Lisa O'Leary AGA Financial Forum 2015: Investing in America’s Energy Future

Nearly 550 attendees traveled to Palm Desert, California earlier this week for the 2015 American Gas Association (AGA) Financial Forum. Energy industry executives, security analysts, portfolio managers, rating agencies, and commercial and investment bankers came together to discuss the outlook for the energy industry and individual AGA member companies.

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In addition to nearly 25 formal company presentations, the Financial Forum offered a structured program of technical workshops, financial community visitation tables and organized company dinners to provide substantial time for assessment of company opportunities.

Chris McGill

During the General Session, AGA Vice President of Policy Analysis Chris McGill moderated a panel entitled, “A Long-Term Energy Market with $50 Oil – Impact to Economy and Natural Gas Sector,” which included executives from Ponderosa Advisors LLC, the Natural Gas Supply Association, NiSource Inc., and Devon Energy Corp.  The speakers on the panel discussed the dynamics of moving from an energy market dominated by scarcity to one of abundance, as well as how this may impact the United States’ energy future.

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At the conclusion of the Financial Forum, the 2014 Chairman of the AGA Finance Committee Andrew Evans, of AGL Resources, handed over the reins to current Vice Chairman Steven Rasche, of The Laclede Group Inc. The AGA Finance Committee looks forward to working closely with Rasche throughout the next year, as well as hosting the 2016 Financial Forum next May in Naples, Florida.

Victor Espinoza preakness stakes

Photo Credit: Associated Press

AGA cheered on Call 811-sponsored jockey Victor Espinoza from the Financial Forum as he rode Derby-winning American Pharaoh to victory in the Preakness Stakes. Thanks in part to more than 30 members of the Common Ground Alliance, an organization dedicated to educating professionals and homeowners about the importance of following safe digging procedures, 10 million viewers around the world were reminded of the importance to “Call 811 Before You Dig.” AGA will be watching Espinoza race for the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, on Saturday, June 6.

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Christina Nyquist Meeting the Needs of the Modern Natural Gas Customer

2015 EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference Explores the Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Age

Did you know that the average American home has 26 appliances? Since Robert Bunsen invented the first natural gas burner in 1885, we’ve come to rely on a diverse array of household tools to provide essential daily needs like heating, cooling, cooking and bathing. Our dependence on these appliances makes seamless energy delivery critical, and energy utilities are dedicated to meeting the needs of their customers.

For decades, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI)/American Gas Association (AGA) Customer Service Conference has been the leading energy utility customer service conference in the world, bringing together energy and natural gas utility professionals to discuss ways to better serve customers and enhance energy delivery. At this year’s conference in Washington, D.C., the core tradition of reliably and safely delivering energy while providing excellent service remained the theme, as attendees discussed how to leverage and manage technology to further enhance the modern customer experience.

AGA Senior Vice President and COO Lori Traweek speaks on panel discussing “Perspectives on Utility Customer Service in the Future.” L-R: Charles Dickerson, Pepco; Tanya Hudson, Washington Gas; Rick Tempchin, EEI; The Honorable Branko Terzic, FinMetrix LP.

AGA Senior Vice President and COO Lori Traweek speaks on panel discussing “Perspectives on Utility Customer Service in the Future.” L-R: Charles Dickerson, Pepco; Tanya Hudson, Washington Gas; Rick Tempchin, EEI; The Honorable Branko Terzic, FinMetrix LP.

Today’s technology landscape has changed the way we use energy, as well as customers’ expectations for interacting with their local utilities. Attendees heard from panels and participated in workshops on leading customer service practices and emerging trends, challenges and opportunities, with remarks from industry leaders including AGA Chairman and President and CEO of WGL Holdings, Inc. Terry McCallister and AGA COO and Senior Vice President Lori Traweek. Discussions explored how to use online and digital platforms to provide greater flexibility, better communication with customers, response during emergencies and facilitate bill paying. More and more, energy utilities are offering mobile and online platforms for bill payment and outage communications and alerts. Utilities are also leveraging social media channels and online chat platforms to build relationships, talk with customers, increase engagement and spread important messages. And innovations in technology throughout the energy delivery chain have made the process safer, more reliable and more efficient than ever.

Yet along with these tremendous opportunities to provide solutions for customers, the digital world has created new challenges – particularly on the security front. As more functions and data move online, working to ensure that utility systems are secure from cyber threats grows increasingly critical. Defense expert and author of the book America the Vulnerable Joel Brenner delivered the keynote address, detailing the ever-changing threats posed by cyber hackers and attackers. Throughout the conference, panelists and breakout sessions examined today’s threats to energy delivery and customer privacy, and leading practices to combat those threats. Safety has always been the core value for natural gas utilities, and AGA and its member companies continue to work to enhance both the physical and cyber security of their delivery systems.

Joel Brenner, author of American the Vulnerable, discusses “Utility Customer Service in a Vulnerable World” at EEI/AGA CSC 2015.

Joel Brenner, author of American the Vulnerable, discusses “Utility Customer Service in a Vulnerable World” at EEI/AGA CSC 2015.

For nearly 200 years, natural gas utilities have delivered energy to homes and businesses. Though technology has changed, their commitment to safe, reliable energy delivery and exemplary customer service has stayed strong. In April 2016, the EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference will join CS Week – the largest utility-focused customer service conference in the world. Transitioning to CS Week provides all of the benefits of the EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference on a larger scale, and AGA looks forward to continuing to elevate the natural gas customer experience.

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Lisa O'Leary Natural Gas Utilities Spread Message of Safe Digging Procedures

Call 811 Before You Dig

This April marked the eight annual National Safe Digging Month (NSDM), an initiative put in place by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) to remind professionals and homeowners to “Call 811 Before You Dig” and follow safe digging procedures to help prevent injuries, property damage and inconvenient outages. People digging often make risky assumptions about whether or not they should get their utility lines marked due to concerns about project delays, costs and previous calls about other projects. These assumptions can be life-threatening.

Every digging job requires a call – even small projects like planting trees or shrubs. To get started, dial 811 to be connected to your local One Call Center which will gather information about the project and alert your local utility company. Crews will then locate the utility lines near your planned project and make sure they are properly marked so you can be sure to avoid them. The process is fast, simple and free.

All month long, local natural gas utilities took creative steps to spread the word about safe excavation practices. Damage from construction and digging activity is the leading cause of pipeline incidents, so communicating with customers and communities about the importance of calling 811 before starting any digging project is essential to enhancing public safety.

Here are just a few of the ways AGA member companies raised awareness about safe digging in their local communities:

Piedmont Natural Gas partnered with garden centers throughout its service territory in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee to tag trees and shrubs with important reminders to “Call Before You Dig.” Piedmont Natural Gas Managing Director of Safety and Community Relations Timothy Greenhouse explained, “Calling 811 is a free, easy way to avoid the inconvenience, added cost and potential injury that can result from damaging underground utilities.” For the third consecutive year, the Gardens of Blackhawk Hardware in Charlotte, N.C., worked with Piedmont and Girl Scouts from the local Hornets’ Nest Council to ensure every tree, shrub and digging tool was properly marked with a “Call Before You Dig” tag.

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Piedmont Natural Gas and local Girl Scouts troops teamed up to spread awareness of Call 811 at a garden center in the utility’s service territory. Photo Credit: Piedmont Natural Gas

 Atmos Energy, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, launched the “Yard Rescue 811” social media contest on its Facebook page offering customers the chance to win a $2,000 yard makeover while raising awareness of NSDM. Participants uploaded photos of their yard at home, church, school or business engaged and the photo with the most votes won.

One of many entries in Atmos Energy’s month-long “Yard Rescue 811” social media contest. Photo Credit: Atmos Energy

One of many entries in Atmos Energy’s month-long “Yard Rescue 811” social media contest. Photo Credit: Atmos Energy

In Fresno, California, Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E) worked with a company specializing in 3D art to create a chalkboard painting outside its office that depicted what it might look like if you were to dig just a few feet beneath your yard, including a natural gas pipeline, electric power lines and other buried utilities.

Special 3D artists create realistic chalk drawing of what it may look like when you dig in your own backyard. Photo Credit: PG&E

Special 3D artists create realistic chalk drawing of what it may look like when you dig in your own backyard. Photo Credit: PG&E

PG&E also spread the message of safe digging procedures with a new television spot featuring an employee who locates and marks underground utilities for customers and contractors in its service territory:

The PG&E Damage Prevention Center hosted a free 811 Contractor Safety Training course beneficial for both novice and experienced contractors. Topics included how to use the Call 811 service, excavation laws in California and steps to planning a safe digging project.

In addition, many other natural gas utilities spread awareness about NSDM through news releases, social media, advertisements, community events and more.

By far, the largest event surrounding Call 811 was this past weekend’s 141st Kentucky Derby. Thanks to the sponsorship of CGA and more than 30 of its member organizations, renowned jockey Victor Espinoza once again sported the 811 logo as he raced to victory for the second consecutive year. A record breaking 170,000 spectators at Churchill Downs and an estimated TV audience of 15 million viewers around the world were reminded of the importance to “Call 811 Before You Dig.“ We look forward to cheering on Victor and horse American Pharaoh as they take on the next leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, on May 16. Follow AGA on Twitter and Facebook for updates about the race and Call 811.

Victor Espinoza winners circle

Victor Espinoza celebrates his second consecutive Kentucky Derby win. Photo Credit: CNN

If you’d like to share your organization’s recent event or campaign surrounding Call 811, please comment in the section below or email loleary@aga.org.  We’re happy to share your story.

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Dave McCurdy National Journal Blog Post: Is Aging Energy Infrastructure a Problem?

This week, AGA President and CEO Dave McCurdy participated in the National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog to respond to their question, “How Best Can We Use Natural Gas? Should We At All?” His response is posted below and you can also visit the National Journal Energy Insiders blog to view the entire comments thread.

“Our nation is fortunate to lead the world not only in domestic energy resources but also in energy delivery infrastructure. America’s abundance of natural gas, which continues to grow according to the latest Potential Gas Committee report released this month, holds the key to meeting America’s energy needs and growing our economy while improving our environment. As the final link between this game-changing resource and homes and businesses, America’s local natural gas utilities are committed to ensuring that it can be delivered to customers safely, reliably and at affordable prices. While I am pleased to see the Administration’s continued support for natural gas in our clean energy future and their recognition of the critical importance of robust and reliable energy infrastructure, it is imperative to recognize the significant work already underway and the contributions current industry efforts are making.

Every natural gas utility works every day to monitor, maintain and identify ways to expand and invest in smart modernization and enhancements to the more than 2.1 million miles of natural gas pipeline and infrastructure they operate. Since 1990, natural gas utilities added more than 600,000 miles of pipeline to serve over 17 million new customers. This has included installing updated plastic lines at a rate of 30,000 miles per year in the past decade. These efforts have led to an approximately 40 percent decline in pipeline incidents over the past ten years. A recently published study led by a team from Washington State University found that emissions from local natural gas distribution systems in cities and towns throughout the U.S. have decreased in the past 20 years, to levels 36 to 70 percent lower than the 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory. The study concludes that as little as 0.1 percent of the natural gas delivered nationwide is emitted from local distribution systems.

38 states now have specific programs in place to foster accelerated replacement of pipelines. We appreciate the recognition that most of the authorities for energy infrastructure reside at the state and local level, and we will continue our efforts on these local fronts, while continuing to work with President Obama, the U.S. Department of Energy and other key stakeholders in addressing the energy challenges that face our nation through the use of clean, reliable natural gas.”

Posted in environment, Natural Gas, people, safety | Leave a comment