October 12th, 2023

Post by Donna Marbury, Smart Columbus Storyteller

When Patricia Austin was first tapped to be a part of the team developing Columbus application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, she thought winning the grant would be a long shot. Once Columbus made it to round two of the application process, Austin knew that the city’s efforts to transform energy and transportation could become a reality.

“It seemed like such a crazy idea two years ago, but now everyone is excited about electrification, electric vehicles and autonomous shuttles,” says Austin, who now serves as power administrator for the City of Columbus Division of Power (DOP)

Austin joined DOP in 2016 and says that she worked quickly to align DOP’s energy efficiency goals with those of the now-formed Smart Columbus initiative. 

“I realized that the DOP is one of the best-kept secrets in Columbus, and I didn’t want us to miss out on opportunities through Smart Columbus,” Austin says.

Smart Columbus decarbonization goals
In partnership with power providers, including DOP, American Electric Power and DC Solar, Smart Columbus has a goal to install 905 megawatts of utility scale renewable energy generation capable of serving the Columbus region by 2030. Another goal is to procure a minimum of 1.2 million megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy for the City of Columbus between 2017 and 2022 and save 480 gigawatt hours consumed through energy efficiency and smart grid programs during the time period of the grant. 

This effort will be achieved by focusing on consumer energy efficiency, public lighting efficiency, solar, wind and hydro generation deployments and purchase of renewable energy for regional use. 

Green Power initiatives
Through Smart Columbus’ decarbonization initiatives, Austin says DOP has been able to prioritize several Green Power projects and initiatives that would provide cleaner energy to DOP’s 14,000 customers and the whole city. Highlights of some of those initiatives include:

  • DOP purchases on average 885,000 MWh of power each year to serve its customers and the street light system throughout the city. The division is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by raising the green energy portfolio from 5.7 percent of their total power sold as of 2016 to 28.4 percent by 2020 and to 50 percent by 2023. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2022, a minimum of 1.2 million MWh of new green energy will be supplied through DOP.
  • DOP operates an EcoSmart Choice Green Pricing Program option for its customers, allowing them to offset up to 100 percent of their electricity usage with power from renewable sources. This green pricing program funds the purchase and retirement of renewable energy certificates through American Municipal Power (AMP). The division will work with AMP to reduce the per-MWh price of renewable energy certificates in 2018, in order to further increase participation in the program by five percent of renewable energy supplied by 2020.
  • The City of Columbus will use biogas from city wastewater treatment plants as fuel for a Combined Heat and Power plant, which will consume all the biogas being produced and supply half of the power at two wastewater treatment plants. This will generate approximately 5,000 MWh per year by 2022. 
  • The O’Shaughnessy Dam located in Delaware County has needed repairs to its turbines for several years, and currently only one of the hydroelectric turbines can be operated. But with Smart Columbus grants, the dam is in the process to be repaired and improved by 2020. When this plant is returned to full operation, it is anticipated to generate 10,000 MWh per year.
  • In 2018, DOP began purchasing 20 percent of its total power from Green Power resources. This is approximately 180,000 MWh of renewable energy certificates each year at an estimated cost of $1/MWh. The City of Columbus utilized Smart Columbus grant funds to cover 50 percent of the cost for the first year, but future years will be funded 100 percent by the City of Columbus.

Future projects
One project “near and dear” to Austin’s heart is the smart street light initiative, which would upgrade Columbus’ street lights to use LED technology. With smart street lights come the possibility to offer other technology, such as public WiFi. The benefits include reduced maintenance costs, real time reporting and the ability to control light intensity. 

Austin says the division hopes to announce a partner to initiate this city-wide effort by 2019. “In five years, people will be able to see how smart street lights benefit the whole city,” Austin says.

There have been hurdles in making sure projects are moving on pace and changing people’s mindsets toward what’s possible, Austin says. But overall Austin says her team at DOP is primed to move forward with Green Power initiatives.

“Now that we’re in the midst of planning and realizing a lot of these projects, the future doesn’t seem so far away. Everyone in Columbus has been working together to keep things moving.” Austin says. “A lot of these technologies are here in Columbus, and we will be a better city once they are complete.”


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