Globe reporter Erin Ailworth recently spoke with STEVE HOLLIDAY, chief executive of NATIONAL GRID PLC, one of the state’s biggest utilities. Here’s what she found out:
1Though technically based in London, you could argue that National Grid is really more of an American utility: The company’s 16,000 US employees outnumber the 11,000 in the United Kingdom; and 43 percent of National Grid’s stock is held in the United States, compared with 38 percent in Britain. As a result, Holliday spends a week each month here conducting business.
“Over a third of the business is in the United States,” said Holliday, “so arguably it should be a week-and-a-half a month, and I’d probably have a problem with my family if that was the case.”
2 National Grid is investing $2 billion a year to modernize its utility systems here, parts of which are more than 100 years old. (That system serves 3.3 million electric and 3.4 million gas customers in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.)
“It’s a privilege to operate parts of the system that I believe rather facetiously should be in a museum. But we do. In upstate New York we have a line that was built by Thomas Edison. It’s an amazing, amazing compliment to the engineers that put that in place. When they built that, they had no idea that in 2013 it would still be operating.”
3 National Grid has received more than 1,600 applications to connect renewable energy projects to their system in Massachusetts. They’re also big supporters of renewable energy in the United Kingdom, where Holliday says wind will soon be a major part of National Grid’s power supply.
“[It’s] expected by 2020 that almost 30 percent of the capacity that’s installed on the system [in the UK] will be wind . . . It’s two-thirds offshore, a third onshore, roughly.”
4Yes, it’s annoying when the lights go out, but responses to storms have gotten better. In 2011, it took 79 hours to restore power after Irene and 127 hours after the October snowstorm. In contrast, following last year’s Superstorm Sandy most outages were fixed within 41 hours. National Grid had 15,000 workers from 48 states in the United States and six parts of Canada working 16-hour shifts to repair that storm’s damage to the utility’s system. They replaced 5,000 poles in nine days, 3,000 transformers, 40,000 regulators, and 100,000 gas meters that had been flooded.
“I often very sarcastically say to my team, ‘If we can do that much in two weeks, just talk me through how long it takes to build some of these systems normally?’ Joking aside, extreme weather is here to stay.”
5In the United States, National Grid has 404 employees with 40-plus years of service each with the company. Combined, they’ve logged 17,008 years at the utility.
“The longest serving [has] 62 years.”
6Whether you call it soccer or football, Holliday’s sports allegiance has a Boston tie.
“Interestingly the owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, is the owner of my favorite football team in the UK, which is Liverpool . . . . I’m not a big soccer fan actually, I’m a rugby fan, but Liverpool is my favorite soccer club.” [Henry also owns The Boston Globe.]
7Nearly a decade before joining National Grid, a 13-year-old Holliday landed his first job — as a butcher, carving joints and deboning chickens.
“I had a job that I worked every Thursday and Friday evening, and all day Saturday, in a butcher shop, behind the scenes. Look, some little scars on my fingers from all the nicks that were made from my knife. I was a schoolboy then; I was trying to earn some money to buy a decent pair of jeans to go out at night.”