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Columbus Division of Power officials detail efforts tied to smart city initiative

Top officials with the Columbus, Ohio, Division of Power recently detailed how the division is working to implement projects tied to a unique smart city initiative underway in Columbus.

Patricia Austin, the Columbus Division of Power's administrator, and Kristian Fenner, the division's assistant administrator, spoke with APPA on Dec. 6. The Columbus Division of Power is part of the city's Department of Public Utilities.

In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a federal grant, the "Smart City Challenge," to award $40 million to a single U.S. city to implement new technologies and innovative techniques to improve its transportation system.

The Department of Transportation selected Columbus and the surrounding area as the winner on June 23. The city's winning smart city challenge initiative is referred to as "Smart Columbus."

In addition to the $40 million in federal funding, Vulcan Inc., a company founded by investor and philanthropist Paul Allen, pledged an additional $10 million in funding to support decarbonization efforts by the selected city.

Prior to joining the division of power, Austin played a central role in the city's grant efforts tied to the Smart City Challenge.

Initiatives under the broader Smart Columbus project include decarbonization, fleet electric vehicle adoption, consumer electric vehicle adoption and charging infrastructure, Fenner noted.

Austin and Fenner are part of the decarbonization and charging infrastructure teams "and we're working with the partners and core team members on implementing all the various goals that we have for those two specific teams," Fenner noted.

"As far as the city of Columbus, we have various projects that we have committed towards this smart city challenge," she said.

Fenner noted because the division is not a generator of electricity it purchases power and starting in 2018, "we have a requirement that 20 percent of the power comes green renewable resources. And then we also have an option for our customers to purchase or to spend a premium so that they can help buy RECs [renewable energy credits] for green power as well," she said.

The division also buys power from a generator in Columbus that has a bio-waste project.

As part of the smart city effort, "we're going to work on a marketing plan for those green energy projects to help to build awareness and also increase our customer participation" in a green EcoSmart program "and also to hopefully gain some momentum in how important it is for us to have a diverse portfolio of energy," Fenner said.

The Columbus Division of Power has added an EcoSmart Choice Green Pricing Program option for its customers.

This green pricing program funds the purchase of renewable energy certificates and retirement of non-renewable energy certificates through American Municipal Power.

For each REC purchased and used by the electric utility for the green pricing program, one MWh of traditional non-renewable electric generation is offset. Residential customers can offset up to 100 percent of their electric usage with renewable energy for an additional 0.5 cents per kWh.

Commercial and industrial customers can offset a portion of their electric usage through the purchase of blocks of RECs with each block equal to 1,000 kWh (1MWh) and available for $5.00 per block.

Meanwhile, Fenner noted that the division of power will partner with investor-owned utility American Electric Power on redesigning the five-megawatt O'Shaughnessy hydro plant near Columbus in order to make sure it "works fully in the near future." She said there are some issues with the turbines working properly at the hydro facility.

"We're also working on some LED light conversion projects," the Columbus Division of Power official said in the interview.

Fenner noted that some of the projects were already underway prior to the smart city effort. An example is the 20 percent renewable energy purchase initiative "because we do long term contracts," she said.

Other projects, such as electric vehicle charging stations and fleet conversion in the city, are specifically tied to grant funding, Fenner said.

Austin noted that most of the division of power's projects will be tracked and monitored under funds from Vulcan. Vulcan has indicated that it wants the grant to be seed money to boost the value of projects. She said that a lot of the funds will go towards studies and the management of the grant.

The division is seeking $180,000 of funding to pay for the first year of green purchased power, Austin said.

AEP Ohio proposal tied to Smart Columbus includes microgrids, EV charging

As part of Columbus's winning smart city challenge application, AEP Ohio agreed to partner with the city and surrounding communities to support the proposed Smart Columbus initiatives.

AEP Ohio is proposing to install up to 10 microgrids and deploy electric vehicle charging stations as part of a broader proposal that the subsidiary of AEP recently submitted to Ohio utility regulators.

AEP Ohio in a Nov. 28 news release noted that it recently filed a proposal with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to extend its current electric security plan, with modifications, through May 2024. The electric security plan would otherwise expire in May 2018.

AEP Ohio said that the proposal would continue the utility's investments to improve customer service and reliability "including proactive replacement of aging equipment and aggressive tree trimming and vegetation management programs to reduce outages."

The plan also will add new, smart technologies to AEP Ohio's energy distribution network including microgrids to supply uninterrupted power to critical public safety infrastructure, EV charging stations and smart street lighting systems to support the Smart Columbus effort in Franklin and 10 surrounding counties in the state.

Coordination with AEP

Austin noted that the Columbus Division of Power has been coordinating its efforts with the investor-owned utility.

She noted there are several committees tied to the Vulcan grant including EV charging and a second one that is addressing decarbonization of the grid and energy savings.

Austin chairs the EV charging and decarbonization committees. "I co-chair those both with a representative of AEP, so we are talking constantly about these issues," Austin said.

"For example, we are looking at AMI and smart metering for infrastructure," and AEP is also looking at AMI for its Columbus customers. "So we're both doing that together," Austin said.

"We're looking at smart street lighting. They're looking at smart street lighting," Austin went on to say. "So we're working together on a lot of those initiatives," she said in the interview.

"We're coordinating together for the EV charging station standards and models on how we'll implement it throughout the city as well," Fenner said.

Austin noted that the Columbus Division of Power and AEP's service areas overlap. "We don't have an exclusive service area in the city of Columbus. So we compete for all of our customers with AEP," she explained.

In areas of the city where there is a Columbus Division of Power electricity presence, there is also an AEP presence. "Our area is about two-thirds of the city. Obviously, AEP covers the entire city, so we're together in pretty much everything we do," Austin said.

AEP Ohio official details plans

AEP Ohio's filing at the PUCO included prepared testimony from Scott Osterholt, director of distribution risk and project management at the utility.

In his testimony, Osterholt describes AEP Ohio's proposed distribution technology investment plan, which is part of the broader electric security plan proposal.

The AEP Ohio official said that the proposed distribution technology investment plan involves three initiatives: (1) installation of EV charging stations, microgrids, and smart lighting controls in conjunction with Smart Columbus; (2) deployment of a next generation utility communication system and (3) enhancement of the physical security of AEP Ohio's critical distribution infrastructure.

AEP Ohio is proposing that aspects of the distribution technology investment plan be deployed in phases.

AEP Ohio is proposing a phase one deployment of several of the technologies to be deployed in conjunction with Smart Columbus – specifically, EV charging stations, microgrids, smart lighting controls, and security infrastructure.

AEP Ohio expects to make a later filing for a phase two deployment of these technologies that builds on the company's experience in the first phase.

AEP Ohio proposes to install microgrids over four-year period

AEP Ohio is proposing to install 8-10 microgrids over a four-year period. "Although the exact specifications of each microgrid must be determined by the particular characteristics of the load to be served, AEP Ohio anticipates that a typical microgrid will consist of smart controls, a battery storage system, and a small-scale photovoltaic (i.e., solar) generation system sized to meet the load requirements," Osterholt said in his testimony.

AEP Ohio may also allow customers on the microgrid to choose to have a company-owned generator connected to the microgrid, although this would be a customer option that the company would expect the customer to pay for.

Installation of ten microgrid systems over a four-year period would involve a total capital cost of just under $52 million, while ongoing O&M expenses would be approxmateily $1.5 million annually at full deployment.

The utility envisions the proposed microgrid deployment as a demonstration project designed to prove the benefits of microgrids and help the company gain experience with microgrid planning, installation, and operations.

"AEP Ohio hopes that this initial demonstration project will create the blueprint for additional, larger-scale microgrid deployment to be proposed in a later proceeding," Osterholt said.

Columbus Division of Power wants to learn from AEP microgrid experience

To date, the Columbus Division of Power has not considered the development of microgrids, Austin said.

"We're really excited to see AEP's implementation of microgrids so we can learn from them," she told APPA.

AEP is "picking sites within the city, so we will be able to learn from their experience with microgrids," Austin went on to say.