The American Public Power Association (APPA) recently recognized Kirkwood Electric as a Reliable Public Power Provider, an honor bestowed to only 82 of the more than 2,000 public power utilities nationwide.
The APPA judged public power utilities in four key disciplines: Reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement.
“We got a bunch of great workers who are skilled and experienced,” said Mark Petty, director of Kirkwood’s Electric Department. “They know their network and know their neighborhoods and have a great relationship with customers. They have a great work ethic when they get out there.”
Petty pointed to major upgrades to the city’s network in reference to the system improvement criteria for the award. Most notably, Kirkwood Electric is in the process of modernizing its network from the current voltage of five kilovolts (kV) to 15 (kV).
Operating under a higher voltage will reduce losses in the city’s electric system and improve energy efficiency, according Petty.
“This helps to increase availability of spare parts and enhance equipment,” Petty said. “It improves the functionality of the system by standardizing it, which in turn enhances reliability and makes the system more efficient."
The city has completed the upgrade to one of its six substations and half of the city’s substations will receive the upgrade by the end of the year.
“This was done during time period where the economy has made it difficult to fund capital improvements,” Petty added.
Another major change relating to Kirkwood’s electric system is that at the end of May, the city will begin buying power from multiple wholesalers as opposed to solely from Ameren UE as in years past.
The change is possible due to the deregulation of Missouri’s electric industry. The city will own part of the energy it uses through shares in the Prairie State Energy Camp, a cooperative of municipal organizations. Of the needed 1,600 megawatts to power Kirkwood Electric’s approximately 10,000 customers, 25 will come from the co-op. Kirkwood Electric will purchase the rest of its power from wholesalers based on a competitive bidding process.
“Large projects with multiple partners allow us to save $4 million on power annually,” Petty said. “And we (received these savings) during a time period when power prices were doubling.”
The electric director also noted that the duration of system outages and their frequency is on par with private providers, and that the city’s apprentice farm system ensures employees receive top-notch training.
The awardees were recognized at the APPA’s annual Engineer and Operations Technical Conference last month in Nashville, TN.
“These RP3 designated utilities should be proud,” said Paul Allen, APPA’s RP3 Review Panel Chair and vice president of engineering at Nashville’s Electric Service, in a statement. “They stand out as utilities that are continuing to strive for excellence for their customers and their communities.”
This is the sixth year that the RP3 designation has been awarded, and Petty plans on Kirkwood Electric receiving the top honor again.
“We can’t rest on past performance,” he said. “We got to keep a high level of performance to continue to qualify for this award."
But the win is not the most prized measure of performance for Petty. What really counts at the end of the day is customer satisfaction.
“The letters we receive and the different thanks we get seems to show that we have a lot of happy customers out there, and that feels good,” the electric director said. “Really we’re just trying to do our best at keeping the lights on for our customers and doing it in a way that’s very affordable. Customers are our biggest evaluators of skills and talents.”