On February 6, 2020, the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) hosted a panel of utility executives from the Kansas City area at the Burns & McDonnell world headquarters. Panelists included Ray Kowalik, CEO of Burns & McDonnell; John Bridson, VP of generation at Evergy; and Bill Johnson, general manager of Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (BPU). Paula Glover, president and CEO of the AABE moderated the panel, covering topics such as climate change, customer satisfaction, and diversity and inclusion.
The event was kicked off in typical Burns & McDonnell fashion with a safety moment. Izu Mbata, staff electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell, who is also the communications chair of the Kansas-Missouri AABE Chapter, stated that the Chapter hopes to make an impact and inspire the communities where they live and work. The other panelists expressed similar sentiments. Bridson said if Evergy is doing its job correctly, it will result in stronger communities for people to live and work.
Panelists each made a presentation on the future of energy. Common industry themes included the decrease in electricity consumption, changes in generation resources, the proliferation of renewable energy, and the need for investments in transmission infrastructure to bring renewable energy to load. As an example, Bridson described that wind generation in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) peaked at 71% just last week.
Paula Glover shocked the crowd by naming Kansas City as the number five top city to be affected by climate change, according to the Weather Channel. Ray Kowalik of Burns & McDonnell said that the energy industry is doing its part with respect to carbon reduction, but there must be a balance between reliability and cost. When asked about what they are doing to mitigate climate change, Johnson indicated that the BPU has been aggressive in moving from coal generation to renewables and has decreased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 56% since 2012. Similarly, Bridson stated that by the end of 2020, Evergy will have reduced CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 40%. Evergy and the BPU both also discussed their respective community solar farm initiatives.
The panelists also agreed that it is always good business to have a diverse workforce. According to Kowalik, "Our industry is woefully underrepresented by women and minorities." The panel discussed diversity initiatives within their respective organizations including training, recruiting, supplier diversity programs, partnerships with higher education institutions, scholarships, internships, and internal scorecards.
Laron Evans, diverse business manager of the T&D Group at Burns & McDonnell, who is also the president of the Kansas-Missouri AABE Chapter, provided the following concluding remarks, "Studies have shown that diverse and inclusive teams of people make better business decisions. The opportunity to participate in inclusive collaboration helps us to stay on the forefront of innovation while moving our communities forward."