It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as the 2019 chair of WEI’s Board of Directors. I am delighted to announce the WEI 2019 theme: Imagine more. Energizing the future … I look forward to working with all of you as we explore what it means for our industry to imagine more — and how, together, we will be energizing the future.

We know what confronts us: rapid technological innovation, changing customer expectations and an antiquated regulatory model. But these are just some of the major challenges that confront our industry. And, as you well know, they’re real.

The sheer pace of change is remarkable, not just in our own industry, but everywhere around us. 
At Avista, we’ve been investing in new technology to digitize our entire grid. That serves as a foundational element in putting our customers first. It’s a big step, because historically, our industry has tended more toward a reactive approach. To be quick and responsive, after all, has always been the nature of our business. But it’s not necessarily the proactive business model other companies have excelled at — and that our customers are accustomed to.

Meanwhile, energy generation is moving to the edge of the grid. Instead of the old, central station model — which is still a fundamental component of our system — we’re moving more toward renewables and investing in storage. Now we’re looking at the possibility of introducing smaller-scale solar and wind, which can be customer-owned. What does that look like? How do we partner with them? How do we make it easier for these customers to meet their goals?

This means our regulatory environment needs to evolve as well. That can be tricky — it’s different in every state, after all — but our industry’s relationship with regulators is critical and must be a partnership. How do we change that model to better partner with regulators to meet customer needs while managing costs? Yes, a lot of it is relationship-based. It involves working with regulators and elected leaders at the state and federal levels to develop more-informed energy policies. We need to advance policies that keep pace with changing customer expectations, minimize service interruptions and ensure affordable energy.

Not so long ago, the idea of customers going off-grid would have been seen as a threat. But we can either fight these challenges, or we can embrace them. How do we act like a retail business — providing not only products and services, but also a great customer experience with added value? These are all challenges.

The good news is that no industry is better prepared to embrace the challenges that confront us, and to lead these disruptive forces, than ours.
For more than a hundred years, utilities across the country have made modern society possible. We understand our role in the generation and distribution of electricity and natural gas better than anyone.

We have the same goals as our customers: a clean environment, a reliable and resilient grid, affordable energy. And we’re all working toward helping our communities grow and prosper.

That’s why this is such an exciting time for our industry. It’s one in which we have the opportunity to be a part of the solution — drive the dialogue, educate our customers, shape the best public policy outcomes and work together for the greater good.

We have the tremendous and crucial responsibility to deliver the energy that fuels our customers’ lives.

And we embrace that. But now it’s time to be more than just their power or gas company. That means we can no longer rely only on selling kilowatts and therms; it means continuing to play a pivotal role in the communities we serve, supporting growth and prosperity through economic development, working with partner agencies to solve social problems, and increasing employee engagement at all levels. That holistic approach — serving the greater good — has been our competitive advantage since day one.

Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a way to do it better — find it.” That’s good advice.

It’s time to imagine more. Energizing the future is imperative. Because, quite literally, life depends on it.