Last summer, Laney Brown was practically giddy as she outlined three proposed REV demo projects for New York utilities that had been developed by her firm, Iberdrola (now Avangrid).
REV demos, part of the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding, are not rate-based, nor are they one-off technology projects. Instead, they are meant to test new earnings mechanisms for the distribution utilities as they transition into a new role as platform providers for a distributed energy future.
For Avangrid, however, the projects will have to get off the ground without one of their key architects and cheerleaders. Brown recently left her role as director of smart grid planning and programs at Avangrid to join a small consulting practice based in Portland, Maine, Modern Grid Partners.
Brown said she was not actively seeking an out from Avangrid, but when presented with an opportunity to join the new firm close to home, it felt like the right fit.
Modern Grid Partners is helmed by Chuck Gerry, who consulted for Central Maine Power as network lead for its advanced metering infrastructure deployment. Brown was the AMI program director at Central Maine Power.
Brown exited Avangrid as the first REV demo projects are still being configured. Although they were announced last summer, progress has been slow for all REV demos as third parties, regulators and utilities try to forge an entirely new construct.
Avangrid and the other New York utilities all had teams that are meant to move faster and think more broadly about integrating grid-edge resources. Although REV is arguably moving faster than most other regulatory proceedings, Brown told GTM at DistribuTech that as a consultant she could be even more nimble -- “Nimble on behalf of the utility,” she added.
Jeff Ballard, VP of operations, technologies and business transformation at Avangrid, will have big shoes to fill with Brown’s departure. Brown’s desire to work more quickly across a greater range of projects shows the challenge that utilities have in maintaining the current business of keeping the lights on and being a modern company that can innovate quickly and attract and keep top talent. For people with gumption and vision, there are increasing options in the distributed energy landscape that can look more attractive than working with a utility.
Even if utilities are enthusiastic about exploring new business models, the pace of movement can be frustrating even for the most enthusiastic change-makers. Utility business transformation, which is really just getting underway, is difficult and complicated (just ask David Crane).
It was clear shortly after the REV demos were announced that the utilities, even with their "utility of the future" working groups, do not have the bandwidth to take on a slew of REV demos at once, even though the demos are meant to be critical to testing out new earnings models. To move future projects along faster, New York recently put out an RFP for a partner to operate the channels for future REV demos.
Brown sees opportunities across the Northeast to help utilities create more holistic business cases for operations and consumer engagement in her new role as a consultant. Modern Grid Partners is also currently working with some unnamed Canadian utilities.