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Testifying before Senate committee, heads of NW energy companies say region major player in future of energy

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 9, 2018

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. listens  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Cantwell is one of a number of legislators looking to head off a growing national housing crisis. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Cantwell is one of a number of legislators looking to head off a growing national housing crisis. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
By Joey Mendolia For the Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Philip Mezey, president and CEO of Liberty Lake-based energy and resource management giant Itron, spoke before a full Senate committee hearing on energy infrastructure Thursday.

Held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and headed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the hearing focused on how past lessons can inform future energy infrastructure opportunities.

“The Pacific Northwest has always been about this modernization,” Cantwell said.

Leaders of several companies based in the Pacific Northwest spoke at the meeting, including Mezey, of Itron, and David Allen, executive vice president of Seattle-based McKinstry Co.

“Both of these companies are developing next-generation technologies that I believe should be part of our investment into energy infrastructure in the future,” Cantwell said.

At the hearing, each company leader testified to the senators about the importance of different aspects of energy infrastructure. Subjects such as energy development and energy transfer through power lines, oil pipelines and other methods were commonly discussed.

On the topic of energy efficiency, Allen stressed the importance of conservation and spoke about plans for the Spokane area.

“We need to prioritize conservation over consumption,” Allen said. “What we’re working on with Spokane is going to be a big eco-district where lots of buildings participate.”

But Allen admitted funding is holding the project back.

“It needs startup money,” Allen said. “That first chunk helps you build the field that they will come to.”

Mezey said smart technologies implemented by CenterPoint Energy in Houston’s utility grid helped get the city back on its feet much faster than expected.

“As a result of smart technologies and the AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) system installed, CNP was able to recover and reconnect people to power very quickly – avoiding an estimated 45 million outage minutes for customers,” Mezey said.

To wrap up the hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked the panel members their thoughts on the White House proposal to shrink the Department of Energy’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72 percent in fiscal 2019.

“I would say the DOE has played a very positive role on our portion of the industry,” Mezey said. “We have tremendous possibilities in cities and in increasing energy efficiency in rural communities as well.”

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