Bringing Minnesota’s message to utility forums

Utility thought leaders from across the country gathered in late October at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of the electric system. Great River Energy Vice President and Chief Transmission Officer Will Kaul was part of a panel discussion focused on Minnesota’s e21 initiative.

The e21 initiative is a stakeholder engagement process to reconsider the regulatory compact between Minnesota and investor-owned utilities. Its mission is to better align utility success measures (e.g., revenues) with customer demands and public policy goals.

“Although we aren’t investor-owned utilities, Great River Energy and our member cooperatives are responding to the same trends that spurred the e21 initiative,” Kaul said. “Cooperatives don’t have the same regulatory demands as investor-owned utilities, but we are in the same evolving market facing the same economic challenges.”

The e21 panel was the first topic at the event, entitled “Transforming the U.S. Electric System: Where State & Federal Initiatives Meet.” The panel was facilitated by Rolf Nordstrom, CEO of The Great Plains Institute and chief facilitator of the e21 initiative. Other panelists included Xcel Energy’s Amy Fredregill and Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner Dan Lipschultz.

Regional differences related to distributed energy resources were discussed at the event as well.

“What distributed generation means to utilities varies greatly by region,” Kaul said. A California utility representative had spoken about how the popularity of private solar systems on the rooftops of homes and businesses has added 650 megawatts of energy to the region’s electric system.

“Think of that and then consider that we have around 650 private solar installations total in our region, which are around 3 kilowatts each,” said Kaul.

Kaul said even though there is a payoff for solar investment in some parts of the country, in Minnesota, focusing on other opportunities may yield more economic, efficiency and environmental benefits.

“When we talk about distributed energy resources, people immediately think solar, but energy efficiency, electric vehicles, demand response systems and energy storage fit under that umbrella, as well,” he said.