During a sweltering hot afternoon on Wednesday, April 20, emergency generators across Leesburg stirred awake in a unified effort to control energy costs for the city and partnering businesses.
An emergency generator on Meadow Street provides backup power to Leesburg City Hall.The carefully choreographed event lasted only two to three hours. But if timed correctly, it could have a huge financial benefit. The Leesburg Electric Department has used the emergency generators and other creative efforts to save more than $2.5 million in wholesale electric costs since mid 2009. The key is timing. Leesburg exercises up to 12 emergency generators each month to operate during the peak hour of demand, when the city and other utilities are expected to draw the most electricity to serve their customers. That is when large, regional power plants work the hardest and charge the most to supply electricity to this growing part of Central Florida. So saving electricity during the critical hour is very important to help Leesburg reduce expenses. “Reducing peak demand - whether from the installation of higher efficiency appliances, conservation measures like not using the clothes dryer and setting the pool pump timer to go “off” at 3 p.m., and exercising emergency generators - all provide similar benefits. They reduce the load on the electric grid so less efficient and more costly regional power plants do not have to provide power,” said Paul Kalv, Electric Director for the City of Leesburg. “The fact is, the least costly kilowatt-hour is the kilowatt-hour not generated.” Leesburg correctly predicted that peak demand hour for the past 16 consecutive months. The city has exercised emergency generators at several city facilities since January 2010 to save more than $1 million in wholesale electric costs. Others are saving, too. Leesburg Regional Medical Center – part of Central Florida Health Alliance - and two Publix Supermarket outlets also are exercising generators to provide on-site electricity during peak demand hours. Those locations have saved more than $361,000 in wholesale electric costs – half that is reimbursed to the businesses through an agreement with Leesburg. Soon Leesburg could partner with other companies to reduce peak electric demand. In many cases, the city can help those companies even more by providing cheaper natural gas to run new generators rather than traditional diesel fuel. The Leesburg Gas Department serves more than 11,000 customers, and it is growing to serve more commercial businesses needs in this area. To further save its own costs, the Leesburg Electric Department also has conducted what is called “system optimization” to improve the efficiency of delivering power to customers. That saves $40,000 or more each month – a total of $1 million in wholesale electric cost savings since mid 2009. Total benefits from Leesburg Electric’s combined efforts are growing. Last fiscal year, the utility saved $1.3 million. It saved another $800,000 during the past six months. 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 later 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. Other advantages include the ability to instantly detect power outages without customers needing to call, the ability to connect and disconnect electric services remotely, and the avoidance of meter reading expenses 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. Leesburg is a progressive city of more than 20,000 residents in northwest Lake County. The city government serves twice as many people with its electric, gas, water, wastewater and fiber-optic public utilities. Leesburg also is a central hub for commerce, attracting 50,000 people to work each weekday.