Can Lead the Way
Energy companies offer a range of services to support site selection within their service territories, and add value through specialized knowledge. This industry expertise is critical to recognizing the feasibility of a project, and what would be required to make it a reality. During the week of July 24th, the Utility Economic Development Association (UEDA) Summer Forum was held in Columbus, Ohio, providing an opportunity to learn and collaborate with over 90 utility economic development professionals from across the country. AEP was well represented, with operating company economic development managers, central staff and industry experts participating in an agenda themed “Smart Strategies for Changing Times.”
Traditional utility markets are changing, and this was a primary UEDA Summer Forum focus. Not only have regulatory impacts including deregulation changed the way investor-owned utilities do business, but a shift in consumer demographics and the introduction of new technologies are pushing these companies to evolve or else fall behind. These changes have brought about a new customer focus, emphasizing the importance of providing customers a high level of personalized experience. For many large commercial and industrial customers, new sustainability goals focus on environmentally-friendly generation. At AEP, we have been increasing wind and solar projects to rebalance our resource portfolio, and working to better integrate energy efficiency, clean energy sources and advanced technology into the energy services we provide to give customers the choices they seek.
“Smart Cities” is a new term to describe how communities are working to integrate technology and infrastructure to increase mobility, become more sustainable and improve people’s quality of life. Conversation about Smart Cities was particularly applicable at the UEDA Summer Forum, not only because it was held in Columbus, which won the US Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge in 2016, but because energy companies have the opportunity to lead in the growth of Smart Cities due to the important role of electrical infrastructure in connecting the internet of things. At AEP, we are actively engaged in the Smart Columbus program, including an investment of nearly $175 million in projects including universal-scale renewables, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, fleet electrification, microgrids, smart street lighting and other grid modernization and efficiency programs.
From a more traditional economic development perspective, the Forum focused on how utility companies can best support Local Economic Development Organizations (LEDOs), including through learning directly from site selection consultants, assisting in RFP responses, and providing community development support. This is a primary function of the AEP Economic and Business Development Group. At the UEDA Summer Forum, our AEP Ohio team described its online course targeted at local economic developers to educate them on how electricity works and is ultimately delivered to a customer.
As the role of utilities continues to evolve, AEP is glad to partner with our communities to help attract and retain business. If you’re an AEP-served community, contact us and let us know how we can help.