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The power of partnership

Mitch Cain of Appalachian Electric Cooperative (left) presents Marty Chambers, Carson-Newman’s CFO and Ondes Webster, the University’s director of physical plant and construction manager, with a check from money left over from a new power shedding pilot program that is proving to benefit energy customers throughout the region.

(March 16, 2015) – A special partnership and pilot program that began in fall of 2013 between Carson-Newman University and Appalachian Electric Cooperative (AEC) is a proven success says Mitch Cain, director of member services for AEC.

Dubbed AEC’s “Demand Response Program for Commercial and Industry,” the initiative is benefiting Jefferson County residents, as well as AEC and Carson-Newman.

Like all energy providers in the state, Appalachian Electric receives its energy from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). TVA must generate enough electricity to meet demand. If energy demand exceeds TVA’s energy resources, TVA must purchase electricity in the open market, which Cain said is higher priced. The extra energy that TVA purchases reflects in slightly higher energy costs to all TVA customers, Cain said.

“Ultimately, it lowers Appalachian Electric’s peak demand, which in turn, lowers the draw we have on TVA,” explains Cain. “And in the big picture, the lower our peak, the less we pay, and that is the cost spread out among 45 thousand members in East Tennessee.”

Purchasing from the open market is only a short-term solution for peak energy use. That’s where the Demand Response Program comes in.

Though Carson-Newman was the first to sign on as a partner in the program, four other area businesses have since joined, and are on call for whenever energy-demand peaks. When contacted by AEC, the University reduces its energy consumption to help alleviate the energy load.

The end result is a win-win for everyone in the region.

“There are third parties that do this [demand response programs] in bulk across the nation and around the world,” said Cain. “We were determined to prove that a local co-op, that’s a non-profit, could function in the same arena and be successful. And to do that we had to have some pretty strong players and Carson-Newman has certainly been first and foremost.”

Cain says that like any new program, there has been a learning process – a process not without positive discoveries.

“We’ve learned cost-wise what it takes to operate,” explained Cain. “And one of the pieces of good news is that we did it for less than we thought it would cost. So those dollars are going to come back to the participants like Carson-Newman.”

Because of being more efficient than previously thought, in February AEC presented a check to Carson-Newman and the other partners in the program from money that was left over from the fiscal year.

According to Marty Chambers, Carson-Newman’s chief financial officer, the University already has plans for the money it received, as well as any future money from the partnership.

“We will take this check and put it toward projects on campus that will further save energy,” said Chambers, who noted that a future campus project includes the transition of exterior lighting, such as parking lots, to LED lighting. “This will help us be good stewards with the money, of the environment and our use of utilities. This will feed into the University’s energy savings plan that uses capital expenditures to find ways to save energy.”

Cain says the program will be reevaluated in October, but the partnership is proving to be a positive. “The more the University helps us manage our peak, the lower our cost to TVA, which means to lower our cost across the board, and that makes a lot of people happy.”

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