Distributed Energy Resources
Energy Storage
Electric Vehicles

Meeting changes, seizing opportunities: Public power moves forward

There are many trends pushing public power utilities to need to plan for the future: retiring workers, changing customer expectations, increasing cyber security threats, and emerging disruptive technologies. Compounding these trends is the challenge that many people do not understand what your utility provides nor the benefits of what it means to be served by public power.

Our President and CEO Sue Kelly kicked off the recent Public Power Forward Summit in San Francisco, California, by explaining that “business as usual is not enough” and urging public power to “diversify our menu.” Solar, electric vehicles, energy storage, and microgrids were just a handful of the topics discussed at the summit.

As the summit progressed, we explored the many ways in which shifting away from business as usual presents both opportunities and challenges for public power. For example, energy storage can help with renewable energy integration, but can also be expensive to implement. And increased adoption of electric vehicles will increase electricity consumption and sales, but this growth will require careful load management to avoid adding to your utility’s peak demand.

No public power community is immune from change, and yet the cost of implementing changes is a very real challenge. Public power utilities pride themselves on providing reliable and affordable electricity to the communities they serve, and many communities don’t have extra resources to finance new technologies or projects that help to prepare for the future. Joint action agencies, state and regional associations, and the American Public Power Association are critical resources in aiding utilities in their transition to the future, particularly smaller utilities.

Several summit speakers shared their experiences and advice about taking on innovative projects. Snohomish County Public Utility District in Washington shared how they leveraged state funding to help pay for energy storage projects and will also be using state funding to create a microgrid. The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company talked about how a collaboration with Nissan helped minimize member staff time dedicated to an effort to provide electric vehicle and charging infrastructure rebates for member customers.

The traditional business model won’t disappear overnight, and we still have a while before electric vehicles take over the streets. However, even if you aren’t in an area known for having early adopters of technology, it is important to understand industry trends and be ready to discuss and evaluate emerging issues with your customers, staff, and governing bodies. Robert Cromwell, interim power supply and strategic planning officer at Seattle City Light, highlighted, our thinking has to be “non-linear,” and utilities need to seize opportunities and anticipate challenges so that they can be handled effectively.

We’re working to help you to stay engaged in this era of change in the industry, from the rise of distributed energy resources to re-evaluating traditional utility business models, through our Public Power Forward initiative.

Members can access presentations from the summit, or can read our recent reports on Distributed Energy Resources and Public Power,  Understanding Energy Storage, and  Understanding the US Plug-In Electric Vehicle Market.

If you missed them earlier this year, you can still watch recordings from the Public Power Forward webinar series, which featured webinars on rate design, solar, electric vehicles, storage, and smart meters.

Lastly, if you aren’t yet part of the Public Power Forward listserv, be sure to join to discuss new opportunities and challenges with your fellow public power peers, stay informed of Association activities, and participate in the electric vehicle interest group.