ndustrial consumers of energy today require much more from their utilities than reliable and competitively priced power. Nice-to-have sustainable energy offerings are becoming need-to-have power solutions that comply with stringent federal and state environmental regulations and that meet stakeholders’ expectations that they implement or improve ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) measures. Commercial utility customers expect proactive partnership from their energy suppliers, and they are evaluating carefully whether their utilities can deliver today and in the future.
Understanding this evolving landscape of expectations, Cleco Power, based in Pineville, Louisiana, is reinvigorating its economic development strategy under the leadership of Richard Cornelison, Director, Regional Growth and Economic Development. Cornelison joined Cleco in August 2022, following nearly three decades of economic development work at Oklahoma Gas & Electric.
“Today, utilities must have strong, customer-centric strategies and work collaboratively with customers to solve their power needs,” he says. “Utility economic development plays a significant role in the successful location of projects as well as business retention and expansion efforts. Affordable, reliable, resilient and clean energy are driving location decisions with energy-intensive users.” Cornelison sees his mission as spearheading a “completely revamped economic development and marketing strategy designed to directly meet the electric and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) needs of our customers today and going forward.”
CO₂ Emissions’ Days Are Numbered
In April 2022, Cleco Power announced Project Diamond Vault, the retrofit of its Madison 3 power plant in Lena into one of the nation’s cleanest carbon power generators. The $900 million investment will use carbon capture and sequestration technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 95%. Project Diamond Vault is expected to be fully operational by 2028.
Beyond Project Diamond Vault, says Cornelison, “Cleco is setting the standard for clean energy and turning Interstate 49 into Louisiana’s clean energy corridor. From solar capability at multiple sites throughout the state to Haynesville Shale, one of the largest U.S. shale plays located in Cleco’s Western Region meeting liquified natural gas demand, Cleco’s investment in alternative energy is equipping its clients with alternative energy sources. Furthermore,” he adds, “Cleco is investing in next-generation energy methods including biomass gasification, torrefaction and digestion through the Cleco Alternative Energy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a research and development facility supporting innovative projects since 2013.”
The Cleco Alternative Energy Center (CAEC) is a collaboration between Cleco and UL-Lafayette in which the college performs research for clean energy technologies with funding provided by Cleco. Cleco and UL-Lafyette continue to provide value to the state and have been successful at acquiring third-party funds to explore/research clean energy technologies in addition to training and exposing a future renewable energy workforce.
UL-Lafayette is currently working on a comprehensive Grid Test Facility (i.e. Microgrid) funded by Cleco and has recently been awarded $6M to build a green hydrogen test bed, all located at the Cleco Alternative Energy Center. Through this partnership the university has been able to leverage Cleco funding to obtain third-party funds/grants and provide a facility in Louisiana to further add value to the communities served by Cleco.
Part of Cleco Power’s economic development strategy reset is attracting top employers in six key industry clusters in its service area of 24 Louisiana parishes. The industries are agricultural processing and food manufacturing; aviation; chemicals and plastics; metal products; primary metals; and pulp, paper and wood products. Cornelison says investors in these sectors and others will find “an existing, skilled labor base that’s buoyed by the nation’s top-ranked workforce development program to fill production floors, distribution trucks and engineering desks with qualified and hard-working talent. In Louisiana, access extends beyond talent. Employers have access to natural resources, suppliers and customers through a multimodal logistics network that includes road, rail, air and water to move industrial supplies and products.”
‘Assets and Opportunity’
Commercial real estate advisory firm Newmark has been working extensively with Cleco on refining its economic development mission, including a comprehensive, in-person evaluation of its service area and a survey of existing employers throughout it. Kim Moore, Executive Managing Director, Consulting, and Robert Hess, Vice Chairman, Global Strategy and Global Corporate Services, were key participants in the geographic and industry analysis.
“Each region has assets and opportunity,” says Moore. England Airpark, a 3,600-acre mixed-use development with certified sites at Alexandria International Airport, for example has ease of development, she notes. “Acadiana (New Iberia) was surprising for the amount of bioscience investment there. Bunkie, in Avoyelles Parish, has a completely shovel-ready business park. St. Tammany Parish has good sites and potential, but it’s a community that wants to be intentional about development. It has great community colleges and training programs that are supported by one of the best workforce development grants and incentives programs.”
Cleco is hardly starting its economic development mission from scratch, notes Newmark’s Hess. Already in place, he says, are “a post-COVID-adjusted road map of solutions and a set of target industries and best practices that consider many different scenarios on what economic development success should be for a regulated utility in a rural region. Cleco has a robust toolkit, new key performance indicators and a revised yet realistic outlook that is focused, scheduled and with complete support of senior management up and down the chain of command.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Cleco Power LLC. For more information, visit www.clecoconnections.com.