The Power Industry Is Transforming, One Municipal Utility Offers a Case in Point

POWER-GEN International kicked off on December 4 with a keynote presentation focused on evolving power generation schemes and changing business models.

Gregory Lee, commission president with Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), the municipally owned public utility that provides water and electric service to Orlando, Florida, and portions of other nearby areas, opened the conference by providing details of how OUC’s energy mix has evolved.

“We pride ourselves in our unique ability to effectively balance reliability, affordability, and sustainability,” Lee said. “And our fuel diversity has enabled us to do that very well.”

Solar and Other Alternatives

Lee pointed to OUC’s flagship plant, the Stanton Energy Center in east Orlando, as a shining example of that diversity. “At that site, we’re powering our customers with solar, landfill gas, natural gas, and coal,” he said. But, Lee noted, OUC is not done changing. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has committed to powering the city using 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“Power generation in 10, 15, and 20 years will look vastly different than it did just a decade ago,” said Lee. “And at OUC, we’re well on our way to meeting these renewable demands and seeking new sources of revenue to ensure we maintain our footing in this changing tide.”

Adding solar capacity requires significant investments, and for a municipal utility, Lee said that can be daunting. To ease the burden, OUC entered into a joint agreement with 11 other Florida municipalities to construct three new solar farms by 2020. OUC will serve as the largest tenant of the project, securing 109 MW of the 225-MW total.

“We know our customers are interested in solar, and we want to make sure OUC is top-of-mind during their research,” said Lee.

In July, the utility launched a program—called OUCollective Solar—that makes it easier and cheaper for residential electric consumers to install rooftop solar panels. Customers can schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an energy advisor, and receive a comprehensive solar suitability analysis with a 3-D system design and three competitive quotes for their properties. Additionally, homeowners can add a hurricane resiliency package, including a battery back-up system that provides electricity during outages.

“We work every day to adopt clean technologies to enhance [our customers’] experience, and we’re excited to make rooftop solar more accessible and affordable in our community,” OUC Chief Customer Officer Linda Ferrone said in a press release unveiling the program.

Lee said OUC also offers a community solar program for customers “who rent, live in shaded areas, or simply don’t want the hassle or cost of installing their own solar panels.” The option lets customers elect to power up to 100% of their usage from energy produced at the Stanton Energy Center’s solar farms.

Meanwhile, OUC has utilized landfill gas to offset about 44,000 tons of coal each year since 1998, and the utility is a big supporter of electric vehicle (EV) adoption. “You’re seeing more and more plug-in vehicles on the road, and we’re betting on this growing exponentially in the coming years,” Lee said. “I’m proud to say this area has some of the best EV infrastructure in the country—light-years ahead of most communities—and Orlando is among the top 10 cities in the nation for EV readiness.”

New Revenue Streams

According to a video Lee showed during his presentation, OUC and its second-largest commercial customer—the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority—agreed to a landmark deal that goes beyond traditional water and electric services. As part of the pact, OUC will provide 14,000 tons of chilled water service and up to 24 MW of backup generation. It will also manage the facility’s 12.4-kV emergency distribution services; and install, operate, and maintain 67 electric vehicle charging stations, and an on-site solar energy array at the Orlando International Airport

In 2009, OUC began laying the foundation for a smarter grid with advanced digital metering. Now, it’s partnering with developers and the City of Orlando to add smart technologies to a redevelopment project in an area known as the Packing District. The vision is for the 109.3-acre area, formerly part of a citrus growing and packing operation, to be turned into a unique, urban, mixed-use place that utilizes both new construction and adaptive reuse of industrial buildings for a range of residential, commercial, employment, food and beverage, and entertainment uses.

Furthermore, the OUConvenient Lighting team is working with the city to pilot smart street lighting at five locations and testing new technology including environmental monitoring, parking and traffic analytics, gunshot detection, video surveillance, and Wi-Fi controllability and connectivity. OUC recognizes that finding new ways to electrify its territory is key to the utility’s continued success.

“While we’re gathering the data and trying to understand the trends, there’s one thing we can be certain of, the electric industry we see today will not look the same a decade from now. The future includes a much larger focus on sustainability and a customer base more in touch with how they get their power not just how much it costs,” Lee concluded.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).