PacifiCorp is at the heart of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s growing utility empire. We recently sat down with Stefan Bird, president and chief executive of their Pacific Power unit, in his Portland office for a wide-ranging discussion. This is the last of a two-part series. Last week: PacifiCorp Green.
ENERGY TIMES: Utilities are pursuing new business models, evolving to become the platform that enables transactions with a more engaged customer base and knits together more distributor assets. What does that mean to you and how has PacifiCorp gone about that?
BIRD: We’re absolutely committed to that and building that foundation in a number of ways. There’s a lot of inherent storage that’s built into the grid that we can tap on a very low cost basis. On the customer side, we announced just a few weeks ago our plans to install smart meters across our footprint here in Oregon that will have 2-way communication capability as well as the state of the art meter level that will provide information about voltage and power quality and a number of other things. We can operate the grid more effectively at a lower cost, and again respond to outages more quickly. It will allow us to also enhance the value of the grid that already today provides a tremendous value. Meter technology has come a long way and the costs have come down and so it was a very clear investment opportunity for us. My goal would be that we don’t even need to go to our regulators for a rate increase related to meters. We can invest in the smart technology in such a way that we reduce our customer costs and those are the sort of things we’re focused on.
ENERGY TIMES: Describe Berkshire Hathaway Energy and its culture.
BIRD: Personal responsibility to our customer is a common cultural focus. We all focus on delivering value for our customers. Being part by a large private corporation with very strong financial capabilities gives us some unique advantages, from a cost of capital standpoint and our ability to utilize federal tax credits. That allows us to pass those benefits through to our customers in a unique way. We can focus on the long-term, we’re not worried about quarterly results and we really want to make decisions that make sense for our customers to give them a sustainable value proposition for the long haul.
ENERGY TIMES: Do you see more consolidation coming in the industry?
BIRD: That’s what we’ve been seeing. Economies of scale are an important factor.
ENERGY TIMES: Some parting thoughts?
BIRD: I can’t think of too many industries that provide this sort of exciting opportunity to engage in so many fronts to really make a difference for generations to come. Today we’re at a pretty extraordinary time to really take the grid and get more value out of it and lead the way in terms of providing a clean energy future. To do that affordably, reliably and safely requires our people to work in a way that is very different from how the utility sector has worked for decades. We need to compete in a very nimble and efficient manner and that’s frankly very exciting.