What is PNGC Power?
PNGC is a generation and transmission cooperative owned by 15 cooperative members. We exist solely for the benefit of our members and help them with their power supply, which usually represents about one-half of a utility’s total cost.
Because generation and transmission are larger-scale businesses and cooperatives are usually small utilities, G&Ts have formed across the nation to lower cost and risk.
How has the company evolved from when it was created in 1975, to when it was reimagined in 1995, to today?
Our core mission to serve our members remains the same, but how we do it has changed. Our membership and their needs have changed over time.
Like any business, we need to deal effectively with change, which is why we spend a lot of time on strategy.
What is PNGC Power’s relationship with its member utilities and the Bonneville Power Administration?
PNGC has power and transmission contracts with BPA. We serve our 15 members today mostly with BPA services. However, that could change.
We want BPA to be a big part of our Plan A. But we also need to have Plan B because it is likely BPA will not have enough power to serve all our needs even if we wanted them to.
What are the top issues that likely will affect the supply and/or pricing of electricity for members/customers of the region’s consumer-owned utilities?
2028 is an important year for all consumer-owned utilities in the region, including PNGC, because BPA power contracts terminate. Choosing BPA used to be easy.
Although I think BPA is still competitive, it is way too close to sign another contract like we currently have, which I call a “blank check” contract.
BPA faces major risks and uncertainties, such as endless fish litigation. The price and amount of BPA supply available are major issues that must be addressed in new, but different, contracts.
In the early years, Coffin Butte—PNGC’s landfill gas-to-energy plant near Corvallis, Oregon—was a draw for the company. What is its status?
Coffin Butte is still humming along. Its output is being sold to Portland General Electric under contract until 2027. We are just starting to assess what to do with Coffin Butte after 2027, which lines up nicely with the end of the BPA power contract in 2028.
How do the Big 3 policy issues identified in PNGC’s strategic plan affect your members and the larger regional energy landscape?
Our Big 3 policies are critical to our members and all utilities in the Northwest.
No. 1 is formation of a regional transmission organization/independent system operator. We are about the only part of the country without one, and we need one now.
No. 2 is to set BPA on a solid foundation again. We must restore certainty on BPA prices and supply. BPA has been foundational to the Northwest since 1937—and it can still be—but we need to fix things.
No. 3 is our carbon-neutral policy. Our members and utilities accept and even embrace the carbon reduction goals of society. However, doing it with unrealistic government mandates is going to drive up prices and harm reliability. We agree with carbon reduction; however, let us do it the right way so we balance three objectives: clean, affordable and reliable. We think utilities are in the best position to figure out how to solve this problem, and we will.
What does the West need to do to avoid blackouts, like California and Texas?
California and Texas share one thing in common: Both have RTO/ISOs that are products of state politics. They have very different politics, but the result was the same. Electric grids are complex and should not be run on a political basis.
The Northwest has a different kind of problem where everyone is responsible, which means no one is responsible.
Our day of reckoning is coming. To avoid it, we need a multistate RTO/ISO across the Northwest, and maybe even the entire West. It should be modeled after other multistate RTO/ISOs across the nation. The Southwest Power Pool and Midcontinent Independent System Operator, for example, weathered the extreme event that hit Texas and even set peak records this summer.
Performance and results matter.
What is the top energy-related issue that occupies your thoughts day in and day out?
What keeps me up at night is knowing I am at the sunset of my career and might miss all this cool stuff starting to happen.
The amount of work we must do may seem daunting, but it is mostly about creating a culture that is creative and fearless—two words that don’t usually come to mind when we think about utilities.
I love this industry because of what we do for society: providing an extremely affordable and reliable universal service.
It was considered the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. I think we need to make it one of the greatest of the 21st century.
I am excited about younger people coming into our industry bringing new ideas, energy and creativity. I think they have a different vision for what we can be, and I’d like to help them if I can.
Please describe what you envision the region’s energy landscape looking like in coming years.
It will look really different. Obviously, we are seeing massive closures of coal plants and lots of new renewables, such as solar and wind. This is partially great, but I am concerned about reliability.
We need an RTO/ISO to help facilitate new transmission lines and renewable integration, but we also need new flexible and dispatchable capacity resources that are affordable and will maintain our reliability.
California is betting on batteries, but I’m not sure that is a good fit for the Northwest. I am betting on new technologies to emerge, including less expensive batteries.
The most important thing for our industry is to become creative again. We got Electricity 1.0 so right the first time we kind of lost our creativity. Now we need to create Electricity 2.0—still reliable and affordable—but clean, too.
PNGC is going to create Electricity 2.0. Just wait and see.
Meet Roger Gray, president and CEO of PNGC Power
Born in Panama, Roger Gray grew up in many parts of the U.S., Panama and Germany. He first “discovered” the Pacific Northwest in 1977 while helping his uncle on a civil engineering research project in the McKenzie Pass area. Roger always said he would eventually find a way back, which he finally did in 2010 when he came north from California to become general manager of the Eugene Water & Electric Board and then CEO of PNGC Power.
“I love the Pacific Northwest, and I love public power,” Roger says.
Before his northern migration, Roger worked at Bechtel, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and founded a consulting company in California.
He graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, where his studies focused on power systems and public and energy policy.
“Having now worked in both California and the Pacific Northwest, I appreciate the historical benefits that cooperation has provided both regions, such as the remarkable AC and DC interties, as well as the potential harm that bad policies and lack of cooperation can cause, such as the West Coast energy crisis of 2000-01,” Roger says. “I think it is our responsibility as leaders to think about how we serve a greater purpose than ourselves, but rather to our members/customers and society in general.
“Providing electricity is critical to modern life, and our job is to make sure it is affordable, reliable and, increasingly important, cleaner. The Northwest is blessed with hydropower, which is foundational to our transition to what I call Electricity 2.0. We need to think within our region, but also to the West in general because we have the greatest hydropower resource up north, but the greatest solar and wind resources are to our south and east. Our region and country are better unified than balkanized.
“Although PNGC is small, and our 15 members are small relative to other utilities, our very nature and business model is built on thinking bigger than ourselves and cooperation. I have found the perfect place!”