Public Power Week in the village
- Published: October 9, 2012
This week is Public Power Week, a country-wide program in its 26th year that celebrates the importance of public power to local citizens. In recognition of Public Power Week, the Village of Yellow Springs has released an outline that enumerates the things the community has to be proud of as a public power community:
The Village owns and operates a municipal electric system, literally giving “power to the people,”’ in terms of one of the most important aspects of village life – electricity to power homes and businesses.
Reliability is a critically important characteristic of an electric system. When the power is out, village life is interrupted and commerce comes to a standstill. Unfortunately, realities like severe weather make electric outages a fact of life, but in the public power community, employees dedicated solely to working in the community make these outages shorter: the Village team can focus on getting the lights back on in the community, rather than needing to prioritize a larger area. Additionally, when significant events cause widespread outages, Yellow Springs has access to a mutual aid network coordinated by American Municipal Power, or AMP, which provides help from other public power communities to shorten outages. Last summer, when severe thunderstorms caused widespread outages throughout the Midwest, public power customers were returned to service much more quickly than those of other electric utility providers.
A common adage of any age is, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That advice is critically important in terms of an electric distribution system. For many years, there was the ability to obtain long-term, fixed-price contracts for power, but those opportunities disappeared with the advent of restructured electric markets. This left the community overexposed to a volatile market. To maintain its ability to provide reliable, cost-competitive power, Yellow Springs needed to develop a diversified power supply portfolio that includes participation in fixed-price generation assets and short-term market purchases. This combination allows the community to respond to market fluctuations, without being overexposed to upward swings. Through its partnership with AMP, Yellow Springs has the opportunity to participate in projects utilizing coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, wind and landfill gas. The community makes the decision as to what projects make the most sense for its utility. The following are some of the AMP generation projects that help diversify the community’s power supply portfolio, in which Yellow Springs is either a power purchaser or part owner:
Fremont Energy Center
The AMP Fremont Energy center is a state-of-the-art natural gas combined cycle plant that has a good environmental profile and represents a valuable component to participating communities’ power supply portfolios. A combined cycle plant uses natural gas to generate electricity with a gas turbine and then captures the heat to create steam, generating additional electricity via a steam turbine. This allows the facility to create more electricity with the same amount of gas when compared to a simple cycle plant, thus increasing efficiency. The facility also has the ability to provide additional power when needed when temperatures or other factors increase demand for power. The Fremont Energy Center began commercial operation in January 2012 and has outperformed projections. The high temperatures of this past summer, combined with the availability of low-cost natural gas, increased the value of this resource.
AMP Hydroelectric Projects
AMP currently has four hydroelectric plants under construction at existing dams on the Ohio River. The projects are run-of-the-river plants, which mean they will simply divert a portion of the water already flowing through the dam, using that water to drive large turbines and generators to produce electricity. This type of technology minimizes the environmental impact of the facilities. The projects are fully financed through AMP at attractive rates and the first facility will begin commercial operation in 2014. Hydroelectric is an important component of a long-term power supply strategy because it provides insulation from future carbon/environmental regulations and is not subject to volatility of fuel markets.
AMP launched the Efficiency $mart program in January of 2011. The program encourages residential, business and industrial customers to adopt cost-effective energy efficiency services that provide reliable and verifiable cost savings. The program’s goal is to cumulatively save 78,000 megawatt-hours for participating utilities by the end of the three-year contract. Yellow Springs residents can learn more about Efficiency $mart rebates at www.efficiencysmart.org. On Nov. 14 and 15, the Utility Billing Office will be giving away two free compact fluorescent light bulbs per village customer, courtesy of Efficiency Smart.
AMP has arranged purchase power agreements with members for the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding Counties, Ohio. The Village is participating in this Power Purchase opportunity.
Purchase power agreements for energy generated at landfill gas facilities. These facilities capture the methane gas created at landfills and use it to generate electricity.
Solar – “Behind the Meter” and Utility Grade
Behind the Meter solar power is solar power generation capacity, by way of photovoltaic cells, that landowners install on their property, usually near a residence or on the roof. This power allows them to reduce the amount they need to purchase from the Village, thus lowering their costs. At peak times, these systems often put power “back into the grid” and are sold to the Village in one of a few different ways. The Village encourages private landowners to install solar power production equipment as it reduces the community’s peak energy needs along with the other financial and environmental benefits it provides. The Village continues to gather information and evaluate opportunities for the installation of a larger solar facility. Technology and financing of such facilities is constantly changing, and when conditions are right, the Village will take the opportunity to develop a larger scale project, one to three megawatts, that fits in with the rest of its power portfolio.
As a municipal utility, the Village is able to take a long-term approach to power supply planning. Since the community does not have to pay quarterly dividends to investors, it can plan for the future and take advantage of strategies and assets that will stabilize the Village’s portfolio and rates for generations to come. The stability and predictability allows Yellow Springs to control its own destiny.
The public power utility is an important economic development tool for the community. In public power communities, the utility and the local government are one and the same. A business owner can speak with one voice about water, sewer, electric services, tax rates, etc. This helps identify matters that might become an issue, and also provides an opportunity to share information on behalf of the community that the business, or prospective business, may not have considered.
The Village of Yellow Springs Council and staff thank the community for supporting locally-controlled electric service and have provided this information in celebration of Public Power Week. For questions about electric service or for assistance with solar interconnections, contact Kelley Fox, electric department supervisor, at 767-8649.