What’s a power company to do when its customers start using less power?

Well, you can fight any investment in efficiency or renewable energy tooth-and-nail, though current Pennsylvania energy efficiency mandates make that especially difficult.

The second option requires some optimismthat a brighter future is just around the corner.

“We’re interested in what our customers are interested in,” explains Joe DeMatteo, Director of Business Development for Duquesne Light. “And we’re getting more and more requests for information about electric vehicles.”

If the customer is always right, this is no exception.

“I think we’re constantly interested in how we can meet customers’ needs, specifically in how they’re using electricitynew products and services we can provide,” says DeMatteo. “This new, emerging technology has grown over the past few years, and is going to grow more.”

So it’s not purely about cutting tailpipe emissions, though electric vehicles certainly do that.

“From a business standpoint . . . it’s a way to better utilize our existing infrastructure,” says DeMatteo. “It’s better for our business when more electricity runs across our infrastructure and our grid. It’s maintaining rates at a certain level. So it’s putting less pressure on rate increases. If you look around the country, you’re seeing a lot of utilities invest in this. It’s not just the West Coast now.”

Electric vehicles are still fairly rare in Pennsylvania, compared to places like California, where there are hundreds of thousands on the road. However, Duquesne Light cites a study by the Electric Power Research Institute that projects electric vehicle usage to reach 100,000 in their territory in the next 20 years, 100 times what it is now.

Though they’re obviously better from an emissions standpoint, electric vehicles’ environmental impact is diluted if its electricity comes from, say, burning coal.

“I think in this region, we uniquely benefit in that our generation is primarily nuclear,” says DeMatteo. “Roughly two thirds of the energy that runs across our electricity grid is from nuclear generation.”

So far, Duquesne Light’s investment in electric vehicles is small: eight Chevy Volts and two electric hybrid bucket trucks for repairing power lines, with four more trucks on the way this year. But they’ve made it the centerpiece of “Electric Lane,” their annual display and sponsorship at the 36th Annual Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, open through March 19 at the David. L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

As part of that, Duquesne Light is running a quick campaign called #Poweritforward, awarding one local nonprofit charity an electric passenger vehicle (EV) to help their mission. The charity will be chosen by the public, both by visitors at the Home and Garden Show, and online.

The three options are:

  • Community Human Services (CHS): “works to strengthen communities by empowering more than 8,000 individuals and families in Allegheny County to live in stable housing, connect to community resources, build relationships and access quality food. An EV would expand the agency’s ability to provide transportation for customers to critical service meetings, healthcare appointments and housing searches.”
  • Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS): “provides a range of community programs, including health and housing services, primarily to senior citizens and veterans in need throughout western Pennsylvania. An EV would enable NAMS to expand food delivery services to veterans, as well as transport individuals to appointments, the grocery store and the organization’s four senior centers.”
  • Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania (VLP): “provides essential housing, employment and other vital supportive services to more than 2,700 veterans, service members and their families annually to improve self-sufficiency, sustainability and quality of life throughout western Pennsylvania. An EV would assist VLP in providing essential housing and supportive services as well as to conduct outreach at social service and veteran events.”

The #Poweritforward contest ends on Sunday, when the winner will be chosen.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.