Community Engagement

Small Town Innovation Series: Prioritizing Safety And Reliability Initiatives

In the second 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 prioritizing safety and reliability initiatives.

The first part focused on planning for growth, while the third and final installment of the series will look at deploying new technologies.

Following APPA’s Engineering and Operations Conference in Austin, Texas in late March – where Colin Hansen, CEO and General Manager of the Kansas Power Pool and Chair of APPA’s Board of Directors, highlighted some of the stories featured here this week – we wanted to share how big ideas can come from small places.

Hull, Massachusetts

The Hull Municipal Light Plant serves a small coastal community of just over 10,000 people, located on a peninsula just south of Boston. Hull’s municipal lighting plant (MLP) has been in service since 1894.

Like many MLPs throughout Massachusetts, Hull does not have its own power plant, and relies on two 23kV sub-transmission lines and a 23kV to 13.8kV substation owned by an investor-owned utility to bring power into town.

Because of its unique geographic location, there has been only one route for these supply lines to come into town – the majority of which weaves through heavily wooded areas, swamps, and residential backyards before it reaches the town’s boundaries – where Hull’s two 13.8kV distribution circuits take over.

Unfortunately, the IOU owner had not properly maintained the circa 1930’s lines nor the rights-of-way. As a result, there had been an increased number and duration of outages in recent years. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the town experienced six complete blackouts totaling over 60 hours. The poor conditions of the sub-transmission lines caused the outages. Though outside of Hull’s control, Hull could not sit idly by and leave ratepayers in the dark for extended periods of time. Winter was approaching. All the local shelters were closed due to the pandemic, so the most vulnerable in the community had no place to go to stay warm. Hull’s senior management team convened the light board and came up with the idea of a whole town backup generation system for the winter months. This temporary plan extended from December 1 to March 31. That decision was made the first week of November 2020. A fully installed and tested generation station was to be ready – despite the holidays – by the first week of December 2020.

The best location was an empty parking lot owned by the state that abutted Hull’s two distribution circuits. Hull designed the infrastructure, secured the needed equipment and necessary state permits to use the lot. A four-man line crew then installed the poles, wires and associated equipment, while a vendor brought and set-up five 2 megawatt (MW) generator trailers and transformers to accommodate Hull’s winter peak load of just under 10 MW. A successful live test was performed on December 4, 2020, to commission the project.

In the summer of 2021, Hull’s light board voted to bring the temporary generators back for the 2021 winter months as the shelters were still closed due to the pandemic. This time, Hull experimented with two ideas: 1) automating the process of bringing the generators online when an outage occurs, instead of doing this manually; and 2) setting them up as dual-purpose units for standby and peak shaving. With ISO-New England allowing behind-the-meter generation for peak shaving, Hull is working closely with the generator technical group, and a control consultant, to make this happen. The peak shaving project will benefit Hull’s ratepayers in the form of avoided purchased power costs that will translate into lower rates.

Parallel to this experiment, Hull is looking at ways to bring reliable, resilient power to the town, while keeping the utility in the forefront of innovation. Hull is one of the first, if not the first in the state, to have its own land-based wind turbines, a 660 kW unit installed in 2000, and a 1.8 MW unit installed in 2006. Hull is also exploring installation of underwater transmission cables from generating stations across the bay, grid scale battery storage, renewal of the two wind turbines, and other cutting-edge technologies. 

Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

Located 10 minutes from the western shores of Lake Michigan and mid-way between Milwaukee and Green Bay is Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

The Sheboygan Falls Electric Utility has five (going on six) dedicated utility professionals that serve a 5.4-square mile service area with just over 8,200 residents. 

Two years ago, the team worked on a project to upgrade 25 percent of their customers to 12.470/7200, bringing them up to the level of the rest of the system. 

With this upgrade, the utility has dual feeds for all customers and can now backfeed any customer from any of the four city’s four substations. 

Hatfield Electric Dept., Borough of Hatfield, Pa.

The Borough of Hatfield is a community of 3,290 people across 0.64 square miles in eastern Pennsylvania.

The Borough’s municipal electric system was established in 1930 with the decision to construct a diesel-powered electric generating plant. The Hatfield Electric Department today serves 1,823 meters and reported a 2020 system peak of 4,973 kW.

Hatfield is committed to maintaining its system and continuing to serve its community with reliable electric service.

Recently, the Borough began an Advanced Metering Program which will ultimately allow for greater communication, greater convenience and safety for meter technicians, improved power quality and reliability, enhanced customer service and more accurate billing.

Hatfield is also involved in a Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) Program for behind-the-meter generation to address peak shaving needs and has installed a reclosure system for more reliability. The reclosure system allows Hatfield to get the lights back on quickly for its customers when power outages occur.

Looking forward, the Borough is considering additional programs, including cybersecurity and installing electric vehicle charging stations at the Borough office.


The City of Clewiston, Fla., has upgraded its substation to enhance reliability and reduce outage response times.

The project included replacing obsolete protection system relays and adding a SCADA system with a human machine interface.

This new technology enables utility staff to receive remote, real-time information on the substation’s status.

The Town of Havana, Fla., which serves about 1,500 electric customers, installed 13 single-phase lateral reclosers as part of an APPA research and development project. In the first year following the installation, the reclosers reduced the frequency of outages by 10% as measured by the SAIFI index. The results showed that targeting efforts on just a few poorly performing laterals can yield significant improvements in system reliability in a cost-effective manner. 

Linework ranks among the most hazardous jobs in the U.S. It’s serious work that takes rigorous training and tests the limits of the nearly 80,000 men and women. Most large utilities provide some type of safety training. However, many small utilities don’t or think they can’t provide a safety program, due to their size or the cost.

Nearly 15 years ago, the Florida Municipal Power Agency formed a Lineworker Safety Program to provide Florida public power utilities of all sizes access to quality training.

By working together, the utilities get affordable training through economies of scale in the number of participants and topics to consider. The program was reformatted in 2021 and grew 29% to include 22 utilities.

Twelve of Florida’s fourteen utilities with 5,000 meters or less participate in the program.