Community Engagement

Wailes and Ditto detail sustainability achievements of LES, public power

At a recent event held by Lincoln Electric System (LES), Kevin Wailes, Administrator and CEO of LES, and Joy Ditto, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association, detailed the progress that LES and the broader public power community have made when it comes to sustainability.

In their comments on July 22 during a virtual Sustainable Living Festival held by LES, Wailes and Ditto also described specific sustainability-related programs and offerings that the utility and APPA offer to customers and member utilities, respectively.

“When I think about sustainability, I actually do think about public power,” Wailes said, adding that public power has four key elements.

One of those elements is being locally owned and locally governed.

A second element is reliability, with Wailes noting that LES has “some of the highest reliability in the country.”

A third element is affordability. As with reliability, LES has performed extremely well in this area. “We do rate studies every year and that’s another key issue for us and our customers,” Wailes said.

“From an affordability perspective, we have historically been in the top ten to fifteen lowest rates of a hundred cities we looked at all over the country on overall rates,” Wailes said.

The fourth element involves customer engagement, which “reflects back on everything we do.” Whether a discussion involves budgetary matters, environmental programs or resource planning, “we want to engage customers because the key to the locally owned, locally governed part is the fact that we should be reflecting the values of the community and how we operate and plan the utility,” Wailes said.

“That gets back to the sustainability component of what is really key,” he said.

Power supply resources for LES are very diverse

On a nameplate basis, LES has approximately 1,300 megawatts of power supply resources that are “really diverse and that’s one of the things we’re very proud of when we talk about sustainability.”

Those resources are roughly one-third renewables, one-third natural gas and one-third coal.

The renewable energy sources consist of a “wide, diverse group as well,” including wind, solar, hydro power and landfill gas.

“When you look at our resources overall on a combined basis, those resources are in effect across six states serving the city of Lincoln and that provides diversity from several different aspects both with respect to markets as well as reliability and how do we serve the customer,” Wailes said.

Sustainability goes beyond renewables and CO2

When it comes to thinking about sustainability at a utility, what people typically think of is how much renewable energy a utility has in its supply mix and “what kind of carbon output do you have with respect to CO2,” Wailes noted. Those are “the most obvious pieces.”

Since 2016, LES’ energy production from renewable resources is equivalent to 45 percent of its retail sales, , “which is a pretty large amount of renewables.”

At the same time, the utility has reduced its carbon emissions from 2010 to 2019 by 42 percent. Moreover, LES has reduced its carbon intensity by approximately 38 percent.

“It isn’t just CO2 and renewables that make a huge difference when we’re talking about sustainability for utilities,” Wailes said.

He said that there are “a whole bunch of things that roll up” under that that “reflect – in many cases, the quality of life and how responsible we are with those generation resources.”

For example, one of the LES natural gas-fired plants in its footprint uses ice storage “to help augment the power generation so that you can get more power out of it in the summer than you would without the ice. Therefore, you can build a smaller power plant and get more capacity,” he said.

“There’s a lot of innovation that goes into being sustainable even though you may have fossil fuel resources.”

Energy efficiency also comes into play. LES has a sustainable energy program that provides incentives for everything from lighting to high efficiency air conditioning.

“As a part of that program, we also have a peak rewards program,” he noted. The voluntary demand response program is designed to reward customers for reducing electricity use during periods of high demand, while helping the community manage energy more efficiently.

Meanwhile, LES has launched a two-year electric vehicle study “that looks at, for example, what are the charging characteristics, how do people charge,” Wailes said.

The reason that is important is because you want to be able to answer the question of whether it is necessary to put an extensive charging network in the community “or do people charge at home?”

What LES has learned is that most people charge their EVs at home, which in turn changes the perspective on how LES makes sure that it offers the best support possible for that technology.

Decarbonization goal

LES is now at the point of talking about “should we be setting a goal for decarbonization and a lot of that’s been driven because of feedback we’ve gotten from a number of customers saying, yeah, you’ve done a lot of really great things, but you really need to set a goal and put a target out there,” Wailes noted.

A process is now underway “of working with our board, going through all of the issues that impact a goal and impact the utility and our customers because we still have those key parts – not only are we being environmentally responsible, but we have to be reliable and we have to be affordable and we have to look at the long run and make sure that we’re protecting” the interests of all customers “and being flexible while we do it,” he said.

“We expect that that process will take us to in effect setting a goal” sometime around the end of the year, most likely in the October-November timeframe, he said. “That process will also involve public meetings once we come up with the draft goal to make sure that we’re sharing that” and engaging with the community.

Ditto details how APPA helps its members

Ditto said that when it comes to sustainability, APPA offers platforms “for our members to learn from each other,” to set benchmarks and provide analyses of trends in the industry.

“When we think of sustainability, we are undertaking a portfolio of activities here at APPA,” she noted.

APPA offers programs “to help our members understand how they’re benchmarked against each other.”

For example, APPA a couple of years ago created the Smart Energy Provider program, which is a best practices designation for utilities that show commitment to and proficiency in energy efficiency, distributed generation, renewable energy, and environmental initiatives.

Echoing what Wailes said, Ditto went on to say that sustainability is more than just the environmental component and reducing greenhouse gas emissions or other air emissions.

“It’s also about continuing to provide affordable and reliable power,” she said.

For the last 20 years, APPA has offered a certification program called the Reliable Public Power Provider, Ditto noted. The program is based on industry-recognized leading practices in four important disciplines – reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement.

She also highlighted APPA’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) program, which is “focused on smaller utilities so that they can access funds for research and development and innovation in their communities.”

APPA also leverages its activities with other organizations for the benefit of its members.

One example of that is APPA’s partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

APPA and several of its members (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Bonneville Power Administration, Salt River Project and the Tennessee Valley Authority) sponsored EPRI’s “Power for Pollinators” documentary. The film describes how electric power companies can support pollinator conservation while balancing affordable, reliable, and safe electricity.  

Also, several public power utilities are involved with the “Power-in-Pollinators” initiative. Launched in 2017, the initiative is now the largest collaboration for electric power companies to collaborate on pollinator research. Public power utilities involved in the initiative are the New York Power Authority, LADWP, SMUD, SRP, LES, BPA and the Nebraska Public Power District.

In addition, Ditto noted that APPA has developed a number of programs, benchmarks and analysis for its members so that when members are looking at activities around sustainability, APPA is providing resources and guides to help them as they analyze their particular circumstances locally.

APPA offers documents and guides that it has developed over the years “and even more recently that do that.”

In the area of energy efficiency, APPA partnered with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to analyze “our energy efficiency programs over the last couple of decades” and compare them to the rest of the industry, Ditto said.

“We found what we suspected, which is public power is the leader in energy efficiency vis a vis our fellow electric utilities,” she said. A related report is available for download here.

Ditto also noted that there has been an overall power industry decrease in GHG emissions of 25 percent over the 2005-2018 timeframe.

With respect to renewable energy, Ditto pointed out that public power has more hydropower in its generation portfolio than other types of utilities due in part to an ownership model.

“We have a number of hydropower facilities that we own, but we also purchase hydropower from the federal government in the form of the federal power marketing administrations,” Ditto noted. “We have long valued that low-cost hydropower.”

Public power has also been investing in wind and solar generation. In fact, much of public power’s non-hydro power renewables coming online now and on the drawing boards is solar, she said.