Category Archives: people

Allison Cunningham Midterm Elections: Energy Industry Implications

With a few days left before the November midterm elections, polls remain down to the wire in many races. As Republicans look to make moderate gains in the House of Representatives and vie for control of the Senate majority we may see people casting votes that reflect low presidential approval ratings and nominal support for the Affordable Care Act. This is nothing new, as voting against the party and policies of an incumbent president is a phenomenon seen in five of the last six post-WWII second-term midterm elections.

While Ebola and threats from ISIL continue to move to the forefront of voters’ minds, a few key races have serious implications for energy legislation in the next Congress.

The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, finds himself in one of the closest and most expensive re-election races in the country. In Kentucky, President Obama’s carbon rule hits particularly close to home, with McConnell (R) and opponent Allison Lundergran-Grimes (D) both vying to be seen as the most “coal-friendly” candidate.

In Colorado, Congressman Cory Gardner (R) is running against incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D), in a race featuring several Republican ads focused on energy issues. In an October debate, Gardner and Udall exchanged heated words regarding whether or not a carbon tax was helpful in curbing climate change from man-made emissions. When it comes to regulating oil and gas operations, Gardner has sponsored House bills to increase access to domestic land for oil production and has sponsored a bill to streamline the permitting process for drilling on the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf. Both Gardner and Udall have sponsored bills aimed at to streamlining the permitting processes for liquefied natural gas exports.

Finally, the Senate race with potential to have the biggest impact on the energy industry – the Louisiana Senate race – may not be decided until a month after Election Day. With incumbent and current Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Mary Landrieu (D) facing Congressman Bill Cassidy (R) in a tight race, polling data continues to point to a December 6 runoff, which could be impacted by Southeastern Conference Football, if the Louisiana State University Tigers play in the SEC Championship game on the same day.

Though some key races may drag into December and January, both Republicans and the White House are beginning to brainstorm plans for the next Congress. As House Republicans look to expand their majority, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has begun publicly discussing plans for working with a Republican-controlled Senate, naming energy issues as a top priority. One idea brought forth by McCarthy is the possibility of paying for highway spending through drilling on public lands.

Meanwhile, the White House is beginning to consider what it would look like to work with a Republican-controlled House and Senate. White House aides have mentioned tax reform, infrastructure, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, early childhood education and sentencing reform as areas for a possible collaboration. Senate Republicans claim to be ready to work together on trade, infrastructure spending and sentencing reform.

Let us know below what you think will happen in the elections and what that means for energy policy going forward, and don’t forget to get out and vote on November 4.

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Lisa Dundon AGA Members Rank High In J.D. Power Customer Service Satisfaction Survey

Natural gas customer satisfaction of their utility service has grown positively for the third consecutive year, according to the 2014 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, created by J.D. Power and Associates.

The recently released study measured residential customer satisfaction with gas utility companies by looking at six factors: billing and payment; price; corporate citizenship; communications; customer service; and field service.

Large (125,000 and 399,999 residential customers) and midsize (400,000 or more residential customers) utility companies were ranked in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. American Gas Association (AGA) members UGI Utilities, DTE Energy, Oklahoma Natural Gas and NW Natural ranked highest among large utilities, while Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Madison Gas and Electric, TECO Peoples Gas and Colorado Springs Utilities ranked highest among midsize utilities.

Other AGA members who were ranked second or third place in their respective utility size and region include: New Jersey Natural Gas, National Fuel Gas Company, Rochester Gas & Electric, Consumers Energy, MidAmerican Energy, Alliant Energy, CenterPoint Energy-South, Texas Gas Service, South Carolina Electric & Gas, Virginia Natural Gas, Southern California Gas Company and Southwest Gas.

According to the study, communication from gas utilities informing customers about efforts to keep energy costs low, as well as demonstrating leadership in the community are key drivers of satisfaction. The study, fielded between September 2013 and July 2014, was based on nearly 70,000 responses from residential customers of 83 large and midsize gas utilities across the U.S.

AGA utility members deliver clean and affordable natural gas to more than 177 million Americans, and are true partners in the communities they serve, some for as many as 100 years.

To learn more about the 2014 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, click here.

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Lisa Dundon AGA Members Mark 811 Day with Flash Mob, Giant Light Display and Man in Tutu

This past Monday, August 11, marked the Common Ground Alliance’s (CGA)’s annual National 811 Day to promote safe digging awareness and the Call Before You Dig campaign. Excavation damage continues to be the leading cause of pipeline incidents in the United States, though improvement is being made thanks to outreach efforts on the part of local natural gas utilities and other stakeholders.

Every year, as part of their commitment to safety, AGA’s member companies, the local natural gas utilities of America, educate customers and community members throughout the nation about the importance of locating pipelines before starting construction projects, planting or undertaking any kind of digging activity. Here are some highlights from the many activities that took place earlier this week:

  • 811 building BGE 300x199 AGA Members Mark 811 Day with Flash Mob, Giant Light Display and Man in TutuBaltimore Gas & Electric lit up downtown Baltimore with an impressive 811 window light display.
  • Consumers Energy took to social media to share a cute image of a dog digging a hole in the ground, to remind customers to call 811 before beginning any digging projects, big or small. One Facebook fan commented that she had never heard of 811 prior to the posting.
  • Atmos Energy teamed up with Texas 811 to hold the first 811 Day Extravaganza in Plano, Texas. More than 100 city officials, EMS workers and firefighters participated in hands-on digging demonstrations and roundtable discussions focused on safe digging practices. Watch video footage from the event here and view a photo gallery on Atmos Energy’s Facebook page.
  • Columbia Gas of Virginia kicked off the week by participating in several National Night Out events across the state, as well as Home Depot events, promoting 811 and pipeline safety. They also reached out to the public via customer emails, radio and digital ads, and a press release. Employees enjoyed 811 cake during meetings dedicated to safety.
  • Xcel Energy created a new and unique Call Before You Dig video and promoted it on YouTube and across their social media pages. The video, featuring a bearded fairy dressed in cut-off shorts and a tutu,received more than 1,600 views and the Facebook posts reached more than 136,000 people in less than 24 hours.
  • 811 flash mob 300x171 AGA Members Mark 811 Day with Flash Mob, Giant Light Display and Man in TutuAt Nicor Gas – AGL Resources, staff members partnered with the Aurora Junior Woman’s Club to present an 811 Day Flash Mob in front of the Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a. “The Bean”) in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Over 50 dancers performed “Bright Lines” to the tune of Robin Thicke’s hit-song “Blurred Lines.”

Can’t wait another year for 811 Day? Every April is National Safe Digging Month(NSDM). Many utility companies air PSAs and TV spots, and carry out social media campaigns to promote safe digging, especially during planting season. In the meantime, you can make sure to urge your customers, friends and family to make the 811 Promise. Let us know about your future Call 811 activities in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what your utility has in the works!

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Tracy Burleson The Aging Workforce

As the energy industry workforce continues to mature, a large number of employees are set to retire in the next five to 10 years. While efforts are underway to recruit and train younger replacements for these workers, utilities must plan for that transition and retain know-how.amgasmagcoveraugsept2014website The Aging Workforce

The cover story for the August/September issue of American Gas magazine, titled “The Aging Workforce,” addresses several issues facing the industry as much of their workforce transitions to retirement and new employees enter the workforce. In this article several experts weigh in on topics including workforce planning, knowledge transfer and pension obligations.

While many utilities are using workforce analytics to understand when individuals are going to retire, they face the challenge of capturing knowledge and sharing it with future employees. Ken Mall with EDSI Consulting, a workforce development, customized training and consulting company, provides some basic steps all organizations should consider in defining their knowledge management priorities and creating a plan to meet those future needs.

Royce Kosoff, a senior consulting actuary with Towers Watson addresses the growing pension obligations utilities are facing. With more than one-third of U.S. utilities slowing the growth by moving new employees to 401K plans, some have taken an additional step of freezing the accruals for employees. Kosoff shares other steps to reduce the current risk exposure of pension plans.

To read the full article, click here. To see more from the August/September issue of the magazine, click here.

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