Clean Energy Conference Interview Series: Mary Powell, CEO, Green Mountain Power

March 18, 2019 |

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power (right)—and presenter at the Michigan Clean Energy Conference— has earned international renown as one of the most innovative and dynamic leaders in the electric utility industry. After accepting the electric utility’s leadership role in 2008, she launched an ambitious and revolutionary new vision for the company, one that focused on low carbon energy, distributed infrastructure and community resilience. In 2017, Fast Company named Green Mountain Power one of the top 10 energy companies in the world. The publication also named her one of the 100 most innovative people in business.

We’re honored to have Powell speaking at the 2019 Michigan Clean Energy Conference, May 21–23. We asked Powell to share some thoughts in the meantime.

When you hear the phrase “a new kind of power company” what does that mean to you?

It means change in a complete and absolute sense. We launched Vision 1.0 ten years ago, which some people are just launching now. We asked how can we get to local renewable generation? How can we accelerate local? How can we move to a greener, low-carbon portfolio?

Then a few years ago, it became clear that rural America could move to a distributed energy system that is home- and business-based. So our North Star became how can we upend the system to make power generation inherently community-based. The traditional bulk system would become the backup system. We’d leverage local renewable generation and devices behind the meter. We’d re-look at everything we do. How we invest in the grid. How we invest in the power supply. How we could create a regulatory system to support consumers and accelerate adoption of low carbon, local generation solutions. And, make it all more reliable than what we had.

Can you share a couple of examples of how that has played out?

We built Vermont’s largest wind farm, and we made Rutland, Vermont, the solar capital of New England. We took our portfolio to 60% renewable generation and 90% carbon free. So we have radically transformed the energy supply and we are doing it on the backbone of a greener grid.

Tell us a bit more about the household part of the system.

We were the first utility to pair with Tesla on home energy solutions, like the Powerwall whole house battery. We now have thousands of homes using those. It reduces carbon and reduces costs while improving the resilience of the home. We really encouraged community-based energy actions. We just announced last week a market incentive for customers moving to storage behind the meter.

So you are moving to the shared energy economy people are talking about.

Yes, moving to a shared energy economy. It’s the same notion as local food. You make the community stronger if you keep it local.

When you talk with other power company CEOs, how does that typically go? Are they curious and supportive of your innovation? Skeptical?

Well, that has evolved …10 years ago I was the skunk at the garden party … I’d be marginalized or dismissed. I’m a New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan. So I get the views people have of rural America. Like, “Isn’t that cute,” or “Well, that is Vermont.” But that has really changed. The planet is on fire. If we don’t change in 12 years…there will be catastrophe. So, yes, there is a change going on. There’s more national interest in changing, versus making excuses for why we can’t change, which our industry is particularly good at.