From the desk of Dave Koster

It’s been a big year for our community,
our utility, and for me.

Last December, Loren Howard, who served the Holland BPW for 25 years—as General Manager since 2007—left Holland and the Board of Public Works for Monte Vista, Colorado. We honored Loren for his service to our community and renewed our commitment to providing reliable, affordable, and sustainable power, water and wastewater treatment services. I’m very proud to carry forward the standard of excellence Loren represented.

Continuing that legacy means preparing for the future. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face today is ensuring we’re able to continue to provide power for the decades to come. The relative prosperity Holland has enjoyed despite the national downturn has accelerated our need for increased base load power generation, and it’s time to decide how we’re going to meet that need.

This year, we launched our Power for the 21st Century (P21) Initiative, which aimed to educate our community on the problems facing Holland’s aging generating facility and to gather the community’s feedback. We launched We took to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. We ran advertisements on billboards, in print, on the radio, and online. We hosted weekly presentations on topics ranging from regulations to energy optimization and conservation. The response was overwhelming; we received phone calls and emails, and conversations began throughout the community. In short, it worked.

In early August, HDR released the results of their Sustainable Return on Investment (SROI) Study of Holland’s options for meeting the growing energy demand. It’s been an exhaustive, year-long process, and it revealed a number of compelling options. These results, alongside last year’s Community Energy Plan and the voice of our community, will inform our formal recommendations to the Holland City Council this fall.

But it’s not just power; planning for the future across all our utilities is crucial to our success, and it’s crucial to Holland’s success. The Holland BPW looks 10, 20, even 50 years out to ensure reliable service—reliability that attracts industry and commerce to the Lakeshore. Many of the businesses that call Holland home have cited the Holland BPW’s outstanding rates and reliability as key reasons for their decisions, and we’d like to ensure they continue to do so.

That reliability was tested last July 11th, 2011, when a violent storm put much of Holland in the dark. By 5:00 that afternoon 70% of Holland had power again, and within 24 hours, power had been restored to roughly 95% of the community—a testament to the dedication of our employees and the systems in place allowing us to get our infrastructure back online quickly.

But the infrastructure that Holland relies on is aging, and as those components of our power, water, and wastewater treatment systems age, the cost of maintaining them increases. Much of our system is due for replacement to keep things running smoothly.

Those infrastructural improvements cost money, but the cost of doing nothing is ultimately higher. We work hard to control our costs, and the infrastructural improvements we make periodically help us mitigate costlier, unplanned interruptions of service and the repairs necessary to get things running again. And when possible, we partner with the City and other organizations to reduce the cost of these improvements. Even with the rate pressures we face, we’re pleased to offer services with rates and reliability far better than the national average.

We remain engaged in lawsuits with the Sierra Club regarding air permitting and routine maintenance and repairs at our James DeYoung facility. The Holland BPW is one of many utilities across the country targeted by the Sierra Club. This year we secured defense assistance from our insurance provider, who has pledged to cover ongoing legal charges as well as recovering several millions of dollars already spent. We’re frustrated with the costs and resources of defending these lawsuits because we know the DeYoung facility has been operated in full regulatory compliance. We feel the suits are part of a national agenda for the Sierra Club, and while we take their impact on our community seriously, we won’t let them distract us from making a positive impact for our customers.

The challenges we face are about more than how to keep the lights on. They’re about what kind of utility we’ll be—not only for our residential customers, but for commercial and industrial customers as well. They’re about how our utilities can better serve our community, our environment and our local economy. And they’re about what kind of community we’ll leave for our children and their children.

They’re difficult questions, and the decisions that we make in the years ahead will be with us for decades. We recognize that reality, and as we continue to serve the community, our focus will remain where it’s always been: on providing innovative, sustainable, reliable, and affordable utilities to our community.