On working at CEA.
I have been at CEA for almost 33 years now. I’ve had the opportunity to work in every single role within the organization. I first joined CEA as a junior in communications, worked my way through the communications department, worked a little in Government Relations and then moved into taking on the responsibility for councils and committees. I have also been acting Treasurer, acting Secretary to the Board of Directors and I came full circle when I assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO), close to four years ago. Last year, I was also given the responsibility for our Public Affairs Group – which brought me back to my early days in communications.
On CEA’s Senior Fellow David McKendry’s book: Leadership lessons learned from our mentors.
In David McKendry’s book, which I was delighted to be invited to contribute in, I talk about three significant mentors of mine. The most significant one was CEA’s second President and CEO, Hans Konow. He was my mentor for almost 20 years here at CEA. The biggest lesson he taught me was that you cannot run a national association sitting in an office in Ottawa. We need to get out to our members’ offices. We need to get to their job sites. We need to go to their events, their conferences, their seminars and their workshops. We need to go to their construction sites. We need to spend time with our members if we’re going to understand what their concerns are and if we’re going to be able to develop programming that works for them. It was something I reiterated several years ago when SaskPower was bringing into service their Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility at Boundary Dam. What are we going to say if somebody asks about the specifics of the project; what does it look like? What does it smell like? Is CSS noisy? I hope everybody who works at CEA has had an opportunity to visit these plants so that they can communicate them effectively.
On resilience in the electricity sector.
I started hearing the use of the term “resilience” with respect to electricity oddly enough around Y2K, when I became involved in emergency preparedness and emergency management. It’s a term that had been used by emergency preparedness professionals for quite some time. Today, we talk a lot about resilience with respect to climate resilience and changing weather patterns.
I’ll often use unusual quotes for things. One of the quotes that I use a lot in the security space is one from Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan and then you get punched in the face.” It’s something that I’ve always used when preparing cybersecurity exercises. Another quote that I think really captures the essence of resilience is one from Rocky Balboa. He said: “it’s not about how hard you can hit, but how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.” This is the whole concept of resilience!
In the early days, when I was working on Y2K and the cybersecurity subsequent, the first inclination was: we’ll protect everything, no attack and will get through and there will be no impact.
When you step back and take an all-hazards perspective, you recognize that we will be impacted one way or the other. We can do everything possible to harden our systems, to prepare for emergencies, but the reality is that a “once in 500-year storm” is going to happen and it will impact us. The issue isn’t, can we harden our systems? We definitely will to the degree in which we can, but we need to build them so that they are resilient, so that they can bounce back and recover. I think that’s very timely for our theme for this year.
We are on the cusp of massive change in this industry. There’s no holding it back. How can we adapt as effectively as possible? In the case of what CEA does, we look at how we can develop programs and services for the members to be prepared and be able to respond to these massive changes that are already starting to take place in the industry.
On building a resilient workforce.
Around a decade ago, CEA launched what became the Human Resources Sector Council. We were concerned about the wave of retirements that were going to take place. We’ve managed to pass through that wave of retirement and now we need to think about what the workforce of the future is going to be. It will be, in some ways, a lot like the current workforce and in other ways, very different from the current workforce. There will continue to be the requirement for very technical skill sets. We’re still going to be relying on the backbone of the grid. We’re going to continue to need people that are going to be able to work in what can be a very challenging work environment.
This is a very interesting business. We’ve harnessed lightning and we deliver it safely to people’s homes across the country. That takes a lot of really special skills from a variety of trades and careers. At the same time, new technologies are going to mean that we’re also going to have an increasing need for technologists and people in the I.T. and artificial intelligence space. Industrial control systems are going to become increasingly important. We’ve seen this shift happen gradually over time.
One of the other things we’ve been looking at is ensuring that the workforce of the future reflects the customer base of the future. One of the criticisms our industry has had over the years is that it is predominantly male and not reflective of Canadian communities. Part of that had to do with the kind of work that was that was being done – they were in areas that tended to be more male-dominated at the time. That’s a concern from our member companies and we have a lot of work happening through our Human Resources committee to develop these diversity frameworks so that the people that work in the companies start to increasingly look like the communities that they serve.
On National Lineworker Appreciation Day.
One of the initiatives that we’ve been promoting is what we’re calling the National Lineworker Appreciation Day. This is something that has been done in other jurisdictions. It’s an opportunity to dedicate one day every year to celebrate the heroic actions of Canadian lineworkers.
We’re looking to create this National Lineworker Appreciation Day here in Canada. We’re talking to officials in the Government of Canada to see if we can get something officially announced and officially confirmed. This continues to be a priority for us.
The first thing I think of when I hear that there’s a storm coming is the people that will be out there when the lines and the poles come down. I was in Montreal in 1998 during the ice storm and we got to see some very impressive work there. When there are people hanging out of helicopters trying to work on transmission lines and on distribution lines, the least we can do is give them one day every year to recognize the vital work that they do for us.
On building resilient infrastructure.
A few years ago, we commissioned work to give a sense of the scope and scale of infrastructure investment requirements in the electricity sector from 2010 to 2030. That number is 350 billion dollars now. This means “let’s simply replace what’s aging and move forward.” But we know that the world that we’re moving into is going to require a different type of investment. We’re going to need to put investments in for electrification of transportation and climate change adaptation. Recent work by the Conference Board of Canada shows that the work to undertake these investments from now to 2050 is 1.7 trillion dollars. It will require massive investments because we need to make sure that we are ready for greater electrification of the economy.
In addition to being able to discuss the cost, we’re also doing work with Natural Resources Canada to begin to develop guidance for the sector. What actions will be required for utilities to be more resilient and more prepared for climate change? It is a collective sector-wide approach.
On the importance of resilience to the customer.
When thinking about resilience from a customer perspective, the first and last place that the conversation goes is inevitably “safety”. For the customer, safety means that we’re delivering power in a safe and reliable manner. Particularly, as we’ve just come out of a brutal and bruising winter in every region of this country, the reliability of the system is paramount particularly on days when it’s -35° C.
Reliable power will continue to be even more critical, not less. The industry, the governments and the regulators will always work to ensure that we are delivering the power, not only safely and reliably, but also in a manner that is as affordable as possible.
On working in the electricity sector during changing times.
We are on the cusp of massive change, regardless of whose predictions you’re listening to. Everybody agrees on some fundamental things, and among those common points, there is the increasing importance that electricity will play in the future.
People are talking about increasing electrification of transportation and they’re talking about new technologies in customer service, in the I.T. and A.I. space – all those Internet-connected devices that are increasing so very rapidly, all operate on electricity. We’re fortunate to be an association in a sector that is entering a period of massive change where, on one hand, we will see a lot of very significant new demand in areas like transportation, and on the other hand, we will see a huge increase of little increments with every new Internet-connected device.
I think the work that the association does is critical to promote the necessary discussion and dialogue. I think we play an important role in contributing to a healthy policy discussion about the issues that are important to the industry.
From a personal standpoint, I think it is endlessly fascinating to be so close to and to be able to watch the changes that are taking place in the sector. It gives us a unique perspective at the association. We’re in that space between the members, the government and the policy makers. We’re also in the space between and amongst the members to help them do the work that they that they need to do.
I get to work with people that are doing amazing things that have never been done before, never thought of before. I have gotten to meet some of the smartest people around when it comes to I.T., artificial intelligence and security. I’ve had the opportunity to represent Canada at all kinds of important international forums. I get to work with a professional and fun group of people here at the association. So, I find it both professionally rewarding and personally enjoyable.