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Growing Communities Through the Benefits of Public Power

A community's economy is only as healthy as its local industries. Likewise, local businesses fare best in an economically healthy community. Cities served by publicly owned utilities have an ally fighting on both fronts.

Winter 2012
(page 2 of 2)

Communities Make Public Power Strides

From coast to coast, public power companies are helping the businesses and citizens in the communities they serve to save energy - and money. They are helping companies to track their energy usage, install more energy-efficient lighting, and keep their roofs cool. They are also making sure their power plants meet strict air-quality standards. And local residents who also want to reduce their carbon footprint are being offered incentives to do so. These utilities are committed to growing their local "green" economies.

Next - Building the New Energy Economy in San Antonio

Building the New Energy Economy in San Antonio(2/9)

Sunny San Antonio is a leader in the so-called "green economy," according to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. A project involving public power provider CPS Energy is helping to light the way. CPS Energy has agreed to buy large quantities of zero-emissions solar power from one of the nation's largest solar projects, which features a consortium involving OCI Solar Power and manufacturer Nexolon. The players plan to not only generate lots of solar power, but also to build major manufacturing operations in San Antonio. Adding to the excitement, both OCI and Nexolon are moving headquarters facilities to San Antonio.

Next: Nebraska - Shedding Light on Big Energy Cost Savings

Nebraska Public Power District: Shedding Light on Big Energy Cost Savings(3/9)

Historians say Thomas Edison didn't actually invent the light bulb, but was first to develop a truly practical, long-lasting incandescent bulb, way back in 1879. A revolution in lighting is under way again - technologies from the past 10 years can cut lighting bills by up to 60 percent. Nebraska Public Power District wants to get those technologies into business customers' facilities through its EnergyWise commercial/industrial lighting program. Businesses that replace an older fixture with a high-efficiency alternative can apply for generous incentives worth up to $60 per fixture. That's an instant reward, but just as rewarding are the long-term cost savings delivered by more efficient lighting.

Next - ElectriCities: Taking the Temperature of Energy Bills

ElectriCities: Taking the Temperature of Energy Bills (4/9)

Information is power. And information about power is a powerful way to save money on energy bills. ElectriCities - a membership organization serving public power communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia - helps customers of its more than 70 public power utilities get a better handle on how extreme cold or hot weather trends can impact their electricity usage and costs. The TempTracker365 weather calendar system quickly generates customized, colorful records of temperature trends covering the organization's public power cities and towns, for any month during the past few years. Businesses and public power customer service representatives can use the data, along with information from energy bills, to gain a better understanding of their utility costs. The system also delivers season-appropriate energy-efficiency tips.

Next - Charging Up Electric Vehicles in Los Angeles

Charging Up Electric Vehicles in Los Angeles(5/9)

Lots of people really want to reduce their carbon footprint (or maybe wheelprint) by driving an electric vehicle (EV). Being able to afford it is another matter entirely. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to ease the way, and offers customers a home charger rebate of up to $2,000. The utility also offers special electric service options for customers who drive an EV, and it's trying to make the experience as successful as possible by upgrading more than 80 city-owned public charging locations for those who need some juice while away from home.

Next - Clearing the Air in Colorado

Clearing the Air in Colorado (6/9)

Colorado is famous for its crisp, clean air and stunning mountain views. Colorado Springs Utilities wants to keep it that way, and has been ahead of the game in ensuring that its power plants meet strict air-quality standards. In fact, though the EPA has issued more stringent emissions standards, CSU's facilities are already in compliance. What's more, CSU is planning another $200 million worth of upgrades in the next five years to make its plants even more planet-friendly, while at the same time boosting the use of renewables such as wind power. The utility is a founding member of the Climate Registry, which tracks greenhouse gases.

Next - Long Island:Cooling the Roof to Lower the Bill

Long Island:Cooling the Roof to Lower the Bill (7/9)

Industrial facilities often have huge, sprawling buildings sitting under acres of roof. The roof isn't a pleasant place to be on a hot, sunny day - and if you think about it, a roof that hot is bound to heat up the inside of the building, too. That's why the Long Island Power Authority encourages its business customers to cool their roofs. The right roofing materials can reflect the sun's heat and radiation and keep it from being transferred into the building, and that can mean significantly lower energy bills. To help encourage cool roofs, the utility offers generous rebates for both new and existing construction.

Next: Powering Up Memphis Economic Development

Powering Up Memphis Economic Development (8/9)

MLGW - the Memphis Light, Gas, and Water Division - is committed to building the local economy. That's why its economic development department for more than 30 years has shared space with the local chamber of commerce, so that staffers of the two organizations can work side-by-side on boosting prosperity in Memphis. They're there for local companies hoping to expand or improve their bottom line, as well as for businesses seeking a site for a new facility.

Next: Related Resources

Reliable and Efficient
In an election year, it's common to hear lots of charges about the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government. Of course, whether those charges have merit is hotly debated, and that debate may well last forever. It's important to leave public power out of the debate, because although these utilities may be owned by municipalities, they tend to be models of efficiency, reliability, and dependable customer service. "We are very proud of our reliability numbers," Cannon says, noting that they compare favorably with many investor-owned utilities.

"Our reliability is extremely high," Christianson agrees. That means the power is just about always on, and in the rare case of a power outage, it's solved with the utmost speed and efficiency. It helps that repair crews, like all the other employees of a public power utility, happen to live nearby.

Christianson's utility - OPPD - has, in fact, been a regular top honoree in the J.D. Power and Associates Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study. The company rates utilities on such measures as power quality and reliability, billing and payment, corporate citizenship, price, communications, and customer service. Many of its highest-rated utilities are public power providers.

Adding to their efficiency is the fact that many publicly owned utilities provide more than one kind of service. A public power utility might also provide natural gas, data fiber, cable television, water, and sewer services. "A lot of public power communities offer a one-stop shop," Greenville's Cannon says, and that makes lower, bundled rates possible.

And public power providers are right out there on the cutting edge when it comes to environmentally friendly technologies. About his Nebraska utility, Christianson notes, "We have a goal of having 10 percent green energy by 2020, and we're halfway there. We have some wind energy and we do some generation from methane gas off of landfills." The utility also is involved in solar energy pilots.

Some public power providers are rolling out ways to encourage customers to save money (and help the planet) through solar installations. One such strategy allows those with their own solar cells to essentially sell power back to the utility when their solar grid is generating more energy than the customer is using. Simply put, these customers' meters spin backwards and their excess power is transferred to the grid for someone else to use. And when the meter spins backwards, it shaves money right off of the customers' energy bills.

Getting Smarter
Many of America's public power providers are stepping into the future with the installation of "smart grid" technology. It's one more way (and a really big one at that) to help commercial and residential customers gain control of their electricity usage and keep their costs in line. And it also helps utilities manage their energy infrastructure more effectively, adding to public power's already impressive reliability.

Burbank Water & Power in California is one example. Last year the utility began swapping out electric meters at all businesses and homes. The new "smart" meters are able to communicate wirelessly with the utility to provide consumption information and make billing more efficient. Customers gain more timely information about their usage, instead of having to wait until the next month's bill arrives. Eventually, customers will be able to add their own wireless connections to the meter, allowing it to communicate with smart appliances and provide new ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency. And the utility will be able to more precisely monitor the status of the delivery system - learning instantly if there are outages, with no need for customers to call and report trouble.

In Florida, Lakeland Electric is about halfway through its conversion to smart grid technology. Customers there, too, will gain more control over their usage, with access to up-to-date information via the Internet and, potentially, in-building usage displays. The technology will also open the door for new kinds of "smart automation," through the use of systems that allow remote or automatic control of electric devices.

Smart grid installations vary from one utility to the next. Some are based on fiberoptic connections, which in some cases also allow the utilities to deliver high-speed data, communications, and television services. Some installations offer information and control over other services offered by the utility - such as up-to-the-minute data about water usage, which can be incredibly helpful not only in reducing consumption, but also in discovering leaks in a timely manner.

Learn more about public power: Lots of information is available through the American Public Power Association (APPA), which serves America's 2,000+ community-owned electric utilities. Visit the organization's website,, for details about doing business in a public power community, along with links to member cities.

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