Con Edison CEO highlights company’s improved safety record, customer engagement

Published on May 23, 2019 by Dave Kovaleski

John McAvoy

Con Edison chairman, president and CEO John McAvoy highlighted the company’s safety improvements and enhanced customer experience through its smart meter and energy efficiency programs during a May 22 presentation at the American Gas Association’s Financial Forum in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Our strategic vision includes three priorities. First, safety, which is our highest priority, for our own employees and for the public we serve. Second, proving an outstanding customer experience, and third, working to achieve operational excellence that includes world-class reliability,” said McAvoy, who leads the utility company that delivers electricity, natural gas and steam to 3.5 million customers in New York City and Westchester County, N.Y. “We define much of our own success in terms of these priorities.”

McAvoy said safety is embedded in the culture of the company, which has made progress toward its goal of achieving a zero-accident workplace. In 2018, he said, almost 88 percent of Con Edison’s work groups completed the year without a recordable injury. Consolidated Edison Company of New York (CECONY), which is one of two utilities the company owns, has reduced its number of injuries and accidents by 60 percent since 2009. Orange and Rockland Utilities (OAR), the company’s other utility, has reduced injuries and accidents by over 69 percent. The company did a study last year on the precursors to serious injuries and it will be used to raise awareness with all employees.

In terms of public safety, Con Edison works to ensure that its infrastructure and investments are safe. For example, the company has a gas main replacement program that saw OAR replace all of its cast iron gas mains. The company also surveys its gas systems 13 times a year for gas leakages and has developed a first-of-its-kind natural gas detector that works with its smart meter program. Through this technology, when a natural gas leak occurs, it will notify Con Edison directly, often before the customer even knows about it.

Regarding operations, McAvoy said the company uses analytics and modeling to make sure it is investing in the right places and gets maximum system performance. Con Edison also focuses on the resiliency of the system to ensure it can stand up to extreme weather. After Superstorm Sandy, Con Edison invested $1 billion to harden its systems, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of avoided outages. Further, the company is working with customers to remove trees that are on their private property that may represent a risk to the overhead electric system.

The company is also working to provide an outstanding customer experience through installing smart meters in customers’ homes and businesses. The $1.4 billion smart meter program is the largest project in the company’s history, McAvoy said. The company has already installed 1.5 million smart meters and is on schedule to install the remaining 3.8 million by 2022. The smart meters are expected to save customers a total of more than $1 billion over the life of the equipment.

“I don’t say this lightly, smart meters will transform every aspect of how we manage and operate our energy,” McAvoy said. “It will provide cost reductions and it will provide new tools for our customers to be able to manage their energy use with near real-time data.”

Also, McAvoy said Con Edison has provided more than $400 million in energy efficiency incentives and rebates to over 700,000 customers. The incentives have resulted in the reduction or avoidance of 5 million metric tons of emissions, which is the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. McAvoy expects to see these energy efficiency programs double over the next five to seven years.

“We see, for our service territory, efficiency programs are amongst the best way to reduce emissions and help customers save on their energy bills,” he said.

McAvoy also discussed the huge demand that Con Edison has seen for natural gas. To meet that demand, the company has launched a Smart Solutions program, which invests in gas energy efficiency and provides incentives for customers to use less natural gas at times of peak consumption.

The company saw demand for natural gas outpace supply earlier this year in Westchester County, so it had to stop taking new gas customers in that area. The company is working with customers on alternatives but is also seeking out new sources of supply to the region. Con Edison is currently in talks with a pipeline developer to bring additional natural gas to the Westchester County area.

“We believe there is a need for a balanced and sensible approach to allow for an orderly transition from our existing energy assets to a cleaner energy economy that we’re all looking for,” McAvoy added.

To that end, the company invested more than $2 billion in solar and wind assets in 2018, making Con Edison the second largest solar producer in North America. Overall, Con Edison has invested $6 billion in its renewable business and expects to invest another $1 billion over the next three years.

“Our long-range plan is to outline how we are designing and investing in our business to create a sustainable energy future,” McAvoy said. “Technological changes we know will continue to occur and we want to make sure we are on the leading edge of those changes … I’m very optimistic about our future with an outlook that we believe is exciting and very sustainable.”