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American Public Power Association: A Smart Way to Deliver Power

Public power communities plug into smart grid technology.

Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (Winter 2011)

Communities Make Public Power Strides


Around the country, public power utilities large and small are making impressive advances in smart grid technology, sustainable energy, and other innovative programs. Read on to meet these resourceful communities.

Next: Orlando

Orlando, Florida (2/11)


Walt Disney World's Epcot Center was designed as the "city of tomorrow," but tomorrow has already arrived elsewhere in Orlando. Local power provider OUC (called The Reliable One by locals), teamed up with the Orlando Science Center to put a 31-kilowatt solar array atop the museum's CineDome. The system puts out enough energy to power a few homes and will save the museum a significant sum during its estimated 25-year lifespan. More importantly, it will serve as a demonstration project to inspire other Floridians to pursue solar power generation.

Next: Nebraska

Nebraska Public Power District (3/11)


In Nebraska, where public power is a way of life, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) wants to increase renewable energy use to cover at least 10 percent of its customers' needs by 2020. By the end of 2012, the provider will be nearly halfway there. NPPD owns and operates its own wind energy facility and also buys wind power from other providers. The organization is lining up more sources of wind power in pursuit of its renewable goal.

Next: Payson

Payson, Utah (4/11)


At a time when some cities are turning off streetlights to save money, a group of Utah public power communities is keeping the lights on by replacing them with super-efficient LED fixtures. Hundreds of fixtures are slated for upgrades, thanks to a federal grant that is helping pay the bill. So far, the savings have added up. The community of Payson is upgrading 130 of its 550 streetlights and expects to save $4,000 a year in energy costs. The LEDs last far longer than conventional lights, also saving on the cost of replacements and the manpower required to replace burned-out bulbs.

Next: North Carolina

North Carolina Public Power (5/11)


Knowledge is power, so knowledge about power must be, well, powerful. That's why North Carolina Public Power backers including ElectriCities are trying to get the word out about energy efficiency. A series of videos about energy efficiency is designed to help affiliated utilities educate their customers about reducing costs and conserving energy. The videos can be viewed at North Carolina Public Power's YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/NCPublicPower.

Next: San Antonio

CPS Energy, San Antonio (6/11)


The New Year is here, and with it the perennial resolution to eat less. CPS Energy in San Antonio is resolving to consume less, too - electricity, that is. The goal is to save 58 megawatts in 2011, part of the utility's Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), which aims to slash consumption by the equivalent of a whole power plant by 2020. It's ambitious, but the utility and its customers proved it feasible last year when they shattered a 45-megawatt goal by saving 76 megawatts. They accomplished it with everything from increased insulation to more efficient appliances and the installation of solar generation and hot water systems.

Next: Kirkwood

Kirkwood, Missouri (7/11)


Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb, has been around for generations, which means it's shaded by lots of big, old trees. While the backdrop is beautiful, it also means lots of downed limbs after storms, and lots of work for tree trimmers. It also represents a large supply of wood waste to fuel a proposed biomass power plant. The Kirkwood Green project will convert wood waste into a synthetic gas that will be burned cleanly to generate electricity. The facility could produce enough power to serve 5,000 homes, reducing the city's reliance on coal-fueled electricity. The city is already improving its efficiency by purchasing power from Missouri wind farms.

Next: Springfield

City Utilities of Springfield, Missouri (8/11)


In Missouri, City Utilities of Springfield is helping business customers see the light. That's why the public power provider is doling out rebates for those who replace old lighting fixtures with new 25- to 28-watt T8 lamps and electronic ballasts. The program offers commercial customers up to $5,000 per year for pursuing the upgrades. The new lights use less energy and emit less heat, but also generate more light than the fixtures they typically replace.

Next: South Carolina

Santee Cooper, South Carolina (9/11)


Santee Cooper, South Carolina's state-owned electric and water utility and largest power producer, is helping its business customers trim their power usage. Its Reduce the Use program blends business initiatives and rebates targeted at the state's biggest power users. The program is first focusing on four key areas: lighting, HVAC, building envelope, and commercial refrigeration. Businesses that participate can earn rebates worth thousands of dollars - before they even start saving on their electric bills. That's a smart way to cut costs - and emissions.

Next: Sacramento

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (10/11)


"Smart metering" is the way of the future for utilities. Cutting-edge smart meters give commercial power users optimal control over power consumption by providing detailed usage information and options for improving efficiency and slashing costs. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is installing these state-of-the-art meters in all homes and businesses. It expects to replace all of these meters by the end of this year. With each new meter installed, users will discover energy savings, reduced costs, and greater reliability. In the future, smart meters will be able to communicate with programmable appliances, such as air conditioners, to let users break down power costs by item.

It's been four years since the first iPhone was introduced, and while it was immediately hailed as revolutionary, many consumers saw it as merely a cell phone with a built-in media player. Today, the device has morphed into a powerful handheld computer, a portable gaming device, a GPS system, and dozens of other tools. Apps developed since the device's launch do everything from the goofy to the astonishing. One app lets users point and view a foreign-language sign on the phone's display, where the words are instantly translated into English. Who could have imagined?

Dawn of the Smart Grid
Glenn Steiger, general manager of Glendale Water and Power in California, views the dawn of the electric smart grid similarly to the advent of the iPhone. Smart grids are bringing incredible new technology to electric distribution systems, but he's certain that the most exciting advantages have not yet been imagined. He says of the iPhone, "more applications are being developed every day. We expect the same thing with the smart grid."

Steiger is one of the visionaries guiding a growing smart grid movement among publicly owned power utilities. In his community, federal stimulus funding is helping to deploy smart grid technology rapidly.

Glendale Water and Power is a prime example of a public power utility living on the cutting edge - which happens to be where many such utilities like to live. Some Americans wrongly assume that public power providers, since they are government-linked entities, must be behind the times. But public power - which tends to be inexpensive and highly reliable - has forward-thinking providers that are responsive to both business and residential needs.

That's why public power utilities are eager to plug into the future with smart grid technology.

So what's so smart about the smart grid? "It gives customers far more choices in how they deal with the utility," Steiger says. "It allows them to save money and control various applications in their homes and businesses."

Smart grid technology adds sophisticated meters and controls to the power system. Smart meters remain in constant contact with the utility's central control systems, providing real-time data on power usage and issues. In Glendale, wireless meters communicate with each other, as well as data collection points that are hooked into the central office via fiber optic cable.

The availability of sophisticated data means customers can better monitor and control their power usage right now, not a month from now when the bill arrives. "We know what a customer is using, and the customer also sees the data," Steiger says. Smart grids also integrate well with green technologies such as electric vehicles and solar applications.

Additionally, the technology helps the utility monitor the power network for trouble. "Today, when your lights go out, you call us and we fix it. With a smart grid, we know where the outages are, and we can fix most outages without even sending a crew out," Steiger says. "The distribution system will be mostly self-healing."

That kind of reliability - along with empowering customers to take control of their usage and encouraging efficiency - were some of the goals of the smart grid project in Leesburg, Florida. Leesburg got into the smart grid game as a way to combat skyrocketing wholesale power costs. A 2008 business plan projected operational savings of $900,000 for the electric system and $400,000 for the city's water system. In 2009, the city was one of 33 public power providers to land a smart grid grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant helps the community install smart meters for its 23,000 customers, along with more than 4,000 energy-management systems that give customers new control over air conditioners, water heaters, and other electric devices.
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