Nick Akins, left, executive chair of American Electric Power, presents former International President Lonnie R. Stephenson with the Edison Electric Institute’s Thomas A. Edison Legacy Award. Credit: Edison Electric Institute. 

Former International President Lonnie R. Stephenson's career received a fitting epilogue when the Edison Electric Institute awarded him its rarely issued Thomas A. Edison Legacy Award.

Recently retired International President Lonnie R. Stephenson gives his acceptance speech after receiving the Thomas A. Edison Legacy Award on Jan. 11. Credit: Edison Electric Institute.

Stephenson was honored during a ceremony in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 11, seven days following his retirement, for his decades of service to labor and the electric power industry. The EEI represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, which provide service to about 235 million Americans.

"A strong labor-industry partnership is what enables America's electrical companies to deliver extraordinary outcomes for the customers and communities they proudly serve," EEI President Tom Kuhn said. "Lonnie has worked to make this partnership stronger and more effective than ever. I am proud to call him a friend and am grateful for his partnership and counsel on many of the key issues facing our industry today."

Nick Akins, executive chair of American Electric Power, said Stephenson protected the interests of IBEW members while working with industry leaders to ensure that the transition to clean energy is a smooth one. He praised Stephenson and the IBEW for working with politicians from both sides of the aisle and forging a strong relationship with President Joe Biden's administration.

"There were so many times we reached out to Lonnie in so many ways to help get our message through," said Akins, who presented Stephenson with the award. "Something that's always stuck with me is your ability and your team's ability to step up and help this industry in so many ways."

Stephenson said that even though he has retired, "the IBEW is going to stay committed to the relationship we already have and we're going to build on it." He added, "I can't thank you enough for this honor."

"I never refer to you as our utility employers but our partners," Stephenson said. "We truly are a partnership. As we continue this transition to how we produce energy in the future, it's so important we have that relationship."

Utility Director Donnie Colston said Stephenson was committed to a strong partnership between the IBEW and the utility companies from the time he was appointed president in May 2015 until his retirement.

Most noticeably, those efforts paid off with the passing and signing into law of the Inflation Reduction Act last year. It provides incentives for electric companies to invest in clean energy while ensuring that the work is done by skilled union members. The IBEW worked closely with the utilities to get it passed in Congress while ensuring that working families would benefit, Colston said.

"Clearly, there is no way the industry would have got this done without the help of the IBEW," Colston said. "It was huge."

Biden has had a close relationship with the IBEW for decades and a particularly close one since becoming president. He's noted that frequently since his inauguration, something Stephenson reminded attendees.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but our president is a little biased toward the IBEW," he said, drawing a laugh from the audience. "The administration has asked for our counsel on many issues."

That includes former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who served as the White House's national climate adviser until stepping down in September. She also received the Edison Legacy Award from the EEI.

Stephenson and McCarthy were just the second and third recipients of the honor. Longtime EEI executive David Owens received the first in 2017.

Stephenson praised McCarthy for protecting the nuclear industry, which provides a clean baseload source while sources like wind, solar and battery storage become more reliable.

He also saluted her for managing the ongoing transition to clean energy with dignity. The Biden administration has acknowledged union members working in fossil fuels will be impacted and is working to provide training and tools for them to transfer to other areas of the energy sector.

"We have to make sure this transition is done in a reasonable way and nothing is off the table," Stephenson said. "We truly are partners in this industry and I'm excited to see where we're going to go in the future."