Grid Modernization

Planning in Uncertain Times

Utilities do a lot of looking into the future — and past — to carefully plot out their paths forward. From securing a reliable power supply to building resilient systems and ensuring sound financing and rates, utilities are often looking at how decisions today will affect generations tomorrow.

This kind of long-term view is made easier when there are clear solutions and choices. However, today’s challenges — from a strained supply chain to changing regulations and emerging extreme weather patterns — provide little clarity. All this uncertainty means that predicting the needs — and requirements for tomorrow is all the more difficult.

As exemplified throughout this issue, public power is facing this uncertainty by finding ways to build flexibility and allow for change within the planning process. And there are examples of how the planners of the past have helped paved the way for smoother operations today. Amid prolonged drought facing much of the country, utilities are rethinking the models they use to forecast water levels for the future while continuing to build on robust conservation efforts and technologies to reduce the reliance on water for electricity generation. As energy prices have been volatile, public power has deployed and relied upon a variety of risk management tools, including futures contracts they entered into years ago as a strategy. While many items, including distribution transformers, remain difficult to acquire during the supply chain crisis, utilities have reworked their procurement processes and updated their policies. Deployment of new generating resources has ramped up, adding to the queue for interconnection with transmission. And as market trends and policies increasingly shift favor to greater transportation electrification, utilities are working to understand how to make sure their systems can keep up – and crediting robust energy efficiency efforts in easing the transition.

A common theme that shines through is that utilities are not on their own through this process and in confronting these challenges. In addition to pointing to the American Public Power Association as a resource and convener, the authors and people interviewed for the stories in this issue offered up various tools and sources for help. In particular, as utilities seek support for projects from funding available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the article from Brooke Opel at Baker Tilly offers guidance for helping make the grant writing and submission process go smoothly.  

Many public power providers have enjoyed long-term continuity in their leadership and workforce. As these leaders approach retirement, they have seen the fruits of their past planning efforts and the valuable lessons they have gained along the way. Accordingly, we’re pleased to launch a new recurring feature, Public Power Leaders, that captures some of this wisdom in a Q&A with long-time leaders in public power. See the Q&A with Tom Heller, president and CEO of Missouri River Energy Services.

Within the spirit of planning and inclusion, please let our team know if there is a topic you would like to see covered — or a leader who you think we should profile — in a future issue. We welcome your ideas and feedback on how we can ensure Public Power provides you with useful information — reach our team any time at [email protected]