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Geothermal and Solar Installers: Get to Know Your Municipal Utility (It’s not a Waste of Time)

“Municipal utilities are more open to trying new things than investor-owned utilities.”

This is the lesson I took away from my visit to the Wyandotte Municipal Services as part of a delegation from the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association.  They’ve implemented one of the nation’s first geothermal utility programs (details below), taking the view that each ground loop is a mini power plant they own.  The owner pays a low monthly fee to access that power plant.  They also embrace PV, biomass, wind, and hydro as complements to their coal, tire, and gas plants.  I took this awesome picture of a solar garden next to their coal plant on the tour – check out the mountain of coal behind the PV array.

Solar Garden in Front of a Pile of Coal

Check out the big pile of coal behind the Solar Garden!

Here’s the story for contractors, installers and entrepreneurs:

Wyandotte’s renewable energy program is run by a small handful of approachable people.  Pamela Tierney and Melanie McCoy are part of a small team that evaluated and implemented these programs with help from industry and the local community.  It was obvious that they’ve been involved with every installation project, and they took a full day to show us around and talk about what they’ve learned.  They are real people from the community who you can talk to.  They listen and think about what you say.  There are 251 municipal utilities in the United states (here’s a list), and if your business operates near one, then you have a huge opportunity to educate and influence policy in your area.  Set up a meeting to meet these people, figure out what they’re thinking about and find a way to be useful.  It can be a small investment of time with a big payoff.

Here’s Melanie’s explanation for why they’ve embraced geo: “Reduction of peak demand is why we do it.  It’s not just because we’re green.  When we have to go out and buy power on August 15th at 4pm, those are the most expensive megawatts we can buy.  We take a hit on that.”  They also believe that the 56 installations they’ve done to date have big economic benefits for the town.  Drillers, contractors, manufacturers, and designers are spending more time (and money) in their community as a result of these modest, but forward thinking programs.  Think about how this story might resonate with your local municipal utility and start whispering in their ear.

Here are the specific rates and details for Wyandotte’s geothermal utility program.  I took a lot of notes on lessons learned for other cities and utilities that I plan to share in a foll0w-up article.  The data on how many customers opted to finance their loops versus buy them outright is definitely interesting and worthy of it’s own discussion.  I’m always up for talking more about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

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