Four Columbia residents will soon join the ranks of the Columbia Water and Light advisory board to decide the future of the city’s power supply.
The Power Supply Task Force will review new options for the city’s electricity, taking into account environmental impact, transmission constraints, renewable requirements and fuel supply, said Dan Dasho, director of Columbia Water and Light.
The task force was created to get the community involved early in the process, said Connie Kacprowicz, the utility’s public information specialist.
“It’s not only the council that’s affected; this affects the general public and all citizens,” Kacprowicz said. “That’s one of the benefits of having a municipality-owned utility: The public has input.”
Dasho said the public has a right to decide how its money is spent.
“Anything that you’re going to do for this community, where you’re looking at spending over a billion dollars over the next 20 years, the community needs to be involved in it,” Dasho said.
Water and Light staff interviewed four engineering firms, asking their recommendations on who should complete the integrated resource plan that will go before the Columbia City Council on Aug. 6. The study is expected to take 18 weeks.
“They take all that and roll it into one model, the integrated resource model,” Dasho said. “For that kind of experience, you have to go outside (our department).”
It’s been 15 years since a study this extensive has been done for Water and Light, Kacprowicz said.
The consulting fees range from $143,000 to $200,000, a small part of an overhaul that could cost up to a billion dollars over the next 20 years, Dasho said.
Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said evaluating current environmental efficiency and conservation programs is a vital part of the study.
“It’s the peaks we’re most concerned about,” St. Romaine said. “You know when it’s mid-July and we all have our air conditioning on, it puts a heavy demand on our utility. Anything our customers can do to lighten the load is a good thing.”
It’s important to evaluate now because of increasing power needs, Kacprowicz said. The department will need to replace one of its contracts for electricity within the next three years.
Changes to the city’s power plan take time, Dasho said, and could require bond issues and permits if the plant needs to be overhauled.
“We need to be making decisions about our long-term energy future,” Dasho said.