Welcome Your New Expert Interview Series: Patrick Smith, New Expert in the Grid Professionals Group - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Grid Professionals Group
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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

  • Member since 2018
  • 11,292 items added with 1,638,759 views
  • Feb 15, 2023

Grid resilience, smart grid, expanding transmission capacity, and more: these are the topics that have a focus on the power grid on the headlines, in focus for political and industrial leaders, and capturing the attention of the energy industry leaders. The utility industry is undergoing a transformation the likes of which it’s never seen, and as we move into an unchartered and uncertain future for the sector it’s going to be more important than ever to listen to the leaders who are driving the conversation.

At Energy Central one of the key ways we do that is by ensuring our Network of Experts accurately represents the voice of industry leadership who can answer questions, guide conversation, and bring authority to the Community. With that in mind, we’re excited to welcome the latest member of our Network of Experts focused on the Grid Professionals Group: Patrick Smith.

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Patrick is the SVP of Operations and Technical Services at Ameren Illinois, and he is responsible for the oversight and support of all electric and natural gas field operations, including subtransmission and distribution maintenance, engineering design, safety and training, reliability planning, dispatch operations, electrical and natural gas emergency response, and construction services for the utility that serves 1.2 million electric customers and 816,000 natural gas customers. This experience and perspective makes him a welcome and critical voice for our community.

With that, we’re excited to jump-start Patrick’s Expert status in the traditional way: with his participation in a New Expert Member Interview:

Matt Chester: Thanks for agreeing to participate in our interview series, Patrick. As one of our newest experts, we want to use this as an opportunity to introduce you and why we’re happy to have you in our Expert Network. Can you give the quick background on how you got started in the power sector and what your role is today?

Patrick Smith: Thanks for having me and I'm happy to be part of the network. I have 38 years in the industry, mostly in operations; but with an extensive vertically integrated work experience. I started as a meter reader in 1985 and entered our apprenticeship program in 1988, eventually becoming a journey Lineworker in 1991. My management journey started in 1995 as a first-line supervisor and I worked in progressively responsible leadership roles becoming an officer in 2017 as VP Division Operations. In 2021 I jumped into the growth side of the business and became Ameren Missouri's VP, Economic, Community, and Business Development. After a year in this role and tremendous learning, I joined our Ameren Illinois company as Senior Vice President of Operations and Technical Services. In this role, I am responsible for the oversight and support of all electric and natural gas field operations, including subtransmission and distribution maintenance, engineering design, safety and training, reliability planning, dispatch operations, electrical and natural gas emergency response, and construction services for Ameren Illinois.


MC: You’ve recently shifted roles at Ameren from VP of Economic, Community, and Business Development back to your bread and butter in Operations and Technical Services as Senior Vice President. How do you think exposure to these two very different areas of the utility help to frame your perspective and priorities as a utility leader?

PS: I held the VP of Economic, Community, and Business Development for only a year; yet it was a very potent development experience. Again, a very short stint; but I am happy I had the opportunity. I will borrow from Steve Covey to help explain at least one of many perspectives I gained. In operations, my circle of concern was marginally larger than my circle of influence. I along with our teams had significant influence over many of our goals and KPI's. The affordability, reliability, coworker engagement, and safety targets we set were largely influenced by internal behaviors and decisions by leaders and coworkers. In short, there was less beyond our control. Of course, some things bring volatility like customer response, weather, etc.; yet not nearly to the degree that I experienced in the VP of Economic, Community, and Business Development role. So much of what we did was influenced by energy markets, economic indicators, regulatory priorities, political-divisions, and a mosaic of community perspectives. My circle of concern was much bigger than what I could control. What I gained was more of an appreciation of the nuance to deploy to optimize our objectives in a larger ecosystem. I didn't know what I didn't know, and it is a bit of a good-to-great scenario where I have a realization of factors that make more of a difference than I ever realized – even in achieving operating objectives. Examples would be "framing," "storytelling," deal setup and deal design," "energy equity," and a sharper lens for the "ripple effect."


MC: Having been involved for the utilities as long as you have, you’ve had a front row seat to some of the most drastic and important changes our industry has seen. What would you see is the most critical evolution the traditionally slow-to-move industry has taken on in recent years, and are there any upcoming changes you’re anticipating or hoping for?

PS: When I started as a meter reader, we walked around with a deck of 3x8 inch index-like cards, held together by a metal ring. As I walked house to house, I would circle in the corresponding meter readings with a #2 pencil. Before I transitioned out, we went to hand-held electronic devices, and I thought that was such a leap! Along those lines, the whole smart meter transition has been transformative from a labor, speed, and quality of business perspective. And just thinking about the Pandemic and how it accelerated technology solutions into work styles and work processes. It is interesting that most of what was deployed, already existed meaning it was more developing the will than acquiring the skill. It makes you wonder what other opportunities are impeded largely by will.

Some things are a given, DER's, renewables, storage, innovative consumption models; so, I will offer other perspectives. The current clean energy transition continues to reveal underestimated factors. Last winter and this past summer we experienced capacity constraints and price volatility that created uncertainty among suppliers, distributors, regulators, and customers. The more we know, the more we realize we don't know. There is an art and science tension to the clean energy transition with art being the narratives and advocacy of those seeking a greatly accelerated carbon free industry and the science being the pure, math, science, and economics of our nation's energy fuel mix now and at projected future intervals. It is very likely the industry can and will move faster and equally as likely consumer price pressures will motivate marginally more conservative decarbonization goals. In my humble opinion, this is where alignment needs to occur, not necessarily agreement, but alignment. This alignment must also occur with utilities and regulators. Federal funding opportunities are ripe; but speed to market is a factor. Currently, a projects highest risk could be the time to receive regulatory approval for renewable resources. And to be clear, I am not suggesting this alignment is bore by any one party, there are certainly opportunities for all stakeholders to contribute to a more efficient model.


MC: When you look back at your career at Ameren when you ultimately retire, what do you think will be your measure of success? What are you working towards?

PS: I can't help bur see things from a coach's eyes. That has always been my passion and I have spent nearly 4 decades coaching or being involved in youth basketball. Ameren Illinois is just my latest team and all the principles I leveraged on the court, apply in my SVP role. With that said, it comes down to a legacy of building and influencing other leaders. It is important that I look back and know that I have had a hand in fostering a high performing, diverse lineage of leaders across our organization. It is with equal parts pride and disappointment, that I had the distinction of being the first African-American in many roles that I have held. The industry has continued to evolve with firms seeking to be more inclusive at all levels of their organizations. I will feel proud that I have been intentional in my actions and impactful by the shadow I have cast. The way we generate and delivery energy and interact with our customers will continue to evolve, I believe I have helped Ameren execute on the associated tactics and strategies. But to have led well, I will ultimately judge myself by the leaders I have helped create. 


MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform?  

PS: I did a podcast for Energy Central that was a lot of fun and as I reviewed more of the content, I gained an appreciation for the mission and the professional opportunity. Having a resource of industry peers to get other perspectives and innovative thoughts is definitely a professional asset. I hope to bring a unique perspective to the conversations based on my career experiences as someone who read meters, constructed and maintained distribution systems as a bargaining unit coworker and led at all levels of management up to and including the C-suite. I am likely not unique in this offering; but I can certainly also weigh in from an inclusion and equity perspective for our workforce and an energy equity perspective for our consumers.


MC: What’s the last parting message you’d like to leave our Community with?

PS: Energy Central can be a great asset and I encourage members to set aside recurring opportunities to check in and weigh in. The founders are passionate and noble in their intent to create a useful resource for the industry and for us as industry professionals. And I will close with this; there is one thing we all can do to that will mean more to the industry than anything in the last 20 years – reduce incident and injury to your coworkers by 50%!

Thanks for having me.


Thanks to Patrick Smith for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Patrick will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert, you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 15, 2023

If you have any questions for Patrick as our latest expert, leave them in the comments here!

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 17, 2023

Patrick - welcome to the community!  I look forward to reading your insights! 

Patrick Smith's picture
Patrick Smith on Feb 19, 2023

Thank you Audra

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