"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Earley, Johns Speak on Energy Infrastructure, Jobs and Energy Efficiency in Washington

By Katie Key

WASHINGTON, D.C. – PG&E’s top leaders spoke on how investments in energy infrastructure will help keep California on the cutting edge of innovation.

“Getting California back on track isn’t just feel-good for us. It’s a reality,” said Tony Earley, the chairman, CEO and president of PG&E Corporation. “It’s about the future of our business, which starts with energy that’s safe, reliable and affordable – and a clean power mix.”

Earley and PG&E President Chris Johns both spoke today (March 19) at the California State Society’s Golden State Roundtable held at the Capitol Hill Club. They were introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno).

Infrastructure improvements will benefit California and create needed jobs, said PG&E's Tony Earley. (Photos by Katie Key.)

Infrastructure improvements will benefit California and create needed jobs, said PG&E’s Tony Earley. (Photos by Katie Key.)

“We need investments in modernizing our infrastructure, and we need the jobs to create the sort of economic activity we’re looking for,” said Congressman Costa. “All of this takes the complement of people like Tony Earley and Chris Johns to create the energy necessary to improve the economy.”

PG&E has put its focus on three priorities, Earley said:

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

  • Modernizing the state’s energy infrastructure.
  • Building the next generation of workers.
  • Investing in energy efficiency.

Energy infrastructure

Earley acknowledged that much of the state’s energy infrastructure was installed in the post-World War II boom. That means those networks are nearing the end of their lifespans. At the same time, new technologies have emerged that are enabling PG&E and other utilities to create a smart grid that’s more capable of incorporating renewable-energy sources.

PG&E President Chris Johns said the utiltiy's Power Pathway program is preparing the next generation of energy industry workers.

PG&E President Chris Johns said the utiltiy’s Power Pathway program is preparing the next generation of energy industry workers.

PG&E now invests about $5 billion a year in its electric and gas systems, said Johns – about twice as much capital as a decade ago. These investments include everything from new gas pipelines to intelligent switches that can sense electrical problems and re-route power automatically to avoid outages. (Click here to read a recent Currents story on PG&E’s investments in San Francisco.)

“All of this is not just about replacing aging equipment,” said Johns. “It’s also about modernizing the system to work with new technologies. PG&E has more distributed solar on our grid than any other utility, and we’ve got the highest customer adoption rates for electric vehicles.”

Workforce development

When it comes to workforce development, Earley mentioned a “skills gap” where companies such as PG&E are having a difficult time finding qualified workers. That’s especially important, he said, as 40 percent of the company’s workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years.

“At PG&E, we’re having some success in closing that gap by using public-private partnerships to train candidates in basic skills,” Earley said.

PG&E’s PowerPathway program is one example of this, Johns said. Since 2008, PowerPathway has trained and graduated nearly 350 students from 13 programs and more than 70 percent of graduates have found work at PG&E or with another utility.

And the company is specifically targeting veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, women and young people to show them the opportunities that exist in the energy industry.

Energy efficiency

We need investments and jobs, said U.S. Jim Costa at Tuesday's event in Washington.

We need investments and jobs, said U.S. Jim Costa at Tuesday’s event in Washington.

In California, Earley noted, the focus on energy efficiency has meant that per capita energy use has remained flat over the last 30 years. Elsewhere in the nation, energy use has grown by 50 percent.

PG&E has worked with customers to help them become more efficient.

“Companies like PG&E have built 30 years’ worth of expertise in efficiency. We’ve helped customers save about $20 billion over that time, and avoided the need to build about 25 new power plants,” he said. “We need to continue leveraging all of that knowledge and experience.”

Individual customers continue to have an integral role in this, Johns said. The Green Button, which launched in 2012, gives customers an easy way to monitor their energy use and then share the results with web-based applications that can provide them with even more ways to save energy.

Email Currents at currents@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.