Power Lines Blog

December in the West

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I have spent much of the last two weeks visiting APPA members in the West. I spoke at the Midwest Electric Consumers Association Annual Meeting in Denver, the Public Power Council Annual Meeting in Portland, and, most recently, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. Spending time with our members in the West reminds me just how the interests and concerns of our members vary around the country.

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Autumn leaves and nuclear power in SEC Country

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This past week, I visited Georgia to attend the Mayors’ Summit put on by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG). MEAG is a joint action agency serving 49 Georgia cities and towns across the state, from the suburbs of Atlanta to rural communities. MEAG owns substantial shares in a number of electric generation facilities, and is a co-owner (along with Georgia Power and the Georgia rural electric co-ops) of the high voltage transmission system that serves the state.

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Firehouse chili and energy efficiency in Ohio

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This week I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to speak at American Municipal Power’s Annual Conference. AMP is a large joint action agency, serving public power distribution utilities (and a number of joint action agencies) in 7 states. AMP is very forward thinking—they’re developing a diversified portfolio of power supply resources (natural gas, coal, new run-of-the-river hydro, wind and distribution level solar), and running an innovative energy efficiency program.

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America’s first 21st century nuclear generation

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Nuclear power is a complex undertaking, and an important one. If we are truly serious about reducing the carbon footprint of our industry, it needs to be part of our power supply strategy. And TVA, under CEO Bill Johnson’s leadership, is working hard to diversify the power supply of the Tennessee Valley and reduce its environmental impact, while keeping costs reasonable for customers in the Valley. That is no small task, but the TVA employees I met are going “all in” to make it happen.

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Upping disaster response through mutual aid

Mutual aid is neighbors helping neighbors restore power as quickly and safely as possible in the aftermath of a disaster. Public power utilities have strong emergency response processes, with coordination among federal, state, and private-sector first responders. In October 2012, when Superstorm Sandy caused widespread damage, public power’s response was immediate and far-reaching.

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Cultivating our community solar gardens

WPPI has a new pilot project to develop community solar gardens — good for the residential customers who subscribe to a panel, since they do not have the hassle of having solar panels installed on their own house, but get the benefit of locally-produced solar power—and good for the utilities, since they can operate and maintain the garden, thus better managing the reliability and rate impacts of the facility.

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On the road in Nashville: customer service

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The utility mounted a very aggressive public relations campaign using multiple media to let the community know and prevent any further thefts. Steve presented on this issue to his fellow Tennessee public power utilities. If one utility sees a problem that creates a customer service issue, it shares that information with others. All public power systems — and their customers — benefit from such a willingness to share.

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Funding public power through municipal bonds

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Municipal bonds work for public power utilities and their customers. Federal policy makers should recall these facts when proposing to alter the tax treatment of municipal bonds. If public power systems are going to make the needed infrastructure investments to incorporate new technologies, keep our facilities safe and secure, and deal with new environmental regulations, we need to have continued, unfettered access to tax-exempt bonds.

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On the bleeding edge of technology

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The subject of smart grid technology came up. One APPA member utility said that the benefit to customers from installing this technology has not penciled out, given the associated costs. And they were frank to say that they preferred to wait a bit, to see how “early adopters” of this technology fared, rather than make an expensive investment that might turn out to have, as we now say, “issues.”

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