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REGIONS AMERICAS


adds, clarifying that these tend to require large and consistentamounts of electricity. In August 2020, TVA helped Facebook with


its planned $800m data centre outside Nashville, Tennessee, partnering with solar developer Silicon Ranchto bring almost450MW of new solar energy to supply the project. Chris Hansen, TVA vice president for origi-


nation and renewables, said in a statement that the company had contracted 1300MWof utility scale solar in the past two years.


Greening thepower Between 1990 and 2017, electricity generation accounted for 28% of US greenhouse gas emis- sions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But with president Joe Biden in office and vowing to make the US electric grid carbon-free by 2035, utilities will be cru- cial to the green transition. Ms Caldwell says that probably the most


important thing that electric utilities do is “con- tinual investing in diversifying their fuelmix”, which lowers rates and ensures the infrastruc- ture can provide high-quality electricity supply. Despite some improvements in the decade


to 2019 — renewable energy’s share rose from 11.2% to 17.4%— fossil fuels still account for the majority (61.9%) of US electricity generation, in part due to utilities increasing their use of shale gas, according to data fromthe Environmental Investigation Agency. Inbound foreign investment paints a


brighter picture, however. In 2019, foreign investors announced US renewable electricity projects worth $18.6bn, compared with just $2bn for projects generating electricity from fossil fuels, according to investment monitor fDi Markets.


Supporting their communities According to the American Public Power Association (APPA), a nationwide trade body, public power utilities annually invest more than $2bn directly back into the communities they serve. Elaina Ball, chief executive of Fayetteville


PublicWorksCommission,anot-for profit public power utility in North Carolina, says that local public power leadership recognises “the value of community investment and partnerships”. “In addition to high-reliability and low-cost services,westrive to support economic develop-


ment and grow our community,” she adds, pointing out that power from publicly owned utilities tends to be cheaper than frominvestor- owned utilities. Utilities also play a vital role in recovery


efforts from natural disasters, often being the first to enter distressed areas. The commission responded to Hurricane


Florencewhenit hit the Carolinas in September 2018, helping to get power up and running for the local community within two business days. “Very little can be done until the power sys-


temisupand operational again,” saysMrCrum. “The only way an entire area that is devastated gets back on its feet is if the utility company is in there.”


Future of utilities Beyond the need to invest into renewable energy, utilities are equally poised to play a cen- tral role in shifts accelerated by the pandemic. As office workers have pivoted en masse to working remotely, there is even more demand for broadband, cloud and data storage, mean- ing utilities will have to invest and support this increased capacity. Similarly, use of automation in manufactur-


ing will require even more electricity, while US companies reshoring facilities fromabroad will need to partner with utilities in this process. MrWells says that thepandemic has“ampli-


fied the importance” of reliable electricity infrastructure, adding that communities can- not compete for future investment without strong critical infrastructure in place. “As the demand for additional renewable


energy,newtechnologiesandother energy solu- tions continues to grow, electric utilities will be a critical link to fulfilling customer needs,” he notes, adding that AEP is investing in EV charg- ing stations in both Ohio and Oklahoma. Additionally, utilities have had to facilitate


investment projects and site visits remotely due to coronavirus restrictions — such as when TVA helped automotive supplier Dura in its search for a south-eastern US site. But as things return to normal, some of


these practices may remain. “In six to eight months, things will have returned mostly to where they were,” says Mr Williams of Strategic Development Group. “But I do think there is going to bemore virtual interaction by the utili- tiesmoving forward.”■


IN ADDITION TO HIGH-RELIABILITYANDLOW-COST SERVICES,WESTRIVE TOSUPPORT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTANDGROWOURCOMMUNITY


54 www.fDiIntelligence.com February/March 2021


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