Farmers Electric Cooperative in Greenfield, Iowa, is receiving a $1.4 million USDA loan to invest in smart grid projects. The co-op plans to install more than 5,800 single-phase meters and additional meter reading equipment in its west-central Iowa service area.
MVEA, headquartered in Limon, Colorado, will use the investment to build 197 miles of line and make improvements to another 197 miles and other parts of the system. The loan amount includes $2.6 million for smart grid projects. The utility serves nearly 50,000 consumers in a 6,055-square mile territory covering Arapahoe, Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln and Pueblo counties.
In total, the USDA is investing $309 million in 16 projects through its Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program. It helps finance generation, transmission and distribution projects; system improvements; and energy conservation projects in communities with 10,000 or fewer residents.
The current round of loans is funding infrastructure improvements for utilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota and Washington. MVEA and Farmers Electric are only the latest WAPA customers to access funding through the program to build and upgrade their infrastructure.
Most retail or power supply providers serving qualified rural areas may apply for a loan, including:
Nonprofits including cooperatives and limited dividend or mutual associations
For-profit businesses (must be a corporation or limited liability company)
Utilities may use the funds to finance maintenance, upgrades, expansions, facilities replacement, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. See the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations for additional guidance or contact your general field representative to learn more.
The Electric Power Research Institute recently launched its Efficient Electrification Initiative to analyze the impacts of electrifying the end use of energy, where it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.
In an article in the EPRI Journal, President and CEO Mike Howard drew a distinction between the original meaning of electrification—extending electrical service to people who lacked it—and EPRI’s demonstration program. Efficient electrification, Howard explained, looks to integrate the energy network to help achieve the most efficient use of energy and the cleanest production, delivery and consumption of that energy.
As defined in EPRI’s U.S. National Electrification Assessment, electrification refers to the adoption of electric end-use technologies to displace other commercial energy forms and provide new services. According to the assessment, electrification yields benefits to the economy that include:
Lower energy use
Reduced air emissions and water use
Improved health and safety for workers, potentially leading to gains in productivity and product quality
Greater grid flexibility and efficiency
More uses, less consumption Among the assessment’s key findings is the expectation that electricity’s share of final energy consumption will grow from 21 percent today to 32–47 percent in 2050. Transportation—for personal vehicles and for commercial truck fleets and other heavier-duty applications—accounts for a large share of this growth. Advanced heat pumps, industrial process equipment and other technologies will also contribute to that increase.
The analysis considers regulatory and economic barriers and points to opportunities for financing, recalling how rural electrification financing enabled technology that dramatically increased farm production. In the 21st century, indoor agriculture through electrified production of crops could sharply reduce water and other resource consumption, Howard asserted.
Balancing act with benefits One surprising fact that emerged from EPRI’s analysis is that even as electricity use increases, the overall use of energy decreases, hence the pairing of “efficient” with “electrification.” The entire energy system would become more efficient through efficient electrotechnologies, and become cleaner as it uses less energy to do the same work.
The efficient electrification scenario makes the entire system more dynamic, too. As more applications rely on electricity, grid operators have more resources to manage and draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources.
Discover possibilities To move the conversation about electrification forward, EPRI is hosting the inaugural Electrification 2018 International Conference & Exposition Aug. 20-23 in Long Beach, California. Manufacturers, policymakers, academia, researchers, utility professionals and more will come together to explore the potential for electrifying at the point of end use.
This is an excellent opportunity to find out where electrification is today and where it could go tomorrow. Attendees will see the latest technologies in action and learn about the quantifiable benefits of electrification for consumers and the environment. Utilities and vendors will share cutting-edge practices from innovative programs they have implemented.
Now is the time for power providers to be talking about efficient electrification. Utilities that are ready to address the challenges and seize the opportunities can become leaders in efficiency, sustainability, service and customer satisfaction. Learn more about the conference and don’t forget to share your stories with WAPA.
In addition to mandating rooftop solar, the code contains incentives for energy storage and requires new home construction to include advanced energy-efficiency measures. Using 2017 data, ClearView Energy Partners estimate that the mandate could require between 68 and 241 megawatts of annual distributed solar buildout.
Good for consumers, solar, storage industries The commission stated that the new code is meant to save Californians a net $1.7 billion on energy bills all told, while advancing the state’s efforts to build-out renewable energy.
Following the commission’s decision, solar developers such as Sunrun, Vivint Solar and First Solar experienced a surge in stock prices, Bloomberg reported.
The updated codes also allow builders to install smaller solar systems if they integrate storage in a new home, adding another incentive to include energy storage. California has been a leader in incentivizing energy storage. In January, the California Public Utility Commission moved to allow multiple revenue streams for energy storage, such as spinning reserve services and frequency regulation.
Utilities question policy The solar industry received a prior boost in January 2016, when the CPUC approved its net metering 2.0 rate design. The state’s investor-owned utilities asserted at the time that net metering distributed generation from electricity consumers shifted the costs for the system’s maintenance and infrastructure onto consumers who do not own distributed generation.
ClearView analysts pointed to the distributed solar mandate as a possible opening for utilities to argue that California regulators should reconsider the net metering reform proposal. According to the report ClearView published ahead of the CEC’s decision, utilities that opposed the new rate-design could claim that mandating distributed solar alters the policy landscape enough to warrant further review of the compensation levels paid to excess generation.
The facility was the first in Colorado and fourth in the world to receive the Platinum designation under the latest version of the LEED standard. In addition to being one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the state, more than 95 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfills. It features a 104-kilowatt solar system, and the city is currently reviewing designs to add a storage battery later this year.
Shoot for gold, hit platinum The request for proposals called for the building to achieve a minimum of a LEED Gold rating under the new LEED v.4 standard, which has a more performance-based approach than previous versions. “The architecture went through a lot of iterations—in square footage, budget and so forth—but the specificity of the goals we set for the project in the RFP kept the design and construction team on track,” said John Phelan, Fort Collins Energy Services manager.
The city required the design and construction team to achieve all of the energy and atmosphere points to ensure ongoing performance, and challenged the team in other areas to achieve the certification. The choice to apply LEED v.4 presented the city with some challenges. For example, Phelan recalled that the materials category has new methodology and standards so the updated material data sheets were not always available. “That made it hard for the contracting team to get the necessary documentation,” he explained.
The integrated approach produced some clear triumphs as well. The design team focused on a well-insulated, tight envelope with extensive daylighting, resulting in a building with extraordinary light quality and views. “If you are not in a bathroom or closet, you can see the sky,” Phelan proudly stated.
Sustainability quest continues The Utilities Administration Building is the first phase of an efficient new civic campus planned for Downtown Fort Collins. The master plan calls for the buildings clustered in a two-block area to be heated and cooled by a shared geothermal well field. Designers prepared the new building for that eventuality. It was designed to be able to connect the district heating system, promising an even better energy performance in the future.
Energy isn’t the only kind of performance the city is planning to measure. In an effort to understand the value of indoor environmental quality of this building, occupants have taken pre- and post-construction surveys on their comfort, satisfaction and how they feel about their work environment. Ultimately, annual utility bills are very small compared to the utility’s investment in its employees, explained Phelan. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that you are building for the people who work inside, doing the work that the community wants,” he said.
WAPA congratulates Fort Collins Utilities for another achievement in sustainability. The forward-thinking municipal utility has made great strides in lowering its carbon intensity, and never rests in pursuing more innovative solutions.
[Editor’s note: This story will also appear in the spring issue of WAPA’s Customer Circuit]
Like any private business, WAPA exists to serve its customers. Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel has made a special point of meeting customers since he joined WAPA in 2013. In fact, he says it is one of favorite parts of the job. “Powerful partnerships drive our customer service efforts,” Gabriel explained. “When we listen to customers’ needs and concerns, we learn how we can better serve them. As our industry is evolving so quickly, this is one of the most important things we can do.”
As it turns out, the customers like it, too. “Mark is the exception to the rule of the private sector pulling the best and the brightest away,” said Brad Lawrence, utilities director for the city of Madison, South Dakota. Lawrence first met Gabriel at the winter customer meeting for Heartland Consumer Power District. “He clearly understood the rank and file, and he wanted to hear from ground troops,” added Lawrence, who has a military background. “It’s fairly rare that people at the bottom get a chance to explain things to people at the top.”
Making that effort to get to know customers face to face is an important piece of relationship building that often gets overlooked in today’s business environment. “It shows respect and our customers respond to that,” explained Tracy Thorne, a public utilities specialist in WAPA’s Upper Great Plains Huron office. Thorne has helped to coordinate Gabriel’s attendance at several events in the region and frequently accompanies him.
Answering questions, honoring innovation
Many different kinds of events give Gabriel the opportunity to visit “the field.” It may be a member meeting being held by one of our generation and transmission customers like the one at Heartland, or the gathering of an industry group.
Last summer, Gabriel was a guest at the annual picnic of the Northwest Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association where five WAPA customers were in attendance. Members were concerned about impending regulations before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Gabriel wanted to discuss the issues. More importantly, he listened. “He was sympathetic to our concerns,” said Eric Stoll, general manager of Milford Municipal Utilities in Iowa. “Gabriel didn’t dismiss us because we are a small customer. That really means a lot to us. We didn’t feel overlooked at all.”
Stoll recalled buzzing around town in a GEM electric vehicle with Gabriel. “At one point, we pulled up to a curb and someone thought we were the meter maid,” he laughed.
One trip to Nebraska in 2017 was specifically to honor South Sioux City for delivering impressive innovation along with affordable, reliable power. Gabriel presented the municipal utility with WAPA’s Administrator’s Award. “The vision our customers show never fails to impress me and that is especially true of smaller utilities like South Sioux City,” Gabriel said. “It is a pleasure to meet the people who are doing this work and to bring attention to their accomplishments.”
No occasion too big, small for visit
The spring has been an active time for meeting with customers. At the end of April, Gabriel traveled to Nebraska to speak at the Big 10 and Friends Utility Conference in Omaha. The meeting brings together facility and energy managers from Big 10 and other schools and utility professionals to discuss the business of campus utility production, distribution, metering and efficiency. Gabriel gave the keynote address titled “Radical thoughts: Providing value amid a changing energy landscape” to an audience of about 260 individuals.
Thorne noted that the presentation was very well received. “Afterward, I overheard attendees comment about how much they enjoyed Mark’s presentation—and they didn’t know I was from WAPA!” he added. “People had a lot of good questions for Mark and he had the answers. I think if it had been a smaller crowd, the discussion could have gone on for hours.”
While in Nebraska, Gabriel also attended meetings with several municipal utilities in Randolph and Fremont, and met with Nebraska Public Power District in Columbus. Jody Sundsted, senior vice president and UGP regional manager, joined Gabriel for those meetings. Utility staff and consumers in small towns are engaged with the same issues as their counterparts in more urban areas, Sundsted noted. “People had a lot of questions about the Southwest Power Pool, behind-the-meter generation, battery storage,” he said. “They really appreciate getting answers from the administrator himself.”
WAPA’s experience with the Southwest Power Pool was also a topic of interest at Missouri River Energy Services’ annual meeting in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 10. Gabriel’s presentation highlighted some of the challenges that WAPA and all utilities will be facing in the future, including societal changes, economic challenges and security challenges. He assured the group of continuing value and business excellence through WAPA’s focus on direction, people and performance.
“The members of MRES look forward to the update that WAPA provides each year at the MRES Annual Meeting,” said Joni Livingston, MRES director of member services and communications. “With 59 of the 61 MRES members having WAPA allocations, they are always anxious to hear about WAPA’s rates for the Pick-Sloan region, particularly since those rates have decreased in 2017 and 2018.”
Sundsted observed that Gabriel meeting with customers benefits WAPA, too. “Customers know our brand, but it helps them to put a face with the logo, to see that WAPA is people in the utility business just like them,” he said.
A new rooftop photovoltaic solar array is being installed every minute in the United States, with 4 million expected to be generating power by 2020. Knowledgeable building code professionals are needed to make sure these systems are installed correctly and safely. To help ensure quality inspections, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council has launched a new online interactive video solar training series for local code officials.
Taking the approach of the popular DIY series, This Old House, developers have created videos that are as entertaining as they are informative. Online viewers join IREC Training Specialist Joe Sarubbi to follow seasoned building and electrical inspectors through the finer points of five different solar inspections. Each video highlights a different type of system and technology, including:
DC-DC converter systems
Tesla Powerwall energy storage systems
Ground mounted AC-coupled systems with energy storage
Commercial carport systems
Presented in an engaging, easy-to-watch video format, the training can be completed in just a handful of lunch-hour sessions and is aimed at new and experienced residential inspectors, as well as residential PV installers.
The videos incorporate the 2017 National Electrical Code and the most current international building, residential and fire codes. “The new PV Inspector Online Training course for code officials brings together a remarkable group of experienced PV system inspectors from across the country to present a wide variety of PV system types and technologies,” said Rebekah Hren, a member of the NEC’s Code Making Panel 4.
Check out this short video for a look at how the solar training for code officials looks and feels. The training is available onlinefree of charge for a limited time.
Sometimes, you just don’t know what people want until you ask them, as the municipal utilities board of directors in Fremont, Nebraska, learned when they set out to diversify their municipal power portfolio.
City Administrator Brian Newton recalled that one of his first projects after joining the city staff three years ago was to work with the board of directors on a strategic plan for their power supply. At the time, the city of around 27,000 was powered mainly by coal and natural gas. “The board decided it would be a good idea to investigate adding other resources,” said Newton.
Consulting experts, customers
His initial reaction was that the customers would not be interested in solar energy. After all, Fremont residents enjoy a low residential rate of just 8 cents per kWh, and no one had installed a privately owned solar system.
That was a smart move, because SEPA research has shown that a successful community solar project starts with knowing your audience. The survey SEPA conducted was an eye-opener for Newton. “More than 70 percent said they were interested in solar power, and some said they’d pay $10 more per month for it, which I doubted,” he said.
Just to make sure the survey results were on track, Newton held numerous public meetings to explain community solar to customers and get feedback from them. More than 500 people signed up to receive information about solar energy and many were adamant about joining the community affair. They not only wanted the solar power to be sold in Fremont, they also wanted it built by local developers, financed by local money and under community control.
Designed to sell
To make participation easy, Fremont put together a unique package of options. Customers can choose between purchasing panels, buying one or more solar energy shares and subscribing to a combination of panels and shares.
Solar subscriptions can cover up to 80 percent of residential customers’ annual kilowatt-hour consumption and 50 percent for commercial customers. One panel generates an average of 43 kWh monthly, while one solar energy share represents 150 kWh monthly. Customers who purchase panels are able to take advantage of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, making participation even more attractive.
If the utility board of directors had any remaining doubts about customers’ interest in solar, those were laid to rest when the 1.5-megawatt solar farm sold out in seven weeks. Fremont promoted the project with customer meetings, emails and bill stuffers, the usual avenues for getting the word out. Newton noted that the 1.2-MW second phase of the solar farm is selling out by word of mouth alone.
Newton may have been surprised by customers’ eagerness to invest in renewables, but he told SEPA the rural community’s latent environmentalism shouldn’t be surprising. The community has always been firmly rooted to the land because agriculture is central to the local economy, he said. “Damaging the land or air isn’t an abstract idea. Fremonters can see the impact of environmental degradation on their livelihoods.”
Or, as one resident observed, Fremont’s support for solar power is not a surprise, as much as it is the natural progression of a long history of civic involvement in environmental stewardship.
Electric cooperatives WAPA serves in Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota are among the utilities receiving $276 million in guaranteed loans (PDF, 60 KB) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve system efficiency and reliability. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the investments in a March 13 press release the day before appearing at a Senate hearing on rebuilding American infrastructure. Loans are also going to utilities in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia.
USDA Rural Development’s Electric Program provides loan guarantees to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. Rural Development assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. These are the kinds of projects that could make the areas more inviting to new businesses, the people the businesses would need to fill jobs.
Improving transmission, more The transmission system of Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light & Power Association will get 52 miles of new lines, 14 miles of improvements and $560,000 in smart grid upgrades as part of a $10,569,000 Rural Development loan. The co-op provides electric service to more than 5,200 consumers over 3,273 miles of line in eight counties with primarily agriculture-based economies. Small commercial loads account for 10 percent of kilowatt-hour sales. Large commercial accounts, including an ethanol plant, cheese production facility and casino, account for the remaining kWh sales and revenue.
Southeast Colorado Power Association will use $13,000,000 in Rural Development funds to build 72 miles of line, improve 125 miles and make other system improvements. A member of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the La Junta-based co-op serves 7,688 residential, nearly 1,500 irrigation and 1,100 commercial consumers across a 13,000-square-mile service territory that covers 11 Colorado counties.
“This funding will allow SECPA to advance important infrastructure efforts and provide reliable, affordable electricity essential to sustaining the economic well-being and quality of life for rural Coloradans,” said Sallie Clark, USDA Rural Development Colorado state director.
Southwest Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative will receive a $6,100,000 loan to build 69 miles of line, upgrade 96 miles and make other system improvements, including $775,000 for smart grid projects. The projects the co-op chose to put in its Rural Development application came from its $11.4 million construction work plan for 2017-2020. “We do a plan every four or five years to identify infrastructure needs like replacing lines or poles or expanding the system where the population is growing,” explained Phil Kinser, Southwest Iowa REC chief executive officer.
A member of Central Iowa Power Cooperative, Southwest’s local economy relies heavily on agriculture. Like other recipients, the co-op’s service territory has steadily lost population over the last decade due to younger residents leaving for metropolitan areas.
Funding available Applying for a Rural Development Loan is now more streamlined since the USDA moved much of the application process online. “Providing additional information or answers to follow-up questions is much quicker and easier,” Kinser observed.
But a good working relationship with the local USDA field office still makes for a less-stressful application process. Kinser offered kudos to Pat Bormann, General Field Representative with the Rural Utilities Service – Electric Programs. “Pat did a great job of helping us to navigate the application process,” Kinser recalled. “His assistance was invaluable.”
WAPA congratulates Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light & Power Association, Southeast Colorado Power Association and Southwest Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative for taking the initiative to improve their systems and their communities.
Window replacement strictly for energy savings carries a big price tag that can be well out of range for many homeowners. Fortunately, there are several lower-cost options for reducing energy loss through windows that utility program managers might consider adding to their incentive offerings.
Reflecting on film
Window films help block against solar heat gain and protect against glare and ultraviolet exposure. According to the International Window Film Association, professionally installed window film can block 30-60 percent of all energy being lost through window glass throughout the heating and cooling seasons. IWFA also claims that window film in commercial buildings can deliver seven times the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows.
DOE’s Energy Saver blog explains that reflective films work best in climates with long cooling seasons, because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter. Other factors that impact the effectiveness of window films include:
Size of window glazing area
Whether the window has interior insulation
Incentives for professional installation of window films could be a winner for utilities serving low-income areas in warmer climates. Homeowners and businesses in such regions might welcome an affordable alternative to window replacement. Check with your state energy office to see if it offers any tax incentives you can piggy-back on your program.
Drawing on curtains, shades
Carefully chosen window attachments can also save homeowners energy for less than the cost of window replacements. The Attachments Energy Rating Council is a good place to begin exploring options. The two-year-old organization is working with DOE to provide credible and accurate information about the energy performance of residential and commercial window attachment products.
For an overview of AERC’s work, download “Window Attachments: A Call to Action,” the Council’s updated brief. AERC is holding its annual meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22 to 24.
Efficient Window Coverings, a guide supported by DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is another valuable resource for evaluating different window products for energy efficiency. Website visitors will find a calculator to help them choose the best covering for their circumstances and a comparison chart to see how coverings stack up against each other. These functions can help utilities identify a range of options to appeal to different customer segments.
LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs have become a major market player in recent years and can be expected to grow when new lighting efficiency standards come into effect in 2020. Utilities might be tempted to think that there is little of this “low-hanging fruit” left for residential efficiency programs to pluck. Before utility program planners sunset this portfolio mainstay, however, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy suggests you take a closer look at the particulars of your program.
Well-designed lighting programs will likely continue to garner savings for utilities through 2019, but the outlook gets more complicated on January 1, 2020. For one thing, regional differences play a role in how lighting programs perform after the standards are raised. LED adoption varies from state to state and even within states. In most of WAPA’s territory, LEDs are between 20 and 30 percent of the light bulbs purchased. That leaves plenty of room for an effective program to grow the market.
Sales data indicates that lighting programs and retail support are strong drivers of LED adoption. Also, preliminary evidence from New York and Massachusetts indicate that LED adoption drops when programs end. So utilities would be premature to start scaling back their lighting programs—certainly where LED sales are low, and even in states like California where LEDs represent 40 percent of light bulb sales.
ACEEE identifies several program options that could continue the progress in lighting efficiency, even after the standards go into effect.
Underserved markets: Lighting programs can find additional savings by targeting rural, elderly and low-income market segments that have been slower to adopt LEDs.
Specialty lamps: LED versions of popular specialty lamp styles are now available, including decorative, candelabra, globe and reflector lamps. Yet these styles sell significantly fewer units than general-purpose LED lamps, suggesting that consumers need more education about the products.
High quality lamps: Programs should continue to promote high-performing ENERGY STAR-branded products, rather than “value” LED lamps that do not meet ENERGY STAR standards.
Controls: Dimming and occupancy controls offer significant additional savings opportunities. Lighting programs can help connect consumers to quality control solutions that are easy to install and operate.
While residential lighting efficiency programs still have plenty of savings left to tap, the technology’s increasing efficiency will eventually end their usefulness. It is not too soon for utilities to start considering the next opportunities for helping customers control and reduce their energy use.
Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 4/9/18