The Benefits of Public Power3 min read
Municipally owned electric utilities have been an important part of America for more than 135 years. Since 1880, thousands of public power utilities of all sizes have formed and thrived across the country. With the intention of supplying their communities with electric services, public power utilities have a long tradition of providing reliable, high-quality service to their communities.
Public power utilities are owned by their respective communities and are operated as not-for-profit entities. Electricity is not the only value public power systems provide to their communities, they also provide a long-term source of economic development, extremely reliable service and increased accountability, just to name a few of the benefits.
The municipal utility is completely accountable to the residents of their community. They do not answer to shareholders, but instead answer to their customer owners who have a say regarding the structure and direction of the community’s utility service.
The level of transparency found in public power is unparalleled. Whether it is a change in rates, the addition of new services or an expansion of the electric system, customers have access to information surrounding decisions. Municipal utility materials are subject to public records rules, and decisions made by municipal utilities are subject to input from local government and the general public by way of public hearings or city council meetings.
The localized nature of a municipal utility is also beneficial for customers. The local offices of public power utilities enable customers to pay their bills in person, offer comments, learn about energy efficiency and green pricing programs, or ask questions about their energy usage.
Being local also gives public power employees a level of accountability that is not found in other sectors of the utility industry. Unlike investor-owned utilities that make decisions based on accommodating shareholders, public power officials make decisions in the best interest of the communities they call home. For example, when a storm interrupts electric service, public power lineworkers aren’t simply restoring power because it is part of the job, they are restoring power because their family and friends in the community are depending on it.
Public power utilities are significantly more reliable than their competition based on the national average of outage minutes. According to the American Public Power Association (APPA), customers of public power utilities average less than one hour without power per year, which is less than half of the national average. Even with the advantage of more reliable systems, power outages are sometimes too extensive for one community to fix on their own. In these situations, public power communities have the benefit of mutual aid programs. Following devastating storms or other natural disasters, a call for assistance is made and public power communities from across the country come together to help restore service.
In 2017, when a severe line of thunderstorms left a trail of destruction and caused widespread outages in Celina, Arcadia and Shiloh, seven AMP member communities mobilized crews to assist in the restoration effort and services were fully restored in a matter of days. In 2013, when a powerful storm damaged 15 transmission poles in Bowling Green, nine AMP member communities sent crews to assist with cleaning up and setting new poles, resulting in electric service being restored in only three days.
Municipal utilities also provide benefits to their customers in less obvious ways. Public power utilities provide local investment and jobs, such as lineworkers, engineers, customer service representatives and managerial positions. These utility employees typically live, and spend their earnings, in the same local community as they work. According to the APPA, on average, a public power employee’s paycheck circulates through the local economy four to five times. This means that local dollars aren’t sent to out-of-state shareholders, they remain in the community, stimulating the local economy.
In addition to providing employment, public power utilities also take part in furthering economic development by attracting businesses and investment to their communities. Working in concert with local government and interests, public power utilities help to bring new private sector jobs to the community. Many of our members have been successful in using their local authority to negotiate with businesses on behalf of their communities, helping to strengthen the local economy.
Public power utilities are more than just electric service providers—they are upstanding members of their communities. From providing reliable service with transparent operations to fostering economic development, public power utilities fulfill an important civic role in the communities they serve.
AMP recognizes that not every utility has the time or means to properly communicate the benefits of public power to their customers. With that in mind, we have made a number of promotional materials and toolkits available to our members on the Public Power Connections page of the Member Extranet (login required). Additionally, AMP is here to assist our members in their outreach efforts. Should you have any questions about promoting public power or accessing the promotional materials available on the Member Extranet, please feel free to contact Zachary Hoffman at [email protected], Michael Beirne at [email protected] or Holly Karg at [email protected].