The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides a huge opportunity for public power utilities, and the American Public Power Association (APPA) is working hard to ensure that its members are able to take full advantage of funding opportunities flowing from the ILJA, said Joy Ditto, President and CEO of APPA on July 25.
Ditto made her comments at an event held by Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (REEE) Caucuses in Washington, D.C., while participating on a panel that focused on the IIIJA.
“The IIJA is a huge opportunity for public power and, I would venture to say, the entire sector,” she said.
The law helps public power utilities and, in particular, many smaller public power utilities, “to really build on what they’ve already done and to meet” clean energy needs and address climate change.
“There is, however, some concern with some of these smaller entities about how they manage even accessing some of these funds because they are small businesses basically,” Ditto said.
Therefore, a lot of APPA’s current focus is “enabling our members to interface with the federal government, giving them resources to access the funds as they become available” and to make sure that as funds become available public power utilities are eligible.
As the legislation was being crafted, APPA worked hard to define public power. “Even though we’re affiliated with municipalities in many cases and all our utilities are public, in some cases we look more like a rural electric cooperative in terms of our service territory…so we have to define ourselves very specifically. We want to make sure those definitions hold as funds are made available and that’s some of our work that we do at APPA as well.”
Ditto noted that public power utilities are closely tied to what their community needs are. “We can be very nimble, and we can deploy resources that have an immediate impact on the communities that we serve.”
Public power already has a proven track record in this regard, she pointed out, citing community solar and small wind energy projects as examples.
“We’ve done this already, but now as we accept some of these funds, we can be even more innovative. We can take advantage of newer technologies or build on those existing technologies to really meet the needs of our communities and we look forward to doing that,’ she said.
When asked to discuss her vision for public power in 2030, Ditto underscored the ongoing need for the electric sector to focus on affordable and reliable energy. APPA and public power communities “recognize sometimes this clean energy transition is going to be more expensive. It’s why the IIJA is so important because it helps defray some of that expense,” Ditto said.
Public power’s concern is that “if we see reliability suffer, we might have to take a step back from driving toward” a clear energy future “because people will start to get a little bit worried about what that means, so we have to keep those things front of mind” as the transition continues with new technologies.
By 2030, Ditto envisions public power having effectively managed the transition “and that we’ve moved forward to enable some of these new technologies – maybe we’re farther along with hydrogen. We have additional hydropower technologies we are looking at. We have things like small modular reactors.”
But the power sector can’t discard baseload power as part of the future energy mix, she said. “We need to have some type of electricity that you can produce 24, seven,” throughout the year. “That has to be there or else we’re going to have reliability concerns.”
She said that “we need to enhance that reliability, particularly on the green side.
Click here for resources and opportunities for public power tied to the IIJA curated by APPA.