Community solar garden captures innovation award for Moorhead, Minnesota

Moorhead Public Service You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MPS), based in Minnesota, recently received the Energy Innovator Award from American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. for giving residents what they want: clean solar power.

Moorhead Public Service installed its community solar garden near its first renewable energy systems, two wind turbines.

Moorhead Public Service installed its community solar garden near its first renewable energy systems, two wind turbines. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

The award-winning, 40-kilowatt (kW) Capture the Sun Community Solar Garden went online in 2015, after public outreach indicated strong support for more solar options. Moorhead customers pay for the power output of one of the 144 non-rotating, photovoltaic (PV) panels that make up the array. The value of the energy generated by the panels is prorated annually in the form of bill credits to participating customers. MPS is responsible for ongoing maintenance and delivering the energy to subscribers’ homes and businesses.

“The point of the gardens is to allow people who don’t have the ability to have solar panels at their home, to help feed solar energy into the grid,” said MPS Energy Services Manager Dennis Eisenbraun. “That fits the criteria for the Energy Innovator Award very well.”

The award recognizes utility programs that demonstrate advances in the development or application of creative, energy-efficient techniques or technologies. Judges also look for programs that improve service to electric customers or projects that increase the efficiency of utility operations or resource efficiency. Transferability and project scope in relation to utility size are also considered. APPA presented the award during its annual National Conference in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

Keeping customers satisfied
Although support for clean energy—especially the home-grown kind—is strong among consumers, many homes and businesses are not in the position, literally or figuratively, to install solar. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about three-quarters of all buildings are not suitable for a solar array due to shading, roof orientation, structural issues and other concerns.

Shared solar, however, has the potential to greatly increase consumer access to solar PV, a fact not lost on MPS customers. “We did an initial survey to gauge customer interest last year, and then held a couple of public meetings,” Eisenbraun recalled. “Finally, we sent out a mass mailing seeking a commitment to the project and there was an overwhelming positive response.”

Moorhead residents, utility employees, city officials and contractors attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun, Oct. 6, 2015. MPS is planning a ceremony for the second phase of the solar garden this coming October.

Moorhead residents, utility employees, city officials and contractors attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun, Oct. 6, 2015. MPS is planning a ceremony for the second phase of the solar garden this coming October. (Photo by Moorhead Public Utilities)

Capture the Sun quickly attracted more subscribers than it had panels to accommodate them. “We knew before we finished building the 2015 project that it was only going to be ‘Phase One,’” said Eisenbraun. “Between the waiting list and a second mass mailer sent earlier this year, we had enough support to go ahead with another array in 2016.”

Poised for success
The second phase of Capture the Sun will be fully subscribed when it goes online this fall. MPS is planning a public dedication, Oct. 4, during Public Power Week.

The success of the solar garden is not surprising, given that Moorhead residents are already familiar with the concept of community renewable energy development. MPS built two wind turbines, one in 1999 and another in 2001, and more than 800 customers signed up to support the Capture the Wind program with a small green power tariff on their monthly electricity bills. “Our first foray into renewable energy was a resounding success,” Eisenbraun acknowledged. “The turbines were a great public relations tool and they reached payback in just 11 years, four years ahead of schedule.”

Going local
Like the wind turbines, Capture the Sun is a distinctly local project that keeps control in the community and the economic benefits within the region. MPS self-financed the solar garden with a combination of subscriptions and funds shifted from its renewable system incentive program. “We didn’t have as many individual customers installing systems as we hoped,” explained Eisenbraun. “So instead of leaving that money on the table, we decided to use it to give our customers another option.” A very popular option, as it turned out.

Solar installers from Enterprise Sales mount PV panels on a rack. The project brought attention--and business--to the regional construction company.

Solar installers from Enterprise Sales mount PV panels on a rack. The project brought attention–and business–to the regional construction company. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

MPS also chose Enterprise Sales Co. You are leaving WAPA.gov. from nearby Valley City, North Dakota, to build the project. The website states that Enterprise is “more than a contractor,” but Eisenbraun was surprised to learn that the company builds solar arrays. “I was only familiar with them as grain bin builders,” he admitted. “But they came in with the best price and their project manager worked everything out to the finest detail.”

At Moorhead Public Service, bringing recognition to a local business, self-financing community renewables projects and giving customers what they want is not so much about innovation as it is about doing the right thing. “We didn’t build Capture the Sun because of any mandates,” Eisenbraun pointed out. “We did it because it was a great idea and our customers thought so, too.”

And that kind of thinking deserves an award.

APPA publication helps utilities report sustainability activities

It is hard enough to agree on a definition of sustainability, let alone measure and account for it. Yet the general public, along with local, state and federal governments are increasingly calling upon electric utilities to demonstrate sustainable operation. To help power providers meet these demands, the American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. is offering a new publication, Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities

(Artwork by American Public Power Association)

Use this resource to learn how to account for and report your utility’s positive economic, environmental and social impacts. You will discover how to build, maintain and use reports to impact your strategy.

Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities describes current trends in sustainability accounting and offers guidance on reporting to stakeholders and employees on your sustainable activities. This publication provides you with up-to-date practices on sustainability accounting and reporting by:

  • Explaining what sustainability reporting is
  • Introducing you to standards-setting entities
  • Describing processes for gathering sustainability statistics
  • Showing how to build and maintain sustainability reports
  • Demonstrating how sustainability reporting can impact utility strategy

Written by Megan Decker and Russ Hissom of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities will help to establish your utility as a good steward of the resources it uses to deliver reliable and affordable energy to customers.

Source: American Public Power Association, 3/14/16

Better Buildings fact sheets highlight top Peer Exchange Call takeaways

When it comes to energy-efficiency programs, each utility is in a different place: Looking for examples to help them get started, trying come up with a way to measure and improve the results of a first-time offering, figuring out how to take an established program to the next level and all the phases in between. Everyone could use a little help and the Better Buildings Residential Network (BBRN) is a good place to find it.

The Better Business Residential Network Peer Exchange Calls often focus on tips and strategies for choosing and working with contractors.

The Better Business Residential Network Peer Exchange Calls often focus on tips and strategies for choosing and working with contractors. (Photo by Better Building Residential Network)

Several times a year, members hold Peer Exchange Calls to compare experiences, analyze misfires, celebrate successes and discuss ways to increase the number of energy-efficient homes in America. As valuable as it would be for utility program managers to participate in this exchange, that is not the only way to benefit from it. BBRN publishes “greatest hits” fact sheets quarterly, summarizing the top takeaways from these calls. You can download this treasure trove of customer service and other tips from the BBRN website, or find Volumes 1 through 6 in the Energy Services fact sheet library.

We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to access these resources because they have so much to offer utilities. For example, here are just two takeaways from Vol. 6 of Lessons Learned:

  • Leverage HVAC upgrades to spark conversations about whole-home performance. Customers, who have put their trust in a contractor to complete their HVAC repair, might welcome the contractor’s expert efficiency advice.
  • Residential energy-efficiency customers have different backgrounds, needs, and motivations, which programs can use to tailor messages and services to different groups. EnergySavvy You are leaving WAPA.gov. uses cloud software to pair utility data with marketing data and create individual utility customer profiles to target energy efficiency messages.

The fact sheets includes links to full summaries of each call, complete with lists of participants and their locations, an agenda and presentations. Summaries to all past Peer Exchange Calls are archived at BBRN, in case you don’t want to wait for the quarterly fact sheets.

Of course, you can also find out what the leading practitioners of energy-efficient home improvements are talking about by participating in the Peer Exchange Calls. They are generally held on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time and are free with registration. The Return of Residential PACE – the Sequel (201) You are leaving WAPA.gov. is the topic of the July 21 call.

Source: DOE EERE Better Buildings Residential Network, 6/21/16

Upcoming deadlines

WAPA congratulates SMUD for efficiency award

SMUD has two charging stations that can recharge most fast-charging electric vehicles in 30 minutes.

SMUD has two charging stations that can recharge most fast-charging electric vehicles in 30 minutes. (Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District)

Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SMUD) is among the agencies and individuals to be honored by the Alliance to Save Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. at its Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency awards dinner on Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C.

The annual awards celebrate individuals, companies, organizations, government programs and educational institutions that have made notable contributions to advance energy efficiency in their respective fields. SMUD is receiving the transportation award for 25 years of leadership and large-scale deployment of electric drive vehicles.

Whether a customer owns an electric vehicle or is thinking about buying one, the municipal utility offers information and resources to help make the decision easier. On SMUD’s website, customers can learn about charging options and links for finding public charging stations. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

SMUD introduced a special time-of-use rate in January 2016 that credits plug-in electric vehicle owners an additional 1.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for charging their vehicles between midnight and 6 a.m. every day, all year long. During those hours, participating households pay only 7.17¢ per kWh for their electricity. As part of the efforts to promote electric vehicles in its territory, SMUD also began offering a $300 rebate this year to customers who purchase or lease a plug-in electric vehicle.

“SMUD is honored to receive the Transportation award in recognition of our wide-ranging commitment to energy efficiency,” said Arlen Orchard, SMUD CEO and general manager. “We began supporting electric transportation solutions in the 1990s as a way to improve the Sacramento region’s air quality. From developing the first solar-powered charging station on the West Coast to launching an innovative rate program that rewards customers who charge their electric vehicles during off-peak hours, SMUD’s actions and leadership have helped drive the technology forward. We look forward to continuing these efforts as more of our customers turn to electric vehicles to save money and benefit the environment.”

As the utility industry continues to look for ways to adapt to changing technology and expectations, SMUD offers yet another example of programs and products that benefit the customer, community and power provider. WAPA is proud of our innovative customers and congratulates SMUD on its well-deserved recognition.

Source: Alliance to Save Energy, 6/27/16 

USDA unveils new no-interest efficiency loan program for rural utilities

Informational webinar July 12, 2016
Letter of intent due Aug. 5, 2016

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS), an agency of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), has opened the application process for its new Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP).

Under this new program, rural electric cooperatives and other rural energy providers have access to $52 million in zero-percent loans for relending to homes and small businesses to make cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements. Participants repay their utility for these improvements over time through a fixed charge on their monthly utility bills. RESP loans can be used for a wide variety of energy-efficiency measures, providing the utility can justify the cost-effectiveness of the measures for the consumer.

Utilities across the country have successfully implemented this on-bill financing model and it is part of an ongoing initiative by Environmental and Energy Study Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. (EESI) to help families make home energy upgrades with no upfront costs.

To be considered for this initial round of RESP loans, utilities must submit a letter of intent to RUS by Aug. 5. RUS did not provide any information regarding the size or number of loans it plans to make. USDA and the Department of Energy will co-host a free webinar You are leaving WAPA.gov. on July 12, 12 to 1 p.m. Mountain Time, to discuss the program. The webinar will provide an overview of the program and cover evaluation, measurement and verification methods used to assess an energy-efficiency program or project.

“We view the Rural Energy Savings Program as a real win for rural electric co-ops and their members, as well as for other rural utilities,” said EESI Executive Director, Carol Werner. “We hope that these utilities will move quickly to tap the program.”

Source: Environmental and Energy Studies Institute, 6/21/16

NMPP helps members with net-metering service, resource book

If integrating distributed generation is challenging for large utilities, imagine the difficulties faced by rural and small municipal utilities. With 200 member communities located in six western states, Nebraska Municipal Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NMPP) doesn’t have to use imagination to identify the needs of its members.

Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed aresource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.

Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed a resource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.

NMPP is the utility services organization of NMPP Energy, the trade name for a coalition of four organizations based in Nebraska that provide municipal utilities with wholesale electricity, wholesale and retail natural gas and energy-related services. Some of its members serve as few as 200 customers with minimal staff who wear many hats, said NMPP Energy Communications Specialist Kevin Wickham. “We saw the need to help our members with interconnection coming several years ago when some of the states we serve passed net-metering laws,” he recalled.

Building new services
NMPP launched a net-metering service in 2010 that 22 member utilities have used to date. That number is likely to increase as the cost of installing individual solar arrays drops and utilities install community solar projects.

The net-metering program offers members a choice of three options, each for a cost-based, one-time fee. Members may choose from assistance in developing their own policy guideline and procedures, review of customer generation application for interconnection or avoided cost rate development for payment for energy delivered to the utility.

As it developed its net metering service, NMPP was also working on a resource guidebook, Recommended Policy and Guidelines for Interconnection of Customer-Owned Generation Including Net Metering. “The guidebook was six years in the making,” said Wickham. “Initially, we were going to offer it as one of the services available under the program.”

Something everyone needs
In 2015, NMPP and its wholesale power supply organization Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MEAN) partnered to provide the guidebook to all of MEAN’s 54 long-term total requirements power participants. “Distributed generation and customer self-generation has really taken off and we realized that there was a greater need for the information,” Wickham explained.

The guidebook contains policy guidance, sample agreements, industry terms and definitions and case studies from the American Public Power Association. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Members will also find net-metering statutes from the states NMPP and MEAN serve (Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas). That was one of the bigger challenges in putting together the guidebook, Wickham acknowledged. “Each city council and each utility designs and administers its own policies and procedures around net metering,” he said. “We had to make sure the guidebook was going to be useful to all our customers.”

Input from several regional utilities and trade associations helped NMPP compile a comprehensive resource. Otherwise, the net-metering guidebook was a product of expertise within the organization. “The guidebook wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation from those utilities, as well as the American Public Power Association,” said Tim Sutherland, MEAN director of wholesale electric operations.

Prepared for future
With an estimated 900 kilowatts of solar power on MEAN’s system, distributed generation has arrived, noted Wickham. “Customers have high expectations when it comes to utility customer service. We  stress to our members to be prepared, starting with things like having an interconnection agreement in place before a customer walks in the door,” he said.

MEAN member utilities, especially the small ones, are finding the resource useful in working out their renewable interconnection policies. “The creation of the net-metering guidebook was the result of being responsive to MEAN’s power participants’ needs,” said Sutherland. “It is just an example of seeing a need and trying to assist our member-owners.”

Utilities can expect to be confronting the challenge of distributed generation and other changes in the electric industry well into the future, Sutherland noted. NMPP and MEAN will continue to look for services, programs and tools to help their member-owners provide consumers with reliable, affordable and sustainable power, he added.

Residential Program Solution Center seeks input from users

Whether you are serving a new market or adding new energy-efficiency services to your portfolio, the Solution Center has the information you need to get started.

Whether you are serving a new market or adding new energy-efficiency services to your portfolio, the Solution Center has the information you need to get started. (Artwork by DOE Better Buildings Initiative)

The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking volunteers to share their thoughts and experiences using the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center.

Launched in 2014, the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center is a repository for key lessons, resources and knowledge about the planning, operation and evaluation of residential energy-efficiency programs.

DOE is convening a focus group of Solution Center users this August to collect thoughts, opinions and experiences using it. This information will be used to guide improvements to the resources. Our goal is to make the Solution Center the primary online resource that residential energy-efficiency program administrators turn to for program implementation insights, solutions and ideas. This focus group is an excellent opportunity for power providers to share their insights on how to make the Solution Center a more effective tool for utility program managers.

If you are interested in participating in this focus group, please email the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center team by Wednesday, July 13, with the following information:

  • Your first and last name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Organization
  • Title/role

The program is specifically seeking volunteers who:

  • Are aware of the Solution Center’s content and organization
  •  Have used the Solution Center to look for something to help their program
  • Serve as a program administrator or are in a decision-making role for a residential energy-efficiency program

DOE plans to convene the focus group the week of August 15 via a conference call. The time commitment of participants will be approximately one hour. Energy Services is interested in hearing about WAPA customers’ experiences with the Solution Center as well. Contact the Energy Services Bulletin editor if you would like to share your story.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Initiative, 6/27/16

Around the web: Home Performance with ENERGY STAR

AroundTheWebCreating an energy-efficient home is a worthwhile goal. It is cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter, costs the homeowner less money to keep it that way and helps the environment. What’s not to like? Well, the difficulty of finding financing for upgrades, choosing the right equipment or systems and hiring contractors who are experienced in properly installing high-performance systems, to name just a few challenges.

To help homeowners overcome these barriers to successful energy-efficiency upgrades, the Department of Energy launched Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) in 2011. The program connects homeowners with program sponsors and contractors who can help them improve their home comfort, indoor air quality and safety, while lowering utility bills.HPXMLven

How it works
HPwES takes the “whole house” approach to energy improvements that helps make the most of the homeowner’s investment. Rather than focusing on a single problem, participating contractors look at how improvements throughout the house can work together to get the best results.

To find participating contractors, homeowners go through HPwES-sponsored local programs. The contractors, who are trained to understand how homes operate, identify health and safety issues and provide the homeowner with personalized recommendations for increasing the house’s energy efficiency.

HPwES sponsors perform quality assurance checks on their contractors to ensure that the improvements are done right. In states where incentives are available, sponsors may also help homeowners apply for rebates.

Supporting retrofit programs
Becoming a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR sponsor is good for utilities as well as homeowners. Starting a residential efficiency improvement program from scratch is difficult, even for large utilities. Sponsors have access to a variety of resources they can use to implement and grow their programs and reach their own local energy savings goals. Program support includes account management services, marketing material, partnership and collaboration opportunities and resources from the Better Buildings Residential Solutions Center.

Because sponsorship is not limited to one type of organization, utilities have the opportunity to partner with municipalities, state energy programs and financial institutions. Collaborating with other agencies can make programs more effective, multiplying the benefits of efficiency upgrades across communities.

Improving communication
Helping sponsors to develop their own programs and connecting them to contractor pools is not the only way HPwES works to break down the siloes that stand in the way of a more efficient marketplace. Last year, the program introduced the HPXML Implementation Guide to help program administrators and software developers integrate HPXML into their operations and products.

Developed by Building Performance Institute, You are leaving WAPA.gov. HPXML is a set of common definitions for the attributes of home systems. It also includes computing language to facilitate the quick and easy transfer of home-related data between different market actors. Collecting and sharing this data across the industry is critical to supporting, measuring and verifying energy performance. The DOE expects the use of HPXML to build stronger relationships within the industry, increase consumer trust in energy-efficiency improvements and enhance the ability to evaluate programs.

Most program managers agree that measurement and evaluation is one of the big challenges of administration, so the HPXML guide could be a valuable resource for utilities. Visitors can learn more about the value the HPXML guide can bring to businesses, along with implementation methods, from a recorded webinar on the website.

Overton Power District plans to succeed

On the wide spectrum of utility policies that encourage customers to adopt renewable energy systems, Overton Power District 5 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPD) is on the ambitious end of the spectrum.

Desert Southwest Energy Services Representative Audrey Colletti pointed out the strategy in OPD’s most recent integrated resource plan (IRP). “I look for customer goals and achievements in their IRPs and alternative reports,” explained Colletti.

“For example, one customer hasn’t increased rates in over five years, while another is thinking of decreasing rates. Some offer renewable power that is less expensive than fossil generation, but it is unusual for a small customer to make such an aggressive push to add more renewables.”

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to grow the renewable energy portion of its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to increase the amount of sustainable electricity in its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

The Southern Nevada power provider is playing the long game with an eye on someday generating most of its own electricity through renewables. “But that day is a long way off,” acknowledged OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper. “Our current goal is to provide ways to help our customers.”

Keeping customers in mind
Happily, the steps OPD is taking to increase renewables in its portfolio are also good for its 15,000, mostly residential customers. Its generous net-metering policy for small renewable systems is a notable step. Customers who install renewable generators that comply with OPD policies are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500 for homeowners and up to $5,000 for large commercial industrial accounts. Since OPD implemented the policy, 49 net meters have been installed.

Increasing energy-efficiency programs is also part of OPD’s long-range plan that benefits customers in the near term. Thanks to a power contract, OPD will soon be stepping up its efforts to move customers to more efficient appliances and water and space heating systems. “We see natural gas as a reliability measure, but the savings will help to finance more customer efficiency measures, too,” Cooper explained.

Piecing together affordable sustainability
Even with the high cost of tapping gas lines, low natural gas prices are a boon to OPD—for now. “In eight to 10 years, gas prices are likely to go up,” said Cooper. “The cost of renewable resources, which are getting more competitive all the time, won’t be rising.”

The transition to a sustainable power supply is challenging for a utility that must rely on other providers for both generation and transmission, as OPD does. Cooper would like to get more WAPA hydropower, but acknowledges that ongoing drought conditions make that unlikely. OPD now has 49 rooftop solar arrays on its system, but the utility is investigating the feasibility of and support for utility-scale development. “That is where our customers will really see the benefits of alternative energy,” the general manager observed.

OPD also offers customers rebates for wind turbines and ground-source heat pumps.

Using all tools
OPD’s comprehensive long-range plan presents other opportunities—and identifies challenges—for load management as well. A scheme to install low-impedance transformers and implement power factor correction promises to increase systemwide efficiency.

With spillover growth from Las Vegas expected to add load over the next five years, OPD is working to encourage Clark County to adopt high-efficiency building standards. Programs to rebate measures such as weather stripping, relamping, heat pump systems and window replacement are being considered for existing buildings.

Another, nearly inexhaustible resource—an engaged and energy-savvy customer base—factors into OPD’s plans, too. The IRP highlights the utility’s use of social media to educate its customers about building technology, appliance energy use, efficient equipment and systems and no-cost common sense behaviors.

It will take every tool at OPD’s disposal to move its portfolio toward clean resources and self-generation. But that is what long-term planning is for, notes Cooper. “The IRP keeps our goals at the forefront where we can’t forget about them, and it reminds us every day of the issues we have to address.”