Sen. King: Utilities should embrace disruptive change 

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) today urged the utility industry to view the rapidly changing energy landscape being fostered by technology as a chance to transform itself into a new business model, rather than an obstacle to be surmounted.

“I think the way to look at this is not as a threat but as an opportunity,” King told the DNV GL Utility of the Future conference in Washington, D.C.

“I think there are opportunities for the grid, but the grid operators have to think in a different way about what it is they’re delivering,” he said. “They’re not simply delivering electrons. They may be delivering services, they may be delivering information, they are going to be buying and selling. So I think there are opportunities — it will be a different grid, but it will still be necessary.”

King’s remarks come as he’s pushing an ambitious distributed energy bill for inclusion in the emerging Senate energy package. The bill, S. 1213, outlines criteria for states to follow to ensure renewables, efficiency and storage technologies can connect to the electric grid for reasonable fees.

The measure is intended to address the growing fight in a number of states over net-metering policies, a phenomenon resulting from the popularity of rooftop solar, which itself stems from the steep price drop of panels in recent years.

“I would hope that the utilities, instead of seeing this as a threat or trying to fight it, go to the regulatory people and try to impose high fixed fees that will stifle development or undercut the economics, but rather say ‘How can we work together to successfully navigate this rather significant change?'” King said.

He suggested that utilities should consider themselves “energy managers” who can provide customers with more information “so that they can manage their energy more effectively and we can utilize their infrastructure. I hope to avoid this being the utilities against the homeowner. I don’t think that’s a productive way to do it.”

In an interview with E&ENews PM after the event, King said the distributed generation bill is a top priority for him in the package being developed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which he’s a member. “We’re hoping we’ll be part of it,” he said.

However, first King needs to attract some co-sponsors for the bill. “We’ve gotten an awful lot of positive feedback,” he said, adding that he’s fielding questions from colleagues on the measure.

Helping out in the effort to attract GOP support is the so-called green tea partier Debbie Dooley, who worked with environmentalists to expand solar power in her home state of Georgia (E&E Daily, June 2).