Danville4 min read
The City of Danville has been keeping customers’ lights on for over a century as Virginia’s oldest and largest municipal electric provider. And while officials say Danville is in the process of reinventing itself, that tradition of reliability should carry on well into the future.
Located in southern Virginia on the North Carolina border, Danville is home to about 43,000 residents. The “River City” boasts a vibrant downtown atmosphere, historically significant landmarks, and has been lauded nationally as a great place to work, play and learn.
An AMP member since 2007, Danville Utilities serves about 42,000 electric customers, along with large industrial users such as Nestlé, IKEA and Intertape Polymer Group. Celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, the utilities division’s 75 employees service a 500-square-mile electric service territory that covers parts of three counties and the City of Danville with 1,250 miles of electric lines, a load of about 140 megawatts (MW) and peak load of about 230 MW, according to Utilities Director Jason Grey.
“We’re proud to be the oldest and largest municipal electric provider in Virginia,” said Grey, who also serves on the AMP Board of Trustees. “We’re one of farthest AMP members from Columbus, but the advice and resources AMP has provided us has always been a great benefit to the community.”
Located on the Dan River, Danville’s early electric needs were powered by the city-owned Pinnacles Hydroelectric Plant approximately 60 miles west of the city. Built in 1938 with a generating capacity of 10 MW, the plant initially powered the entire city, but now provides peaking power during times of maximum demand.
Danville’s electric distribution workforce tackles the job with four line crews and three service crews. The city relies on contractors for large capital projects and employs seven contractor right-of-way crews for vegetation management.
“We’re reinventing our utility,” he said. “We have several employees with 40 years of service retiring, and it’s a challenge to find new employees. But at the same time, these opportunities bring new energy and ideas to the table.”
Grey, who has lived in Danville for most of his life, said the city itself is in the middle of a reinvention of sorts. The city was traditionally a tobacco and textiles town until about 10 years ago when tobacco distributor Dimon Inc. pulled up stakes. Many downtown buildings were left vacant, but the community worked tirelessly to transform its downtown, renovating empty spaces into apartments and public spaces (the Dimon headquarters building is now home to the Danville Regional Foundation and Averett University).
“Going forward, we haven’t looked at just one anchor (employer), but a diverse group of industrial uses,” Grey said. “Some smaller employers have really taken off recently.”
On Sept. 8, 2016, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that KYOCERA SGS Precision Tool Inc., a leader in solid carbide cutting tool manufacturing, will invest $9.5 million to establish a North American technology and strategic manufacturing hub in Danville. It is estimated the operation will create 35 new jobs in the area.
Maintaining a diverse power portfolio with a strong focus on renewable energy is a key part of attracting new industry to the area, explained Grey, adding that AMP membership has been a powerful asset to facilitate the renewable power supply.
Danville is one of the largest participants in AMP’s Phase 1 combined hydroelectric project, which consists of three run-of-the-river hydro generation facilities at existing dams on the Ohio River: Cannelton, Smithland and Willow Island.
“As a renewable piece of our portfolio, not only with AMP but with other renewables in place, that will really get us ahead of the curve,” Grey said. “Environmentally friendly customers really value that and it could possibly attract new industry to the area.”
He added that AMP membership also brings access to institutional knowledge and advice that have been extremely valuable to Danville.
“There are a lot of projects that we couldn’t even consider taking on ourselves, like participating in the large hydro generation projects, that otherwise wouldn’t be possible without AMP,” he said. “We’re able to use some of the bond financing that we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own. The forward thinking from AMP members is always appreciated – there’s always something we learn and take back with us from Board meetings and conferences.”
Some of that knowledge revolves around energy-saving measures that Danville intends to focus on in coming years, Grey added. The city is organizing a pilot project this year to replace its 8,500 high-pressure sodium street lights with more efficient LED lighting, along with a plan for pre-paid metering for its customers.
A new web portal for customers is also scheduled to come online at the end of this year, allowing customers to pay their bill online, view their consumption habits and keep track of outages. The division has already exchanged mechanical meters with digital smart meters, allowing them to read about 80,000 meters daily, which gives residents more data to make decisions.