Category Archives: energy

Jackie Bavaro Infrastructure Week 2017: #TimetoBuild

Today marks the beginning of the fifth anniversary of Infrastructure Week, a national week of education and advocacy focused around the #TimetoBuild theme. From May 15-19, advocates from across infrastructure sectors will gather in Washington D.C., and throughout the nation to highlight the importance of policies and investments essential for keeping our infrastructure functioning safely and reliably into the future—things like natural gas pipelines, airports, bridges, roads, rails, and the power grid. There are more than 70 events being held this week that will help highlight the “Time to Build” theme.

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There is nothing more important to America’s natural gas utilities than the safety of the customers we serve and the communities in which we operate. Throughout the country we are seeing public utility commissions recognize that low natural gas bills present an opportunity to continue to enhance the safety of the delivery network by upgrading pipes that may no longer be fit for service and replacing them with ones made from more modern materials. While all natural gas utilities upgrade and modernize their infrastructure using risk-based integrity management programs, 41 states and the District of Columbia now have specific rate mechanisms that foster accelerated replacement of pipelines.

Follow the AGA Twitter and Facebook pages for updates on events and to follow our progress on Capitol Hill and communities nationwide. Use the hashtag #TimetoBuild to join the conversation. You can learn more about how to participate in Infrastructure Week 2017 here.

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Jackie Bavaro Natural Gas Utilities Raise the Bar on Safety

The May issue of American Gas Magazine titled, “Worker Safety: Yours, Mine and Ours,” focuses on the safety programs at three AGA member companies: Xcel Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Vectren, and how they are drawing on new research, insights and processes to strengthen safety at every level within their organizations.

Over the past nine years, Xcel Energy has made impressive strides when it comes to bolstering safety values within the company. Employee safety efforts have reduced Occupational Safety and Health Administration incidents by half—preventing injuries to approximately 700 employees. During this time, Xcel has changed the way it communicates with employees, emphasizing openness and providing as much information as possible in the aftermath of an incident. Xcel leadership points to honesty and transparency as fundamental elements for their safety success.

AmGASPG&E has adopted highly sophisticated, metric-driven tools and is setting a new standard when it comes to safety. The utility relies on its extensive legacy of data and procedures, which centers around four main principles: Creating a safety culture where employees follow all standards and regulations; understanding hazards to identify potential risks; managing risk by establishing procedures, training, emergency management and other aspects of operational readiness; and learning from experience by determining and correcting systemic and organizational failures.

Along with safety culture and asset management, process safety is one of the three pillars that comprise PG&E’s safety management system, titled, Gas Safety Excellence. The process safety pillar focuses on preventing and mitigating unintentional natural gas releases. PG&E’s systems also draw on international standards and research. In 2014, PG&E became the first utility to receive a double certification for asset management, and in 2015, it became the first company in the world to receive a certificate of compliance with the requirements of the American Petroleum Institute’s new standard, RP 1173.

In 2014, Vectren, conducted an employee survey to help the company understand its challenges when it came to enhancing safety culture. One outcome of this survey included restructuring its safety culture governance model. The model engages employees from the front line to the board of directors to improve in the development of its safety culture. A company-wide advisory team includes executives, directors and union officers, fostering engagement at the highest leadership levels. The tiered structure also includes guidance teams that address safety concerns across all operations, as well as local teams that address safety concerns at the operating center level. Some of the most important work takes place in the natural gas operating centers and local safety meetings. That’s where a holistic approach meets individual ownership.

Developing a safety culture means that all individuals within a company from directors to field workers—consider safety to be essential to their jobs. Employees take responsibility for monitoring their work activities and seeking better and safer ways to operate. Ongoing engagement and commitment to continuous improvement reinforces the message that safety never takes a back seat to other business metrics.  To read the entire article, click here.

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Jackie Bavaro AGA Member Companies Celebrate Earth Day in their Communities

On Saturday, April 22, more than 190 countries across the globe took part in activities commemorating the 47th annual Earth Day. AGA member companies, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Consumers Energy and Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E), celebrated by teaming up with employees, family, friends and city volunteers to help restore their local parks and educate residents about smart energy efficiency options.

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PG&E volunteers restoring state parks in Northern California.

PG&E presented California State Parks Foundation’s (CSPF) 19th Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup, which focused on restoring 40 state parks across California. The company sponsored projects at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area in Sacramento County, as well as several parks in the Bay Area including Mt. Diablo State Park. In addition, PG&E provided a $200,000 grant to CSPF for the supplies and materials needed to complete 10 Earth Day projects in Northern and Central California.

Since its inception in 1998, more than 83,000 volunteers have contributed over 330,000 hours to the Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup program. This has saved the state of California nearly $6.6 million in park maintenance and improvement costs. Additionally, nearly $5 million has been raised through the Earth Day program to benefit state parks and the millions of Californians who rely on them for recreation, education and inspiration.

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Consumers Energy volunteers clearing trash for new disc golf course at Ella Sharp Park in Jackson, Michigan.

Consumers Energy employees and the city of Jackson, MI teamed up to clean five different areas within the city. Nearly 100 volunteers dispersed across Ella Sharp Park, downtown Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, Loomis Park and the Inter-City Trail picking up trash and litter in honor of Earth Day. The partnership highlights the first time the two organizations have worked together as part of the company’s cleanup efforts every April.

BGE representatives made it a top priority to speak at several events and share information about energy efficiency and conservation with customers on Earth Day. Employees also participated in an Eco-Challenge where more than 500 participants reduced energy consumption and waste. Through this challenge and other efforts, BGE commended employees with Environmental Achievement awards for their personal dedication to environmental sustainability.

This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy presented BGE with its ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year–Sustained Excellence Award. BGE has also been recognized by industry leaders such as the Audubon Society, Wildlife Habitat Council and the National Wildlife Federation and spends Earth Day educating our local communities about ways to preserve and protect our planet.

These are just a few highlights of the efforts underway in AGA’s members’ communities. Let us know in the comments section below what you’ve been doing to celebrate Earth Day this year. We’d love to highlight your efforts on AGA’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Please send your stories to Jackie Bavaro at jbavaro@aga.org.

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Jackie Bavaro Natural Gas Utilities Explore the Latest Trend in Utility Customer Engagement: Journey Mapping

The April issue of American Gas Magazine titled, “That Aha Moment!” explores how Ameren Illinois, Southern Co., and Vectren began facilitating customer journey mapping, the latest trend in utility customer engagement. The three utilities discovered how journey mapping can help illuminate key touch points in the customer experience, improve engagement and lead to a successful long-term relationship with consumers.

At Ameren, nearly 35 staff members participated in the customer journey mapping sessions, which took place for four days over a two-week period. The group used E Source’s JourneyHub, a web-based tool that allows utilities to map customer touch points, along with flowchart maker and diagramming software Visio, to integrate the customer experience with the operational flow.

Employees examined the process—from both a customer-facing and operations Captureperspective. By using Journey Mapping the staff members in the group shifted their way of thinking about when they should provide information about outages. As a result, Ameren saw a 30 percent reduction in calls during its most recent outage by providing more effective messaging to customers.

While Ameren’s work was geared toward electricity restoration, gas companies can also take advantage of journey mapping for customer’s needs including gas emergencies/leaks, outages, starting or transferring service, bill payment, disconnections for nonpayment, nonemergency service inquiries, meter exchanges or participation in energy efficiency programs.

In 2015, Southern Co. Gas also engaged E Source to help revamp its Customer Experience strategy. The company interviewed more than 60 leaders and employees with the goal to improve overall customer engagement.  Journey mapping became a key component of that effort, revealing customers’ emotions—both good and bad—when doing business with the company. It allowed Southern Co., to focus not only on internal operations but on the customer experience aspect as well.

Similarly, in 2015, Vectren’s focus on journey mapping became a part of its continuous improvement and value stream analysis to better understand its process flows. Vectren’s greatest revelation came when the utility noted that not only do customers have different touch points, but they also have different “personas.” Vectren identified six personas including college students, new residents and retirees on fixed income, and looked at touch points for each group. Vectren is not far enough along to have garnered metrics about how changes are working, but the company  believes the right processes are in place to achieve better results when it comes to successful long-term relationships with customers.

The process of journey mapping brings together employees from the call center, the field, IT and the back office to reveal crucial information and learn from one another. That process can be extremely helpful in improving customer touch points—every point of contact with the utility from start to finish—and the increasing customer engagement. For more information, you can read the entire article here.

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