Local control over decision making in areas such as renewable energy or reliability offers a key advantage for public power communities, Ursula Schryver, Vice-President of Strategic Member Engagement & Education at the American Public Power Association (APPA), said during a recent event related to public power.
Schryver was joined in the discussion by Maine State Rep. Seth Berry and Darren Springer, General Manager for Vermont’s Burlington Electric Department.
The three participated in a virtual event on public power around the country and lessons learned for Ann Arbor, Mich., whose City Council earlier this year unanimously adopted a resolution initiating a feasibility study for a public power utility.
Schryver said that local decision making “is the overarching tenet of public power.” She noted that communities with public power have local control over “the decisions that they make, how the utility is run, the utility’s priorities, and so that allows the city and the community to set its own priorities,” whether that’s keeping rates low, investing in system upgrades or adding renewable energy to their portfolio.
“More and more, we’re seeing communities that are pursuing the public power option” because of an interest in renewable energy, she said.
At other times, communities have pursued the public power option for other reasons, such as reliability or rates, Schryver noted.
While renewable energy may be the driving force now for communities to pursue public power, “twenty years down the road it may be some other issue that your community is interested in but having the local utility with local governance allows you to” make changes and address the issues that are important to the community, she said.
Schryver also said that public power utilities are in a solid position to address the needs and challenges of the 21st Century.
She said that there a number of public power utilities across the U.S. that are “great examples of utilities that are doing innovative things.”
Public power utilities address the issues that are of importance to their communities and “they have the ability to adapt and change,” she said.
Berry, who has been a key advocate for bringing public power to Maine, said that public power is “a superior business model” if a community wants to achieve 100 percent renewable energy supplies.
He pointed out that two California public power utilities – SMUD and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – are “leading in the race to one hundred percent renewables.”
In Maine, a group called Our Power is working to create a statewide, consumer-owned utility.
Meanwhile, Springer provided an overview of Burlington Electric Department and detailed the utility’s key initiatives that it is pursuing.
Among other things, Springer discussed the City of Burlington’s net zero energy by 2030 goal and provided details on a $20 million net zero energy revenue bond. The bond will allow Burlington Electric Department to continue and expand green stimulus incentives that have helped Burlington residents switch to electric vehicles (EVs) and cold-climate heat pumps.