Missouri public power utility Kirkwood Electric has a lot on its plate these days when it comes to projects that will benefit the utility and its customers including an outage management system, said Mark Petty, Electric Director for Kirkwood Electric, in a recent interview with Public Power Current.
Petty, who has been in his current position at Kirkwood Electric for 16 years, said that the outage management system involves “putting all the pieces together,” including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) that will detail where outages are occurring in real time.
“We want to combine that with GIS and have a system operator dashboard that gives us this ability to have an operations center” that will provide analytics to help with the dispatching of resources and crews, Petty said.
The outage management system project is a “big deal for us,” he said.
Petty underscored the importance of having a load flow circuit analysis program. Utilities need to have a strong handle on load flows, he said. Petty noted, for example, that with the growth of electric vehicles “and people charging at home,” utilities will see a change in load profiles.
Petty also noted that the utility is taking a closer look at energy storage.
Kirkwood Electric is going to try and take some lessons learned from a storage project at City Utilities of Springfield, Mo., a fellow public power utility.
“We have a one-megawatt project that we’re talking about doing at a substation,” he said. The utility wants to “program the inverter and take a look at how things are going to perform because all we really” have to do is “get a trailer full of batteries and put that thing in there.” The utility plans to have the storage project in its capital program and “over the next couple of years we’ll take a look at when we can get that built and put in.”
In the area of financing, the utility plans to issue a bond in April. “This is a great time to borrow money,” Petty said. “I think that for utilities that have been gauging whether or not this is a good time to do some modernization of your distribution systems and reduce losses and improve reliability…this is a good time to think about borrowing some money” with the low interest rate environment.
Proceeds from the bond issuance are expected to be $15 million over 20 years and will be used for distribution system improvements including overhauling a substation, as well as the outage management system.
Petty also noted that Kirkwood Electric has a workforce plan because the utility wants to keep an eye on staffing and creating positions such as the system operator.
The utility has been “looking at this whole idea about COVID causing a lot of resignations and trying to continue to be a competitive employer of choice,” Petty said.
As an offshoot of this effort, Kirkwood Electric is moving to a defined benefits plan that Petty thinks will attract some people to work at the utility.
Petty also discussed what public power utilities can do to take a more modern approach to managing reliability.
“You’ve got to be a smart utility,” he said. “You’ve got to have that AMI system that gives you the information real time on your outages and then helps you to fold that in for your analytics later on. You’ve got to have a GIS system.”
Moreover, utilities need to “train your people to be able to use the analytics or the information. You get to those things -- I think today that means you’ve been able to pivot from being reactive to starting to be analytical and it certainly helps during outages.”
Kirkwood Electric has been designated as a Reliable Public Power (RP3) provider by the American Public Power Association (APPA).
The RP3 program recognizes utilities that demonstrate high proficiency in reliability, safety, workforce development, and system improvement.
Meanwhile, Petty was asked to detail what he sees as the biggest challenges facing the electricity sector over the next five to 10 years and how Kirkwood Electric is preparing to meet these challenges.
He said that the “the regulatory game is always one of those things that can throw you a loop or two, depending on the way the customers are thinking or the way the legislators are thinking. You always have these things that can come from left field from the regulatory game -- you always have to be involved and at the table so that you’re not on the menu with that.”
In addition, energy markets are also a challenge “and they continually evolve. Some of their rules for capacity or for the way that they’re dealing with some market pricing are continuing to evolve,” he noted.
Kirkwood Electric is a market participant in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, with Petty noting that “We have good representation at the table through our joint action agency.”
Regulatory and market issues “are probably the biggest challenges,” he said.
Petty said that regardless of the particular challenge that Kirkwood Electric may face, APPA and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance are valuable partners for the utility in terms of helping to navigate those challenges.
Additional information about the utility is available here.