At the American Public Power Association (APPA) Public Power Expo in June in Minneapolis, Energy Times gathered together four of the country’s leading lights in public power for a roundtable discussion on issues facing not only public power, but all electric utilities today and in the future. What follows are their ideas and commentary, edited for style and length.The discussion was sponsored by Burns & McDonnell.
Participating were Sue Kelly, American Public Power Association president and chief executive officer; Doug Hunter, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems chief executive officer and general manager; Scott Miller, City Utilities of Springfield general manager; and Decosta Jenkins, Nashville Electric Services president and chief executive officer.
The Energy Times: What is your take on the growth in microgrids and distributed generation?
Scott Miller: To me, this is a freedom issue of our customers. Over time they’ve wanted options but there have not been good technology options. We will see distributed generation, we’ll see microgrids. The cost will continue to come down. Will they ever be the lowest cost option? I don’t know, maybe. Is it the final solution? My guess is there are going to be some people that jump in a fairly large scale that really don’t know how to run a utility and they’re going to find out quickly that there’s more to it than just installing equipment. So the local utility is going to have to be there to bail them out. But some of those stories probably need to happen for people to understand it’s not the final solution, it’s just part of the generating solutions we have out there. I don’t think we should fear it as much as make sure that we educate our customers.
Doug Hunter: It is much more difficult to deal with producing and distributing your own generation than people think. It’s not like getting on the web and ordering food, and it’s not just having somebody install a panel on your roof. It’s dangerous. One of the reasons we’re here as utilities – some over 100 years old — is because people wanted this great thing called electricity but they didn’t want to do it themselves. We already have the microgrids. This is going to happen, it’s happening. It’s price driven.
Decosta Jenkins: We’ve got to do a better job of communicating with our customers. The customer doesn’t need to understand open transition switching. We’ve got to explain to them what role we can play to facilitate what it is they’re trying to accomplish. We’ve got to find out exactly what they want and then we’ve got to put the infrastructure in place to provide it for them.
Sue Kelly: We did microgrids 100 years ago. That’s how public power in many small towns and cities got its start. We built our own grid because nobody else was doing it for us. We are already organized at the community level. We’re very well situated to build on that platform to do the 21st century equivalent of microgrids. A number of our members that are already doing it.