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America's Public Power: Efficient & Green

Sustainability and Conservation - Watchwords for the Public Power Industry

Dec/Jan 08
Pick up a newspaper today and there's a good chance you'll find a headline about rising energy prices. Or one about the dangers of global warming. These are problems that, at the least, threaten corporate and family budgets and, at the worst, could wreak havoc on the global economy and even alter the way we live our lives. The more people read, the more they want to be part of the solutions.

The nation's public power providers have been listening. In recent years, they've unveiled scores of special programs aimed at helping business and residential customers reduce their energy consumption and costs. And more than ever, these utilities are looking for environmentally sensitive ways to generate and obtain power - and again, use less of it. The solutions they're promoting are true win-win situations, good for customers and the utilities alike.

That shouldn't be very surprising, as the interests of public power providers are completely aligned with the interests of their customers - because public utilities are an arm of local governmental entities, the customers of public power organizations are essentially also their masters.

Lightening the Load
Take Gainesville Regional Utilities as an example. It's Florida's fifth-largest municipal electric utility, providing electricity along with natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunication services. These days, it not only sells electricity but also tries to get its customers to buy less electricity.

"We set goals in the summer of 2006 for energy demand reductions for our customers," says Bill Shepherd, energy and business services manager. "We rolled out 22 different programs, and set a goal for a first-year demand reduction of 2.69 megawatts and 13,652 megawatt-hours. We exceeded our energy reduction goals."

In fact, the utility's customers were able to cut demand in that first year by 15,092 megawatt-hours and 2.51 megawatts. That second statistic was lower mainly because two major demand-reduction projects were not finished on-time - exclude those from the goal and the city was right on target with everything else.

Programs include incentives for installing high-efficiency cooling equipment, repairing leaks in ducts, and putting in heat recovery units to capture heat coming off the air conditioner and use it to help with water heating. GRU even has a program that pays to replace exit signs with newer models that use LEDs instead of incandescent bulbs. Each LED exit sign costs its owner $25 less per year by using less energy and eliminating the need to replace bulbs every couple of thousand hours.

GRU has established a network of contractors that can help businesses and homeowners implement energy-saving improvements. Shepherd says the first workshop for contractors drew about a dozen, the second attracted twice that number, and the third doubled the number of participating contractors yet again. Everyone in Gainesville, it seems, wants to get on board the energy-saving bandwagon, thanks to the efforts of the municipal utility.

"We're very pleased," Shepherd says - but not complacent. For 2008, the utility is adding three more programs, including a plan to have contractors conduct energy surveys of structures, making energy-reduction recommendations involving insulation, duct repair, cooling equipment, and the like. Rebates encourage property owners to follow through on the recommendations.

Lakeland, Florida, has developed similar programs. "We have recently developed rebates and incentive programs," says John Adkinson, manager of energy and business services for Lakeland Electric. "These include residential attic insulation rebates, compact fluorescent lighting giveaways, HVAC maintenance incentives, weatherization, and online energy audits." The city utility also has retrofitted more than 100 intersections with LED lamps.

In Nebraska, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) has been partnering with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help customers boost energy efficiency, says Roger Christianson, manager of economic development. "Sixty energy efficiency projects so far have resulted in savings of $1.8 million for customers and an estimated reduction of CO2 emissions of 15,000 tons each year," he says. "Some customers saved 40 percent on their energy bills while improving operating conditions and the comfort of the tenants."

Businesses and residents alike are eager for improved energy efficiency. To help on the residential side, he says, "OPPD worked with Habitat for Humanity in 2006 to build a super-efficient home, reducing the energy needs to a fraction of the average home." Strategies included insulated concrete-form foundations and walls, along with high-efficiency windows and air-conditioning systems. During construction, the utility scheduled public events to help spread the word about energy efficiency.

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