A Green Beacon
Originally published November-December 2012
Municipal utility ownership in Bryan, Ohio, started with streetlights. Photos by David L. Blaylock.
The first electric lights came to Bryan, Ohio, from out-of-town investors interested solely in installing streetlights. Seven years later, when those investors refused to speak of lower rates and better service, the city let the streetlighting contract lapse and made the necessary moves to start its own municipal utility. Bryan residents never looked back.
For more than 100 years, the utility has worked to remain self-sufficient and innovative, looking at new ways to generate electricity without raising rates or relying too much on outside interests.
Up until the 1970s, Bryan generated all its needs at its gas-fired power plant. Once it was clear that building new generation to keep up with load growth would be unfeasible, the utility became a customer of Toledo Edison (now FirstEnergy).
“As prices started to spiral, we knew we needed to look elsewhere,” said Utility Director Steve Casebere. “So we looked for another source of power, built a 10 and a half mile transmission line to Ohio Power (now AEP) and tied into them as a full-requirements customer. This was unheard of at the time, so we like to think that we set the stage for the practice of choosing your own power supplier by building transmission line into another territory.”
“It was a risky decision at the time, but it saved our customers millions of dollars and reduced their rates by about 25 percent,” he said.
Spangler Candy Company produces over 9 million
Dum Dum Pops per day in Bryan.
To keep pace with continued load growth, Bryan has been aggressive in going for new, green generation where possible. This began in earnest in 1996 with the purchase of the Auglaize Power Plant in nearby Defiance, Ohio.
“The hydro plant was built in 1923 and owned by First Energy, who decommissioned it and removed everything from it in 1963,” said Power Production Superintendent Matt Killion. “So it just sat there, empty, until the late 1980s when private investors purchased it, installed some generators, and got it running again.”
“Those folks constantly struggled with capital needed to upgrade it,” Casebere said. “After we purchased it in 1996, though, we started hitting our own problems.”
First came ice damage after a couple miles of ice broke loose at the same time and piled into the plant. After those repairs were completed, lightning hit the plant and burned up one of the generators.
“It took a few years to get that plant completely refurbished and up and running,” Casebere said. “But once it started running, it’s been something to be proud of.”
“It’s a pretty good deal we get with that plant,” said Killion. “The plant is 25 miles south of Bryan so we have it generate onto the grid, which is into an AEP substation. We then technically buy it off of AEP as a direct trade. Whatever we generate, we just get it knocked off our power bill.”
The Auglaize Power Plant produces about 5 MW, or between 4 and 5 percent of Bryan’s power supply needs, he said. This is in addition to six other hydro plants on the Ohio River the utility buys into through its joint action agency, American Municipal Power.
Casebere’s latest source of pride in green energy is a new 2-MW solar array that began generating energy for the utility earlier this year.
“We had the opportunity to work with a construction company out of Toledo that had experience working with a third party to make it possible to get a federal grant for the project,” he said.
Partnering with the construction company, Rudolph/Libbe, and financer Key Bank on the project, Bryan tried to help cover its part of the construction costs by selling renewable energy credits. The beginning of that process was tough, but finally paid off, Casebere said.
“We had a bit of a chicken and egg problem,” he said. “We’d go to people to sell the credits we needed to get the project up and running and they’d tell us to come back when the project was up and running. We decided to go ahead and take some risk and were excited that in the 106 days it took for Rudolph Libbe to build the solar plant, we sold $1.5 million in renewable energy credits, making the project viable for us.”
The project almost entirely used Ohio materials, contractors and labor.
Bryan made a run for wind four years ago, putting anemometers on TV towers in hopes of identifying an opportunity to harness that renewable resource. “The results came back favorable for a wind project, but it became clear that there were better places for a wind farm elsewhere in the state,” Casebere said.
“Fortunately, AMP made it possible for us to work with a number of other municipal members on a wind farm, sharing the risks and the costs,” he said. “We’ve got 2 MW in that project and we hope to one day build our own wind turbine. It’s not going to be any time soon, but it’s something we really want to have at some point.”
Casebere credits his staff and board for making all these achievements possible.
“What makes me proudest, though, might be the way the staff here keeps looking for ways to continue improving the system,” Casebere said. “One example is the quick series of events that led to our Internet and cable service.”
“First we started with the creation of a communications department and built a fiber-optic network around the city for city services; then we went a step further to provide bandwidth to our industrial and business customers; and then we went another step to build out that infrastructure so that we could provide cable TV and Internet to homes. You’d think it would stop there, but then we started looking outward and began connecting our schools to other schools in northwest Ohio. We also connected businesses, hospitals and medical centers in Northwest Ohio.”
“We’ve got more ideas to go,” said Communications Superintendent Joe Ferrell. “We are already looking at more wireless opportunities throughout the city and how that might work with smart metering to make our electric and water meters more efficient. I’d expect we’ll have that within five years.”
As for those streetlights—the ones that first brought electricity to the city and provoked interest in creating a municipal utility—they, too, have taken a step into the greener 21st century.
“It took over a year, but every one of those streetlights is now LED,” Casebere said
Bryan's portfolio currently includes 2 MW from a local solar array (left) and 5 MW from a nearby hydro plant. Photos courtesy of Bryan Municipal Utilities.
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David L. Blaylock
Senior Vice President, Publishing
Jeanne Wickline LaBella
Robert Thomas III
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