Publish Date: September 20, 2023 | Total runtime: 38:56
Host: Todd Snitchler, President and CEO, Electric Power Supply Association
Guest: Katherine Blunt, reporter, The Wall Street Journal, and author, California Burning
[Energy Solutions Theme music plays.]
Todd Snitchler, host, President and CEO, Electric Power Supply Association: Welcome to Energy Solutions, a podcast from the Electric Power Supply Association, where we explore the stories and trends behind America’s changing power grid.
As we come off of a record-breaking hot summer and reliability challenges posed by extreme weather threats like Maui’s tragic wildfires, there’s no question that America’s power grid is under stress. It’s also more necessary than ever. But it’s also an incredibly exciting time as companies and big thinkers innovate and rise to the challenge.
Our guest today keeps her finger on the pulse of an electric grid in transition. And for those in the energy industry, she needs no introduction. Usually, she’s the one doing the interviews, but in this episode, I interviewed Katherine Blunt, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal who covers power, renewable energy, and utilities.
Katherine’s day-to-day work digs into many details and general newsy updates in the power space. But as she does so, she’s telling the story of America’s changing electric grid – and how it is impacted by efforts to reduce emissions, extreme weather and climate change, and the business decisions utilities and power companies make.
Katherine raises serious concerns about power system reliability, but she also touches on the exciting innovations taking place and what the future may hold.
Here’s our conversation.
[Energy Solutions theme music plays.]
Todd Snitchler: Well, welcome, Katherine, and thank you so much for taking time to visit with us this morning. I know this is probably not the largest podcast you’ve ever been on, but we’re certainly grateful that you are engaging with us on this. I think it’s timely and the work that you do is vitally important. And so, I’m always curious because many of us who work in the energy space didn’t intend to get in here. But did you, how did you get into writing about the power sector? Was that something you always knew you wanted to do, or is that something that, like many of us, you kind of found your way here and now are up to your elbows in it?
Katherine Blunt, reporter, The Wall Street Journal: Definitely the latter.
It’s something – it was an opportunity that presented itself. At the time I was working for the Houston Chronicle, and I’d done a little bit of conventional energy coverage, not a whole lot, but there was the opportunity to move to the Journal and cover power and renewables. And I knew at the time that it was something that was only going to become more important with time, even though it wasn’t kind of the premier energy beat within the paper, right? I mean, I would say at that time certainly, it was covering Exxon or Chevron or kind of the big oil companies.
But within three days of joining The Wall Street Journal, PG&E’s power lines ignited the 2018 campfire. And so, you know, the biggest utility story, and the better part of a few decades, was mine to cover. And I did so with a couple of really talented colleagues.
It was a very steep learning curve. But it really kicked off a lot of very interesting coverage and I learned a lot about the space in that process.
Todd Snitchler: Well, since you mentioned it, let’s just kind of go right into it and ask you the question I’ve been thinking about, which is, you did write an excellent book. And for those who haven’t read it, I would highly encourage California Burning as a great read, but also a lot of lessons to be learned there about the safety culture and issues that sparked the wildfire that you mentioned a moment ago in California. And of course, we’ve just seen a very recent tragedy that occurred in Hawaii and Maui, and you’ve already done some reporting on that.
And I guess, based on what we know now, what stands out to you in the most recent event?
Do you see similarities or differences? Are there things to know or lessons that you already have identified, or is it still too early for us to make any logical, you know, jumps from one to the other or ways to compare them?
Katherine Blunt: Well, I suppose, to be clear, we do not know for sure what caused the fire in Maui. An official determination has not yet been made. There is evidence that suggests that Hawaiian Electric’s power lines played a role in the fire. And if that is to be conclusively determined, I would say that there are pretty significant parallels between what may have happened there and what happened in California, kind of chillingly so, almost.
I mean, just going through some of the regulatory filings the companies made over the last few years is – you know, back in 2019 they were observing what was happening with PG&E. The company was observing that and recognizing that it probably did face elevated risk of wildfire. And it announced publicly that it wanted to do more to assess that. Wanted to do more to harden the system in the event of, you know, high wind conditions and things along those lines.
But you know, utilities often move relatively slowly, and that slowness is often most apparent in hindsight, right? So, it wasn’t until 2022 that they put forth a formal plan to address wildfire risk, and that proceeding is ongoing, right. There wasn’t a great deal of regulatory urgency either, which is also often the case, right?
So, we think about the lead up to the massive 2017 and 2018 fires that were ignited when – either because of vegetation issues and PG&E’s power lines or just aging transmission infrastructure.
You know, regulators had been weighing for some time whether they should try to do more to push PG&E to address wildfire risk. Historically, it had been most acute in Southern California. So that is where most of the focus had been. And I mean, of course, in hindsight, you could say that both PG&E and the Regulatory Commission moved too slowly to think about wildfire risk in Northern California. Again, that’s most apparent in hindsight. But, you know, given that California was grappling with, I mean, really recognized the catastrophic risk of power line fires as early as 2007 with San Diego Gas and Electric’s Witch Fire. I mean, it wasn’t until, I think 2018 or ’19, that the Commission even required a formal wildfire mitigation plan from PG&E, right. And so, not to be long winded about this, but you know another similarity that just has been shared with us anecdotally from people close to Hawaiian Electric over the last ten years or so, is the company has spent a lot of time and resources focused on helping Hawaii hit its RPS targets, right? I mean, very focused on renewable energy.
And you know, I say this, and I often get pretty swift blowback from people who are proponents of renewables saying this is not an indictment of renewables, right. It’s just a simple statement of fact that the company was very focused on this and seemed to have fewer resources dedicated to assessing operational risk or climate driven operational risk.
Todd Snitchler: Yup.
Katherine Blunt: And so, one thing that I think is important is, for utility companies, it’s a simple question. You have a lot of resources dedicated to the energy transition. You know, switching to more quickly to wind and solar, bringing more battery storage online or whatever it may be – are there commensurate resources on the operational side assessing risk? That’s a question.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, and that sounds like a fair one. And I would put my old regulator hat back on and say that I agree with your assessment that sometimes the regulatory wheels do turn slowly. But those are, I think, some of the right questions that regulators not limited just to the West but across the country probably ought to be thinking about as we see these examples of, you know, just devastating occurrences and you know, we certainly don’t know what we don’t know. But I think on a more broad level, you know, this is, you know, around the reliability issue. Are we going to have to wait for some kind of crisis in order for people to pay more attention to reliability and prioritize it?
And I think it’s a good lesson that can be broadened, you know, not just limited to potential fires that are started from infrastructure, but for a broader set of issues about the need to stay focused on both and move more quickly than maybe you have in the past.
Katherine Blunt: I was talking to Michael Wara at Stanford the other day, and he had what I thought was a pretty interesting metaphor just talking about kind of the pace of change and the speed at which utilities are moving to address wildfire risk in the West. And he said, you know, I mean, these proceedings in which you’re applying for cost recovery and just the sort of the months-long or years-long back and forth between intervenors and everything. I mean, this was all well and good when there was no competition. And he’s like, “The competition now is wildfire. It can come and take out your entire business.” You know, and I thought that that was an interesting thought. I’d never quite put it in that frame. But it’s like, yeah, how do you, how do you address that, given that very scary and real dynamic?
Todd Snitchler: Yeah. And that the pace of change is accelerating. And so not just utilities, but the entire energy sector is, I think, going to have to learn how to adjust, move quicker, and be more responsive in shorter order maybe than we have in the past.
Katherine Blunt: Right, right. I think that’s true.
Todd Snitchler: So, you cover a lot of things in the energy sector. And I don’t want to limit you to kind of the current issues of the day. So, because you cover so much, what are you looking for when you are writing stories or what is it that, you know, draws your attention and what are some of the things aside from what we’ve already talked about that maybe you’re following right now, or stories that you see in the making?
Katherine Blunt: Yeah. You know, from where I sit within The Wall Street Journal, I’m part of the, sort of the corporate coverage group, in that I cover big publicly traded companies. But for me that doesn’t necessarily mean sort of turn of the screw developments like you might see for, I don’t know Tesla or whatever. It’s like – I’m writing trend stories. Like trends among companies, whether that’s in the competitive power space or the regulated space or –
I mean a consistent theme for me over the last several years has just been reliability in its many facets. People are keenly interested in that right now, thinking about the grid.
Todd Snitchler: Us too.
Katherine Blunt: [Laughs] Yes, yes. Thinking about the grid in in ways they haven’t. Whether that’s because of, you know, issues with aging distribution infrastructure, or you know, the threat of rolling blackouts given some of the supply-demand challenges we’ve seen.
So that’s been – that’s been top of mind. And then you know, this time of year is always pretty fraught, you know, whether it’s heat related or fire related. So that’s often where my expertise comes to the fore most prominently.
Todd Snitchler: You’ve written a lot about the West, but not exclusively of course, and about the policies that states are passing and are being deployed in those areas. Are there similarities or things that you’re seeing now in the East or things that you would suggest that the East should look at as they try to perhaps navigate some of the challenges that the West is already further down the road on? Or are they so different that maybe it’s a different set of issues?
Katherine Blunt: Oh, I think that in a broad sense thematically, there’s like – I mean, there’s a couple of things, right? I suppose if we’re talking about reliability, I guess there’s a couple of buckets, right? I mean, there’s been supply-demand challenges in the West. There threatens to be the same, you know, for example in New York, right?
And just, and kind of just the challenge of, you know, in terms of the energy transition, which you know is ongoing and will continue to accelerate – it’s just, it’s kind of so haphazardly overseen, right? There’s so many different entities involved in determining kind of what goes offline and what comes online. And then real constraints in taking something offline or bringing something online.
And I don’t know. I think that just sort of any effort to improve that sort of like, overall coordination, challenging as it may be, is something that would be beneficial possibly. But I mean, certainly something that I’m watching in general. But – and also – I mean, in terms of – climate change is creating new risks, right? I mean the prospect of, I don’t know, longer heat waves, drought in places that you didn’t see before, potentially stronger storms. You know, there’s all kinds of variables associated with that of course. But you know, smart utilities in the West are trying to get a handle on what this means for the way they operate the system.
I’m seeing the same in the East to some extent. One of the earliest utilities to really undertake this was Con Ed after Hurricane Sandy. Looking at substation flooding and sea level rise, and things along those lines. So, we’re moving into a period of time in which the grid is going to become even more challenging to operate on a number of different levels, and that’s going to require a lot of assessment and investment.
Todd Snitchler: And I do think that your comment about the coordination is a particularly relevant one. As we are seeing, you know, some of the challenges in the West that are happening in you know, restructured parts of the East, but also in parts of the Midwest that are vertically integrated that happen to be in an RTO, where they are dealing with some of the same reliability challenges.
So I think we – it’s the proverbial “we’re all in this together.” And I think we’ll be smarter if we collaborate more and do better at sharing information. And I think I see that certainly from our seat, that that’s happening more. So, I’m at least nominally encouraged that we’re going to try to get ahead of this as opposed to, you know, be behind it. As you said, more often than not, you know our industry moves a little slower than some, but I think you know people are painfully aware of some of the risks. So I’m hopeful that we’re going to make progress.
Katherine Blunt: Yeah. Well, that’s good to hear – I like to hear that encouragement.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah. So, we are now going through what is yet another heat dome. You know, Texas had a pretty hot stretch for quite an extended period of time in July. And now we’re having another one that’s affecting the upper Midwest. As you look at the weather, I know you’ve done some reporting on the temperatures and all that, you know, anything stand out to you about how the grid is performing or about how it’s being managed better that is relevant?
Katherine Blunt: Well, I don’t want to jinx anything but so far, so good. So far, so good.
Todd Snitchler: Fair enough.
Katherine Blunt: Yeah, you know, it’s – July, I think was the way it was for a couple of different reasons. I mean, renewables performed relatively well in Texas. For the most part, conventional generation functioned well. It was kind of, everything was performing as it should, I suppose. There’s a lot of generation in ERCOT. But, you know, in California, where it’s been historically diciest over the last few years, strong, you know, wet winter, right? So, the hydro conditions are a lot better than they have been in the past. And the state really did well to bring a lot of battery storage online, I think up substantially from just three years ago. And so that’s been helpful. But you know, August, historically, the winds die down a bit, and so that could potentially create some challenges going forward.
And I think for California, you know, is historically so reliant on imports – the hydro situation should hopefully help with that, but we will see. We’re not totally out of the woods yet.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, I would share that sentiment that we are not, we’re not quite there yet. We’re not to the fall season. But I do think it tends to shine a light on, you know, a lot of parts of the country where – it’s a winter peaking season, everything operates great, you know in the other nine months of the year. It turns out that we’re having challenges in parts of the country where we may turn into a summer peaking system.
And you know, the grid’s got to operate 365 days a year. And probably 350 or 355, it operates seamlessly. It’s those five or ten days of stress that everything’s got to work right, or as you note, we end up in, you know, a very bad situation.
So, we’re optimistic that we will get there, but it’s, you know, we’ve got another month to go before we kind of move out of the summer season.
Katherine Blunt: Yeah, yeah.
Todd Snitchler: So, you’ve covered a lot of critical stories on utilities and of course the power space more broadly. But one of the themes that you really focus on is the impacts of the changing energy landscape – or what happens as we see our energy resource mix turning over. You call it the “energy transition.” I understand the term, but we like to think of “energy expansion,” because we’re going to need more, not less.
But what are some of the trends or takeaways that you’re seeing or that stick out to you as you’re watching it kind of play out over time?
Katherine Blunt: It was probably a year and a half ago, I wrote a story that proved to be hugely popular with readers. I think it was just, you know, it was simple enough and helped explain something that can be kind of complicated to think about. But just thinking about reliability challenges sort of like in three buckets, right? I mean the grid is old. There are components of the grid, especially of the transmission system, that maybe is like a century old right? Built to support the hydroelectric buildout at the, you know, early part of the 20th Century. And it’s becoming more prone to failure for those reasons because it’s simply – it’s aging equipment that needs replacement. And then you’ve got, sort of new risks related to, you know, climate related stress, you know, puts additional stress in the aging system.
Then you’ve got the prospect of electricity demand increasing for the first time in a long time, putting even more stress on the system.
Todd Snitchler: Right.
Katherine Blunt: And then sort of this separate but related idea that managing what’s going offline and what’s coming online has created some kind of real vulnerabilities in recent years, right? There’s been some – I mean, think about, California did have rolling blackouts in 2020. There’s been some near misses since then.
Todd Snitchler: Mmhmm.
Katherine Blunt: Obviously what happened in Texas in February 2021 is a bit different, but you know, nevertheless sort of highlighted the vulnerability of what happens when you lose a lot of generation.
Todd Snitchler: That’s right.
Katherine Blunt: So again, I mean just we spoke earlier about the challenge of just managing the pace right, and making sure it all continues as it should, and as we want it to.
So I mean – and there’s a million facets of each of these buckets, right? So that’s kind of what I focus on and try to draw out or hone in on to help people understand those themes in greater depth.
Todd Snitchler: Sure. I think you’ve diagnosed it in a way that we are, you know, in agreement on, which is reliability is particularly challenging. So, as you look at it and the people you talk to, do you, do you think people are prioritizing reliability in a way that they should? And are there issues that are impacting reliability that you don’t think are getting the attention that they should?
Katherine Blunt: I think, I mean, I think generally yes, it’s actually – I mean it’s a question that I think you’re well positioned to answer, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it. I mean – I think that – I mean, there’s always room for improvement in all of these, right?
Todd Snitchler: To be sure.
Katherine Blunt: And I mean, we’ve also seen companies just completely caught off guard by some sort of risk that they failed to fully appreciate, right? That’s not necessarily a criticism. It’s just to say, it’s a really dynamic time and things seem to be changing really quickly and it can be hard – you know, it’s unfortunate that it often takes a disaster to sort of reveal the extent of whatever risk you’re talking about, right?
Todd Snitchler: Yeah.
Katherine Blunt: And I think it’s just an unfortunate reality. But to the extent the industry can sort of get ahead of this or keep this in mind, right? And try to be kind of covering on all sides. Easier said than done, right? But it’s, it’s a challenging time.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah. And I would – to your question, I do think that the issue is being raised at the right level to the right people. There are some who say, “Ah, the generator community is just, you know, they always say that it’s a reliability issue and that just means they want more of their old plants to run and they’re trying to find new revenue.”
But I think it’s way more complicated than that. I mean, certainly you’re going to need sufficient resources to run to ensure reliability. And our members are actively engaged in making sure that they can provide the resources that are needed. They’re investing in the new resources as well as maintaining the existing resources that are going to be crucial to keeping the lights on, even as we see the broader deployment of intermittent or renewable resources. I mean, the system has to work together.
So, I’m optimistic that industry – and that includes our utility cousins and others – are very much focused on this issue. I do worry that policymakers kind of overlook the impacts of policies on reliability. And trying to educate them about what that might be becomes a bit of a challenge.
Because sometimes they don’t want to hear the message. Sometimes they’re concerned that you’re overstating the message. And sometimes they are just – they don’t want to hear it. That “We’ve got an existential crisis, that has to be addressed.” And you know “Your solution doesn’t match my proposed solution. So, we’re not going to talk about it.” And I think that’s where we’re going to have to have some of those difficult conversations to ensure that the American public doesn’t run into a situation where they have power interrupted at times when – it’s never convenient, but when it’s least convenient and most impactful.
Katherine Blunt: Right, right. Yeah.
Todd Snitchler: So –
Katherine Blunt: Sorry. I was just going to say –
Todd Snitchler: No, go ahead.
Katherine Blunt: I was just going to say, you know, a piece of this that is often talked about among kind of, the you know, the wonkier people in the space, or – shouldn’t put it that way. But just talking about transmission buildout, right? I mean, this is just it’s probably it’s – everyone sort of agrees a very critical piece of the puzzle here and it’s just something that’s historically been so hard for us. I mean it’s just, I mean as a country.
Todd Snitchler: Yes.
Katherine Blunt: Yeah. Historically we used to be able to build it a lot easier, but at least recently.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, I forget. What was the name of the line? Is it Green Belt Express? That took 17 years to get from beginning to end? That was finally just approved.
Katherine Blunt: I think that’s right.
Todd Snitchler: I mean your children would be in high school if you started, you know, at birth to when they would finally get this thing done. And I think that raises one of the many issues that, you know, we’re concerned about of course. And you are probably reporting on this tangentially, but it’s permitting and siting reform, which is critical if we’re going to try to accommodate many of the federal and state policies that are competing for the utilities’ attention and for power generators more broadly.
Katherine Blunt: Right. Yeah. And there’s been some movement at the federal level in the last few years to try to kind of better coordinate the process, but we’ll see.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, there’s much work to be done on that. So, one of the other issues that I think we bump into – and we’ve seen it more over the last couple of years, certainly it’s risen to prominence, is physical infrastructure attacks. The situation in North Carolina last year, the near miss in Baltimore where people were arrested before they could do what they had set out to do. But there were a couple of incidents in the West as well. Kind of layered on top of cybersecurity.
How are you hearing about these things or how are how does your reporting try to answer some of the questions around: are we as secure as we can be or what do we need to be doing to improve our cyber and physical security?
Katherine Blunt: Yeah, it’s, it’s – well, it’s frightening for one.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah.
Katherine Blunt: I mean, there seems to have been an uptick in this kind of activity per what NERC tracks over the last few years. And it could be for a number of reasons. It could be for, you know, simple theft of materials, or it could be, you know, darker motivations and actually wanting to knock out the grid in some form or fashion for some reason.
And I think that they – I think – I believe that NERC is trying to come up with some more, kind of, stringent guidelines for the protection of you know, a wider range of substations, other than sort of like the large substations like, you know Metcalf and others. Like we saw, Tycon. I was talking to a friend the other day who was driving through California. And they’re like, “I took a picture of Metcalf.” I was like, “You can still see it? [Laughs.] Okay…”
Todd Snitchler: [Laughs] Yeah…
Katherine Blunt: So, yeah. I mean, I think it can just require thinking more broadly about what different types of assets need protection.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that because when you when you start to look around as you’re driving across the country, the amount of infrastructure that is sitting out in the open is substantial. And you know, some of it is more critical than others, of course. But you know, when your power goes out, it’s critical. I mean, that’s how we all are. That’s how consumers behave, which is completely understandable.
But I think, you know, industry is doing what it needs to do to start to look at how we protect resources in a different way. Because as you note, the uptick in activity is sometimes malicious, it’s sometimes theft, it’s a range of rationales. But in the end, all of those things have an impact on reliability. Which I think we’re all focused on trying to limit the negative impacts.
And it is very difficult and probably going to get more difficult as we go forward. You know just, there are sometimes bad actors and you’ve got to be prepared for every opportunity. What’s the old adage about — “The bad guys only have to be right once. You’ve got to protect against every possible eventuality.” Which is very difficult.
Katherine Blunt: Yup.
Todd Snitchler: So, you take a very broad look as you noted a moment ago about what you cover, and you deal with utilities that are in vertically integrated states. You’ve looked at, you know, the competitive markets. You were kind enough to participate as one of our moderators at an EPSA Competitive Power Summit. How do you view the two different models of the world? And are you tracking any issues or watching any issues in the space where, you know, there’s maybe some contrast between the vertically integrateds and the competitive markets?
Katherine Blunt: Well, I think that it’s been fascinating for me personally just to kind of try to stay up on the different market design debates that are playing out in pretty much every competitive market right now to accommodate and account for the fact that power is generated very differently than it was when the markets were created a couple decades ago. And I keep threatening to my editors to write a market redesign story. I haven’t. I haven’t made good on it yet. And I’m sure they’re relieved, but –
Todd Snitchler: Well, I can assure you, don’t include the phrase “standard market design,” or you’ll get, you know, sent to the penalty box like I do here in the office.
Katherine Blunt: [Laughs.] Yeah. So, I mean, I think that’s really relevant. It’s obviously extremely complicated, no question about it. But it’s, it’s just, it’s highly, highly relevant and – with the, you know, I mean it’s interesting. I suppose I’m kind of tracking fewer issues with some of the vertically integrated markets. But in terms of retirements or what have you, it’s been interesting to see sort of the need for some of the, you know, the utility companies to keep generation online. I think it’s kind of been interesting to observe in MISO over the last couple of years. But also in, you know, in some cases, stuff is still going to set to retire and that has implications for, you know, for California and its ability to import power at different times of day. And so it all it all plays together. You know, it’s all kind of part of the big same system, even if it’s operated differently.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think sometimes that, you know, the consumer, rightly or wrongly, hits the light switch and that’s what needs to work. But boy, there’s an awful lot that goes in behind the scenes across the entire country, the eastern and western, and the Texas interconnections.
So yeah, there are a lot of moving parts. And we’ve talked, of course, about our perspective, but what are some of the things that you’re hearing at a high level, across the entire energy sector?
So are there ways that people are approaching things that you say, “That sounds different?” Or “That’s new?” Or are you disappointed that, you know, maybe it’s the same old, same old? Or you know, kind of how are you hearing about how people are looking at things going forward that are, you know, up to their elbows in the industry?
Katherine Blunt: I think a lot of smart people are thinking hard about these challenges.
It’s – all these processes that we’re talking about are fairly slow moving just because they’re so complex. And there’s always the question of, you know, what is fast enough? But it’s kind of hard to envision how you would speed up some of these really complicated conversations about market structure, compensation, and things like that.
But you know, every day it becomes more critical.
Todd Snitchler: To be sure. You know, it’s funny you mentioned the MISO situation. You know, one of the things that has been becoming a kind of a regular commentary that we are hearing now at a number of industry events is that you know, even regions of the country where vertically integrated utilities are the ones who have integrated resource plans and are responsible for ensuring resource adequacy are finding it difficult to replace their supply that is retiring because they can’t either get it approved, they have the litigation processes, they’re running into problems. And I found that to be an interesting insight for – you know, we of course focus on the restructured markets predominantly. But when you hear your compatriots in vertically integrated portions of the country say that they are experiencing difficulty in permitting, siting, and constructing new generation resources, that suggests to me that we have something of a broader problem that really is going to require attention.
Because as you noted earlier, you know, electrification and the increase in demand is upon us. And if we meet some of the goals that folks have laid out with regard to electric vehicles and electrification of homes and industry, the demand curve is going to increase pretty substantially and that’s going to require more resources, not less. And I’m somewhat concerned that we’re going to have a misalignment between supply and demand. And that’s that leads to very bad outcomes.
Katherine Blunt: Sure. I mean it’s a really good point and an important one – that there are like, real physical constraints in the build out of new resources right now. I mean this has been the case for a number of years with supply chain issues.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah.
Katherine Blunt: Kind of some tariff related issues with China that, you know, kind of, I think – remember when it sort of came to a head, I think it was last year.
And of course, you know, permitting has been a problem, I mean, the interconnection queues. I mean, long standing challenge. Clearly there’s been issues to kind of reform that and make sure that the most ready projects get the fastest approval, which makes sense.
But yeah, I mean it’s – there’s any number of challenges that a developer could encounter, or a utility could encounter, in trying to bring new resources online. And some have had more success than others, I would say.
Todd Snitchler: I think that’s right.
Well, we’ve had a lot of, I won’t say negative, but I’ll say we’ve had a lot of cautious conversation around hoping that things go well. I always like to try to end on something optimistic. So, I’ve got a handful of questions that hopefully will push your optimistic button.
But you’re very well steeped in what’s going on in the energy system and the energy field. What are you keeping an eye on as far as technology or energy that you think, you know, this could be the saying that turn helps us turn the corner? Or what are you watching that gives you optimism with regard to either the resource mix or addressing policy challenges or how we’re dealing with the energy system broadly?
Katherine Blunt: Hmm, that’s a tough question – unfortunately.
Todd Snitchler: [Laughs]. I was hoping you had a ready, easy, optimistic answer, but maybe there isn’t one.
Katherine Blunt: No, no. I mean I think that there’s a lot of reasons for optimism. I mean, I already said this, but I mean there’s never been more interest in this space. There’s a lot of smart people doing a lot of smart things.
And you know, there’s a lot of – there’s just, simply put, there’s a lot of money, right? There’s a lot of money right now. I mean, whether that be because of the IRA or what have you. But like, companies are making big investments in technologies that might not be proven out yet, but maybe it’s time.
You know, maybe it’s time that, for example, I don’t know – I mean, does hydrogen finally have its moment? That remains an open question. But like, hydrogen could be an interesting thing. But I think probably in like, you know, in the competitive power space, it could, right?
And I don’t know. Is it time for geothermal’s moment? I mean, just like all these things that we’ve been talking about for a while. And this is like, there’s so much more interest, there’s so much more investment. And so, it’s going to be a fascinating few years to see what bears out.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah, I think that’s true. And we may see really accelerated change over the next 5 to 10 years. So, as you think about that, how do you think companies can best prepare or position themselves for the future? Are there things that they should be doing? Or do you think, you know, most people are kind of on the ball. Like, they’ve got it figured out, they just need to execute.
Katherine Blunt: Well, I suppose there’s a reason I’m not a company executive. I kind of come in and say what’s wrong in hindsight. [Laughs.] But I think that – I will say this.
When I started this job five years ago, the focus was very much on sort of like conventional oil and gas production in terms of just what was important in the energy space.
And that has changed a lot, and the spotlight is now on power companies, whether that be utility companies, or you know, generation developers, or I mean the whole suite of players here. So, everyone’s in the spotlight and I think everybody recognizes that and is trying to perform at a higher level than they might have had to perform in the past.
Todd Snitchler: I’d agree with that. OK. So that that leads to a great question. So how do you view your role as a reporter? I know when you’re writing, you’re sharing a lot of, as I noted before, complicated information that you’re trying to boil down so it’s digestible. What story are you trying to tell her or what do you want people to do with the information that you’re providing them?
Katherine Blunt: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question. I mean, my ultimate goal is to be able to write for, write in a way – write stories that the like, you know, people in the industry find really valuable and informative, of course. But also, I mean, day-to-day readers as well. I mean, striking that balance between something that’s going to be, I mean, genuinely useful information for someone who has all the background and something that’s understandable for someone who’s just trying to get a better handle on, you know, the system that serves them, that’s becoming more important. And so that’s the goal. And, you know, I think it’s a worthy one in that it’s – the power space and the electricity space is one in which you know, everyone can kind of participate if they want to. You know, there’s all kinds of regulatory hearings and places in which you can express what you’d like to see happen. And so, I think understanding more about the –
Todd Snitchler: Yes, that’s for sure.
Katherine Blunt: The system in the way that it works could help people do that if they if they so choose at this time in which we’re all becoming more reliant on electricity.
Todd Snitchler: Indeed. So, any advice or asks that you would have for those of us in the industry when we’re working with people in your profession? I mean you, you have a very different role than we do, but we, you know, interface on any number of issues. Are there things that you would want us to do better when it comes to trying to convey information or share information? Feel free to be as blunt as you need to be, no pun intended.
Katherine Blunt: [Laughing] Pick up the phone. Just pick up the phone!
No, I mean, I think most people do. I say it a little bit tongue in cheek.
But no, I think it just kind of – I would hope keeping in mind the importance of having these conversations honestly – I mean as simple as that may sound, I think that we you know, I mean, I would think people in this space want to celebrate the victories, but I think it’s also important to be honest about the challenges if we’re going to try to tackle what’s, you know, the many challenges coming at all sides right now.
Todd Snitchler: Mmhmm. I think that’s probably the best advice you could give someone is just, just be honest. It saves you a lot of trouble at the back end of that.
Katherine Blunt: Yeah, I think that that’s the case.
Todd Snitchler: Yeah. So, as we get close to wrapping up here, we always like to give the opportunity for you to make news. So, is there anything new that you’re working on? Is there another book in the pipeline, anything that you want to share that would be newsworthy on our end?
Katherine Blunt: I hope – I hope to eventually be able to announce another book, but not quite yet. Just stay tuned for coverage this Fall.
Todd Snitchler: Excellent. Well, we love that. That’s a good tease, I think they call that. So, Katherine, I can’t thank you enough for taking time to visit with us today. We certainly appreciate it and really value the work that you’re doing because you know, we do think you do an excellent job of trying to convey some very complicated information in a way that’s useful and digestible, as you said, for both industry and for the casual reader. And so, we certainly appreciate the work you do.
Katherine Blunt: I appreciate that. Thanks for having me.
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