Ten at the Top RoundtableApr 12, 2022 04:33PM ● By David Dykes
As the Upstate’s population continues to grow, utilities and municipalities are working to ensure that the power grid and water systems are able to keep up with demand.
Officials from Upstate power and water systems, and a Greenville County planning official, discuss the plans and programs they’ve put in place to address needs of energy and water, as well as sustainable growth.
Q. Specifically looking at your area of expertise, how would you say your service area within the Upstate is currently positioned in terms of service capacity and ability to meet the needs of a region expected to add more than 300,000 new residents over the next 20 years?
A. The economy of the Upstate is thriving — and our rapidly growing population requires even more secure and dependable power. Duke Energy powers thousands of businesses in the state and works with industry leaders to not only keep their operations running, but also help them achieve their own sustainable energy goals. We do this while also working to keep rates well below the national average for both residential and business customers. The Upstate is increasingly an advanced manufacturing region and Duke Energy stands ready to deliver the reliable and competitive energy South Carolina relies on to power the hundreds of thousands of jobs these industries create
– Linda Hannon, district manager, government and community relations, Duke Energy
A. TATT has indicated that the Upstate’s total population will grow by an additional 300,000 people between now and 2040. ReWa has invested billions in building adequate capacity for sewer services to meet the demand. Going forward, ReWa intends to invest an additional $1 billion in our current systems. This effort is informed by a robust capacity management strategy that includes the development of an accurate model of our entire infrastructure system.
– Joel Jones, chief operating officer, ReWa
A. Spartanburg Water has strategically planned for both water and sewer supply needs for future generations. There are three water reservoirs that hold over 18 billion gallons of water – sufficient for future generations. All of the water treatment plants have sufficient capacity to accommodate growth for the next 20 years or more. Regionalized sewer plants are situated within the service area, and capacity needs are increased at intervals based on the growth forecasts for the service area.
– Sue Schneider, chief executive officer, Spartanburg Water
A. For the last several decades, the utility industry has faced extensive pressure to transform our energy supply from fossil fuels and coal power to a mix of fuels. It is a challenging time as utilities face policy changes and changes in consumer expectations. Increasing political, social, and economic pressures have forced utilities to move to lower our carbon footprint and provide more reliable energy sources, while still also providing reliable and affordable electricity. For years, Blue Ridge and electric cooperatives saw the movement toward renewables and technology that is driving changes in our industry and have prepared for these new trends.
– Jim Lovinggood, president, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative
A. The Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study (GPATS) region, which covers the urbanized areas of Greenville and Pickens counties, the Powdersville, Williamston, and Pendleton areas of Anderson County, and the Greer and Fountain Inn areas of Spartanburg and Laurens counties, is rapidly growing and will be faced with a number of transportation issues in the coming decades. While state and federal funding may increase, the pace of growth and development in the Upstate is far greater than our ability to keep up with infrastructure. The result, as many have seen, is an increase in traffic congestion and a decrease in safety. The Upstate will need to look to mobility options such as transit, and for shorter trips making use of bicycles and walking, to effectively navigate our urban future. Additionally, there needs to be a widespread understanding that the transportation infrastructure the Upstate needs to thrive in the coming decades cannot be paid for solely with state and federal funding, and like all major urban areas in the United States, local funding and private dollars will need to play their role.
– Keith Brockington, transportation planning manager, Greenville County and the Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study
Q. As we look ahead to the expected growth over the next 20 years, how is your organization planning to address future demand?
A. Duke Energy is working on a multi-year grid improvement initiative that will make the grid more resilient and recover faster from outages caused by powerful severe weather events and other threats. We are upgrading poles, power lines and other infrastructure throughout the Upstate to strengthen the system and make the power grid more resistant to outages from severe weather. We are also installing self-healing technology that automatically detects power outages and quickly reroutes service when outages occur to restore power faster. This smart technology helps reduce the number of customers impacted by an outage and the duration of an outage, by restoring power often in less than a minute. Installation of this technology includes new and upgraded power lines in some areas and automated controls to reroute power to other energy pathways when outages occur. Duke Energy continues to explore and invest in the technology that will drive a smarter energy future for the Upstate and across South Carolina.
– Linda Hannon
A. Our plans include:
Aligning needs and expectation with a clear view of the reality of growth projections.
Partner with other utility providers to assure efficient delivery of services when they are needed.
Invest in our current systems to ensure they can provide adequate capacity in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
A significant move in the right direction is the recent unification of smaller collection providers in Greenville County to improve service and address aging infrastructure.
– Joel Jones
A. As a cooperative, we are committed to providing cutting-edge technology to our members. Our members are increasingly interested in renewable energy, such as solar panels and community solar farms and battery storage. In addition, for the last several decades, electric vehicle sales have steadily increased across the country as car manufacturers increase their commitment to building more electric vehicles. This growth of electric vehicles and the number of smart devices in homes requires building and upgrading our current infrastructure to match those needs.
– Jim Lovinggood
A. GPATS is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Greenville and Mauldin-Simpsonville Urbanized Areas. Working closely with SPATS (Spartanburg), ANATS (Anderson), and the Appalachian and Upper Savannah Council of Governments, our organizations are tasked with allocating and programming Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, and assisting SCDOT in their projects by providing the local perspective and coordination. The GPATS Long-Range Transportation Plan is updated every five years and projects out the region’s needs to the best of our ability. With our last LRTP completed in 2017, GPATS began placing a greater priority on transportation alternatives, allocating funding to transit capital and major bicycle/pedestrian projects. Additionally, the number of traditional “widening” projects has decreased, since those are extremely high cost with smaller benefits, and a higher emphasis on congestion bottlenecks, access management, intersection projects, and innovative treatments. In this way, GPATS can more effectively manage the limited funding it receives to promote projects that will have a greater benefit.
– Keith Brockington
A. Ensuring that water and sewer infrastructure is ready for future demand has two key elements for planning and building capacities in pipes and plants as flows and demands increase. Spartanburg Water tracks development inquiries to monitor growth patterns and regularly evaluate collection and distribution hydraulic models as a way to plan for and accommodate economic development. Along with installing new, a robust asset management program repairs, maintains, and replaces infrastructure. As communities change with increased development and roads are added or widened, the infrastructure in the ground will continually be impacted and must be cared for.
– Sue Schneider
Q. Does your organization employ specific programs to ensure the balance between utilizing resources and maintaining our natural environment? If so, please provide at least one example.
A. We have an obligation to support and protect our natural resources while providing reliable and affordable energy to customers. That’s why Duke Energy is taking a long-term, comprehensive approach to environmental responsibility and what the future of energy looks like in South Carolina. Duke Energy is committed to cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That includes targeting energy generated from coal to represent less than 5 percent of total generation by 2030 and to fully exit coal by 2035 as part of the largest planned coal fleet retirement in the industry. To reach these goals, we’re working with communities to protect our environment, develop and deploy innovative and sustainable technology and transition our power generation fleet toward lower or zero-carbon energy sources. In fact, here in South Carolina we are well on our way. The last coal-powered plant we operated in South Carolina was retired in 2015. We replaced that generation with two of the most efficient, state-of-the art natural gas power plants that will help drive the economy of the region while allowing us to achieve our climate goals. And nuclear energy is the foundation for enabling Duke Energy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions — accounting for more than 50 percent of all power generation in South Carolina.
– Linda Hannon
A. In 2019, Blue Ridge Electric created an energy services department – a team of renewable energy experts providing expertise in geothermal heating and cooling, generators, electrical vehicle (EV) charging stations, smart thermostats, solar energy, and battery storage. We created this department to help our members make the right energy choices for their specific needs. We believe that renewables have to be part of the equation and that the choice to use renewable energy is an investment today for a brighter tomorrow. With all of that being said, clean base load power still has to play a role if we want to keep our grid reliable. Technology is constantly evolving and something that we pay close attention to because today’s new technology could be tomorrow’s new energy solution.
– Jim Lovinggood
A. Education, partnerships, and research and innovation.
– Joel Jones
Q. What is a barrier, challenge, or obstacle you must overcome to meet future demand?
A. The challenges include: Wet weather impacts to aging pipes, in addition to floodplain mitigation. Obtaining affordable and efficient access to labor, goods, and materials needed to maintain and improve a consistent level of service now, and 20 years from now. Sustaining — and growing — the workforce necessary to operate and maintain our systems. ReWa is actively working on recruitment, retention and succession planning to build our team for the next generation. Determining a path to providing requested service in areas that exist beyond our defined service area. Balancing the need to fund infrastructure investments to meet the future demand with rate stability for current customers.
– Joel Jones
A. The greatest challenge we face with transportation infrastructure has been and will continue to be funding. Federal funding, and thus state funding, are designed by formula to provide a modest level of improvements. In rural areas and small towns, this funding may be sufficient. However, as a region urbanizes like the Upstate has for the last several decades, the funding becomes insufficient to meet the exponential needs. Based on the way the funding is allocated, it becomes clear that the urbanized regions are expected to begin paying for infrastructure with supplements of local and private funding. It is a challenge that every urban area needs to address one way or another if the infrastructure is to keep pace with growth. It is a challenge of GPATS to raise awareness of just how far the incoming funding will take us in our project lists, and what we will not be able to achieve, so that decision makers can address the remaining needs as they are able.
– Keith Brockington
Q. Given the key role infrastructure plays in determining where growth will go, how have you worked with your local communities to reduce the potential for future spiraling growth?
A. The first step is reframing the conversation around what determines growth. ReWa does not believe it should be the driving force behind growth. Instead, we are committed to helping create more dialogue around a more formalized process for the collaborative assessment of development from every possible angle.
– Joel Jones
A. Both with Greenville County Transportation Planning and GPATS, our organizations thrive on the participation, data, and feedback provided by the stakeholders and local communities. With every plan that is done, public meetings are advertised and input solicited to ensure that their ideas, needs, and concerns are addressed. When projects are done, public information meetings are held before and during the project as needed to ensure we stay on track with the community needs. At all times, websites like www.gpats.org and https://www.greenvillecounty.org/Planning provide avenues for input. We also use these plans and venues for education and providing information, seeking to help our communities understand the impacts of growth on the region.
– Keith Brockington
Q. We have a very challenging funding mechanism for utilities and infrastructure in the United States as revenue is generated by usage, but we also encourage conservation of those same resources. How do you balance the need for funding to maintain and grow your services with maintaining affordable prices and encouraging resource conservation?
A. Growth funds growth, but that business model is only sustainable by approaching our shared needs with a collaborative approach. A smart approach to financing the long-term investments — through internal efforts to save and maximize resources, seeking grant funding, and utilizing bonds when necessary. We must invest not only in plants and pipes, but also in the people — training and education — needed to manage, install and maintain them. A strategic focus on equity and affordability in our rate structure.
– Joel Jones
A. Conservation in a rapidly urbanizing region is a true challenge, and one important step is to find funding that is not dependent on resource usage. Outside of this, promoting the development and usage of transportation alternatives such as transit, bicycling, and walking as mobility options can address many needed trips at a more cost-effective rate. By developing context-sensitive networks that address mobility, and over time transitioning land uses to where people have the option to enjoy a high quality of life without being dependent on a single-occupancy vehicle, resource conservation can be achieved at a higher level.
– Keith Brockington
A. Spartanburg Water uses multiple strategies to ensure a robust infrastructure program, while maintaining competitive rates. Utilizing effective fee structures to cover the cost of new – growth pays for growth – and a pay-as-you-go financial planning process that build funds in advance to address needs has been very effective for us. In addition, we seek grants from a variety of sources and create partnerships with developers, community partners and other governmental entities to stretch funds and improve and expand our infrastructure.
– Sue Schneider