The Leesburg Electric Department has saved close to $1 million since last year by improving operations and teaming up with community-focused businesses to reduce costly peak-time electric demands.
The million-dollar milestone is a big achievement as the city and its partners work to conserve energy, lower costs and help to protect the environment. But it’s an even greater example of what 23,000 Leesburg electric customers could save with the utility’s upcoming smart grid overhaul. State-of-the-art smart grid technology such as wireless meters and energy management systems will give all utility customers vital tools to control how and when they use electricity. The result: potential savings for everyone. “I think it’s marvelous that we’re doing something like this,” said Leesburg City Commissioner Lewis Puckett. The greatest opportunity is to reduce electric demand during peak times, when big power plants have to work the hardest and charge the most for electricity they provide to Leesburg and other utilities. Thirteen months ago the city began reducing peak-time electric demands in part by exercising emergency generators at the city’s largest facilities. That helped to reduce the amount of wholesale electricity the city utility had to buy from power plants. Another benefit: less demand on the fuel-burning power plants can reduce air pollution and help to protect the environment. Leesburg Regional Medical Center started exercising its generator in December. Since then, the hospital has saved an estimated $67,000 in wholesale electric costs, which is shared between the hospital and Leesburg. “The load shedding program with the City of Leesburg has proven to be very beneficial at Leesburg Regional Hospital,” said David Park, administrative director of facility management at LRMC – part of Central Florida Health Alliance. “Our goal is to find ways to participate more fully in the coming year to take even more advantage of the cost saving opportunities. Two Publix Supermarket outlets – on 14th Street and another at the Shoppes of Lake Village on U.S. Highway 441 – joined the effort in March. “We continue to look for ways to conserve resources,” said Shannon Patten, Publix Media and Community Relations Manager. “This partnership exemplifies our commitment to team up with programs designed to benefit our local communities.” Leesburg also has conducted what is called “system optimization” to improve peak-hour efficiency of the electric grid. This has resulted in $40,000 or more each month. Altogether, Leesburg and its partners have combined these efforts to accumulate more than $821,000 in wholesale electric savings. In April alone the savings were nearly $195,000, and the city expects similar results for May. Many more Leesburg electric customers can help to curb peak-time electric use and lower their power bills when the city begins a $20 million smart grid upgrade of the utility late this year. The project is mostly funded by $11 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project will provide 23,000 customers with new, high-tech electric meters that wirelessly report energy usage to the utility every 15 minutes. That vital data will give customers near real-time information to control their electric costs throughout the month rather than waiting until after the utility bill arrives in the mail. Leesburg also will install close to 4,000 energy management systems that allow customers to program when they operate their electrical appliances such as air conditioners and water heaters. The hope is to reduce overall power use and to operate appliances mostly during off-peak hours. Aside from increasing electric efficiency, Leesburg also has improved financial planning during the past couple of years to reduce electric rates for customers. In August 2008, the city’s electric rates ranked fifth highest among Florida’s municipal utilities. Now Leesburg is ranked 14th highest – near the average among those utilities. The city is expecting its rates to drop below the average later this year.