Mar 27, 2023
Canada is at the forefront of the global energy transition, leading with the goal to be net zero by 2050. To get there, the electricity sector must be decarbonized by 2035, from coast-to-coast, province-to-territory. So what does that transition look like close to home? How will customers be impacted in the near future? The Ontario Energy Board’s Harneet Panesar, Chief Operating Officer, and Carolyn Calwell, Chief Corporate Services Officer & General Counsel, share their insight on thinkenergy episode 108.
Carolyn Calwell, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolyn-calwell-648318b0/
Harneet Panesar, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/harneetp/
Ontario Energy Board: https://www.oeb.ca/
Engage with Us, OEB digital engagement platform: https://engagewithus.oeb.ca/
Energy Exchange: https://www.energy-exchange.net/
Adjudicative Modernization Committee: https://www.oeb.ca/stakeholder-engagement/stakeholder-engagement/adjudicative-modernization-committee
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Dan Seguin 00:06
This is ThinkEnerfy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back. The world is going through a major energy transition driven by a multitude of reasons. political policy, economic prosperity, environmental urgency, social change, Greta Thornburg, technological advancements and innovation to name just a few. Canada is at the forefront of the energy transition movement and certainly seen as a leader on the world stage thanks to its aggressive target, to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Of course, the country's other closer Net Zero target is the decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2035. emissions free electricity grids in every province, and territories across Canada in just under 12 years. For many provinces and utilities, the race to transition their energy sectors began years ago, in Ontario, where the electricity grid is already more than 90% emissions free. This was in part due to the provincial shutdown of all coal plants between 2005 and 2014. It's no longer business as usual for energy providers, how we've operated for more than 100 years is neither viable nor sustainable. It's becoming clearer and clearer that for the Net Zero future to be reality, we must go further, still eliminating and remaining emissions from our provincial grid to make wait for the electrification of our grid, our vehicles and yes, our houses and buildings. But with all of the unknowns in our evolving energy future, there needs to be a steady hand to help guide the way forward. Enter the provincial regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, energy utilities are more closely regulated than many other industries because of their unique characteristic surrounding energy supply, and delivery. So here is today's big question. Given that the electrical grid needs to be emission free by 2035, what does the energy transition look like here at home in Ontario? What can customers expect in the near future? Today, my special guests are Carolyn Calwell, Chief Corporate Service Officer and General Counsel, and Harneet Panesar, Chief Operating Officer of the Ontario Energy Board. Welcome to the show, Carolyn. And perhaps you can start by telling us a bit about yourselves, your background, and why you chose to join the Ontario Energy Board.
Carolyn Calwell 03:39
Thanks, Dan. I'm a lawyer by training. I started off in private practice at a big firm and then I moved into the public sector, first at the municipal level and later at the provincial level. Shortly after I began working for the Ontario Provincial Government, I got into energy when that ministry merged with the one I was hired to. And that gave me the opportunity to work on the energy file in progressively senior legal positions, while also serving some other ministries. I eventually became an assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Energy with a broad portfolio that touched on things like distribution, transmission, agency oversight, indigenous energy policy issues, all kinds of things, lots of fun with a lot of challenging files, and always with great people to work with. So then, when the restructuring of the EOEB came along, I got excited about where the OEB was gonna go. On a personal level, I saw an opportunity to work on things from both policy and legal perspectives as the chief Corporate Services Officer and General Counsel. And I saw the chance to learn some new skills in the corporate services side of things. And I also saw an opportunity to learn the role of the regulator and get a new perspective on files I'd worked on. So most enticing though, was the opportunity to make some changes a lot like her nude, so I was thrilled by the opportunity to come over.
Harneet Panesar 04:54
Alright, thanks, Dan. So in terms of my background, maybe I'll open it up by saying you know, Today as we talk, I'm hoping to bring three different perspectives, and three different hats that I can wear. And the first one is that a utility, you know, I've spent about 14 years working for Hydro oOne, which is Ontario's largest transmission and distribution company. And I did nine different roles across the organization. And most recently, just before I left, I was Director of Strategy and Integrated Planning. My team looked after the investment plan, the overall capital that the utility was looking to spend, I had the strategy Research and Development Innovation team. And I also had a team that focused on reliability, which is a very important outcome for utility. So we focused on metrics benchmarking studies, and I had a really cool team. I'm an engineer by background. So I find this fascinating, I had a team that did post event investigations. So when equipment fields, we bring in massive cranes, pull them out, and dissect them to see what went wrong, and try and see if there's any systematic issues that we could look to solve across the system. I also had a team that looked after the modernization of the joint use portfolio, which is the use of the poles that are looking to attach other things aside from electricity, infrastructure, it could be things like fiber and telecommunication things or other things that, you know, cities and municipalities might want to attach to poles. And lastly, we also looked after secondary land use for hydro and corridors and pathways for things like parking, lots, parks, pathways, things like that. In June of 2021, I got a phone call about the opportunity at the Ontario Energy Board to join as Chief Operating Officer. And really, it was about modernizing the regulators. And the value proposition of that was huge. And it was just something I can see, it was exciting to know that that was taking place with someone who's in industry. And I saw some of the work that Susanna was doing. And so it was a no brainer. It was something that I wanted to do. And so I joined the Ontario Energy Board June of 2021. And so I'll bring the regulator perspective, obviously, in the conversation. And the third perspective is that of academia, I've been teaching energy, energy innovation, energy storage courses to Master's students, at the university level. And I think it's important when we talk about energy, we look across borders, we don't just get confined with current practices or policies or rules and regulations. Sometimes when we're trying to explore innovative ideas, we need to broaden that scope. And so I'll look to sometimes also bring in some of the academic view of what's happening in this space, too. So those are sort of three perspectives and from our background.
Dan Seguin 07:22
So, Carolyn, for those that don't know, what is the Ontario Energy Board, and what does your organization do?
Carolyn Calwell 07:33
the Ontario Energy Board, or the OE B is the independent regulator of Ontario's electricity and natural gas sectors. An important part of our mandate is to inform consumers and protect their interests with respect to prices, reliability, and quality of electricity and natural gas services. We have oversight over roughly 60% of the electricity bill, and we influence a large part of natural gas bills. We work closely with companies that work in the sector, distributors, transmitters, generators, and with associations like the Ontario Energy Association, the Electricity Distributors Association, CHEC. And of course, with the Independent Electricity System Operator and the Ministry of Energy, we're really just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.
Dan Seguin 08:13
Harneet, there's been a lot of discussion lately about the energy transition in our industry. What does that mean? Exactly? And how will the Ontario Energy Board support the transition?
Harneet Panesar 08:31
Sure, and maybe I can begin this one by even just focusing on the word energy transition, you know, it sounds nice and clear, cotton sounds like there's a linear glide path to this transition, that's going to happen. But you know, it's multifaceted. It's very complex, huge capital dollars are going to be required, it's gonna be a need for a lot of collaboration and how we move forward on it. So it's a very complex transition that's underway right now. And let me also talk to you about it. From what are some of the drivers, you know, a lot of times we talk about transition, we talk about the innovation behind it. And we also focus on what are the catalysts behind some of this change? And we often frame our conversation using four D's and I know in the industry, there's a debate whether there's three days or five, I think we've taken middle ground here, so let's go with our four D's. So the first one is Decarbonisation. You know, as you look globally, or you look federally you look even down to the consumer level, there are commitments being made and choices that are deliberately being made with regards to emissions and and a goal and targets that are being said with regards to decarbonisation. One of the sectors that I know that's going to be really impacted by this is transportation. They have the ability to make some significant changes in terms of the release of greenhouse gasses, and we're seeing a massive shift from combustion engines to EVs (electric vehicles). And so what does that mean? That means a huge need for electricity to also feed these. And maybe I'll also just take a pause and say that, you know, when I talk to other jurisdictions in Ontario, we're quite fortunate, a lot of our generation here is non-emitting, about over 90% of our generation is not emitting. And sometimes we take that for granted, you know, I talked to some of our colleagues down south, or even across the country, they can only dream to get to where we're at in the near future. We're pretty lucky to be where we are from that perspective. And so when we look at what we need to fuel these vehicles, we're going to need a grid that has the ability to supply this type of demand. So what is the EOB doing about it? There's a couple of things. The first one is we've got a couple of industry working groups that are really helping to lead the charge on making clear decisions on what is the process, you do some of this stuff. One of them is the DER connection review workgroup. And I'm excited to say that, you know, we've, we've broken up this work into tranches, and we've made some substantive releases already on changes that we've proposed to our distribution system code. These are really there to help reduce burdens, and, and really help bring on adoption of things like EVs. And I should also back up and just say, you know, when I talk about DER connections, DER stands for Distributed Energy Resources and EVs fall within that category, too. We also know that the grid will need to be able to supply this power, we have a working group called the Regional Planning Working Group that is focused on making sure that regions have what they need to be able to supply this type of energy. And that includes providing them guidance with what they need to look at when it comes to planning for that future. And how do we fill that all in? Well, we also updated our filing requirements. And so our filing requirements are really there to articulate to applicants that come forward to the Ontario Energy Board with their applications to say, look, this is what we need from you. And we've been pretty clear that we've updated our requirements to include things like electric vehicle integration, adoption, into their load forecasting and planning, we need to make sure that utilities are putting the building for the load that's required, based on the Evie adoption in the province. The next D is Digitalization. No, back in the day, our distribution system was just poles and wires, and maybe some fuses. But it's become a lot more complicated. We've deployed a lot more grid modernization in the system, a lot more innovation, and a lot more non-wires, alternatives, and different ways of investing in solving problems that the grid was having. And so what role does the Ontario Energy Board have in that? Well, number one, prudency is something that we expect utilities to take into account when they're building out their investment plans. So we're to check for prudency and make sure that the liability service quality and cost is all kept in mind. The other aspect is, you know, as we digitize the system, there are other risks that come with it, and we need to make sure we're managing them. There are new risk factors that get created from a cybersecurity perspective. And obviously, the Ontario Energy Board plays an important role. You know, we established the Cybersecurity Advisory Committee a number of years back that helped build Ontario's cybersecurity framework, which is something we expect utilities to look at, and also report annually on how they are ready and mature to respond to detect and deal with cybersecurity threats. The last two days, and maybe I'll just kind of shorten this by bringing them together. It's around decentralization and democratization. But the role of consumers is changing. And the investments and the choices that they're making are also changing. You know, the fact that you can go to a shopping mall and go pick up an Eevee, and maybe even a battery pack. These are, by definition, consumer products. Now, they're no longer utility grade investments, like Pull Top investments, switch gears, things like that, the role that they're playing is important. And so going back to our DER. Working Group, it's important that we make sure that we look at the integration of these types of consumer choices into our grid. So that's, that's maybe a roundabout way of looking at all of our structures and the innovation that's taking place and the catalysts that are fueling the energy transition there.
Dan Seguin 13:53
Carolyn, I'd like to hear your thoughts on what you believe is driving the energy transition.
Carolyn Calwell 14:00
Thanks, Dan. I see this largely the same way Harneet sees it, but I would say it maybe a little bit differently. I agree that the four Ds are the catalyst for the energy transition decarbonisation and the move to net zero emissions, the need to deal with and respond to climate change. Digitalization in my mind reflects the growing internet of things and the need for new tools and technologies that allow us to use energy differently. We've talked about decentralization and Harneet mentioned the move away from grid scale, utility planning to decentralized resources, whatever technology or weather wherever they may sit on this system. And her need also mentioned democratization about the changing expectations of customers and their relationship with energy. And in my mind, that just leads to increasing customer choice. So, you know, I think there's tremendous opportunity in all of this, and of course, tremendous challenge. But I think what's exciting is that there's broad consensus that this is a time of extreme change, and there's an imperative to actually make that change. So at the end of the day, it's pretty exciting.
Dan Seguin 15:05
Okay, our need, what does the electric future look like from an industry perspective, and from a customer perspective?
Harneet Panesar 15:15
So let me first look at the customer perspective. And maybe even the term customer, I think, is looking to evolve. As we look at energy markets around the world, we know that consumer choices and how consumers interact with their energy is changing. And even the role of consumers is changing. You know, the term prosumer is also one that is often used in which consumers aren't just consuming power, but they're producing them. And so therefore, the Pro and the prosumer. You know, that's an important aspect of how the grid may evolve. And we're certainly seeing changes in perspective, talked about decarbonisation, just a few minutes ago, that will also create a higher dependency of reliable power while managing costs. So you know, going back to our discussion around EVs, you know, nowadays, if there are reliability issues, utilities will get phone calls. And you know, that hear about power, power off situations where the lights aren't working, or ice cream is melting, or the air conditioner just isn't going. But just imagine the dependency that gets created when you know, I've got to go to work the next morning, and I couldn't go because I couldn't charge my vehicle, you know, the dependency on the grid is gonna grow. But I think there are a lot of opportunities in this type of environment. Also, you know, if Carolyn, for example, is working from home and doesn't need her vehicle, well, maybe I can take 20% of her battery, and then perhaps you're on vacation, and maybe you don't need part of your vehicle, I could maybe take 30% of your battery, you know, I've got 50% of the charge. And now I've got an opportunity to actually use my vehicle. The shifting of how sort of load and suppliers is going to be looked at on the distribution side, I think is exciting. We're seeing a lot of these micro grids around the world interact on these sort of transactive markets. But at the end of the day, you know, the value proposition for consumers is shifting look, I've now got a vehicle that has charge and lets me get to where I need to go. And both you and Carolyn have now gotten some dollars in your pockets for helping me out by supplying some of the energy that you didn't need. This is a real shift. I think that's happening from the consumer perspective and multiple different facets. From the industry perspective, I think we're going to need a lot of help and dependencies on industry to help guide us through this energy transition, you know, there's a lot of capital that is going to need to be spent, there's going to be a lot of steel that's going to be required for Transformers or pole tops, and, and even steel towers and conductors, there's a lot that's going to be required from a supply chain perspective. But there's also growth, I mean, this is an opportunity, there's a lot of growth that's going to take place in the economy for jobs. And we also know that there's gonna be industry in terms of labor markets, to be able to help supply and build the infrastructure that we're going to need for the future. And that includes maybe in adapting some of the skill sets. And I've been speaking to colleges and universities over the last year, and they've been asking, you know: what does the energy industry need in terms of the skills or the shortages? Is there an evolution of the skills that are required, and with all the transition and change that are taking place? I think the labor markets are also important to us to make sure that they're up to speed with helping us get to where we need to be. I think the last aspect maybe I'll cover off in terms of the industry is, I think there's a lot of new players that are entering the energy market, which we haven't seen traditionally, in the past. I've talked about automotive manufacturers moving away from combustion engines to electric vehicles. I think they're going even further by opening up subsidiaries focusing on energy. It's a pretty bold move for the automotive industry to be forming these massive subsidiaries. But even on the technology side, you know, we're seeing companies like Microsoft take stronger and larger positions within energy. So I think we're seeing a shift. And even in industry, I think we're seeing a lot of new players that are joining in.
Dan Seguin 18:52
Okay, so what's the greatest risk to the electricity grid, Harneet?
Harneet Panesar 18:57
So when I think about risk, and you know, I often reflect on that word, because I think when you look at risk, it usually is a reason for why adoption of things like innovation just gets repeated. And even in the energy industry, we've got a wide variety of entities that have different risk appetites. And some of them, you know, stakeholders, shareholders, customers may not be looking to them to take the greatest risk. But what we do know is that there are entities that thrive on the risk reward model. And I think it's important that we look at risk blending, we talk about risk. And why do I bring this all up? The need for collaboration is so important when we talk about moving forward in this transition. You know, in Ontario, I'd say we've got the most complex energy market in North America. I've got 800 Almost licensed entities, and I've got 60 local distribution companies fairly complex that's on the electricity. And we've also got gas distributors. It's fairly complex. So in terms of what is the one of the greatest risks I think alignment and how we move forward. The risk in this would be misalignment. You know, there's no room to backpedal, we need to collaborate and work together and make sure that there's no room to backpedal, and that we move forward collaboratively. So misalignment, I think, could be a risk, but we're making sure we're doing whatever we can. And I know there's various entities within the energy sector that are trying to make sure we're working together, you know, we're holding hands and might be taking penguin steps to make sure we don't slip here. But I think when you hold hands, we'll get a bit more firmness. And we can take bigger, bigger steps forward.
Dan Seguin 20:33
Harneet, what kinds of major investments and other considerations need to be made to deliver the energy transition to the province?
Harneet Panesar 20:43
So when I look at some of the studies that have just recently passed, the IESO released their Pathway studies. And we know that when they looked at generation and transmission, it's gonna require hundreds of billions of dollars, some fairly substantial investments on that front, the other side to this whole thing, and going back to the sort of consumer side is, you know, the tail end of the delivery of power is also going to require a huge influx of dollars. So the distribution system is going to require a lot, I will say that, you know, within our province, you know, we've got a lot of aging infrastructure that we also need to deal with. So it's not just about the forward move around the energy transition, but we also need to look at the assets that we have, the age of them, the condition of them, and really make sure that as we're spending the money, we're still holding things up. While we're also moving forward. You know, there's a lot of advancements in the system, in terms of the dollars that we've spent on the distribution system, primarily, I'd say, on deployment of capital open fields. But we're also seeing a lot of shifts on how some of that technology is now being utilized out into distribution systems. I know that, you know, we talked about dependency on the system. The minister has also asked us as part of his letter of direction to us to help provide recommendations going forward on resiliency and responsiveness and cost efficiency. And I think that's an important consideration that we need to look at when we build out capital plans and look at how we're going to build out the future. Extreme weather events are impacting our grid and energy system, the infrastructure, so the energy systems are vulnerable to that. And we need to make sure that we're resilient and we're able to respond to things like that. And lastly, you know, the other aspect around a lot of the investments that we just talked about, again, is around cybersecurity and the importance of making sure that we're ready for any of those types of issues too.
Dan Seguin 22:28
Carolyn, I read that the Ontario Energy Board's new legislated mandate is to facilitate innovation in the energy sector. How will you do that?
Carolyn Calwell 22:41
A mandate to facilitate innovation with regard to electricity was added to our legislative objectives in 2020. And this put innovation squarely in the mix for us. I thought it signaled to the energy sector a need to take new approaches to doing business, and to think about the services they provide to customers. And it signaled to the OEB that we also need to think about new approaches and new ways to do business. And so we've tried to do that through programs like our innovation sandbox, where we've encouraged local distribution companies to come to us with ideas about how they want to make change, and to test those ideas out in a safe regulatory environment where we can talk through the barriers and hurdles that they face or that they perceive to see what what really stands in their way. We've tried to do this through work like ours in our framework for energy innovation, where we asked the sector to come together to talk about distributed energy resources and how we go about dealing with the questions that they pose. What does it mean for utilities to use them? What barriers are there? So we've tried to take new approaches to having conversations about different types of innovation, and to encourage others to come to us to talk about these things. The change to our objective occurred at the same time as a restructuring of the governance of the OEB. And I think that really underscored for us our change mandate. But when we talk about innovation, our Chief Commissioner would remind me, very wisely Anderson, that our objective has always existed in balance. So innovation is never our only driver. It's one of several others, which include informing consumers and protecting their interests, promoting economic efficiency and cost effectiveness across the sector, and promoting electricity conservation and demand management. So there's a lot going on for us and for everyone in the sector in addition to innovation.
Dan Seguin 24:36
Okay, now, let's talk about the Innovation Task Force. With the report now released, where does it all go from here? Can regulation and innovation coexist and even flourish?
Carolyn Calwell 24:53
I think regulation and innovation have to coexist. We've been talking about change a lot this afternoon. I I don't think we have any choice. But to innovate. Our innovation task force was about strategy and governance, and this was an initiative by our board of directors to ask about disruptive change in the sector and its implications. And to make sure that the OEB was positioned to prepare for that change. The work involved jurisdictional scanning, looking at broad disruptive technologies and trends across the globe, and to look at what other regulators were doing about it. And that certainly provided inspiration for us. And at the same time, we curated experts working at global national and provincial levels to help us understand disruption in the sector, what they were seeing and what they were working on. So all of that informed the strategy that our Innovation Task Force adopted. And what we're trying to do with that is now map out what the OEB is doing about the energy transition. We've got a lot of projects and go and a lot of things that touch the energy transition, but don't necessarily do that directly. People need to understand how those fit together, and how they actually get at the big policy question of the day. What are we doing about climate change and about the energy transition? So what we've tried to do through our engagement with our website is map out the different projects, how they come together, and what people can expect about where they're going. If listeners haven't checked it out, I really encourage you to look at the OED "Engage with us" web page and see all that we have going on and what the next steps are across these projects. There's no shortage of work here. And we're asking a lot of people to come together to meet with us and try to make it work.
Dan Seguin 26:33
Harneet, on the topic of electric vehicles (EVs), what about supporting mass EV adoption? What can you tell us about the proposed ultra low overnight price plan for electricity? And how will it help get more EVs on the road?
Harneet Panesar 26:52
Sure. Thanks, Dan. And when we look at things like ultra low overnight price plans, I think it's also important for us to reflect on the fact that I think I'm sure he's made some good choices in terms of deploying the right capital. Over the years, you know, we sometimes take for granted that we have what is known as AMI, which is Advanced Meter Infrastructure. The fact that we have smart meters deployed across the province, is huge, because it enables us to do things like these price plans. You know, I talked about other jurisdictions, not everyone has smart meters like we do, and therefore don't have the ability to actually even implement price plans. But let me tell you why it's important and why having some of these plans is helpful. Utilities often build to meet peak demand, whenever the demand is there, they're trying to make sure that they have the infrastructure required to meet it. And by introducing pricing plans, which create the right incentives and choices that can help leave to sort of behavioral changes from a consumer perspective, that will ultimately also help utilities manage how they build their system. And what that means is they'll be able to not just build the peak but better manage peaks. You know, if we're able to utilize the system when it's not at peak or it's not fully utilized, there's available capacity generation available. There's no bottlenecks in the system. That's when we want people to use power. And so generally, you know, overnight is when the system is a little bit quieter, and we're able to actually, you know, supply a lot more power. And so for folks like myself, who have an electric vehicle, you know, I have no problems charging overnight. In fact, it's fantastic. And having the right incentives to keep people charging overnight means that we take any additional peaks on the system during the day that might occur away. And ultimately, that also means that it helps keep rates lower, because utilities don't need to invest additional capacity, because they're better able to manage when people are consuming their power. So price plans like the ultra low overnight plan is one way of curbing the behavior and incentivizing sort of the right approach on when we want people to be using the grid to feed things like their electric vehicles.
Dan Seguin 29:03
Okay, now, how does natural gas fit into the energy transition to a carbon free future in the province? What strides are being made in the natural gas sector or Harneet?
Harneet Panesar 29:18
So I think it's an important question. And it's something that we think about quite often at the Ontario Energy Board. You know, natural gas has a lot of potential to replace some of the higher emitting fossil fuel energy sources that are still being used for mostly industrial processes here in Ontario. And to maybe give you an example, you know, one of our natural gas distributors is working with steel mills, to try and replace some of their coal usage with natural gas, which would also bring down some of their greenhouse gas emissions. But you know, when you talk about Net Zero and sort of the net zero future, it's obviously going to involve things like large reductions and even eventually eliminating the GHG emissions from the US to greenhouse gasses, and that's gonna require a couple of things. It's gonna require a combination of energy conservation, some electrification, carbon capture and storage, and even a shift to use things like orangey, which is renewable natural gas, and even other new fuels like hydrogen. There's already work that's underway. Enbridge has been investing about $120 million a year. And this is really around some of the conservation programs. And we also just had a recent decision that the will be rendered. And in that we're going to increase the amounts that are going to be spent. And this is also going to include a new home energy efficiency program that's going to be offered by Enbridge gas, and it's going to be in partnership with Enercon, which is Natural Resources Canada, you know, thinking about what are the next steps, the OEB has also convened a group of experts to help identify and evaluate future opportunities for natural gas conservation. And really, finally, I just want to make sure, I know, acknowledge that, you know, millions of residential, commercial industrial consumers, we've got three and a half million gas consumers who depend on natural gas to heat their homes and run their businesses. And the OEB is going to continue to support these consumers by ensuring natural gas is delivered to them safely, reliably and responsibly.
Dan Seguin 31:14
Okay, again, this one's for you Harneet. Ontario is Canada's most populated province, can you tell us a bit about how you ensure Ontarian voices are heard, and included in your decision making?
Harneet Panesar 31:30
Yeah, so we've got 5 million electricity consumers I just mentioned, we've got three and a half natural gas consumers. So we've got a fairly large consumer base. And it's really important that we hear what Ontarians have to say. And so we've done a couple of things. And let me run you through them. The first one Carolyn, alluded to earlier, which was around making sure people could engage with us, we actually opened up a new platform and launched it, and it's called engage with us. And if you ever wanted to join it, just Google, we'd be engaged with us. And it really lays out all the various initiatives and work streams and programs that the Ontario Energy Board is undertaking. It gives timelines, it has documents, it even has a friendly smile of some of our staff that are helping lead the work along with their emails, so you can contact and reach out to us, it's one way of us making sure that we're transparent about all the work we're doing. And we're engaging with tumors, and taking in any input that they may have. So that's one way the other, the other piece that I think is really important is listening to the customers themselves. About a year ago, just shortly after I joined the Ontario Energy Board, I started a program called voice of the customer. And it was an important program for me, because one of the one of the teams that I have within my shop is responsible for the call center, they take in the calls, the emails, and the chats. And it's one thing to see all that data on a dashboard, or you know, in a PowerPoint slide deck, it's another thing to actually get on the horn and actually hear the voices of consumers, understand their sentiment, hear the emotion, hear their voices. And it was really important for me to be able to do that. And so we set up this program, and it's a monthly occurrence in which myself and my peers, the executive team, we get on the call, and we hear the voice of the customers, we hear what they're saying to us. And so that's one other way that we connect with our consumers. The other thing I'll note is that, you know, our adjudication process is a public process. And, you know, we look forward to having Ontarians participate in that we do also have consumer interest groups, part of that. But we also look to utilities to make sure that as they're building out their plans, that they're engaging with consumers, they also have a role to engage with them and make sure that they're delivering what consumers want. I'll also just put in a bit of a plug that, you know, I talked a little bit about our call center that handles the calls and emails and chats, we get almost 10,000 interactions. And these are really important data points for us. And you know, I created a part of the organization about a year ago called Operation Decision Support, to really help us make data driven decisions. And so collecting information from our calls is very vital. But the point I want to make is that we also have a chat function, which also won an award about a year, year and a half ago. And it's not fed by robots. It's actually the same agents that would also pick up your calls and also respond to emails. So the message you get is very aligned and consistent. We're very proud of, you know, our ways of being able to communicate with our consumers.
Harneet Panesar 34:19
Okay, now it's your turn, Carolyn, let's talk about the OEB's two stakeholder committees. What are the energy exchange and adjudication of the modernization committee all about?
Carolyn Calwell 34:34
Our stakeholders are critical to us. And so we've made some deliberate efforts to create structures to engage them. Energy Exchange is a form of CEOs and senior leaders. And it's really a tremendous platform where we receive advice about our priorities and direction. We've tried to use that forum, not just to talk to people but to hear from and to engage them on questions. Is that we're struggling with? What should we focus on? How should we go about our work? What matters to them, because it's important that the regulator, not just tell everybody what to do, but also listen to the sector that we work in. So this advice has been really critical for us. And it's really helped us on work, for instance, around the letter of direction that we received from the minister, as we've tried to figure out how to unpack that letter, to figure out what the priorities are within it, and how to actually deliver against it. The adjudication modernization committee is made up of regulatory experts, and they give us advice and provide feedback on all things that you indicate from rules of practice and procedure and filing requirements, to advice about intervenors. This has a specific focus to consider best practices and approaches to adjudication. And what's particularly helpful I think about this group is that they have a direct line with the Chief Commissioner. So it's a way for her to talk to stakeholders, and hear about what matters to them on what happens in the hearing room, and everything that goes around. So these are just two examples of how we engage with our stakeholders. But we value tremendously the various working groups, forums, meetings that we call that people participate in, because we know we ask a lot of people we know we demand a lot of their time and a lot of their thinking. But this is all part of the communication that we need on the two way street, so to speak. And, and we really do value everything that people give us in these various forms.
Dan Seguin 36:31
SoI'll ask you both. What is Ontario doing right, right now, that gives you hope, either provincially, or from the energy sector itself?
Carolyn Calwell 36:47
I'll jump in on though, you know, we've spent the afternoon talking about some of the challenges that the energy sector faces and that, you know, that really society faces. And these are big, big challenges, daunting tasks ahead of us. But what gives me hope is that there are some tremendously smart people in our sector and a real commitment to work together. So we're all in this together, we all have a role to play. And I truly believe that we'll make progress.
Harneet Panesar 37:19
Well, I totally agree with Carolyn. I mean, you know, this notion of collaboration coming together and working together, I think we're doing a lot of things right. From that perspective, even this podcast, you know, being here and talking to you and connecting with your listeners, hopefully, that brings a bit of a circle back to us and people reaching back out to us, we need to, you know, no one can be operating in a black box, you need to collaborate and work together. The only other thing, maybe I'll say, in terms of what we're doing what we're doing, right, and I'm going to put on my proud Canadian engineering hat on here and say, look, we've been pioneers in the energy space for decades, you know, when it came to hydroelectric generation in southern Ontario, to even the CANDU nuclear reactors, I think Canadians have been doing a lot to pioneer push the energy sector forward. And you know, advancements and technologies even like SMRs, I think is, is a proud moment for Canadians and leading the charge and how energy is now sort of delivered, you know, bringing energy sources closer to where they're being consumed. And these are game changing types of investments and technologies that, you know, Ontario is making. So definitely a lot of things, things of pride. And I think a lot of things that we're doing right, Dan,
Dan Seguin 38:23
Carolyn, and Harneet, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions.Are you ready?
Carolyn Calwell 38:33
Ready to go.
Dan Seguin 38:36
Harneet, maybe you could start us off by telling us what you're reading right now?
Harneet Panesar 38:42
Okay, well, I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that every night I read Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig for bedtime. That's not my bedtime at someone else's bedtime. But in terms of myself when I put my feet up. Now I just picked up a book. It's not new on the shelf. It's just new to me. I haven't had a chance to really go through it, but it's a book by Rupi Kaur or R-u-p-i, last names core K-A-u-R. And it's a political novel and the book is called The Sun and Her Flowers.
Dan Seguin 39:09
Okay,what about you, Carolyn?
Carolyn Calwell 39:11
I'm reading some essays from MFK. Fisher in the Art of Eating. It's fantastic. Very funny.
Dan Seguin 39:19
Okay, Carolyn, who is someone that you truly admire?
Carolyn Calwell 39:24
Retired Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin has to top my list.
Dan Seguin 39:27
And what about you, Harneet? Who do you truly admire?
Harneet Panesar 39:32
I would say it would be my 99 year old grandfather, who was a retired Air Force engineer from the Royal Indian Air Force who lived a very colorful life full of incredible stories and journeys. And as always a source of inspiration for me.
Dan Seguin 39:51
Okay, we've all been watching a lot more Netflix and TV lately. What are some of your favorite movies or shows?
For me, Madness is coming up. So my TV is dedicated to women's NCAA basketball.
I'm a bit of a foodie. And I have a bit of a travel bug. So I like traveling and eating. And so there's a series called Somebody Feed Phil, which brings sort of traveling and food together and a little bit of comedy. So it's a nice casual watch. So we've been watching a lot of that.
Dan Seguin 40:23
Lastly, Harneet, what is exciting you about your industry right now?
Harneet Panesar 40:30
For me, it's changed. And, you know, maybe I'm a creature of change. It's sort of where I thrive. But it's exciting to see us move forward and in the directions we are in. So for me, change is really what's exciting. I'm proud to be part of it. I'm looking forward to what the future brings with it.
Dan Seguin 40:50
Okay, what about you, Carolyn, what's exciting you?
Carolyn Calwell 40:54
I couldn't agree with Harneet more, change is exciting. I think there's a tremendous opportunity ahead of us. I think we're gonna see the world shift, and I'm eager to be part of it.
Dan Seguin 41:04
Well, Carolyn, and Harneet. This is it. We've reached the end of another episode of The Think Energy podcast. If our listeners want to learn more about you, or your organization, how can they connect?
Carolyn Calwell 41:20
They can find us on LinkedIn or at OEB.ca. And we're eager to hear from everybody.
Dan Seguin 41:28
Again, thank you both so much for joining me today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Carolyn Calwell 41:34
Thank you so much for having us.
Dan Seguin 41:38
Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the Think Energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.