Regional Sustainability Coordinator, City of Boulder Colorado
Education & Experience. Jonathan Koehn is the Regional Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Boulder, where he oversees the city’s sustainability agenda, specifically in relation to climate action and waste reduction, but more broadly across the complete spectrum of the city’s sustainability goals. Most recently, Jonathan was the Environmental Affairs Manager for the city. Jonathan came to Boulder with more than 10 years experience working with state, regional and local governments and its constituencies domestically and internationally to develop strategic and tactical solutions to energy, economic and climate challenges. Since 2009, he has been focused on the various aspects of Boulders energy efforts, primarily, the city’s municipalization exploration project.
What do you hope this Energy Conference will accomplish? While there have been a number of ongoing discussions about transitioning to a new energy utility business model, there has rarely been an opportunity to develop the specific pathways forward. By gathering the brightest minds, we can identify the key elements of the utility of the next century, and thoughtfully consider who needs to participate in the transformation, and what role each will play.
What is your vision for the future of energy? For regulated utilities to adapt to ever increasing customer demands, it will require a transformation of the traditional electric utility business model. Delivering safe and reliable electricity will always form the bedrock of what customers expect from their energy providers, but the modern utility will need to expand its vision to provide diverse energy choices for their customers, communities and shareholders. This likely begins with addressing climate change, the seminal issue that impacts our global environment and economy today. The energy utilities of the future should make critical business decisions and set financial goals with climate change issues and carbon reduction goals at the forefront.
My vision for the future of energy is a future that minimizes cost, risk, and environmental impact, and maximizes opportunity, options, and societal benefit. It’s a vision that is developed through an ongoing dialogue with communities and is representative of all energy users, no matter their socio or economic position. My vision is a process by which communities, utilities, policymakers, regulators, investors, analysts, and advocates can consider how utility decisions and behaviors support localized goals such as customer choice, affordability and decarbonization of the power supply.
Why do you think it’s been challenging to transition from fossil fuel generated power to alternative renewable energy? Existing electric utility business models are poorly adapted to tap the potential value of distributed resources to meet societal demands for cleaner, more resilient and more reliable electricity supply. As the penetration of distributed resources accelerates-specifically solar PV- utilities face acute, permanent erosion of revenues, caused by two growing trends:
- Increasing consumer adoption of DG and energy efficiency, and
- Growing requirements for fossil-fuel based utilities to incorporate external costs into their businesses including requirements related to emission reductions, or financial responsibility their generation methods create.
These trends, combined with state policies accelerating adoption of DSM (conservation and efficiency) means utilities face a serious “market share” challenge, where utilities continue to raise rates to maintain the status quo of the business model, covering their fixed costs. This, in turn, makes customer provided DG comparatively cheaper, further driving revenues away. Without rate structure overhauls and other policy changes, utilities that lack the ability to be nimble will face a revenue meltdown.