Marietta part of power grid action plan

The city of Marietta could earn an additional $60,000 over the next three years for participating in a program aimed at reducing the load on one of the nation’s power grids.

City council approved an enrollment agreement for “demand response services” with Twinsburg-based Buckeye Energy Brokers Inc. last month.

Under terms of the agreement, effective June 1, the city wastewater treatment plant and water treatment facilities will temporarily power down for a few hours at least once a year as a test for the Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland (PJM) power grid demand response program.

In return for Marietta’s participation, the PJM will pay the city an estimated $20,300 annually through 2016.

Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, who chairs council’s special utilities and water, sewer and sanitation committees, said the city can take part in the program because some facilities have alternate power sources available or can curtail their power usage.

“The wastewater treatment plant uses a lot of electricity, but the power can be shut off because we have a backup generator there,” he said. “And the water department can reduce its power consumption during peak electrical load hours.”

McCauley also noted that council is moving to install a generator at the water plant which would allow the power to be temporarily shut off there as well. He said the need for a water plant generator became evident after the derecho storm knocked power out throughout the region for several days last June and July.

“We also have the ability to store enough water in our city water tanks to last at least three days in the event of a power outage,” he said.

Also under the agreement, the PJM may call on the city to voluntarily decrease power to the municipal facilities in the event of an emergency threat to the power grid during peak use hours. If the city responds the PJM agrees to pay additional fees based on the length of the power down and market value of electricity at that time.

Buckeye Energy Brokers president Tom Bellish said those types of events are rare.

Bellish said only cities with facilities that draw down a lot of power from the grid and that have backup generation or power curtailment abilities are able to participate in the demand response program. He said Buckeye Energy manages the demand response program for several communities.

“We coordinate the scheduled annual tests for the PJM. The program is just conducted during the summer when air conditioning puts the most strain on the grid system,” he said. “But the annual tests also provide a chance to make sure generators stay operable at these facilities.”

Bellish said the program started in larger cities where office buildings would cut back on air conditioning and lighting during certain times of the day.

He said the program helps eliminate the need for scheduled “rolling blackouts” in some areas during peak load hours on the grid.

“Demand response is a much better way to curtail the load,” Bellish said.

Marietta wastewater superintendent Steve Elliott said the wastewater treatment plant has one generator at this time, but another will be online at the facility by June as the first phase of the ongoing treatment plant upgrade wraps up.

“There may also be a third generator installed during the third phase of the project, although that has not been totally confirmed at this time,” he said. “Three generators would take care of all of the plant’s energy needs during a power outage.”

Elliott said the current backup generator is tested under load weekly and receives regular maintenance checks.