CEO: PGE seeks innovative approaches to power supply
For almost 130 years, Portland General Electric has provided energy to the region, and now under the direction of President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Pope, the utility company is looking at how to better serve the community, customers and companies that rely on its power.
"I work with some of the most dedicated people at PGE," Pope said. "Everyone wants to bring the best solutions so we can move forward the right way together."
Pope, who was appointed president on July 26, 2017, and voted to serve as CEO as well five months later, served as the guest speaker at The Future is Electric Business Leaders Luncheon. The Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce event took place Tuesday afternoon, May 15, at Persimmon Country Club on Southeast Butler Road.
The meeting was a chance for prominent Gresham business leaders to hear what Pope, who grew up in Portland, expects for the future of PGE.
PGE serves six counties in Oregon, though it generates power in 15. One of the largest employers in the state, it is committed to green initiatives, often leading the way nationally in new ways to conduct business.
PGE acknowledges following a shared Oregon goal to be 80 percent below 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 2050. Currently the company is 40 percent carbon free, about 30 percent better than other national power companies.
"Electricity is the cleanest form of power today," Pope said.
The way forward, in Pope's eyes, is through hydroelectric plants, windfarms and more solar panels. Though she did add that natural gas won't go away anytime soon.
"When the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, people will still want access to affordable power," Pope said. "Natural gas and electricity are connected, but its more efficient for us to focus on electricity."
The expectation is that by 2040 about a third to half of all vehicles will probably be powered by electricity.
One important partnership, she noted, involves the western states. Many power providers, including PGE, have already formed alliances to better serve customers across multiple states — moving energy to where it is needed. So, when it's cloudy in western Oregon, PGE would be able to buy excess electricity from sunny California at a reasonable rate.
The future will also see energy being run via a SmartGrid, which will allow PGE to better collect data for enhanced service and lower costs. One example could be smart-traffic lights, which would lower energy usage and send data back to law enforcement.
One of the main issues PGE is facing is the lack of job applicants to fill vacant positions as power linemen. The company is still about 30 positions down, despite a huge increase in growth the past couple of years, and they aren't seeing as many applicants as they once did. PGE also wants to fix any inefficiencies within the system, allowing for the better transference of power.
The company's objectives have also evolved. PGE want to focus on safety, reliability of service and lowering the cost of power. About 20 percent of PGE's customers struggle to pay their bills, so the company wants to make power more equitable.
"We know for many businesses that electricity is one of the largest costs," Pope said. "We have to earn your business every day."
During her time at the helm of PGE, Pope has had many conversations with East Multnomah County leaders, especially Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, to find out how to better serve the region.
"We are a company that is leaning in and forward looking toward a clean and affordable future," Pope said. "Electricity is vital to our communities and the lives of our citizens and customers."