New Leadership at Seattle Area Utilities Continues Push for Grid Modernization

In just the last few months, the Smart Grid Northwest community has been excited to see new leadership at not one, not two, but three Seattle-area utilities: Seattle City Light, Snohomish PUD and Tacoma Utilities. The next question for us is, what does these changes mean for moving grid modernization forward in the Northwest? We asked each of the utilities for their perspectives.

Debra Smith, GM/CEO of Seattle City Light

Debra Smith was confirmed in October as the new General Manager/CEO of Seattle City Light. A 23-year veteran of the Pacific Northwest utility business, she most recently served CEO and general manager of the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, which provides electricity on Oregon’s central coast. Under her leadership, Central Lincoln PUD achieved its highest ever customer satisfaction ratings and was selected by the National Governor’s Association – NGA – to participate in a Power Sector Modernization Policy Academy with the Oregon Department of Energy.  Oregon was one of only four states selected to participate and the work included analysis of grid modernization and distributed energy resources for community emergency restoration.  Previously, Debra served in several roles, including Assistant General Manager, at Eugene Water & Electric Board, a publicly-owned water and electricity utility.

Smith reinforced SCL’s intentions in this quote: Seattle City Light and our customers are partners in building a vibrant, clean technology ecosystem here in the Pacific Northwest that allows innovative companies and organizations to thrive, enhance sustainability, become more competitive and export that expertise globally. We have a long history of providing clean, green, and reliable electricity. Continuing to improve, we are stepping into an era of grid modernization. We are completing a state-of-the-art substation, investing in distribution automation, and building a zero-emission microgrid at a community center.

As a public utility, we are also continuing our efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses in the greater Seattle area by continuing our energy efficiency efforts and championing transportation electrification for personal vehicles, fleets, and buses. Leveraging the best solutions, we will continue to sustain our clean energy powered system and keep it affordable and resilient for the next 100 years.

John Haarlow, CEO/GM of Snohomish PUD

Haarlow joined the PUD in February 2017 as Assistant General Manager of Distribution & Engineering Services, bringing nearly 30 years of experience in the electric utility industry. In that role, he was responsible for construction, engineering, operations and maintenance of the utility’s transmission, substation and distribution assets. He also oversaw fleet, real estate and environmental functions. Before joining the PUD, Haarlow worked for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, serving as both Director of Safety and Transmission and Distribution Engineering and Operations. Haarlow also worked as Vice President of Power Delivery for the Indianapolis Power and Light Company. He began his career at the Central Illinois Light Company where he was an IBEW journeyman for 10 years.

Haarlow provided this statement to us: “Snohomish County PUD has a long history as a leader in technology innovation. Looking ahead we’re targeting a launch of a holistic distribution system planning and optimization effort to coordinate effective utilization of all assets and resources, including a diversity of customer-sited distributed energy resources and various demand side assets. This significant effort closely feeds into the strategic direction of our organization. This undertaking will use the talents of our internal teams and the voice of our customers to develop a sustainable future for the PUD.”

Jackie Flowers, Director at Tacoma Public Utilities

Jackie Flowers was appointed as Tacoma Public Utilities Director in 2018. Flowers previously served as the general manager of Idaho Falls Power since 2006, overseeing operations similar to those at TPU, including hydropower generation, power supply, power transmission and distribution, energy efficiency, engineering, operations technology, fiber optic networks, and traffic signalization. She has more than 25 years of utility experience.

We received this message about the utility’s grid modernization stance from Joe Telez, Chief Technology Officer in the Tacoma Public Utilities | Utility Technology Services Section: ‘Tacoma Power has been focused on infrastructure modernization as a foundation to launch into the more transformational initiatives identified in Tacoma Power’s Technology Strategic Plan. Tacoma Power successfully commissioned a new Energy Management System that not only allows Tacoma Power to maintain reliability but also serves as a platform to enhance capabilities in system resiliency and pursue new market opportunities. Tacoma Power has also initiated an advanced metering infrastructure program which is a key enabler of its digital transformation goals to provide greater customer programs that are enabled by AMI, enhancing capabilities around data-driven operational insights, and serve as a modern communications platform for integrating future grid technologies . Tacoma Power’s modernization efforts also include replacing its mobile work management system which is intended will bring digital transformation opportunities to its field work force as well.”

We’re happy to see Debra, John and Jackie at the helms of some of our most influential Smart Grid Northwest member utilities.