Powering Economic Development: The role of Electric Utilities in communities
Friday, March 10, 2023
Electricity is a critical component of economic development. The availability of a reliable and affordable power supply is essential for attracting and retaining businesses, supporting industrial operations, and improving the overall quality of life for residents. However, with the increasing demands and changing expectations of modern consumers, electric utilities face mounting pressure to meet the needs of their customers while also transitioning to more sustainable energy sources.
Today, companies are more aware of their environmental impact and demand greater transparency and accountability from their suppliers. As a result, many businesses have set ambitious sustainability goals, including reducing their carbon footprint and sourcing renewable energy. This has forced electric utilities to shift away from traditional fossil fuels and invest in new technologies and infrastructure to support a cleaner and more resilient power grid.
Moreover, technological advancements have enabled companies to operate more efficiently through automation, robotics, and smart controls. However, these innovations require a reliable and robust power supply that can support their energy-intensive operations. As a result, electric utilities must meet heightened reliability standards and provide clean, sustainable energy sources to attract and retain businesses.
Some Challenges faced during the process of transition
The transition to renewable energy sources, however, presents significant challenges for electric utilities. It requires massive investments in new technologies, transmission and distribution infrastructure, and added reliability measures. Grid modernization efforts are necessary to enable the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smart appliances, and small-scale renewable installations, such as rooftop solar. Additionally, utilities must ensure resilience from physical or cyberattacks, which involves a tremendous amount of planning and engineering, as well as multiple layers of regulatory approvals that take time.
Supply chain issues have also had a major impact on sourcing materials, such as transformers for new substations, which have contributed to project delays and cost overruns. The federal government is rolling out new programming through the Inflation Reduction Act to aid utilities in these important endeavors, including the Transmission Siting and Economic Development Grants program. This program recognizes the important link between advanced electric infrastructure and economic development and aims to support both. The Department of Energy's Grid Deployment office is currently seeking input on program design to help guide this effort.
As economic developers, our role at MAEDC is to build strong relationships with electric utility partners - this is critical, so as to ensure development timelines and project success, while also highlighting the utility's role in economic development and the value they bring. Meeting with representatives of the electric utility regularly to discuss project activity, recruiting a utility representative to sit on the EDA Board, involving the utility in Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) activities, and engaging them in land development activities are all ways to tap into their expertise and resources to support economic development efforts.
Electric utilities play a critical role in powering economic development. They provide the essential infrastructure that supports industrial operations, attracts and retains businesses, and improves the overall quality of life for residents. As the demand for clean, sustainable energy sources increases, electric utilities must continue to invest in new technologies and infrastructure to meet the changing needs of their customers. By building strong relationships with electric utility partners, economic developers can help ensure development timelines and project success while also highlighting the utility's role in economic development and the value they bring.
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