Solar stock tank group purchase ‘a huge success’

Utility program managers know that equipment rebates are not only a building block of load management strategies, but are also an effective customer outreach tool. Surprisingly effective, in the case of Holy Cross Energy’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. recent Passive Solar Livestock Tank Sales Event.

The passive solar stock tank Holy Cross Energy members Kevin White and Rachel Marble got for their horses was the start of a promotional sale that succeeded beyond the utility's expectations.
Holy Cross Energy Program Administrator Mary Wiener learned about the SunTank passive solar stock tank from members Kevin White and Rachel Marble, who got one for their horses. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

The Colorado electrical cooperative teamed up with Clean Energy Economy for the Region You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CLEER) and Pine Ranch Products You are leaving WAPA.gov. in October to offer the SunTank stock watering tank at wholesale pricing to livestock owners in three Rocky Mountain counties. Members responded enthusiastically to the offer, placing 30 orders for a total of 58 tanks. “It caught us a little off guard,” admitted Mary Wiener, Energy Efficiency Program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

Manufactured by the Utah-based company, the tank eliminates the need either for costly electric heating units or for manually breaking and shoveling ice that forms on tanks in subzero weather. The water in the heavily insulated tank is not exposed directly to sunlight so it is algae resistant and requires less cleaning than a conventional stock tank. As far as Wiener can tell, it is the only product of its type on the market.

Product opens doors
Holy Cross has offered a $250 rebate on solar stock tanks for several years as part of its WE CARE carbon reduction program, but there have been few takers. “We don’t have a big agricultural load,” Wiener explained. “It’s mainly a few irrigation pumps.”

At $649 to $825, the retail price for the 25- and 42-gallon SunTanks might be a barrier as well. However, Wiener thinks that the lack of interest in the rebate mainly stemmed from members not being aware of the offer. “I didn’t know about solar stock tanks until a member told me about them,” she said.

Wiener learned about the water tanks during a home energy audit she performed for members Rachel Marble and Kevin White, who are horse owners. The couple was understandably excited to show off their new solar-heated SunTank to their power provider’s efficiency expert. Wiener, for her part, immediately recognized an opportunity to connect with members she rarely saw outside of the occasional request for an energy audit.

CLEER, a public benefit organization which frequently partners with Holy Cross on member efficiency programs, had expressed interest in doing an outreach project for agricultural members. While the stock tank is not likely to have a big impact on Holy Cross’s load, “It was something that would really help our members,” Wiener said. “Utilities should be looking for services they can offer besides just electricity.”

Word gets out, orders come in
Getting members’ attention is just as critical to a program’s success as identifying valuable products and services. Holy Cross started the promotion with a booth at the local Potato Day Festival, which attracted a lot of members with a drawing for one of the stock tanks. Two articles in local newspapers followed the festival and the October sale was posted on the utility website event calendar.

If Pine Ranch received orders for more than 10 tanks, buyers would get the wholesale price. The company eliminated the shipping fee by agreeing to drive the tanks from the Santa Clara, Utah, factory. To sweeten the deal, Holy Cross increased the rebate from $250 to $300 and covered the 2.9 percent sales tax in the rebate. How could livestock owners resist?

Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross Lineman Foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank.
Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross lineman foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

In fact, not many did. Colorado Mountain College You are leaving WAPA.gov. alone ordered 10 tanks for the veterinary technology program on its Spring Valley campus. The SunTanks support the school’s sustainability efforts while providing the program’s animals with a cleaner, more accessible water source. The sale was so successful, Pine Ranch was swamped by the number of orders and had to move the late November delivery date to mid-December. “I didn’t realize we had so many livestock animals in our territory,” observed Wiener.

Success has its price
Although the partners are pleased that the promotion succeeded far beyond their expectations, Holy Cross has no plans to repeat the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale soon. “I would do some things differently if we did it again,” Wiener acknowledged. “It was a lot of work for a very small member segment.”

Some changes she would make to the program include taking preorders and holding the sale in September to make sure that the tanks arrive by November, ahead of the freezing weather. Wiener also advises choosing your partners carefully, as some organizations that initially wanted to join the promotion failed to follow through with the promised support. Pine Ranch, however, did a great job, she added. “The company was really well organized, which helped them handle the big order.”

Ultimately, Holy Cross Energy counts the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale as a win, and Wiener believes other cooperatives with livestock customers should consider doing a group purchase event. “Try something new,” she urged. “It was good for our customers and our relationship with them, and it brought attention to a great product made by a small business.”

Source: Clean Energy Economy News, 12/4/17