Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Duke Energy is among the largest electric power holding companies in the United States. In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a virtual economic shutdown, Duke Energy took its own measures to alleviate the stress for customers, announcing it would not suspend customers’ power during the course of the pandemic. President Catherine Stempien discusses the region’s energy needs during the crisis and the impact from the virus, and its own transition to remote work.

 

How have both shelter-in-place measures and reduction of business activity impacted the region’s energy needs?

 

It’s too early to understand the full impact of the coronavirus on our business operations. However, there are a few things that are obvious given the current circumstances. More energy is being consumed by residential customers and less in the commercial spaces – especially hotels and the tourism industry. For our residential customers, keeping the power on is more important than ever. We know business owners are operating from home, employees are working remotely and many are teaching their children at home as well. Even a brief interruption can cause a huge disruption to what some customers may feel is an already stressful situation.

Right now, we are focused on continuing to deliver the reliable power customers and communities need while helping to protect the health and safety of those we serve and our employees.

I am proud of the work our 3,800 Duke Energy Florida employees do to make sure our customers’ lights stay on, our hospitals are powered up and important food supplies stay cooled. Now more than ever, we feel a heightened sense of urgency because our customers and communities are counting on us to deliver the reliable service they expect. That’s why you will see us out in communities, continuing to respond to power outages and completing essential work.  

Duke Energy works with local Emergency Operation Centers to develop a critical customer list that includes hospitals, emergency rooms and other medical facilities. We have proactively been checking the feeders – which are the backbone of our system – to be sure these critical lines have reduced risk of an outage impacting the critical facilities that our customers need. 

To protect the communities we serve, we’re asking our essential workers in the field or operating power plants to maintain safe distances and use enhanced protective gear. If they need to interact with a customer, they will follow strict CDC guidance, which we are closely monitoring for developments.  

We are also implementing worker screening measures (including temperature checks), enforcing social distancing, restricting certain areas of power plants, increasing CDC disinfectant cleanings between and during work shifts, staggering start times, adding physical barriers, placing some workers on-call and having others work remotely, and implementing a no-visitors policy.  

Our business continuity plans have contingencies to sequester certain employees at plant sites and other critical facilities, however we are not sequestering employees at this time.

We want our customers to know Duke Energy is working hard 24/7 to deliver this essential service during this critical time.

 

Duke Energy temporarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment and waived late payment fees effective March 21. How has the community since responded to this initiative? 

Many of our customers are facing economic challenges. We want to help relieve the financial burden on our communities. In mid-March, the company stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills and waived returned check and late payments fees for all customers. On April 28, The Florida Public Service Commission approved our plan to significantly reduce customers’ bills for the May 2020 billing cycle by giving the annual fuel savings in a single bill. Traditionally, these fuel savings would be refunded over the following year. A typical residential customer will see a decrease of nearly 21% on May’s bill. Commercial and industrial customers will see significant savings ranging from approximately 20% to 45%.  

However, hot weather and additional time at home, can mean more energy consumption and could result in higher bills. We strongly encourage customers to use many of the tools we provide to help them manage their usage and to pay what they can to avoid building up a large balance that may be harder to pay off later. If customers are struggling to pay bills, we have a variety of programs to help, including our Florida Energy Neighbor Fund duke-energy.com/FLNeighbor, or please contact us at duke-energy.com. For those who are fortunate enough to be in a position to give, we would ask you to consider a donation to the Energy Neighbor Fund. The dollars go to agencies that help customers pay any utility bill.

The Duke Energy Foundation also announced $1 million in COVID-19 response and education grants. The company’s $450,000 COVID-19-related grants address immediate social service and hunger relief needs resulting from the virus pandemic. In addition, the Duke Energy Foundation recently granted $550,000 to 22 Florida-based organizations to support energy, engineering and environmental educational initiatives. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the Foundation has also provided each organization with the option to use the funds to address unforeseen operational challenges.

 

What has the transition to remote work been like for Duke Energy?

Our IT team has taken steps to expand our bandwidth and prepare our technology systems, including adding more remote connections and conference line capacity.  Corporate-wide, we have been able to support approximately 18,000 employees working remotely, that includes 90% of our call center staff. We’ve been using new technologies to keep in touch and stay connected. 

Scammers target victims year-round but often hit hardest when people are vulnerable. So, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams, in addition to phone scams targeting our customers. Be aware of scammers, threatening disconnection of service and asking for immediate payment over the phone. Duke Energy never asks for personal information over the phone or demands payment using money orders or gift cards. And remember, Duke Energy has stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills.

We are already evaluating the best way to transition back into our more traditional workplace, but also evaluate what we’ve learned. We do measure, for example, our customer care center call response performance. There have been some areas such as the call center, that have stood out as doing extraordinarily well during these challenging times. We have a lot to evaluate and consider as we move forward. Each situation may be different and require a different response in the future. There will be great lessons learned, both to replicate and improve, that we’ll take away from this response.

 

How do you see the Florida region emerging from this pandemic?

I am on the Florida Governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group Related to Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Mining, Utilities and Wholesale. We are working closely with the Governor’s Office to consider the best ways to reopen Florida and its businesses. The task force is focusing on short-, medium- and long-term plans. There are multiple groups made up of local and state elected members, as well as business representatives working on a plan. Our goal is to determine how this will be accomplished with the health and safety of Floridians as the priority.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

www.duke-energy.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