Understanding and addressing the current reality

Understanding and addressing the current reality

By: Max Crampton- Thomas

The Tampa Bay region, like everywhere else, is feeling the deep impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with Invest:, Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce CEO Robin Miller reflects on the economic fallout from the pandemic, how the chamber is supporting local businesses and what role the community can play to help businesses through this unprecedented crisis.

 

What have you already seen in terms of economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on the business community in the Tampa Bay region?

 

There has been unprecedented impact in nearly every sector; however, hospitality is at the top of those extremely impacted. When you look at this from the loss of jobs to the closure of hotels, this trickle effect impacts sales tax generated as well. For many years, we would have communities and people complain about visitors and tourists here. Now, the unfortunate reality is that this is what it looks like when we don’t have tourism in our communities.

How is your organization working to assist the business community in mitigating the challenges and impact felt from the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

We are working extremely hard to provide clear and concise information; assisting businesses in navigating and understanding the stimulus; and lastly, but more importantly, we have created a partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay and are providing food pantries once a week and access to produce.

Do you feel the business community is receiving enough state and federal support?

 

I think it is a good start; however, we are advocating strongly for sector-driven financial support that are not loans. The anxiety and stress of no business at all and keeping people employed is debilitating, and then the pure thought they will need to take out loans is overwhelming. This is a line item in a businesses budget that was not planned. They need access to grants and more of it. I think local governments can play a key role in this as well.


How can the community best assist the local businesses in this time of need?

 

Be patient with businesses as they now have a new normal to exist in. Once we start staggering the openings of our local communities and businesses, we all need to create a new plan to support them. We will all be on limited funds for months to come. I suggest that whenever we need something, let’s not immediately open an Amazon web window. Let’s instill a behavior that we immediately access our local options first. If you think you can get it on Amazon cheaper, tell your local business that. We need to band together in this support now more than ever.

For more information on our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.tampabaybeaches.com/

Let’s get virtual: Six must-read tips for engaging online

Let’s get virtual: Six must-read tips for engaging online

By: Abby Melone

It’s a brave new world for everyone. Quarantine, lockdown, self-isolation and sheltering in place characterize the new normal imposed by COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. In a virtuous cycle, people depend on strong businesses, which depend on a strong economy, which depends on strong businesses that depend on people.

 

The fact is that people, businesses and the economy shouldn’t just stop, even in such unprecedented times, and perhaps more so because of this crisis. Fortunately, this is also the era of high technology, and there is no time like the present to show just what that technology is capable of, especially in business dealings.

 

As the pandemic stretches on, more businesses are turning to virtual meetings to get things done. Skype, Zoom … these are the most vital tools for business today. But as everyone has intimately discovered, when an in-person meeting becomes virtual, much can be lost, and the road to disaster can be perilously short when you’re online. We all want to be as effective as if we were physically there, but how do we stay engaging and charming and avoid as many distractions, hiccups and potential disasters as possible?

 

Like any good professional, you need to know the tricks of the trade. Here are some tips to help:

 

Positioning of the camera. A wacky camera angle can be extremely distracting. Who wants to see directly into the inside of your nose? Pull down your computer screen slightly to make sure the camera is dead on rather than pointing upward, which most likely is your more natural way to position the screen.

 

Background noise. There is no better way to turn off the person you are meeting with than some distracting noise. Be conscious of your surroundings, especially now that you are most likely working from home: clanking jewelry, dog barking, roommate or significant other also working from home. 

 

Distracting background. Make sure you do not give the person you are meeting with the opportunity to focus on a picture of the sports team you love but they hate. Position yourself against an empty wall or something non-distracting.

 

Don’t look at yourself in the video. Very few of us can resist glancing, or even staring, at our own camera window. Don’t! The person you are meeting can see you are distracted by you and not them. Also, you miss loads of cues from the other person when you are staring into your own eyes. Is the person you are meeting with interested? Engaged? Bored? Distracted? You won’t know unless you are looking at them.

 

Try to maintain a dialog. It’s easy to steal the “conversation” and talk and talk and talk. Be sure to make time in your presentation to see where the other person is, do they have questions, are they following along?

 

Know your demo tools: both the functionality of the platform as well as the material you will be showing. The person on your computer screen is watching your every move, so the more comfortable you are with your tools, the more flawless (and therefore impressive) you come across in your meetings. Close out all windows you would not want someone to see before your meeting starts (email, social media, YouTube). Remember: when technology goes wrong, it can take you from being competent and impressive to the alternative in seconds.

Spotlight On: Thomas Jewsbury, Executive Director, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

Spotlight On: Thomas Jewsbury, Executive Director, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic that is challenging all sectors of the local economy, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport was coming off a record growth year in 2019. Executive Director Thomas Jewbury spoke to Invest: about looking at a slew of new projects to increase its capacity while also looking to attract more traffic via new airlines to the Tampa Bay region.

 

What construction projects are ongoing at the airport and what impact are they expected to have when completed?

 

In 2020, we’ll finish our parking renovation project. It will expand long-term parking to accommodate more passengers. We are also focusing attention on the airfield. We have a $20-million project to rehabilitate the pavement surface of our primary runway. We expect to finish that project by the end of the year. We are also doing improvements to the terminal’s apron, replacing some of the asphalt with concrete, and converting an old runway into a taxiway. Those are projects that are underway.

We are also set to complete our airport master plan this year, defining our capital improvement program for the next five, 10 and 20 years. A big focus of that master plan is the future development of the terminal building. The next phase of terminal development will look at ways to increase efficiencies by consolidating the TSA’s passenger screening checkpoints and possibly the ticketing area.

We have a 130-acre undeveloped site that used to be a golf course. We are looking to develop that site for both aeronautical and non-aeronautical use. Before we can break ground, we had to conduct an environmental assessment. We just received approval from the FAA and received a finding of no significant impact. That sets the stage for us to improve our infrastructure. To develop the aeronautical parcels, we need to build new taxiways, which is included in our capital plan.

Among finished projects, we did an upgrade to our security system, and built part of a $4.5 million maintenance facility for our own airport maintenance workers. The facility is located on the airfield, it gives workers direct access and makes our operation more efficient. 

In addition to what the airport is doing, Allegiant Air invested $4 million to build a new maintenance/operations facility. They lease their space from the airport.

 

What economic impact does the airport have on the region?

Over a year ago, we concluded an economic impact study. At that time, we were doing just over 2 million passengers a year. It showed an economic impact on the community of over $1 billion annually. We’ve had several recent meetings with various airlines to try to attract new service. In addition to that, we are working with Allegiant to expand to additional cities, add more capacity and also try to incorporate international service. That is always an ongoing effort.

 

How does the airport contribute to sustainability in the Clearwater and Tampa Bay Region?

Our master plan has a focus on sustainability. It was important to us that we also championed another master plan that’s on the way, called the Gateway Master Plan. It looks at this area of Pinellas County and how the future infrastructure will be developed, including how other transportation modes will interact with the airport. It also identifies potential areas of the airport that could be converted for other transportation modes. The Gateway Master Plan is being drafted by Forward Pinellas.

 

What challenges is the transportation industry facing in Florida?

Surface transportation is one of the biggest hurdles. The Florida Department of Transportation is constructing the Gateway Express that will result in an elevated toll road to connect to Interstate 275. It will run in front of our airport. This will provide greater connectivity. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.fly2pie.com/

Spotlight On: Larry Thompson, President, Ringling College of Art and Design

Spotlight On: Larry Thompson, President, Ringling College of Art and Design

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read March 2020 — While all higher education institutions operate with the purpose of preparing students for future lifelong careers, Ringling College of Art and Design is also working to shatter the myth of the starving artist, school President Larry Thompson told Invest:. He also spoke about the increased student interest in offerings from the school, positioning the college for future long-term success and identifying the issues that need to be addressed in higher education. 

 

What was one of the major successes for the college in 2019?

In December 2019, we opened the Sarasota Art Museum, which is a part of Ringling College. It is built on the site of a historic high school from 1926 located right in the middle of Sarasota. We took it over because the school system was trying to find a use for it and we were looking for space for a museum. We were able to turn it into a contemporary art museum and a space for continuing studies and lifelong learning. This project has been a long time in the making, so we are quite pleased to have this as part of our campus.

Where are you seeing the most growth in terms of student interest? 

We have seen growth in our virtual reality major and have launched a new major in entertainment design. We are also seeing a huge increase in the number of students who are interested in the Collaboratory. The idea of the Collaboratory is to help our students get real-world experience working with real-world clients. We invite clients to the institution and put together teams of students who work to help solve some of the problems that clients might be having. It is a wonderful tool for the clients, and it’s great for the students because they are getting to work with real people. The projects they are working on also have true meaning. I like to tell people that one of the great advantages for our students is that it helps with the recent college graduate dilemma: They can’t get a job if they don’t have experience, but they can’t get experience if they don’t have a job. The Collaboratory gives them that experience.

How is the college working to change the perception of art as a career? 

As an art and design college, we are fully committed to shattering the myth of the starving artist. Too many people have this feeling that art and design are more of a hobby than a career and that there are no real careers out there. This has never been true and it is certainly not true in today’s society. We focus on making certain that our students, when they graduate, have great careers. Over 100 national and international companies recruit here. These are corporations like Apple, Google, Pixar and Disney. The world has changed so much, having become a much more visual world. This has created more opportunities than ever before for artists and designers.

How are you positioning the college for future long-term success? 

We have to look at what the future holds, especially in this age of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is just in the early stages but many different jobs are going to be eliminated once it takes off. We also need to be looking at where the economy is headed. Everyone needs to be positioned for the next stage, which we are calling the Creative Age. In history, we have had the Agricultural Age, the Industrial Age and the Technology Age. The Creative Age is next because creativity is going to become one of the most essential skill sets people are going to need for success in the future. I believe this is already starting to be recognized on a global scale.

What do you view as the most significant challenges facing higher education? 

There are numerous challenges facing higher education, especially private nonprofit institutions. The whole basis for the business model needs to be rethought and recreated in some manner because being so tuition-dependent is not sustainable over the long term. Tuition is at such a high level that it is almost out of reach for many people, which leads to a huge issue with students having the ability to attend a school like ours. We are doing many things to mitigate this, such as offering financial aid and scholarships, which are among our greatest fundraising needs. Every college is trying to solve the problem of the business model.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.ringling.edu/

Home sweet office: How to make your home office work

Home sweet office: How to make your home office work

By: Max Crampton- Thomas

4 min read March 2020 The COVID-19 health pandemic has upended daily life in unprecedented ways amid calls from the government for people to social distance and stay home as much as possible. Many businesses have had to close their doors and ask their employees to work from home. While some individuals may be accustomed to working from a home office setting, for a large majority of the working world this is uncharted waters that could benefit from some guidance. Invest: offers some need-to-know tips for working from home during this time of crisis. 

 

 

Constant Communication 

Working in an office setting, you often take for granted the ease of communication between you and your colleagues. Situations that could have been resolved by simply walking to someone’s desk now require more effort via other methods of communication. The key is to establish a consistent flow of communication that starts with a daily understanding of what your employees’ schedules will look like on any given day. This can be easily accomplished by having them send out their daily schedules and workload in a quick email at the start of every business day. Communication can then be maintained based around this schedule and productivity can be more easily managed as well. For more direct communication in regard to smaller issues that may not require a phone call, office communication applications like Slack can help facilitate these quick discussions. 

Maintain a Daily Routine 

For almost any working person, maintaining a daily routine becomes second nature. When unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19 interrupt this daily routine, it can throw a person off course quite rapidly, which can result in less productivity and a decrease in focus. The key is to adapt and maintain your daily routine to the changing environment as much as possible. Something as simple as getting dressed in business clothing can seem unnecessary when working from home, especially when staying in pajamas all day may sound a lot more appealing, but maintaining this daily activity can be key in starting your work day off on the right foot and retaining as much normalcy as possible. Make the effort to try and stick to your normal work schedule throughout the day, including taking breaks as you would in the office, eating lunch around the same time you normally would and trying to stick to your typical working hours as best as possible. 

Maintaining Posture (Physical & Mental) 

There are many arguments in favor of the benefits of working from home but maintaining your posture, both physical and mental, is probably not high on that list. From a physical standpoint, in an office setting you are usually sitting in a proper desk chair with a relatively straight back or even standing straight up thanks to standing desks. The same cannot normally be said for a home office setting. In an interview with CBS, New York chiropractor Dr. Joseph D. Salamone said, “Everybody’s going to be in sitting postures, having text neck.These people really need to make precautions and live a healthier lifestyle while we’re in this quarantine state.” He recommended that those who find themselves working from home should practice regular stretching to help maintain posture. For those who have the means and access to the proper resources it would also be advisable to create a proper workstation, not unlike the one you are accustomed to in your own office, as opposed to trying to work from a slouched posture on a bed or couch.
Maintaining posture also relates to mental health as much as physical well-being. Going from working in a sociable setting like an office with other people to unexpectedly working by yourself at home can be quite jarring for the mind. It is vitally important to maintain the social connections that you have grown accustomed to in a normal workday, like lunch with coworkers. This social time does not have to be lost as technology has made it so you can use your lunchtime from home to speak with or even video call with coworkers and friends. There is also the underlying issue of potential for increased anxiety during this time of isolation, especially with the influx of nonstop news about COVID-19. It’s crucial that individuals limit the daily amount of time they spend consuming this news, and instead focus their attention on other matters like work, family and the home. 

Creating A Proper Workspace

A proper home workspace may help in maintaining posture but it is also important in helping to facilitate as normal a daily routine as possible. In theory, this workspace is where an individual will spend the majority of their eight-hour working day, so it is crucial that this space is not only comfortable but also practical for achieving daily tasks. Find somewhere in the house that you can maintain your workstation without much interruption, and if possible, somewhere that has access to natural light. Working from home can also be tricky as the lines become blurred between workspace and home space, resulting in it becoming harder to “switch off” after a full working day. It is important to try and establish this workspace in a section of the home that allows you to “step into” work at the beginning of the day and “step out” of work at the end. 

To learn more, visit:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-health-tips-working-from-home-stretching-stress-anxiety/

 

https://www.themuse.com/advice/coronavirus-work-from-home-tips

For up-to-date advice on the Coronavirus response, you can check the CDC website here.  For Florida-specific information, click here 

 

 

Spotlight On: Lynda Remund, President & CEO, Tampa Downtown Partnership

Spotlight On: Lynda Remund, President & CEO, Tampa Downtown Partnership

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read March 2020 — A downtown is the city’s core and ultimately the face of any given region, so it is important to ensure that it is as strong as possible, said Lynda Remund, president and CEO of the Tampa Downtown Partnership during a conversation with Invest:. Consistent reinvestment and place-making are major keys in unlocking the full potential of what the Downtown Tampa area can be, she said.

 

How important is a strong downtown to the economic growth of Tampa Bay? 

 

If you go to any city in the United States or around the world, you will see that a strong downtown is their central core and is really the face of that region. I believe it is very important that we have that strong city center. Downtown Tampa is growing by leaps and bounds and we are excited about that. A quick look around Tampa reveals that the Downtown area is not only growing but so are the outskirts and the suburbs. This is apparent when looking at areas like Midtown and projects like those in West Shore. We are proud that Downtown is such a strong center for our city, but happy to see that the region is developing as well.

 

What is the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s role in developing the Downtown area? 

 

We do a lot of place-making in Downtown Tampa, and it is really about creating a space for people to gather and make things happen. For example, our ambassador program, which is like a concierge on the street, helps with things like directions and restaurant suggestions. The participants are feel-good ambassadors who can talk to visitors, residents and workers who are Downtown and make sure they are happy and having a good experience. We also have our litter patrol out on the street to ensure our beautification efforts are being met. We advocate for transportation solutions for the Downtown, like safer streets, pedestrian crosswalks, wayfinding signage and anything else that is going to make a person’s experience better.

 

One of our top priorities is reinvesting into the Downtown area. We are looking at getting involved in some small-scale capital improvement projects. We will be reinvesting in a couple of small projects that will help pedestrian safety in regard to signage, lighting and aesthetics for the Downtown. Downtown is probably the safest place in the whole city and we are working to make it even safer. We are also bringing the International Downtown Association Conference here in October 2020. That is an audience of about 1,000 people from around the world, consisting of planners, elected officials, architects and business leaders. All of these experts will be here to share best practices and we are excited to receive them.

 

How important is smart growth to the development of Downtown Tampa?

 

Smart growth is vitally important to the Downtown region. Having a strong city center is the basis for any successful city. Tampa is now being recognized as a top spot not only in Florida, but in the nation. We have hundreds of new residents moving into this region everyday. Our statistics show that housing in Downtown alone has increased 219% in the last 11 years. I believe the growth that is happening now is sustainable growth, and I do not believe that is going to change. There are more cranes Downtown than ever before and new businesses are continuously moving in here. People are making the investment into Tampa and especially Downtown. 

 

What would you identify as the biggest challenge facing economic development in this region?

 

One of our biggest challenges in this region is obviously transportation, so having a commuter system in place will help to mitigate this issue. We often hear from big companies that are looking to move here or even conventions hoping to come here that they are looking for a place where people are able to move around easily. We are starting to provide more of these options, but we have so much more work to do to become a more viable option for people.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.tampasdowntown.com/

Spotlight On: Michael Hendricks, Office Managing Partner Tampa, Frazier & Deeter

Spotlight On: Michael Hendricks, Office Managing Partner Tampa, Frazier & Deeter

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Recent advancements in technology, economic uncertainty and the constantly changing needs of businesses and individuals alike have resulted in the accounting world having to expand its offerings into a multitude of advisory services. Invest: spoke with Michael Hendricks about how Frazier and Deeter, a nationally recognized CPA and advisory firm, is adapting to these changes. He also spoke about the need to attract and retain talent in an increasingly competitive talent market, and how his firm is going the extra step to make sure this young talent feels that they can have an impact on the business regardless of their tenure. 

 

 

Why is an office in Tampa Bay conducive to the overall success of the business? 

 

We have been in the marketplace now for five years. When identifying new opportunities, we look for areas where middle-market companies may be under-served. What attracted us to Tampa Bay was really the growth that the region has been experiencing over the past decade. We love the demographics of the region and the industries this area focuses on. We really look to get involved with the real estate, technology, distribution and manufacturing marketplaces. 

 

How have you seen the accounting industry evolve with recent advancements in technology?

 

I believe our industry is evolving quite a bit, to the point where we are going to see many tax and audit services going the way of artificial intelligence. Everything is going to be a little bit more competitive when it comes to pricing, so new ventures like consulting, back office, cybersecurity, data analytics and other consultative services is where I believe we will see our industry grow. We have been investing a lot of time into this.

 

What efforts have been put forth to help retain young professionals in your business? 

 

We have tried to keep the younger generation engaged in the business by setting up roundtable discussions and giving them a voice to present concerns to management. Every year, we pick out 10-15 individuals from our senior and supervisor levels and give them a chance to voice concerns and present ideas that they think can help resolve these issues. This activity offers an opportunity for them to grow. They are able to come to the board of partners and talk to them as a united voice. This is an ongoing process and every year we have a new group assembled. We think it is a great way to have the younger generations engage with the firm’s leadership group in a comfortable setting. The conversation can sound negative on the surface, but really it’s a great way for people to talk about what we could do better as a company. I find if you give employees at all levels a voice, they feel more invested and more ingrained in the culture, rather than just being another number in an organization.

 

What would you identify as the most daunting issue for your industry? 

 

The one issue that we consistently hear in our industry relates to talent acquisition and retention. I believe this is changing. We see a lot of students from Florida universities deciding to move to the Tampa Bay region after graduation. One of our most successful recruiting tactics has been finding people who want to live in a place like Tampa Bay but who aren’t already here. Of our last 10 hires, four have come from out of market. We offer a lifestyle in this region that is still not on everyone’s radar, and as more people find out about it, they love what it has to offer.

 

How can a firm like yours remain on a sustainable growth path in the case of another economic downturn? 

 

Planning in advance and smart decision-making is the best way to handle another economic downturn. We always look to hire good people and we will never turn down a good person if we think there is a fit. We also know our business. We are able to adapt with the range of services that we offer to our clients. We become engaged with our clients, we know the services we are offering and how they help our clients. We have to convey the value that we offer, and as long as we are doing that we should be able to withstand any downturn.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.frazierdeeter.com/

 

 

Face Off: Bringing More Energy to the Bay

Face Off: Bringing More Energy to the Bay

By: Max Crampton Thomas

4 min read February 2020 As the Tampa Bay region continues to grow both in population size and new developments, the need for access to more energy and cleaner energy solutions grows with it. Invest: spoke with the leaders of two of the main sources of energy for the region and their innovative approach to creating cleaner energy solutions. T.J. Szelistowski serves as the president for Peoples Gas, which has provided Florida residents and businesses with reliable, environmentally-friendly, economical natural gas products and service since 1895. Nancy Tower leads Tampa Electric as its president and CEO. The utility has served the Tampa Bay area for 120 years, with more than 5,000MW of generating capacity. 

How is your company innovating in terms of technology?

T.J. Szelistowski: The last time we spoke, we discussed implementing gas-fired heat pumps that use natural gas instead of electricity for air conditioning. We are working with several customers on installations of this technology.  Additionally, we have installed the technology in three of our facilities and have been pleased with the performance.  

In terms of other technologies, we are targeting farming and waste facilities that release methane into the air. Our environmental solution is to capture that methane and clean it up to reinject it into the system. This not only provides a cleaner form of natural gas but also reduces methane emissions. We look forward to announcing some significant projects with this technology in the near future.

Nancy Tower: We believe battery storage is a part of our energy future. The technology is new, and we’re not ready to deploy that on a large scale until we figure out the true impact it will have on our system. We have put in place a battery storage project this year near our Big Bend solar project, which will give us really good information on how solar and battery storage interacts with our system. We’re really looking at how we can integrate battery storage into the complexity of the renewable energy ecosystem.

In other technologies, we are also in the middle of a large-scale installation of smart meters, which provide a lot more information and allow us to provide customers with superior service. 

T.J. Szelistowski

Why has investment in cleaner, more renewable energy and environmental sustainability been such a focus for your company?

Szelistowski: Natural gas is the perfect partner to renewable solar energy to provide capacity when the sun is not shining and to ensure energy is available to customers around the clock. Additionally, natural gas can provide great environmental benefits by replacing diesel fuel usage in large vehicles, such as buses and waste-management trucks.   

 A variety of ships are starting to convert to natural gas because of changing environmental regulations, specifically IMO 2020, which slashes permissible levels of sulfur permitted in fuel for seaborne vessels to minimal levels and opens the door for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative.

Tower: The biggest factor is that customers want it. When thinking back over the last few years, the number of people focused on a cleaner environment has increased exponentially. This is symbolic of the focus citizens and our customers have on environmental stewardship, and that is not going away. We are very happy with our progress.

I think it’s our obligation on behalf of customers to demonstrate that clean energy is not only our responsibility in terms of an environmental perspective, but also from a cost perspective. We are focused on both of those things simultaneously. As the entity generating electricity, we have the responsibility of doing that in the most responsible way.

Nancy Tower

How would you respond to the argument that clean energy is not yet cost-effective or readily available?  

Szelistowski: Natural gas interstate transmission pipelines are relatively new to Florida compared with the Northeast, having been introduced only in the 1950s. In addition, natural gas is a primary source of space heating in many parts of the country. With limited space heating in Florida, natural gas is primarily used for cooking, water heating and clothes drying in addition to industrial uses. We see a great desire for natural gas by people who have moved from other parts of the country and have enjoyed using natural gas in the past.  

In terms of misconceptions, people do not realize the widespread availability of natural gas in Florida. Additionally, they may not realize the affordable nature of home and business use of natural gas. With low and steady gas prices, natural gas provides a great alternative to both business and homes.  

Tower: It is our job to ensure that our generation portfolio is the most cost-effective for customers. Over the long term, we have carried out extensive cost modeling to ensure we can meet these expectations. In the next number of years, we will add more solar capacity and our generation will include more small-scale methods combined with battery storage. This doesn’t come without hard work and we need to find the right ways to keep costs low. This involves finding the right land close to our transmission infrastructure, ensuring suppliers are providing competitive prices and efficient cost management. Costs have come down, but we need to ensure we tightly manage this.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.tampaelectric.com/

https://www.peoplesgas.com/

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Duke Energy Florida is not just increasing the amount of renewable power it is offering customers, with several solar plants coming online, it is also looking to harden its grid to protect it from increasingly harsh storms in the southern United States, as well as in cutting-edge “self healing” technology to reduce the impact of outages, according to Catherine Stempien, the company’s president.

 

 

 What advances have been made regarding the company’s clean energy projects in the region?

 

We are still in the process of building 700 megawatts of solar in our system and that will be completed by 2022. We are making significant progress on that. We are either operating or in the construction phase for about half of those megawatts. We brought two new solar plants online in December, at Lake Placid and Trenton, and we have two being completed in the first half of this year in Fort White and DeBary, with two others just announced in North Florida.

 

The other area where we have really made progress is in battery storage. We have said that we are going to build 50 megawatts worth of battery projects, and we have made announcements for three of these projects located in Trenton, Cape San Blas and Jennings. The battery charges when the sun is up and when the sun is down the battery discharges that energy. But batteries can do much more for our system. We have been testing a lot of cases for battery use, and the projects that we are going to be doing will help improve reliability for our customers, giving them more reliable power.

 

How is the company ensuring customers get the energy they need?

 

Our customers want power, and they want that power to stay on 24/7. We are midway through deploying our self-healing grid technology. About 50% of Pinellas County is covered by this technology now. If you think about the electric grid as a highway system, when you have a traffic jam somewhere in that system you want Waze or Google Maps to redirect you around that traffic jam. The grid works the same way: if we have an outage, or a tree falls down on a line, you want to be able to redirect the power around that problem to make sure that people get their energy. This technology does that automatically. We have sensors and communications devices all over our grid that automatically reroute the power and minimizes the problem, reducing the number of customers impacted. People might see a one-minute outage and then it will go back up again. In 2019, 150,000 outages did not happen because our system was able to reroute power, and that prevented 10 million minutes of customer interruptions. 

 

Why is Duke Energy pushing forward with sustainable power solutions?

 

Duke Energy Corp, of which we are a part, decided it was going to push itself and target climate goals that we are going to hold ourselves to. By 2030, we want to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% from 2005, and by 2050 we want to be at net zero. Duke Energy Florida is going to be an important part of the enterprise goal. We have a line of sight on how we are going to meet the 2030 goal, but we don’t have an exact line of sight into how we are going to do it by 2050. We need certain technologies to advance faster, and we need the regulators to come along with us. We believe you have to set yourself aspirational goals.

 

How much should companies involve themselves in sustainability efforts?

 

Over the last number of years, we have seen an increase in the intensity and the characteristics of storms hitting the United States. Florida is at a higher risk of getting hit by those storms. We believe we need to plan for storm events. In 2018, two major storms hit our service territory, one in Florida and one in North Carolina. Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 storm that devastated the areas it hit. We had to completely rebuild the distribution system and 34 miles of transmission lines. But it left pretty quickly. 

 

Another storm, Hurricane Florence, hit the Carolinas. It was a water storm that stalled over the eastern part of North Carolina and dumped rain for days, causing extreme flooding, which makes it difficult to access substations and lines. It is hard to predict these kinds of events, so we are looking to constantly improve our response, making sure we have the right crews, with the right equipment, available to restore power.

 

The Florida legislature recognized these challenges and passed legislation in 2019 to encourage utilities to invest in hardening their grids for storms. It cleared the regulatory path for us to work on storm hardening, from making poles stronger, undergrounding certain parts of the grid, and replacing lattice towers with monopole towers. All of this work is part of a 10-year plan to harden our system so we are prepared.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.duke-energy.com/home