By: Sanya Mansoor, Intern at the Niagara Foundation and Student at Northwestern
The Niagara Foundation was thrilled to feature Anne Pramaggiore, President and CEO of ComEd, as a speaker at the Niagara Forum this Wednesday, September 4th.
Niagara Forums are a platform for distinguished speakers to spotlight trends, analyze important issues, exchange ideas, and participate in productive interactions that promote innovative global and public policy solutions.
At Wednesday’s forum, Pramaggiore spoke about innovation and communication at ComEd in front of a crowd of distinguished guests. Her speech was preceded by a light lunch and followed by informal conversation with members of the audience and Niagara staff.
Pramaggiore opened with a compelling reference to the role of communication in history. She alluded to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech” to prove how some “words chronicle our experience but are also communications that perform.” It is essentially “impossible to dissect communication from some actions,” she noted.
Pramaggiore also pointed out that, “since its creation, the power system has stayed largely unchanged; we’re using the same technology as 100 years ago,” In light of this observation, she insisted that the next big step for power companies is to optimize communication with their consumers. She was happy to announce that ComEd was taking this step through their newly developed Smart Grid program, which allows consumers to have up-to-date data on their power usage and subsequently track their energy costs before receiving their bill at the end of a month.
The program’s several advantages facilitate a shift from “a system designed for power quantity to power quality.” Smart Grid gives ComEd chance to see the problem before it becomes an outage; essentially shifting the approach from “prognostic to diagnostic.”
Pramaggiore noted that technology is most advantageous “when paired with customer knowledge and action.” It is this empowerment, which facilitates more responsible energy usage and subsequently helps preserve the environment.
She highlighted Oak Park as a perfect example of a proactive community, which benefited from this very empowerment. Oak Park hosted one of ComEd’s pilot programs, which focused on community based approaches. “They would have community meetings where we would give them information and they would bring it to the community,” Pramaggiore explained. “That’s much more powerful than people from ComEd coming in and tell you what you should be doing.”
ComEd also provides financial incentives to spur communities to action. In one of ComEd’s community challenges, communities competed in efforts to devise the best methods to generate more energy efficiency savings for their residents. The winning community would be supported with a $100,000 reward to follow through on their proposed programs.
The last contribution of the afternoon was a true testament to Pramaggiore’s character. A woman in the audience brought up the catastrophic summer of 2011, one that was filled with outages in the Chicago area and subsequently lots of town hall meetings filled with angry constituents. However, she went to acknowledge that Pramaggiore “listened and that’s part of communicating too.”
The same woman then recalled an experience she had recently, “Friday night, there was another storm and I had been on the train for three hours. I called my husband and he said to me, “I’m carrying a flashlight,” and I said, “The power’s not going to go out. Anne P. won’t let it go out.”’
Audience members smiled as Pramaggiore made her closing remarks. Following the disastrous summer of 2011, Pramaggiore recalled, “I think we all said to ourselves: this is not the way to do business. We put together a task force and said to them, “You’re empowered to do whatever you need to do to make this better.” By the next summer, ComEd had made about 60 logistical and communication-related changes. Under Anne Pramaggiore’s leadership, the utility continues to work with their storm task force to make important changes.