Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Partnering or selling our Electric Utility to FPL: Is even suggesting this as a future possibility or option “verboten”?

verboten, adjective. Word origin German,
literally means “forbidden”.

Before you start looking for where you put the “slings and arrows” from the last time you got mad reading something on this blog. . .

The City of Lake Worth’s Electric Utility (LWEU) has always been a source of civic pride and of that there is no doubt. But once upon a time so was the Lake Worth Police Dept. and a lot of other things too. Everyone acknowledges the hard work and dedication of LWEU. Especially how the utility responded following hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma in 2004–2005; all that hard work since was on display for everyone in South Florida and beyond after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma last year.

Our Electric Utility Director, Ed Liberty, has a wealth of experience and so does the City’s Electric Utility Advisory Board (EAUB). Dir. Liberty, for example, tackled the issue of street lights out, SNMREC don’t forget is still a real possibility, and there’s the solar field too. But what’s misunderstood by many in the public is how much energy the City of Lake Worth Electric Utility actually generates.

Yes, Lake Worth is indeed unique in that it’s the only city in Palm Beach County with it’s own municipal power plant but most of the City’s power is delivered via a tie-in line with FPL. Most of that power is generated using natural gas, nuclear, and yes, coal too. Note the words “a tie-in line” in the previous sentence. There is only one tie-in line and it will cost millions of dollars to build a second one.

There is no backup if that tie-in line is damaged or destroyed, e.g., in a hurricane or gets hit by a massive floating ball of mylar balloons which sounds like a joke but it’s not. Prior to Hurricane Irma, per a City press release from Public Information Officer Ben Kerr, LWEU scheduled a planned outage to remove balloons entangled in that tie-in line with FPL.

If you’ve been paying close attention, there is talk — in the very preliminary stages — of LWEU producing more of it’s own electricity by constructing a new power plant or upgrading the current Tom G. Smith Municipal Power Plant using natural gas. When those numbers start coming in and there’s “sticker shock” from the public what’s plan B?

Then there’s this from the minutes of the EUAB meeting on Oct. 4th, 2017:

Edward Liberty reported that about a week ago [last week of September] Gas Turbine #2 suffered a malfunction and to investigate staff conducted a borescope to determine cause. During the borescope it was discovered there was a loose turbine blade that caused major damage to the compressor. Unit was made unavailable and will need to be disassembled for repairs.
     With the Gas Turbine #2 out of commission the City may not meet the capacity requirement per the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) contract, this in turn will increase the City’s utility rate. Staff will work with OUC to come to an agreeable settlement.

Considering all the successes and accomplishments of the LWEU and the challenges, both infrastructure and maintenance going forward, shouldn’t the possibility of merging with FPL or selling the LWEU be discussed or is this “verboten”? And it’s also vitally important to remember the LWEU service area is not just the City of Lake Worth. Also receiving their electricity from LWEU are areas in the Village of Palm Springs and a large area in suburban Lake Worth (unincorporated Palm Beach County) as well. Click on this link to see the LWEU service area.

Lastly, whilst the City of Lake Worth has been working very hard to remain competitive with FPL vis-à-vis residential electric rates, for how long can the City remain competitive when it comes to technology up against a giant like FPL? And at what cost does having our own electric utility not be so “charming” any more?