At the American Public Power Association (APPA) Public Power Expo in June in Minneapolis, The 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.
Energy Times: What is the generation mix in your service territories looking like?
Decosta Jenkins: We work with the Tennessee Valley Authority and TVA has offered the generation partners option, where you can buy a block of renewable power for $4 extra on your bill. We get
some interest in that but not a lot. The real interest is more in distributed generation. People want to be in control. They don’t want to give the utility control to provide them renewables, they want to provide their own renewables – from what we see in Nashville.
Sue Kelly: We see very different things across the country. Different communities have different community values. For example, we have a number of college towns – Burlington, Vermont; Fort Collins, Colorado; Gainesville, Florida – and there you have a customer base that’s much more interested in these kinds of things. One of our cities is the city of Columbia, Missouri. They have a renewable portfolio standard that was done by city referendum. So every community is different. Some of them really care a lot about this; some of them less so – but we as public power have to be responsive to what the people in our community want to know. If they want to know what our power mix is, we tell them; if they say by referendum we want to start doing more renewables, well that’s our job is to make that happen for them. We as an industry need to be able to have all these things in our quiver. Any time you take a power supply source off the table and say you will have no more coal, or there will be more new nuclear, or hydro it makes our job as utilities more difficult to provide reliable, affordable, environmentally responsible power. When people just say coal is bad, you take some options off the table. We need to keep our options open.
Scott Miller: Some people seem to think utilities don’t care about the environment. That is so wrong. In fact, you’re going to find people at utilities who are very passionate about the environment. In our community – we do not have a renewable portfolio standard, but there is an interest. But we’ve also found that when we’ve provided renewable options there’s an interest, but customers don’t necessarily want to pay more for it. Most people assume because it’s renewable it’s free and it shouldn’t cost any more. So that’s an educational challenge. We just put in a 5 megawatt solar farm because we think we can install it cheaper than what can be done on an individual rooftop. We went back to the community and said if you want to sign up for it for 20 years, fine. I thought we were going to sell it out but we haven’t. But it’s still a good thing because there is a portion of our community that wanted that, and they got a chance to sign up for it.
Doug Hunter: I don’t think the customer really cares about coal or nuclear or renewable; What they care about is clean air and clean water. When they hear that coal is dirty they just pick it up. The federal rules that will limit carbon emissions is a game changer in this, and I think it’s got a lot of people concerned. We’ve put together our Carbon Free Power Project. It first consists of energy efficiency and distributed generation, then modular reactors.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series of articles on public power in America. Earlier in The Energy Times: