Five natural gas utilities have committed $45 million to an Energy Capital Venture (ECV) fund to bolster digital advancements along with environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies within the natural gas industry. 

Chicago-based ECV was founded in 2020 to focus on local distribution companies and natural gas utilities with an eye on creating a more sustainable future for the fossil fuel industry. The firm primarily invests in companies with interests in technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), hydrogen, cybersecurity, methane capture/utilization, drone maintenance and decarbonization. 

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The contributing utilities include Avista Utilities, Black Hills Corp., NiSource Inc., Southwest Gas Corp. and Spire Inc. As limited partners with ECV, each of the utilities would be able to access commercial opportunities 

This first round of capital is committed for a larger fund aimed at garnering interest from other  utilities and companies within the natural gas value chain that are interested in the ESG initiatives, said ECV’s Vic Pascucci, managing general partner. 

ECV plans to support its first five limited partners as they innovate strategies “to solve their ESG and digital transformation strategic priorities,” Pascucci said. “The opportunity to provide a platform to foster innovation and collaboration for our strategic partners who play such a critical role in our country’s energy transformation is truly amazing.”

The firm’s general partners also include investment bankers Jeff Yingling and Ray O’Connor, as well as Insurtech investor Rick Viton. Viton is also partnered with IA Capital Group, a New York City-based private investment firm. ECV plans to follow IA Capital’s investment outlook and innovation trends between Insurtech and Fintech, including investments for AI technology for workforce and industrial safety, lead detection, risk management and cyber and climate risk solutions. 

ECV also boasts an advisory board that includes experts from the Gas Technology Institute, the Department of Energy and others.