Conference focuses on resource planning for utilities

If integrated resource planning (IRP) seemed difficult in the past, a whole new set of factors; including the Clean Power Plan, advances in storage, renewable energy portfolios and smart devices galore; are piling on to make it more challenging—and more important—than ever. An upcoming conference, How Changes in the 2016 Grid Affect IRPs You are leaving Western's site., may help your utility address those challenges, while building general planning skills.

The professional development company EUCI is presenting its 16th Annual Integrated Resource Planning Conference, March 20-22, in Long Beach, California. The conference provides a showcase for IRP “best practices” that takes into account the new pressures utilities face in managing and forecasting their loads.

Far-reaching program
The agenda is designed not just for resource and strategic planners, but for financial analysts, efficiency and demand response program managers and professionals who are responsible for mandate compliance as well.

Speakers include leading utility and power resource planning professionals and related industry experts. Presentations will use case studies to illustrate methodologies that predict and plan for future operational and investment requirements. Key topics include:

  • Properly modeling energy storage and integrating it into an IRP
  • How Clean Power Plan requirements should be rendered in the IRP planning process and document
  • How to factor operational flexibility requirements into resource selection decision-making
  • Planning for uncertainty and risk related to fuel prices and transportation infrastructure
  • Determining a utility’s avoided cost for PURPA [Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act]and variable generation (VG) resources

In addition to two days of packed sessions, EUCI has also scheduled pre- and post-conference workshops. IRP Planning Challenges and Critical Analysis for Emerging Business Models, March 21, provides analytic, modeling and planning insights as they relate to the new business forces that are transforming the utility industry. On March 23, following the conference wrap-up, Energy Storage Valuation examines the questions utilities and system planners have relating to modeling and implementing storage.

What you get
Participants will learn about developing comprehensive resource plans that provide solutions to operational issues and accurately account for variables. Sessions will offer insights on the impact of renewables on carbon emissions, and on communicating IRP results to stakeholders and regulators. Attendees can gain practical resource planning skills that will help position their utilities to negotiate the industry’s rapidly evolving business model environment.

Besides new skills, EUCI is offering .9 continuing education units (CEU) for the conference and .3 CEUs for each workshop. The International Association for Continuing Education and Training You are leaving Western's site. has accredited EUCI as an authorized training provider.

Good for you, for Western
Energy Services is not only suggesting that our customers investigate this training opportunity—we are planning to send representatives to the IRP Conference, as well. It is critical that Western understands the demands of the new planning environment thoroughly to give our customers the support they need as the industry changes.

Register before March 4 to receive the early-bird discount. EUCI is offering a discount for organizations wishing to send multiple attendees. Send three delegates and the fourth attends for free, as long as all registrations are made at the same time. Contact Ron Horstman for more information about the package discount.

Rooms at Hyatt the Pike, the conference location, must be reserved before Feb. 20 to receive the special group rate.

Lincoln Electric System keeps refining efficiency incentives

Like rose bushes, customer energy-efficiency programs only flourish with careful attention, like Lincoln Electric System You are leaving Western's site. (LES) gives to its Sustainable Energy Program You are leaving Western's site..

The Nebraska municipal utility is funding its incentive program with $3 million this year to help customers make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient. The program is intended to encourage customer-owners to upgrade to equipment and systems that are more efficient than they would have purchased on their own.

Program participants are not the only LES customers who benefit, either. “The Sustainable Energy Program also reduces the need to purchase more expensive power during the summer months and delays the need for new power generation,” said Marc Shkolnick, LES manager of energy services. “This is a good investment for all our customer-owners.”

Broadening program
LES launched the Sustainable Energy Program in 2009 to reduce demand with energy efficiency and renewable energy to offset the utility’s projected five-year growth on a rolling basis. “We retooled a heat pump incentive to go after our summer peak,” explained Shkolnick. “Over time, we added more equipment and systems as we realized that it would take a more aggressive approach to ensure that all our customers were benefitting.”

LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

The current version of the Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for:

  • High-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners for residential and commercial customers replacing existing cooling systems or installing them in newly built homes and buildings
  • Commercial and industrial energy-efficiency measures that achieve peak demand savings, such as commercial lighting retrofits, air conditioner or heat pump replacements, variable-frequency drive upgrades, compressed air system analysis and upgrade, energy management system installation, optimization or upgrade and system commissioning
  • Whole-house and facility sealing and insulation to seal penetrations and bring insulation levels to current code standards in existing homes and facilities

Air conditioner and heat pump upgrades are the most popular residential measures, and for commercial customers, “It’s lighting, by a slam dunk,” declared Shkolnick. “Over time, between the changes in technology and dropping prices, we’ve seen the most activity in lighting incentives.”

LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

Spreading savings, awareness
Since 2009, residential customers have implemented 6,000 projects and commercial customers have completed 5,000 upgrades to save a cumulative estimate of 100,000 megawatt-hours. Leveraging $18.3 million in incentives, LES customers invested $87 million in energy-efficiency upgrades for an estimated annual savings of $7 million on electric energy bills, a win for the local economy, too.

In fact, trade allies have been among the program’s biggest promoters, noted Shkolnick. “People don’t think about these kinds of purchases until they need to. Contractors are talking to customers when they are ready to buy new equipment or systems, and they talk about the incentives,” he said. “LES promotes the program through the usual channels—bill stuffers, newsletters, ads—but the vendors are our most effective marketers.”

Getting off on the right foot with the local contractor pool—and staying there—helped. LES brought vendors in during the development of the Sustainable Energy Program to get their input. “We still do an annual orientation to update our trade allies on program changes, terms and conditions,” Shkolnick said. “Also, we moved the reimbursement system online to streamline the process and make it more user-friendly.”

Reaching out to contractors has paid off in more than program participation. A recent survey LES conducted showed not only a growing awareness among customer-owners about the Sustainable Energy Program, but also about energy use and reducing waste in general.

Making good even better
All of which is to say that the Sustainable Energy Program is doing a good job of saving energy and engaging customers. But is it keeping up with the times? Since LES launched the program, lighting technology has made great strides, building energy codes have tightened and federal efficiency standards have toughened.

Far from taking success for granted, LES recently hired a consultant to analyze seven years’ worth of data and experience. The third-party critique will review the program’s cost-effectiveness, and look at assumptions for claiming energy and demand savings and how the savings are modeled in the utility’s load forecast. “We want to make sure the program is following industry best practices,” said Shkolnick.

It takes work to build an effective energy-efficiency program—one that meets the needs of both customers and utility—and Lincoln Electric System is sowing what it wants to reap.

Decades of planning lead to end of coal for Silicon Valley Power

A utility that prides itself on a diverse power supply will soon be removing one particular resource from its portfolio for good. Silicon Valley Power You are leaving Western's site. (SVP), the municipal electric utility serving Santa Clara, California, will become coal-free after Dec. 31, 2017, when it ends electricity imports from the San Juan Generating Station You are leaving Western's site..

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The state-of-the-art Lodi Energy Center replaces coal-fired megawatts with cleaner-burning natural gas and fast ramping capabilities that complement renewable generation. (Photo copyright: www.siemens.com/presse)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final approval of the move on Dec. 30, 2015. Cleaner energy from renewable and natural gas resources will replace the power from the New Mexico coal-fired power plant for 53,000 Santa Clara customers. The confluence of many different policies and pressures led to this decision, observed Larry Owens, SVP manager of customer services. “But mostly, it is because our customers want us to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” he said.

Currently, about 36 percent of the utility’s power comes from state-mandated renewable resources, exceeding California’s 33-percent-by-2020 requirement You are leaving Western's site.. With large hydro included, more than 50 percent of the power the utility supplies is carbon-free, even as SVP maintains some of the lowest electricity rates in the state.

Changing times, concerns
The commitment to affordable, reliable electricity made coal power a sensible choice in 1980, when SVP partnered with Modesto Irrigation District You are leaving Western's site. and Redding Electric Utility You are leaving Western's site. to form the M-S-R Public Power Agency You are leaving Western's site.. The joint power authority purchased an interest in the San Juan Generating Station in 1983 to supplement seasonal hydroelectric generation and reduce the need to buy expensive and often cost-volatile short-term power.

Over the years, however, concerns grew about the effect of carbon emissions on the environment, and in 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (AB) 32. In keeping with its history of environmental responsibility, Santa Clara launched its own strategy to fight climate change, starting with an inventory of all community emissions. Cataloging the city’s sources of emissions gave Santa Clara a good baseline to work with and aligned with the reporting requirements that preceded the carbon cap-and-trade market AB 32 established, starting in 2013, noted Owens.

One thing the inventory revealed was that although coal-fired power provided just 10 percent of SVP’s electricity, it accounted for 50 percent of the utility’s carbon emissions. Cleaning up those emissions and complying with other new environmental regulations covering all emissions promised to increase the costs and liabilities associated with the plant.

SVP, through M-S-R Public Power Agency, began confidential negotiations in 2011 to pull Santa Clara out of the San Juan contract, and started to examine alternatives to coal-powered resources. “Replacing 10 percent of our generation to get rid of 50 percent of our emissions just made good sense,” said Owens.

Many parts to lower emissions puzzle
Making the decision was the only easy part, though. SVP was still a part owner in the plant and was still paying on the bond that financed that purchase. The utility could have sold its interest to another power provider, but that would just be passing the climate-change buck, Owens explained. “When the opportunity came up to affect a true reduction in emissions by working toward the closure of two of the four units, we got behind it immediately,” he said.

Accomplishing that goal involved working with multitude of partners and interests, not only several utilities besides M-S-R, but also coal producers, the local economy, regional, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and other vested interests. “It was a lot of hard work,” Owens recalled. “All of the parties in that complicated effort deserve recognition for honoring everyone’s interest and still attaining the goal.”

Replacing 51 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the San Juan plant has proven to be as much an opportunity for SVP as a challenge. The utility became a major partner in the Lodi Energy Center (LEC), a state-of-the-art natural gas plant, and has received electricity from it since 2012. The combined-cycle LEC incorporates cutting-edge, “fast-start” technology to reach full load in 30 minutes. The ability to quickly ramp up reduces startup emissions and makes the system complementary to intermittent renewable resources.

Small hydropower plants present yet another opportunity for SVP to acquire new renewables. “We have two new facilities on deck ready to produce 32 MW,” Owens said. “Some of the hydropower we have picked up in the past few years was from expiring contracts with PG&E, but we are starting to see more projects that add capacity to existing facilities.”

These new wind turbines at Intel’s Headquarters in Santa Clara add to the 1 MW of onsite solar. Intel Corp is the leading user of renewable energy nation-wide. (Photo by Intel Corp.)

These new wind turbines at Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara add to the 1 MW of onsite solar. Intel Corp., an SVP customer, is the leading user of renewable energy nation-wide. (Photo by Intel Corp.)

Keeping customers satisfied
Ending its exports of coal-generated electricity in 2018 will reduce the carbon footprint of SVP’s generation by 50 percent, two years ahead of the 2020 deadline in Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan. That won’t be the end of the utility’s efforts to maintain a sustainable and affordable power supply.

Part of the motivation is staying ahead of state and federal environmental and renewable mandates, but most of it comes from the customer. “For one thing, our service territory includes some of the world’s high-tech giants,” Owens said. “Many of those large commercial customers have advanced their own sustainability initiatives and they expect their utility to keep up.”

For Silicon Valley Power, it all comes down to meeting and exceeding its customers’ expectations. “I can’t overstate how big a part our customers’ interests played in driving toward a coal-free portfolio,” Owens stated.

Upcoming deadlines

Around the web: DOE Better Buildings Initiative

Improving the efficiency of America’s building stock would save billions of dollars in energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of jobs. To capture – and replicate – those positive gains in energy efficiency, the Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings Initiative, a partnership of public and private sector organizations across the country.
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The initiative focuses its strategies within four interrelated key areas to drive change and investment in energy efficiency:

  • Developing innovative, replicable solutions with market leaders
  • Making energy efficiency investment easier
  • Developing a skilled clean energy workforce
  • Leading by example in federal government

Many ways to build better
Building owners in the commercial, educational, industrial, residential and state and local government sectors can get involved in the initiative through a variety of pathways:

  • The cornerstone Better Building Challenge calls on the leadership of companies, universities, school districts, housing developers and state and local government to commit to reducing the energy used across their building portfolios by 20 percent or more over 10 years.
  • The Better Building Accelerators demonstrate specific innovative policies and approaches, which upon successful demonstration, will accelerate investment in energy efficiency.
  • The Better Buildings Summit, May 9-11 in Washington, D.C., brings partners together to showcase solutions and exchange best practices.
  • The Better Buildings Alliance connects members in different market sectors with DOE’s research and technical experts to develop and deploy innovative, cost-effective, energy-saving solutions that lead to better technologies, more profitable businesses and healthier, more comfortable facilities.
  • The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines provide a national platform for developing high-quality, nationally recognized training and certification programs that are consistent and scalable across the energy-efficiency industry.
  • The annual Better Buildings Case Competition engages the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to develop creative solutions to real-world energy efficiency barriers for businesses and other organizations across the marketplace. After taking a year off for planning, the competition is back in 2016.

Partner-specific resources
Industrial partners can participate in the Better Plants program that has saved about 457 trillion British thermal units and $2.4 billion cumulatively in energy costs to date. Facilities may also pursue Superior Energy Performance Certification, by implementing an energy management system that meets the ISO 50001 Standard You are leaving Western's site. and demonstrates improved energy performance.

Resources dedicated to residential partners include the online Solution Center, Home Energy Score and  the Zero-energy Ready Home designation to promote high-performance housing. Utility residential program managers will find many tools in these pages to help homeowners control their energy use.

The Better Building Residential Network is available to state and local government partners, as well as residential partners. The membership, which includes utilities, analyzes energy-efficiency programs and shares best practices with the goal of increasing the number of energy-efficient homes. Join their weekly peer exchange calls to discuss such topics as smart homes, the power of messaging, emerging trends in residential efficiency and residential property-assessed clean energy financing.

Get involved
Buildings use close to half of the energy consumed in the United States, so a more efficient building stock can help utilities meet environmental regulations and load management goals. Learn more about  becoming a Better Building Partner or sign up for interactive webinars that explore cost-effective ways to integrate energy savings into their daily building operations. Keep up to date on the latest partner activities and solutions by signing up for Better Buildings communications.

Energy department issues largest energy-efficiency standard ever

That boom you may have heard at the end of 2015 was the Department of Energy Appliance and Equipment Standards Program sending the year out with historic new efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners and furnaces. The new standards are expected to save 1.7 trillion kilowatt-hours over 30 years of sales, or almost as much energy as one year’s worth of coal generation in the United States.

Tons of savings
Rooftop air conditioners cool about half the commercial floor space in the nation. The DOE also set standards for commercial warm air furnaces, which are typically installed with the rooftop commercial air conditioners. Over the lifetime of the products, the standards will save businesses $167 billion on their utility bills and reduce carbon pollution by 885 million metric tons.

According to DOE estimates, the new rooftop air conditioner standards will save more energy and cut more emissions than any other standards completed by the agency. The previous record-setters were the 2014 standards that covered electric motors and the 2009 fluorescent tube lamp standards.

ASAPgraph

(Graph by Appliance Standards Awareness Project)

Takes teamwork
Representatives of individual manufacturers, installers, utilities, environmental groups and efficiency organizations actively contributed to the development of the standards. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy You are leaving Western's site., the Appliance Standards Awareness Project You are leaving Western's site. (ASAP) and the National Resource Defense Council You are leaving Western's site. were among the 17 stakeholder groups participating in the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC).

ASRAC uses negotiated rule-making to engage all interested parties, gather data and attempt to reach consensus on establishing energy-efficiency standards. The proof of the process is in the savings—about 5 billion metric tons of emissions in 2014—and in the support for its work. In an interview with UtilityDive You are leaving Western's site., Marianne DiMascio of ASAP observed that the work of the committee often goes unnoticed because it is largely uncontroversial—a rare thing for a government agency in today’s political climate. “It doesn’t always make for exciting news to say there’s a policy that many people agree with, that is having a huge impact, and it’s about the type of motor your air conditioner uses [or the amount of insulation on a water heater],” she said.

Phasing in
These new commercial air conditioning and furnace standards will occur in two phases. The first phase will begin in 2018 and will deliver a 13-percent efficiency improvement in products. Five years later, an additional 15-percent increase in efficiency is required for new commercial units.

Visit the DOE website to learn more about the energy-efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners  and warm air furnaces.

Tribal Renewable Energy Webinar series schedule announced for 2016

A new year brings a new schedule for the Tribal Renewable Energy Webinar series  sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and Western’s Renewable Resource Program.

Now in its fourth year, the popular series continues to provide tribal leaders and staff with tools and resources to develop and implement tribal energy plans, programs and projects.

Tribal case histories are playing an increasing role in the webinar series, providing real-life examples and experience to illustrate the topics. “The 2016 webinar series continues to build upon the fundamentals of strategic energy planning, a necessary cornerstone to successful tribal renewable energy projects,” said Randy Manion, Western’s Renewable Resource Program manager. “We now incorporate tribal renewable project successes and experiences into almost every webinar, along with useful tools and resources.”

Webinars also highlight how clean energy development can enhance the local economy and help tribes move toward energy independence.

As in previous years, topics cover the entire process, from developing an energy plan to financing projects to obtaining transmission and more. Industry experts will discuss power marketing, energy policy and regulatory issues, project business models and economic development opportunities.

Webinars are held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time, usually on the last Wednesday of the month. There is no charge to attend, but registration is required.

Attendees need to have Internet access, a computer and a phone line. If you are unable to participate in the live event, the webinar is recorded and posted in the Renewable Resources webinar library.

Source: Western Green Power News, 1/5/16

National Renewable Energy Laboratory Seeks Intern to Support Tribal Work

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is accepting applications for a year-round student internship supporting the laboratory’s work to foster clean energy development on tribal lands.

Applicants should have a technical background that provides a foundation for their participation in scientific analysis of tribal energy data, renewable energy potential, renewable energy project financing, and energy efficiency options. Course work and experience in engineering, finance, environmental science, public policy, economics, and statistics are highly applicable to the position. Because interns will work cross-culturally with federally recognized tribes, experience working in multicultural environments is a requirement.

To learn more or apply, visit NREL’s job postings and search for R1173.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory via DOE Office of Indian Energy and Programs, 1/5/16

Introducing IREC’s Updated Solar Career Map

IREC’s Solar Career Map – new resource for training providers
Jan. 14, 12-1 p.m. MST

Update: This webinar is over, but visit YouTube for an overview of the Solar Career Map. You are leaving Western's site.

Join the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) on Jan. 14 for a free webinar on the Solar Career Map You are leaving Western's site., a comprehensive resource covering solar energy occupations.

IREC recently updated this interactive tool to demonstrate the breadth of the industry and its critical occupations, and to highlight the necessity of integrating solar training in related fields. The map describes diverse jobs across the industry and identifies the sorts of experience and credentials necessary to do them well.

Utilities with solar programs understand the importance—and the challenge—of building and maintaining a high-quality contractor pool for installing and servicing customer solar systems. This complimentary IREC webinar offers utility program managers an opportunity to connect with clean energy trainers and others involved in workforce development.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Access the map’s interactive features, including 40 jobs in four sectors how they are related
  • Apply ideas about how you can leverage the map to make your work more effective
  • Find resources created by IREC and the Solar Instructor Training Network You are leaving Western's site. for community colleges and other solar training providers

The IREC team will answer your questions submitted in advance or during the webinar as time allows.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 1/5/16

Customer service culture built, not born

As we roll into another year that promises unprecedented change in the utility industry, consider giving your organization a gift that can smooth the way forward: great customer service.

In a recent article in Intelligent Utility You are leaving Western's site., authors Patty Cruz and Rebecca Shiflea analyze practices at companies known for outstanding customer service and offer 10 steps utilities can take to cultivate a successful customer service culture:

  • 1. Engage leadership – Organizational philosophy starts at the top. Utility executives must communicate that everyone and every job exists to support delivering electricity to customers and community.
  • 2. Engage customers – The expectations customers have about utility services are changing. Use different avenues of outreach—public meetings, social media, focus groups, etc.—to learn about those expectations and design products and services to meet your customers’ needs.
  • 3. Hire the right people – With an aging workforce, utilities are likely to be doing a lot of recruiting and hiring during the next several years. Consider this an opportunity to look for candidates who have not only the right skills for the job, but also the right attitude to support a customer service culture.
  • 4. Cultural alignment – Improving the customer experience must be the responsibility of everyone in the organization, not just the customer service department. The structure, policies and procedures should also support those goals. Rigid policies can be a barrier to good customer service.
  • 5. Educate and train – Employee orientation is the place to start telling new hires what great service looks like at the utility. Explain how the interests of each employee are tied to the overall organization and how both benefit from improving service. Don’t limit training to new employees, either. Companies that are known for having the best customer service make training a continuous process.
  • 6. Retain the best – Make providing great service fun and rewarding. Even employees who do not directly interact with customers should understand how their work ultimately affects customers. Build a work environment that engages and motivates employees to improve performance, and your utility will attract and retain superior talent.
  • 7. Empower your employees – Provide customer-facing employees with a framework—the outcome should be favorable for the customer, not hurt the utility (e.g., financially, legally) and enhance the relationship between the organization and the customer—and let them explore innovative service solutions.
  • 8. Communicate service success – Recognizing and sharing employee accomplishments when they deliver exceptional customer service reinforces its importance to the organization. Examples of excellent customer service should be communicated both internally and externally.
  • 9. Reward and recognize excellent customer service – You get more of the behavior you reward, so develop ways to recognize and reward specific employees for their good service behaviors. When you conduct surveys on customer satisfaction and the quality of service, share the results with all employees so that everyone knows of the results and receives recognition for what is going well.
  • 10. Create and track metrics – The act of measuring can create a sense of competition in employees, and even encourage them to compete with their own records. Setting goals and measuring performance also provides the ability to hold individuals, groups and an entire organization accountable for the resulting success or failure.

Read the full article for more insights and examples of how utilities have improved their customer service programs. Happy New Year, and may all your customers be satisfied.

Source: Intelligent Utility, 12/11/15