BPA and a New Energy Future: CleanTech Breakfast Recap

The Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) vision is to be an engine of economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. However, the drive to fulfill public responsibility can sometimes be at odds with the need to remain a commercially successful business. Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator, discussed the strategic plan they’ve developed to mitigate that challenge at the January 10 CleanTech Breakfast.

“We have a broad network of 146 customers across the region,” Mainzer said. “Our strategic plan seeks to answer the question – ‘How do we continue to deliver on our public responsibilities through a commercially viable business in a changed energy landscape?’”

The connective thread through the plan is taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to the significant changes occurring in the energy industry. The main goals Mainzer outlined are:

  • Strengthen financial health: The BPA is doing more work to manage costs and the balance sheet to run as efficiently as possible.
  • Prioritize asset management: The hydrogen grid is aging. Maximizing the investments in that scale of infrastructure requires BPA to be “awesome at asset management.” Right now, twice as much is spent on transmission as on power generation.
  • Modernize the grid: Utilities are moving from analogue to digital to take advantage of new market opportunities. The organization recently completed a commercial operations road map, and IT is a central part of the plan. In addition, the BPA is focusing more on smart infrastructure, especially for transmission.
    “The transmission side used to be a sleeper issue unless you were a wind energy generator,” Mainzer said. “Now all of a sudden more customers are saying transmission is the path to the future.”
  • Find new revenue streams: New revenues will help keep costs down, which in turn will make contracts more competitive when they are up for renegotiation in 2028.

Redefining the BPA Workforce

In addition to these goals, Mainzer also touched on the shifting nature of the power workforce. Following the trend felt across the energy and several other industries, BPA is facing a large number of retirements.

“I have 20 retirement certificates I need to sign in my bag right now,” Mainzer said during the breakfast.

Even so, BPA is not rushing to fill those positions. Those who are retiring were of an era that stayed in one position for their whole career. Mainzer and his staff are looking to revamp their hiring practices, and reframing what they are looking for in the context of the more frenetic nature of today’s up and coming workforce. They are considering changing positions so they are more project based and flexible.

“We also want to attract people who have a public service bent,” Mainzer said. “Our employees need to be adaptable and to have core skills in economics, decision theory and statistics, a working knowledge of finance, and writing and communication skills.”

Watch Mainzer’s full talk with the video below to learn more about his plans for grid modernization, the importance of transmission in today’s energy landscape, habitat restoration and tribe relations, and more.