Auburn Electric: Reviewing 2020 & Looking Ahead
For the past four years, the Auburn Electric leadership team has been focused on the components essential to the success of the utility: people, process and technology. It’s amazing to see many of our efforts begin to take shape as we intended in 2017. In 2020, we saw our values of safety, reliability and service at the forefront of every activity—a realization that our vision has become part of our culture and operations.
Our linemen put themselves in harm’s way every day. In fact, an electric lineman is one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the U.S. As a result, we are always assessing our safety protocols and how we can be better. Additionally, we are focused on how to mitigate potential public safety hazards. A few years ago, we identified a handful of locations around the city with aging electrical infrastructure that posed increased risks to property owners, the public and our linemen. In 2020, we were able to complete upgrades to nearly all of them, eliminating the safety concerns. We are finishing up the last one the first part of this year, and breathe easier knowing these are now resolved.
Our purpose is simple: provide reliable power for our community. The system health of our substations is integral to that. In 2020, we continued our rotational maintenance schedule, where we fully ensure the reliability and operational efficiency of our seven substations. Likewise, we enhanced our electric distribution network with pole replacements, line rebuilds and reconductoring of transmission lines. Additionally, we continue to invest in equipment upgrades to minimize outages and provide the best service possible. In fact, we’ve made great headway in outage management—there’s been a dramatic drop in outage events and their duration.
Our field and office staff have a shared mission focused on serving our customers. We are always seeking ways to improve how we do that. We have invested time, technology and efforts to evolve how we manage and respond to rate payer requests, communicate and engage with developers and contractors, and collaborate and serve alongside other city departments. We have measurable improvements in response times, as well as heightened service quality levels across all teams. We are excited to continue and build upon this momentum in 2021.
2020: By the Numbers
- 7,926 meters
- 370 miles sub transmission & distribution lines
- 200 megawatt peak capacity
- 22 square miles of territory
- 21 full-time staff
- 7 substations
Response to COVID-19
Last April, many of Auburn Electric’s commercial and industrial customers were significantly impacted by the state’s Executive Order and federal guidelines which placed “non-essential” businesses on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. With approval from Common Council, we implemented a temporary suspension of the demand ratchet charge for six months in order to support our demand clients during an unprecedented time.
A Look Ahead
Our efforts to intervene in electric rate cases continued in 2020. This intervention positions the city to represent our interest and respond to any action that could impact the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recognition of fair and reasonable costs to our wholesale contract with I&M. Our team’s intervention yielded findings and action resulting in a small annual savings to rate payers.
Our involvement is part of our ongoing efforts to better manage the cost of wholesale power—our most significant expense, comprising about 80% of the overall rate for the utility. Since 2009, we have been under contract to purchase power from I&M. It is important to note that Auburn Electric does not have control over this FERC-regulated contract, but we monitor and participate at regulatory venues when aspects of those costs are under review or considered for change. To help our rate-payers understand the electricity business, we’ve published a number of educational blogs. If you’ve not read them yet, they are useful background:
- How Electric Rates are Determined
- How Electric Utilities are Regulated
- The Generation and Transmission of Power
- Utilities: At the Heart of Development and a Community’s Economic Health
Customers and Community Behind Every Decision
You can be assured that we’ll continue to evolve our teams, process and technology to ensure our ratepayers have reliable power at all times. And everything we do, we do with our customers—and our community—in mind. We are thankful for the privilege and responsibility to steward the community’s power grid.