In the final part of the American Public Power Association’s (APPA) latest three-part Public Power Current newsletter series focused on small town innovation, we focus on deploying new technologies.
Part one and two of the series looked at prioritizing safety and reliability initiatives and planning for growth.
The Groton Electric Light Department (GELD), serving a town of 11,000 people northwest of Boston, uses GIS data for tracking and managing their system down to the individual meter or pole level. They are proud to showcase their grid modernization efforts. Their general manager, Kevin Kelly, is a self-proclaimed “technology geek,” which led to GELD having one of the most sophisticated and technically up-to-date electric utility infrastructures in Massachusetts. He can sit at his desk and watch electricity flowing from every part of the system, right down to the meter attached to a resident’s house. This allows GELD to employ sophisticated network management techniques, such as creating perfectly balanced “subnets” in Groton, which can be mixed and matched during an outage to keep electricity flowing to as many customers as possible. These automation systems were implemented largely by Kelly himself at a significantly lower cost than other systems in the state. The Groton system cost approximately $150 per meter. A similar system under construction nearby by a private electric company is rumored to cost over $2,000 per meter.
GELD is a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, a non-profit public corporation and political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which counts 20 Massachusetts municipal utilities as members.
Independence Light & Power, Telecommunications (ILPT) serves 3,200 customers in a town of 6,000 people located approximately 130 miles northeast of Des Moines, Iowa. The utility has made it a priority to deliver the conveniences and services customers now expect while adding operational efficiencies to its system. In recent years, they have implemented a suite of technology tools including GIS mapping, and SCADA controlled substation, and distribution system equipment. These improvements provide immediate notice to ILPT about electric system performance and customer outages, helping the utility identify possible issues and reroute and restore power quickly during outage events.
ILPT continued its technology improvements with support from its member-owned wholesale power supplier and joint action agency, which serves 51 locally owned electric utilities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan. In 2019, ILPT modernized its customer information and billing system by converting to NorthStar. This gave the utility access to operational modules to help field staff and office staff better coordinate their work. With support from WPPI’s rates and billing staff, the utility’s use of NorthStar also enables regular checks to verify rate tariff compliance for all accounts. In addition to electric service, ILPT provides customers with cable, internet, and phone service, and it also bills for city-operated water, sewer, and garbage service. Integrating all these services into Northstar was essential to the successful implementation that WPPI worked to support.
In 2020, ILPT implemented advanced metering for all electric and water customers. Data is read, validated, and stored by WPPI’s shared meter data management system. The conversion enhanced efficiency, accuracy, and labor savings for functions like meter reading and disconnects/reconnect, and the meter data also helps the utility ensure accurate cost allocation for rate setting purposes.
Recently, the utility launched its “MyAccount” portal making it easier for customers to view their energy usage data and do business with the utility online. Now, ILPT is launching a mobile app to make customer access even more convenient.
The Zeeland Board of Public Works (BPW) serves a town of nearly 6,000 people about 25 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The utility is upgrading existing electric meters in its service area with new advanced meters as part of their commitment to provide quality service and reliability to customers.
“The usage information these meters provide will enable us to improve our distribution system. Right now, we get a big picture view of where energy is being used, but with advanced meters, we will receive more detailed load and energy consumption information.” said Tracey DeKraker, Zeeland BPW’s Electric Transmission & Distribution Manager.
Installations began earlier this year. The project comes in conjunction with the MyMeter customer portal the utility launched last fall. “Customers who have already registered for their MyMeter portal will see more detailed information after their advanced meter is installed.” said Andrew Boatright, General Manager of Zeeland BPW. “Access to monitor hourly usage in the MyMeter portal will give our customers more control by being able to adjust their consumption mid billing cycle.” The installation of advanced electric meters will take several months to complete.
This investment in innovative technology paves the way toward electric customers receiving even more benefits. “Providing advanced electric meters and the MyMeter portal at no additional cost to our customers was important to us.” Boatright said. “As a public power utility, reliability, quality, and savings are what we strive to provide for our customers. Advanced Metering Infrastructure is really the next step needed.”
Keeping up with new technology can be difficult for a small utility like Adrian Public Utilities (APU). The small town of 1,000 people in southwest Minnesota has only 651 meters and a total staff of six. As utility commissioner David Edwards said, “Any time you talk that kind of money in a small town, you get a bit weak in the knees.”
However, the utility knew that making the jump to new technology can help reduce risk and protect revenue in the rapidly changing electric industry. Installing advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, meant the staff would be able to monitor and record electric use remotely and in almost real-time, which in turn would allow APU to become more efficient, and provide more accurate billings and better customer service. Customers are now able to access account information and options through a customer portal.
Adrian invested the money in AMI because they saw it as another means of serving the community and preparing to give their customers an opportunity to take advantage of low-cost power through time-of-use rates, which will be available in 2023 through Missouri River Energy Services (MRES), Adrian’s power provider. Eventually, that will save the utility money too.
“The MRES arrangement with Allegiant Utility Services allows small utilities like Adrian to deploy AMI very quickly,” Lingen says. “That means they’ll soon start seeing benefits and savings along with utilizing that AMI data for time-of-use billing in the near future.”
Edwards agrees, advising other utilities to explore the smart grid services MRES provides.
“It really does make the whole process much easier, especially if you’re like us where at most we have a staff of six people,” says Edwards, who also believes the new technology will help make APU staff more efficient. “The two-way communication platform of AMI-enabled meters means our staff will be able to monitor and record electric use remotely using a computer, which will save time and improve customer service. We’re also now in a position to pass along cost savings to our customers when time-of-use rates are introduced in a couple years.”
Lingen added that APU, which is currently enrolled in Missouri River’s hosted AMI service, also intends to implement the MRES-hosted Customer Demand Response (CDR) program, which is designed to limit charges that drive up electrical costs during peak demand once AMI deployment is complete.
“The benefits of having both AMI and CDR on one platform, with MRES hosting the software, maintaining the server, doing updates, providing support and more, are the main reasons utilities of similar size could benefit from being on our hosted programs,” Lingen says. “Adrian is a fantastic success story that shows smaller-sized members can affordably modernize and deploy technology by being a part of the MRES-hosted services.”
AMI sets the utility up for other smart grid services as well, such as outage management and distribution system analytics, and it uses the same communications equipment as Adrian’s current load-management system. MRES hosts each of these technologies for Adrian, which enables cost savings and operational support for the utility.
In 2019, the municipal utility serving 7,000 people in Newberry, Florida, committed to implementing an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system throughout its service territory. The city partnered with the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) to map its existing procedures that would be impacted by the AMI system. Newberry then utilized the joint action agency’s master service agreement with Quanta Technology, LLC, to provide counsel throughout the process, including evaluating vendor proposals. Quanta also guided city management in establishing smart grid priorities that ensured current and future needs could be met.
The similarly sized small communities of Clewiston, west of West Palm Beach in southern Florida, Green Cove Springs, south of Jacksonville in northeast Florida, and Wauchula, southeast of Tampa in central Florida, recently replaced old communication equipment with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. These modernized communication technologies utilized FMPA’s master service agreements. By modernizing the technology, the utilities can communicate remotely with their systems and receive automated alerts when issues occur.