Years ago, my Dad shared a piece of wisdom that stuck. He said: “Successful people anticipate change and make decisions accordingly.” This can apply equally to organizations and cities. Our city is blessed with a successful municipally owned utility that anticipates change and takes quick action. One example is the web address “CSU.org,” snapped up by Colorado Springs Utilities before other “CSU” organizations could act. A much more important example is the Southern Delivery System: decades of planning and construction for a result that provides water for coming generations.
The current model for electricity generation in the United States is dominated by centralized power plants and has been for generations.
That is beginning to change. Our utility is working to anticipate the best ways to generate and conserve electricity. I recently had the honor of serving on two citizen committees for Utilities designed to provide customer input for electric planning. My overriding impression: Our local utility is run by open-minded, experienced staff that sought out every viewpoint, are anticipating industry changes and use cutting-edge utility planning software to aid decision-making.
They have to balance factors such as cost, reliability, infrastructure, regulations and many others. Utilities, through careful planning, last year approved a 20-year electric integrated resource plan that will move us closer to meeting the Utilities goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. Its extensive computer modeling of the potential impact of the federal Clean Power Plan showed minimal effect on costs and rates. The energy industry is changing fast, with the cost of renewables dropping.
As renewable energy sources become cost competitive, this creates jobs, and our state is competing well with other states. The wind and solar industries in Colorado employ more than 11,000 workers, and the in-state solar industry saw a 16 percent jump in job growth last year. Nationally, the U.S. solar industry added more than 20,000 workers in 2015. Wind turbine service technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another change coming to the electric industry is distributed generation, an approach that employs small-scale technologies such as rooftop solar panels to produce electricity close to the end users of power. Much like distributed computing (personal computers) and distributed telephony (mobile phones), distributed generation has begun to disrupt the centralized power plant model.
Bright people around the planet are working to improve the efficiency of distributed generation technologies, as well as battery storage technologies. The results of their work are paying off in lower costs, and many experts consider distributed generation to rapidly become a contender for widespread development in the U.S.
Utilities and many other thoughtful utilities are showing that a well-managed utility can anticipate these changes and undertake forward-looking strategies that enhance our environment, allow us to use energy more efficiently and keep costs contained.
Energy-efficiency efforts are also a great way for all of us to save money. In our country, we are blessed with abundant energy resources, and we are not always good stewards. As we are aware of the environmental and monetary costs of energy waste, families and businesses are taking action to cut waste.
At the Energy Resource Center, we see the positive impacts of efficiency improvements: increased comfort, dollars saved, improved environment and waste eliminated. In addition, Utilities offers monetary incentives: reducing energy waste reduces future capital project costs.
Something happened recently that provides great hope for the future. A 9-year-old boy donated a jar of cash to help the Energy Resource Center buy insulation for people in need. He had picked us out of a catalog of nonprofits because he cares about the poor and he cares about the environment. I asked him how much his allowance is, and he said $9 per week. There was $110 in his donation jar. That is a young man with a caring heart and a generous spirit, with optimism about the future.
The world is changing rapidly, and it is our choice to resist change or rally to make the most of opportunities that are always part of disruption. Our community rallies, as we are now on electrical generation. Moving too slowly for some, too quickly for others – but that is the nature of community!
Howard Brooks is the executive director of the Energy Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that works to keep income- qualified families warm and safe.