eLab Accelerator 2015

Boone Utility of the Future

Project Objective

Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, a nationally-recognized leader in campus sustainability, owns and operates a public utility, New River Light and Power, which serves the campus and the surrounding town. This project aims to leverage the capacity of the university and industry innovation to transform New River Light and Power into a leading example of the “utility of the future” while integrating the utility more deeply into the university’s academic mission.

Project Team Members

Sheree Brown, Managing Principal, Summit Utility Advisors
Michael O’Connor, Physical Plant Director, Appalachian State University
Ed Miller, General Manager, New River Light and Power
Ged Moody, University Sustainability Director, Appalachian State University
Dr. Jeff Ramsdell, Director, Appalachian Energy Center, Appalachian State University
Ivan Urlaub, Executive Director, North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association

Project Description

Appalachian State University is a national leader in campus sustainability efforts, and is known for offering a variety of academic programs focused on energy and sustainability. The university also owns and operates a public electric utility (New River Light and Power) that serves its campus and the Town of Boone, NC. Appalachian understands that its ownership of this public electric utility represents a significant platform for research and development for the electric utility industry. The leveraging of industry expertise with the inventive culture of a campus community into NRLP’s existing operations represents an exciting and unique opportunity. In this effort, the utility industry’s future can be implemented in a laboratory setting where industry innovation and academic discovery team together at a university with a clear and committed focus to developing and modeling next generation sustainable practices.

Progress Made to Date (pre-Accelerator)

The strategic opportunity is recognized at the highest levels of university and utility leadership. Appalachian has worked with Rocky Mountain Institute in a preliminary engagement to identify the scope of the strategic opportunity presented by New River Light and Power. Appalachian has identified funding sources that with strong interest in providing financial support to these ongoing efforts. Appalachian has identified and reached out to other non-profits and sources of expertise that are willing and able to be a part of the ongoing discovery and implementation effort.

Post-Accelerator Outcomes

At Accelerator, the team explored options for what a "utility of the future" for Boone, NC could look like, and what next steps team members could take to achieve this vision. The team discussed many options, including both distributed and utility-scale energy projects, support of Appalachian State University's academic mission through utility activities, and innovative customer programs, and evaluated them against several criteria including bill impacts, reliability, and feasibility. The team arrived at a shared vision statement for the utility: "To seize upon the complementary strengths of the Boone, NC community, Appalachian State University, and New River Light & Power to create an innovative, scalable approach to the delivery and use of clean, reliable, low-cost electricity that unlocks opportunities for economic development and community prosperity, while maintaining historical quality of service and affordability." Going forward, the team will begin to test its ideas for the utility's future with broader stakeholder groups within the Boone community, and move towards implementation of specific projects that meet common objectives.