The Muscatine Power and Water (MPW) Board of Trustees were informed at Tuesday night’s meeting that 2020 was the safest year on record for the Utility. Despite COVID-19 challenges, utility staff worked on many large-scale projects keeping the power on and water and internet flowing – all while keeping MPW’s safety core value top-of-mind.
“We could not have accomplished this without our staff prioritizing safety,” shared General Manager Gage Huston. “One of MPW’s core values is creating a culture of safety with the belief that safety is everyone’s responsibility and all accidents are preventable.”
“Team members are empowered to stop work immediately – no matter what the work is – if there is a safety concern,” said Jim Garrison, safety manager. “Our most valued resource is our employees. There is always time to do the work safely to ensure our team members are not put in harm’s way.”
Recent weather event updates were provided at the Trustees’ meeting. Local generation was able to produce energy, maintaining high reliability and protecting Muscatine residents from high power prices. Huston shared his appreciation for the work power plant employees did to keep the power on during the recent subzero temperatures and the events in Texas.
“The benefit of having local generation was never clearer than in the last few weeks,” shared Huston. “The generation staff worked tirelessly to not only to ensure our family, friends and neighbors had power, but to protect the integrity of the power grid. Local generation safeguards Muscatine from the volatility of the energy markets and provides the reliability our community expects and depends on.” Huston also thanked the many MPW field employees who had to work in absolutely bitter conditions to perform work in the field last week to keep all three utility services up and running.
Doug White, director of power production and supply, provided the Trustees with an update on the Utility’s power supply planning activities, dubbed “Power the Future”. White shared that while power supply planning is exceptionally complex, staff has been meticulous in compiling information.
The latest power supply study, completed last year, produced recommendations for MPW to consider in providing power in the years to come. The initial study used assumptions in its analysis; the next part of the process is to conduct follow-up investigations and analysis on various power supply options and then re-run financial modeling using the results of these investigations.
Currently, staff is investigating costs, system and regulatory requirements, environmental, and design options to be used for the comprehensive analysis on solar and a combined heat and power (CHP) generating unit.
The study highlighted opportunities to add additional renewable energy sources to MPW’s energy portfolio. “In keeping with our core value of environmental stewardship and protecting land, water and air to the best of our ability, the addition of solar into MPW’s energy portfolio makes sense,” shared White. “Decreasing our carbon footprint will have a positive, lasting impact on the environment.”
White shared with the Trustees that leaders from local businesses have approached MPW with interest in adding solar to their energy consumption mix. “In addition to business interest, more residential customers are participating in our ‘Choose Green’ renewable energy program. The time appears right to incorporate solar into our energy portfolio.”
A 30 megawatt (MW) solar installation is being investigated to be constructed at the Grandview wellfield site. The location is already owned by MPW and is also near an existing substation, factors reducing the total cost to add solar. Including solar in the power mix will further diversify MPW’s portfolio and increase renewable energy production to about 13.5% of its total native energy needs.
Further analysis is concurrently being conducted for a phased transition from coal-fired generation to cleaner burning, low-cost natural gas to go along with the increased renewables as a balanced way to environmentally and economically best serve our customers.
“The work we are doing today cannot be understated,” shared Huston. “We recognize and honor the commitment MPW made to our community to provide dependable, affordable power.”
The Trustees approved revisions in the Water Utility Customer Service Rules, paving the way to extend water service to Fairway Oaks subdivision, located just north of Muscatine.
MPW was approached by the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association to provide water service to residents. The project is a win-win for both MPW and Fairway Oaks homeowners; the homeowners will have access to high quality water and the Utility will increase its customer base.
“We are happy to work with residential or commercial areas to provide utility services,” said Ryan Streck, director of utility service delivery. “To make it easier to do business with us, it made sense to refine the service rules to allow for additional opportunities to expand our water service footprint.”
Erika Cox, director of customer and technology experience, provided one of the final updates for the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) project. Customers were notified about the impending shut-down of the legacy system which began February 1. All residential customers have been converted to the new high capacity network; remaining conversions are for a few business customers that require some additional scheduling requirements. Legacy equipment and infrastructure have begun to be decommissioned and removed with an anticipated completion date by the end of 2021.
“We are thrilled to be nearing the end of this project,” said Cox. “It’s exciting to be able to provide world-class communication offerings to a community our size – Muscatine is truly ahead of the game.” Mark Roberts, director of finance and administrative services, reviewed the January financials. Results were better than budget for the Electric, Water and Communications utilities, giving MPW as a whole net income of $675,000, which was $939,000 better than planned. One primary reason was strong performance from MPW’s fossil generation, which improved results by $381,000. Roberts said, “It’s always good to have a solid start to a new year.” In other Board action, the Trustees:
- Ratified CCO No. 2 and approved Final Acceptance for the Mississippi Drive Corridor Underground Phase I, Cable Pull Project
- Approved CCO No. 1 for the FTTH Premise Installations for MDU’s and Large Commercial Facilities
- Approved a revision to the Water Utility Customer Service Rules and Approved Water Service Outside the City Limits to Fairway Oaks Subdivision