Moorhead Public Service is receiving well-earned recognition for giving its customers the choices they need to save energy, money and the environment. Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s Administrator Award to the municipal power provider, Oct. 11, at Moorhead City Hall in Minnesota.
Moorhead Public Services General Manager Bill Schwandt talks to a local reporter at the 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun. The municipal power provider is making more news this year by unveiling the second phase of its popular community solar program and winning WAPA’s Administrator’s Award. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)
One of the things we at WAPA most enjoy about our work is the opportunity to recognize our customers for their commitment to serving the community and using energy wisely. And MPS, with 18,000 meters, has much to celebrate, from successful development of utility-owned renewables to a broad range of customer energy-efficiency programs. “Moorhead Public Service proves that a utility of any size can forge a powerful partnership with the community by being responsive to its customers’ needs,” said WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “The Administrator’s Award honors that dedication to service and best business practices.”
Upper Great Plains Customer Service Representative Jim Bach, who has worked with MPS for years, added, “The great thing about MPS is that it has been focused on customer service, environmental stewardship and supporting the community long before these ideas became marketing strategies. They just see it as how you do business,” he added.
MPS General Manager Bill Schwandt, who will be accepting the award, confirmed Bach’s observation. “To run a business successfully—especially one that the community relies on—you have to put the customer first,” he said. “Recognition like the Administrator’s Award is just evidence that we are on the right track.”
“Capturing” clean energy
For example, MPS launched its customer-driven Capture The Wind program years before the industry was talking about community renewable projects. More than 400 customers signed up to support the construction of Zephyr, a 750-kilowatt wind turbine, in 1999. The program was so successful that MPS installed a second turbine, Freedom, in 2001, with the support of another 400 members. Capture The Wind has effectively prevented the emission of more than 16 million pounds of greenhouse gases, and boasts a 7-percent customer participation rate, one of the highest participation rates per capita in the nation.
Building wind power in the state that now ranks seventh in the nation for installed capacity makes sense, but solar power is a tougher sell in northern states. To alleviate concerns about the viability of solar in the local climate, MPS built a solar demonstration project in 2011.
A utility survey and public meetings followed the successful demonstration, all indicating that customers were interested in solar power in spite of the fact that many were unable to install arrays on their homes. A community solar farm offered not only a tailor-made solution, but one that felt familiar to customers as well. In 2015, MPS built the first phase of its Capture The Sun community solar garden project. The demand for customers wanting to purchase solar panels was so strong that MPS expanded Capture The Sun in 2016 and is looking to expand again in 2017.
American Public Power Association has given both the wind and solar projects its Energy Innovator Award. Under the umbrella name, Capture The Energy, the programs will continue to meet customer demand for a clean energy option.
Putting efficiency first
As any good member services representative will attest, customers benefit as much—if not more—from energy-efficiency measures as they do from renewables projects, and MPS customers have plenty to choose from. As a member utility of Missouri River Energy Services, MPS offers the Bright Energy Solutions program, a portfolio of energy-efficiency incentives to help customers reduce their electric costs and operate more efficiently.
Customers can find rebate forms on the website for lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, motors, pumps, variable frequency drives and more. Both commercial and residential customers can subscribe to the monthly Bright Ideas newsletter. The e-newsletter features the latest in energy technologies and energy-saving tips, along with free features and tools connected to Bright Energy program to help customers reduce energy use at home and work.
Business and commercial customers can also sign up for free technical assistance through Questline. This free service provides customers with resources such as an online library of technical business and engineering documents, an online portal to targeted research tools and an “Ask an Expert” hotline, at no cost.
Saving energy in business
MPS recently awarded more than $44,000 in rebate checks for energy conservation to American Crystal Sugar Company as part of the Bright Energy Solutions program. Earlier this year, in conjunction with MPS’ Bright Energy Solutions program, American Crystal Sugar Company worked with the program to upgrade several of its process motors with variable frequency drives. This upgrade project will save the factory an estimated 863,081 kilowatt-hours per year.
Good business also means investing in your own infrastructure, which MPS did this year by building a new high-service pumping station. The purpose of the project was to replace outdated 1950s pumps and fixed-speed motors with new variable-speed pumps and to update backup generation for the pumps and an adjacent facility. Installing new variable-frequency drive-powered pumps reduced the station’s energy use and maintenance costs and improved the system operation.
The capital project also included a 1.3‑megawatt natural gas generator with an automatic switchover to provide emergency backup power supply for the pumping station. The generator also enables peak-shaving during peak-load situations, so MPS can use it for electrical containment. The generator and associated switchgear cost $2,200,000, but the utility’s savings on purchased power costs bring the payback for the project to around 17 years. The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority and Drinking Water Revolving Fund are providing financing for the pumping station upgrade.
Partnering with state agencies, energy services providers and, most of all, customers has been the secret of Moorhead Public Service’s ability to deliver reliable, affordable power and innovation. That neighborly attitude has given the Minnesota utility a strong base on which to build a successful future. WAPA is proud to honor that spirit with the Administrator’s Award.