Energy Efficiency
Community Engagement

Planes, trains & automobiles: coast to coast

My last two weeks have been spent in planes, trains and automobiles. I have been in upstate New York, Southern California, and New York City. I have flown on US Air and United, rented cars from Hertz and Avis, and ridden the New York subway, Amtrak, and the DC Metro. And while the environment was not always uplifting or the service inspiring, it all went pretty smoothly.

I started and finished in New York, where the Public Service Commission is shaking things up with its Reforming the Energy Vision" (REV) proceeding. The REV initiative presents some interesting issues for public power systems — as we are already owned by our customers and serve specific communities, one could argue we are the original "microgrids." We got that t-shirt over 100 years ago in many communities!

It is interesting that the latest thinking on "resiliency" is to create microgrids — many of our communities started out as discrete grids with their own generation, but then interconnected, first with neighbors and then regionally, because it was thought this would enhance reliability and access to more competitive generation sources.

In New York, I attended the annual meeting of the New York Association of Public Power. We had as a guest speaker a very savvy radio reporter/commentator well-versed in New York government and politics. She discussed the REV proceeding at length, and ended by noting that while she had read and heard lots about it, she had never seen or heard any discussion of how much all this might cost electric customers. She raises a very good point. At some point, inquiring minds are going to want to know what the price tag for all this will be.

In California, I attended the annual meeting of the California Municipal Utilities Association. The big story there is water — or the lack thereof, California being in the middle of its fourth year of drought. The governor is ordering substantial cutbacks in water usage, and the water utilities in CMUA's membership have to help make that happen. Proposals to increase use of renewables past 33 percent (pretty much already a done deal) to 50 percent are old hat in California, which is already seeing over-generation from renewables in excess of demand during certain hours of the day. While public power utilities in California are on board with the state's goals of carbon reduction and more efficient use of electricity, they would like some flexibility to get there in the way that makes the most sense for them and their customers, rather than having to meet a series of prescriptive mandates.

My time in New York and California reminds me that what happens in those states generally does not stay in those states, but can influence policy direction in many other states.

Public power systems across the country should be paying close attention to what is going on in New York and California, to understand exactly what is happening, and glean "lessons learned."

As not-for-profit, community-owned utilities, we should be staying abreast of developments and incorporating new ways to serve our customers when it makes sense to do so. The hardest task is distinguishing between the fads and the trends."