Commentary

Tech and Innovation Is Saint John Energy’s Focus For The Future

Ray Robinson is President & CEO of Saint John Energy. Image: Submitted

Ray Robinson is President & CEO of Saint John Energy and Past Chair of the Canadian Electricity Association.

As Saint John Energy approaches a century in business, we are justifiably proud – proud of our people, proud of our ability to deliver electricity to our customers at the lowest rate in Atlantic Canada, proud of our record on reliability.

Our success is built on our strong focus on our customers and our community. This is not something we take for granted. Now and into the future, our focus is and will be providing dependable electricity at lower rates to the homes and businesses in Saint John.

Looking ahead to the next century, we know that our business will – and must – change. In this era of technological disruption, businesses that do not innovate will flounder. Electricity utilities are no different. Increased focus on energy efficiency and shifting demographics are upending the traditional business model for utilities across North America and beyond.

It is against this shifting landscape that Saint John Energy forged a growth strategy focused on innovation. It is a carefully constructed strategy designed to meet our customers’ changing needs, designed to deliver energy solutions that are better for the planet, and designed to strengthen the city we’ve always called home.

It is a methodical strategy constructed around three broad themes: renewable energy, smart energy services and strategic partnerships. While we discover and innovate along the way, our plans for growth remain rooted in the solid record of service and expertise we’ve forged since we were founded in 1922.

On the renewable energy front, we have formed a partnership with a proven wind developer in Natural Forces to construct a wind farm for Saint John designed to supply about 15 per cent of the city’s energy needs – and save up to $8 million a year in energy purchases.

We recently took delivery of a state-of-the-art Tesla battery that will allow us to store energy and inject it into the grid when it is needed, curbing the pollution and high costs associated with generating power at peak demand times. Such storage solutions also help manage the intermittent nature of renewable power.

We are carefully studying a project that would broaden access to solar energy in Saint John. If the business case is proven, customers of Saint John Energy would be able to rent solar panels in ground-mounted solar array and have the generation from those panels credited to their power bills.

We undertake these projects knowing our customers are keenly interested in renewable energy. Our own customer surveys confirm that – 86 per cent tell us they are in favour, provided it does not increase rates. We concur: we undertake these initiatives to lower costs for our customers.

Leveraging artificial intelligence and other technologies will allow us to modernize and advance the city’s grid by 2022. It will allow us to deliver smart, energy efficient products that meet customers’ needs and save them money.

And it is clear that customers are increasingly interested in smarter and more efficient energy products. We need not look any further than the mini-split ductless heat pump rental program Saint John Energy introduced as a Canadian first in 2016.

The program won a Natural Resources Canada award honouring organizations that demonstrate excellence in offering consumers the most energy-efficient products and technology available – the first time an electrical utility captured the award. Moreover, the program met untapped demand among homeowners in Saint John and beyond.

The future of our business, like any other, depends on satisfying the needs of our customers and we are proud to keep innovating to do just that.

Through hard work and ingenuity, we’ve earned a reputation not just for strength and reliability but honed an expertise in the energy sector that we’re eager to build upon and share. To that end, we forge strategic partnerships with organizations and with research institutions such as UNB and NBCC to leverage innovation and opportunity.

Through these carefully chosen partnerships, we are helping to build an ecosystem around future solutions to energy needs and challenges. These are opportunities which, in turn, will bolster the economy by creating new jobs and prosperity for Saint John and for New Brunswick.

As part of this progressive growth strategy for our future, we are seeking changes to our governance model to align with more than 90 per cent of municipal utilities in Canada. This modernization would allow us to flow dividends forecasted at more than $17 million over the next decade to the City of Saint John while maintaining our commitment to the lowest electricity rates in the province.

At Saint John Energy, we are proud of our past and remain resolutely committed to our core business – the safe and reliable distribution of electricity to our customers. We are growing and innovating to ensure we can keep that commitment for our customers and for our city.

More information on our plans for the future, including our growth strategy and our report on sustainability and innovation, can be found at www.sjenergy.com.

Huddle publishes commentaries from groups and individuals on important business issues facing the Maritimes. These commentaries do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Huddle. To submit a commentary for consideration, contact editor Mark Leger: [email protected]