By Johnny Johnston
Chief Operating Officer
A story from
I was recently at a community 5k walk/run that Liberty was sponsoring and after saying a few words to the participants, I had a spectator approach me with a great question. They had seen our purpose statement on our banner and asked, “`Sustaining energy and water for life’ is a nice tagline but what do you do for water?”
This gave me the opportunity to share that when it comes to the water side of our business, our purpose refers to investing now so we can provide safe and reliable water and wastewater services for our customers today and in the future. Water is one of life's most precious resources. We drink it to stay hydrated, use it for growing plants and food, cooking, bathing, and so much more. We literally need it to survive.
Therefore, it needs to be there for you, day and night. When you turn on a faucet, you expect water to flow and don’t necessarily think about the complex systems and technologies that are all part of safely delivering this vital resource. But we do. We think about it 24/7 and are busy behind the scenes making water safe and accessible.
"This ever-changing industry requires us to always examine our perspective and adapt our technology and approach to how we operate our business. The SEAP is an excellent example of how Liberty is doing just that."
In Arizona, our Sustainable Effluent to Aquifer Project (SEAP) is an example of a project that was developed with our customers and the future water supply in mind. The project was a first of its kind joint development between Liberty and the Central Arizona Water Conversation District (CAWCD), in which the SEAP was jointly funded by Liberty and CAWCD, helping to offset and reduce the rate impact on Liberty’s customers. The SEAP receives high quality effluent water from Liberty’s own water reclamation facility into each of its four basins comprising 2.2 acres – the equivalent of recharging over 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools per year. The water then seeps back into the ground, which is a natural water filter, and eventually migrates to the aquifer. This is expected to help protect and safeguard our communities’ potable water supply for future use.
The water industry is constantly evolving with new regulations, environmental factors, and innovative technologies. As Greg Sorensen, our President in Liberty’s West Region President, notes, "This ever-changing industry requires us to always examine our perspective and adapt our technology and approach to how we operate our business. The SEAP is an excellent example of how Liberty is responding to these influences."
Just like my comment to the race spectator, a company’s purpose needs to be actionable – as an industry, we need to keep looking for ways to get ahead of future demands, while ensuring our customers in the here and now are able to count on their water and wastewater services. That means continuing to invest in our water infrastructure to ensure it’s able to withstand the demands of our customers (and that number is increasing in many areas, due to overall community growth), and working with community leaders to understand how to best make those improvements. That could mean purchasing existing wells and upgrading them, drilling new wells, building reservoirs and new treatment plants, or inspecting and repairing water mains; it’s all part of maintaining the framework that delivers water, and treats wastewater.
For example, in Arizona we are building our second wastewater plant, due to come online in 2024. This is expected to allow us to recover more of the water we pump out of the ground. It’s all part of the very important water cycle and our effort of doing what we can to conserve and re-use wherever possible – a priority we all share, especially in areas where water is habitually scarce.
Delivering water takes a great deal of energy: all of the steps that are required to move water from its source to your home’s taps – or a business’s operations – need power to happen. So how do we do this as efficiently as possible, pulling on the planet’s resources in the least disruptive way? We look for more sustainable sources of energy to meet the demand. Adopting clean technologies and environmentally sound practices helps us increase energy efficiency and reduces stress on our environment. On the other side of the coin, renewable energy sources are far less water-intensive than a traditional power generation source like a thermal plant that needs water for cooling. So, thinking of water delivery and energy production in a holistic way helps us protect our water resources and ensure they will be around for years to come.
With sustainability at our core, we believe we can do well as an organization and be good to our planet at the same time.
There are additional ways utilities can incorporate sustainability into water operations. For example, installing solar and battery storage to meet the demands of electric operations at water and wastewater plants and recycling wastewater to reduce potentially harmful impacts of drought in the water-scarce southwest. Liberty includes these strategies in their operations, and as part of longer-term sustainability and net zero goals.
We acquired our first utility in Arizona in 2001 – just over two decades ago. In that time, we have expanded our water operations into California, Texas, Missouri, New York, and beyond the U.S. to South America with an investment in a Chilean water and wastewater utility. In those twenty-one years, we’ve gone from a few thousand water connections to more than half a million. A core principle of our approach throughout this expansion has been our focus on employees, customers and communities.
When we acquire a new utility and enter a new community, our immediate priority is to leverage our experience to improve what we’ve inherited. Reliability is job one – ensuring the system can deliver what customers need, and that we have the employees who can make that happen. Having employees who reside in and understand the local communities is a huge asset when building a company with such a powerful purpose as ours. Over time, this local approach has contributed to a knowledge base that we can share across states, countries and continents. Sebastian Varela, our General Manager in Chile, echoes this as he notes, "The Liberty leadership team is always supportive of us working to achieve better outcomes for our Chilean customers, with taking care of our environment a critical part of our decision-making process."
As we keep growing and evolving as an energy and water utility, we will continue to place our customers’ expectations at the center of every decision we make when it comes to running our business. Our customers don’t see all that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen – just like the race spectator saw little more than a tagline—but for us, it’s ever-present. Actively exploring innovative solutions for water conservation and energy maximization, investing in infrastructure and communities, while weaving sustainability into both our short-term activities and long-term strategies, are all key elements of ensuring there is clean, accessible water and energy for all – and for life.
Certain statements included in this article constitute "forward-looking information" within the meaning of applicable securities laws in each of the provinces and territories of Canada and the respective policies, regulations and rules under such laws and ''forward-looking statements'' within the meaning of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (collectively, "forward-looking statements"). The words "will", "expects", “strive” and similar expressions are often intended to identify forward-looking statements, although not all forward-looking statements contain these identifying words. Specific forward-looking statements in this article include statements regarding the future investment, quality and reliability of Liberty’s water services and water infrastructure; the availability of water; expected outcomes, timing and benefits of various completed and planned projects; changes in the water industry; sustainability and environmental initiatives; employee engagement and co-operation; and integration of customer-related analysis, insights and opportunities into Liberty’s business processes and strategies. Since forward-looking statements relate to future events and conditions, by their very nature they require making assumptions and involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. ("AQN") and Liberty caution that although it is believed that the assumptions are reasonable in the circumstances, these risks and uncertainties give rise to the possibility that actual results may differ materially from the expectations set out in the forward-looking statements. Material risk factors and assumptions include those set out in AQN's Management Discussion and Analysis and Annual Information Form for the year ended December 31, 2021, filed with the securities regulatory authorities in Canada and the United Stated. Given these risks, undue reliance should not be placed on these forward-looking statements, which apply only as of their dates. Other than as specifically required by law, neither AQN nor Liberty undertakes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect new information, subsequent or otherwise.