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America's Public Power: Efficient & Green

Sustainability and Conservation - Watchwords for the Public Power Industry

Dec/Jan 08
(page 3 of 3)
Win-Win Situation
It's easy to see how customers benefit from energy-efficiency initiatives, and how the environment wins when businesses and homes use less power and obtain more of it from green sources. But isn't it a bit counterintuitive for utilities to work so hard to get customers to use less of their product?

On the contrary, says Adkinson, it's a winning situation for all parties: "This helps the utility by offsetting for the need for future generation, reduces emissions, and saves our customers on their energy costs."

"We do have capacity needs going out into the future," says Shepherd. "For part of those capacity needs, we're hoping to fill them with energy conservation instead."

Indeed, creating new power generation operations is incredibly expensive. If the need for new plants can be delayed or even eliminated, the savings are great enough to make it worth spending some cash on demand-side reduction.

What's more, Shepherd adds, it's a good thing to do for customer satisfaction. "You don't want customers having higher bills and complaining."

Public Power Benefits
That kind of customer-focused attitude is prevalent in the public power business. That's because the customers are, essentially, also the owners. And that's one of the things that makes a business location in a public power community so attractive.

"Public power communities are great in that you have a say-so in local policymaking," says Shepherd. "That's where the decisions are made. The customer has a lot more input."

"It's very, very local," agrees Monroe. "Businesses definitely receive more attention."

Some other advantages:

• Public power providers don't have shareholders to serve, Christianson points out, because they're owned by governmental entities. "We don't have to worry about making a profit for shareholders," he says. "Public power profits are reinvested in our system to ensure supply and reliability for our future customer growth. Dividends are returned to our customer-owners in the form of low rates."

• Public utilities often offer more than just electricity. "We provide electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunication services," Shepherd says. "We can offer businesses a package of services that can help them grow."

• Public power is more affordable. According to the American Public Power Association (APPA), residential rates in communities served by private utilities are on average more than 10 percent higher than they are in public power communities.

• Public utilities are strong boosters of their communities. Public power systems provide state and local payments-in-lieu-of-taxes and other support that on average are worth 15 percent more than the state and local taxes paid by private power companies. And they've heavily involved in economic development efforts.

• Public power is reliable. Management and maintenance personnel are all local, so if there's a problem, they're right there to fix it promptly. Lots of people have heard about "rolling blackouts" when the power supply gets tight in California. Not in communities like Riverside, Shepherd says: "During rolling blackouts, Riverside didn't black out once."

• Customer service tends to be attentive, again because employees and management are locals. In Omaha, Christianson notes that OPPD has been honored by quality gurus J.D. Power and Associates six years in a row for outstanding customer service.

What's more, public power utilities often serve relatively small territories, and as Boatright in Westerville, Ohio, points out, small can be a good thing. "With only 13 square miles of service territory, the city's consumer-owned utility provides excellent service response 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year."

For more information about the benefits of public power, contact the American Public Power Association at 202-467-2900 or visit

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