While the master energy plan for Independence Power & Light had a large focus on power production and supply, specifically how best to do that in the future, some citizens wonder if less consumer demand could be possible – and beneficial.
The Public Utilities Advisory Board, in conjunction with the citizens group Indy Energy, hosted a public hearing Thursday, giving Independence citizens a chance to comment or ask questions after Mark Borgstadt of Burns & McDonnell made a presentation on the master energy plan similar to the one last week to the City Council. Several dozen people attended.
As many city staff and officials anticipated, the master energy plan recommends retiring the 60-year-old natural-gas-fired Blue Valley Power Plant on Truman Road, as there are cheaper alternatives than keeping up a plant that has grown inefficient and is rarely called upon for power production.
The PUAB is able to make recommendations to the City Council on future steps.
The council has no scheduled timetable for voting on the issues, though it did direct the city manager to begin the request for proposal process for finding potential energy replacement sources.
The fully detailed version of the master energy plan is scheduled to be delivered Friday to IPL for review.
IPL's membership in the regional Southwest Power Pool allows it buy wholesale power at the best price, but it must maintain 340 megawatts of capacity – it's all-time peak usage plus a 12-percent cushion. But take Blue Valley's 98 megawatts out and IPL would need to find 58 megawatts elsewhere. Off-system alternatives generally are cheaper than constructing new generation capacity.
But reduce demand through energy efficiency, and IPL could perhaps lower its peak demand – and by extension how much energy capacity it must maintain. Some Indy Energy members thought the master plan could have addressed that more.
“The whole the energy-efficiency thing needs to be looked at more; it does deserve a lot more discussion,” PUAB member Garland Land said.
While the master plan notes an increased ownership in the Dogwood gas-fired plant in Pleasant Hill appears to be the most economical option, Brent Schondelmeyer of Indy Energy suggested a smaller increase in Dogwood and increasing wind power purchases.
Land said investing in storage batteries could be considered, if technology makes it more cost-effective, to help replace Blue Valley power and augment the existing solar farm.
One citizen, Dan Sunderland, questioned if Blue Valley needed to be an “either-or, all-or-nothing” scenario, that perhaps it might be better to fix up at least part of Blue Valley, a known commodity, than wading too much into projections elsewhere.
“We don't know what the we don't know is,” he said.
Noting the costs of transmission upgrades to maintain its current transmission reliability level, depending on various retirements with Blue Valley and combustion turbines, PUAB member Mark McDonald said he would have liked to see a comparison with other municipal utilities.
When McDonald asked how the recommendations would affect ratepayers, Borgstadt said the master energy plan will flow into the cost-of-service study due later in the fall – and also being done by Burns & McDonnell.
PUAB Member Gerry Adkins said he wondered if the study had been worth it, that he had seen a lot of information – much of it he believed to be similar to a master energy plan in 2011 – but saw no definite steps going forward.
“I've studied and studied, I'm ready to take the test, and I don't have a test before me,” Adkins said. “I'm not sure we have a master plan.”
Borgstadt said the plan provides some initial steps with multiple scenarios and that the full, in-depth master plan will also help.
“To say 100 percent what you should do, we can't do that,” he said.
Jack Looney, PUAB chairperson, said that whatever decisions the city makes in the near future, it should try to avoid potentially larger issues in the long term. He added that right now, running Blue Valley a lot for power is not the best economical choice for consumers.
“I don't want to leave our (future) generations with big, big problems,” he said.