It is no secret that rural communities continue to struggle, even in the strong economy, or that they frequently get overlooked when assistance programs are being planned.
According to a recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, rural residents spend an average of 4.4 percent of their income on energy bills—energy burden—compared to the 3.3 percent national average. Low-income households, including the elderly, renters and residents of manufactured and multifamily housing, have an energy burden nearly three times that of higher income households.
The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency focuses on energy costs related to the physical housing structure.
The report concludes with program options to address energy affordability, and details challenges and opportunities related to serving rural households with energy efficiency.
Life-changing programs Factors that contribute to energy burden include the physical condition of a home, a household’s ability to invest in energy-efficiency improvements and the availability of efficiency programs and incentives that put energy-saving technologies within reach. Energy-efficiency and home weatherization programs can greatly reduce this burden and make energy bills affordable. Rural utilities can help by offering these types of programs and partnering with local and regional organizations to increase their reach.
Aiken Electric Cooperative’s Help My House on-bill program, highlighted in the ACEEE video “Rural Energy Burden,” demonstrates how utility programs can make a difference in low-income customers’ lives. Participants have been able to slash their electricity bills nearly in half by getting their homes weatherized through Aiken’s program. That is money homeowners can now use to pay for day-to-day necessities.
Learn more A second report will be released by ACEEE this fall exploring lessons learned from rural program leaders across the country. In October, ACEEE is holding its first Rural Energy Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to examine how energy-efficiency technologies and programs can help rural America revitalize its economy. Industry, utility, cooperative, nonprofit, academia and government representatives will be discussing how to improve and expand efficiency programs that serve rural communities.
Do you have a program success story you would like to share? Did your innovative spirit take flight, producing results others should know about? Please help us make the 2019 Utility Energy Forum a success by presenting your program during the Utility Program Stand Up Challenge!
“Utility Recipes for Meeting Customer Needs” is the theme for this year’s UEF. It is being held April 24-26 at the Cambria Pines Lodge in Cambria, California.
The StandUp Challenge is a fast-paced poster session that gives speakers the opportunity to present their poster to attendees three or four times over a 45-minute window. To have your poster considered for the StandUp Challenge, submit your proposal no later than Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Posters are most likely to be chosen if they focus on program results and lessons learned, are vendor agnostic, and have a utility or government author or co-author and presenter.
Other deadlines are approaching as well. Register before Nov. 30, 2018, to receive your Early Bird Discount, and make sure you submit your application for the Jim Brands Memorial Scholarship by Jan. 11, 2019.
Admittedly, it is no great sacrifice to visit Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, but the utility industry professionals from Colorado and nearby states who are making the trip Sept. 19-21 are not coming to enjoy the scenery. They are coming for the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.
This unique forum has been drawing strong crowds of visionaries and idea people from energy and water utilities, nonprofits and technology vendors for 12 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Finding opportunity in challenge The theme for 2018, “United we understand,” emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conference, and holds one key to why it continues to grow in popularity. The theme resonates with WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “The past model for doing business, where utilities rarely talked amongst themselves, let alone with consumers, won’t work in today’s industry,” he said. Horstman is on the RMUE planning committee and WAPA is a sponsor of the event.
“Consumers expect to have more choice in their services, and that includes their electricity. Providing those options to customers creates opportunities for utilities to build and manage load and develop new products, while meeting environmental goals,” Horstman went on. “But the industry is going to have to communicate with their customers, their communities, equipment vendors and other power providers to realize those opportunities.”
The communication begins Wednesday morning with the Utility and Government Agency Roundtable. Representatives from those entities will share the topics they would most like to discuss and the one thing they would most like to learn during the exchange. Following a break, industry allies are free to join the discussion. This roundtable is for people who are not ready to make a formal presentation but definitely have something to talk about.
Highlighting industry trends The agenda shifts into high gear following lunch. Opening keynote speaker Ann Dougherty of market research firm Illume Advising will be asking utilities to look at their own marketing efforts and question whether they are positioned to innovate. This will be Dougherty’s first time speaking at the RMUE.
The State of Energy Consumers Today will be presented by another newcomer, Nathan Shannon of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative. Shannon will draw on Smart Energy’s 2017 research projects for insights into what today’s consumers want and real-life examples of consumer engagement successes.
The rest of the day’s presentations read like a laundry list of trends that have morphed into looming challenges: utility-led distributed solar programs, climate action plan development, collaborations to expand utility programs’ reach and beneficial electrification. You will learn how other power providers have engaged, rather than resisted these issues to build successful programs.
Digging deeper Thursday morning, RMUE continues with variations on a theme (working together). Sessions examine programs and initiatives that integrate customer experience and community input. Consumers are clearly no longer content to passively accept the electricity coming down their wires. Environmental concerns are pushing them to demand more options and new technology is giving them the power to take more control of their energy use. Hear from utilities and their partners that abandoned the old model of a one-way relationship to find ways to harness efficiency as a resource, manage loads more effectively and help their communities fight and mitigate climate change.
In the afternoon, the agenda splits into dual tracks, giving you the chance to delve into topics in more detail with smaller groups. See if you can identify the subtext. In the first set of tracks, you can explore either customer engagement (communicating with customers) or the technology of the internet of things (communicating with customers through smart devices). The final dual-track sessions look at energy as a service, not a product (communicating with customers in a new way) and reaching hard-to-reach customers (communicating with customers who don’t make it easy).
If you are looking for even more detail than the dual-track sessions provide, get ready for the Friday workshops. Choose from three different sessions:
Electrifying Transportation: Developing Integrated Charging Networks for Electric Vehicles – Explore the role of utilities and government in electrifying the transportation sector.
Customer Experiences Workshop: Journey Mapping – Customer journey mapping provides a framework that can break down departmental barriers that limit a program’s potential. Each workshop participant will represent a different contributor in “our” utility during the workshop.
Community Goals Meet Utility Realities: Developing Best Practices for an Evolving Landscape – This facilitated discussion is an opportunity for local government and utility leaders to communicate directly about understanding and advancing community renewable and energy efficiency goals.
Keep talking—to each other As past attendees will tell you, the sessions are only half of what makes the RMUE such a great conference. Great speakers may bring in attendees, but networking opportunities and relationship building bring them back year after year.
The receptions keep conversations going after the end of the day in a casual atmosphere. The Wednesday night networking event is built around a poster session that allows you to learn more about products, services and programs that might fit into your operations. It also includes heavy hors oeuvres if you want to make a meal of it, rescue animals for the kids and this year, ice-breaker games. This is a family-friendly event and family members can attend for the friendly price of free.
Thursday night, the RMUE goes off-campus to the town of Aspen and the historic Hotel Jerome.
Every refreshment break and meal offers you a chance to ask speakers and colleagues questions, to bounce ideas off other sharp minds and to load up on high-quality calories. Breakfast, lunch and break snacks are included in the price of registration, and the food is terrific.
Details, details… Since the food is so abundant and delicious, you may want to pack your comfortable “business casual” attire—the RMUE is a “no-tie zone.” Those staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort also might want to pack their exercise gear as well, to take advantage of the onsite Aspen Health Club.
The Aspen Meadows RMUE room bloc has filled up, but overflow lodging at the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge in town is still available. You can also contact Liz Pellerin at Aspen Meadows to get on a waiting list in case there are any room cancellations.
An educated and technically skilled workforce is paramount to the development of tribal energy resources and the protection of tribal lands. The Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy’s college student summer internship program has cultivated that workforce for more than 16 years.
Current full-time undergraduates and graduate students who are familiar with Native American culture and tribal issues apply to support Office of Indian Energy-funded projects in the field and at DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories. During the 12-week internship, interns work with cross-disciplinary teams to receive hands-on experience and gain valuable knowledge about numerous energy technologies. This helps to build awareness in the tribal community around important energy issues and research while bringing technically skilled Native Americans into the workforce.
Half of the interns who have completed their degrees work in tribal positions, including one who is the renewable energy engineer for WAPA customer, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. Another 33 percent hold jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields outside their tribes.
Graduates spread awareness Recently, Chelsea Chee, a former intern and member of the Navajo Nation, received the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Rising Star award for leadership across several major projects in New Mexico. The award recognizes individuals at the beginning of their career who have demonstrated exemplary leadership traits promoting access, equity and diversity in education and the workforce.
One of the accomplishments that earned the honor for Chee began with an idea she had as an intern in the class of 2011-2013. She created the Natives In STEM program through her current position as the diversity and inclusion coordinator for New Mexico’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. “It wouldn’t have been possible if [my mentors and supervisors] hadn’t supported my work and my ideas, some of which were different,” Chee said. “But they trusted me and supported me and helped me turn those ideas into fruition.”
Chee’s initiative brings visibility to Native American STEM professionals, inspiring students of all backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. Now co-led with American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the project has distributed more than 4,500 posters that feature five Native STEM professionals, including to 137 Bureau of Indian Education schools, 14 tribal colleges and universities, and tribal libraries across the country. Chee is also active in the larger equity community at the state and national levels.
Inclusion matters The importance of internships and programs like Natives in STEM for increasing diversity in technical fields cannot be understated. According to the National Science Foundation, American Indians or Alaska Natives hold just 0.2 percent of science and engineering occupations, and represent only 0.3 percent of highest degree-holders in S&E fields.
Especially to young people, it can make a world of difference to know that others from their community have followed a path that may seem beyond reach. Chee recalled that one of the reasons she applied to the internship program was Sandra Begay, the internship coordinator and principal member of the Sandia Lab technical staff. Begay was the first Navajo woman Chee met who was connected to STEM and became an instant mentor to the intern.
Since completing her internship five years ago, Chee has become a voice for tribal inclusion in STEM settings and has taken part in equity conversations at state and local levels throughout New Mexico. She pointed out that people from rural areas—tribal and otherwise—often cannot get to Albuquerque to take part in STEM-related conversations. “It is important to have that input,” she said.
Chee continues to make inclusion her mission, adding that the Indian Energy program and internship were instrumental for her. “It was one of the best, if not the best, internship programs I’ve ever been a part of,” she stated.
Participate in Indian Energy programs The 2018 internship program placed interns on projects such as on- and off-grid photovoltaic installations and a distributed energy resource system comprising large PV array, micro-turbine, fuel cell and large battery bank. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have a grade point average of 3.0 for undergraduates and 4.0 for graduate students. Learn more about the application process and past interns on the Office of Indian Energy website.
In addition to the internship program, the Office of Indian Energy provides education and training opportunities, including regional workshops, webinars, Tribal Leader Forums, a comprehensive online training curriculum and an energy resource library. WAPA cosponsors the Tribal Energy Webinar series to help the diverse tribal communities evaluate and prioritize their energy options.
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.
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.
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.
This is your opportunity to share your experiences collaborating with other utilities and other departments within your own utility to achieve greater impacts in residential, commercial and industrial end-use applications through a customer-oriented approach.
The event will explore case study best practices and lessons learned about customer-facing programs related to energy (gas and water) efficiency, strategy, issues and integration with renewable energy, demand response and more.
Special consideration will be given to presentations that highlight:
Consumer engagement and unifying messages
Gas, electric and/or water utility programs cooperating across departments or service territories to improve the customer experience
New energy-efficiency and demand management technology, storage and electric vehicles
Energy-efficiency and renewables programs collaborating with local and regional efforts on carbon action or greenhouse gas goals
Strategic on-site energy and distribution system management
The conference provides general and breakout session interaction as well as networking opportunities. Proposed presentation formats may include:
General or breakout sessions up to 20 minutes long with Q&A
Snapshot panel talks of up to five minutes
Poster discussions during the Wednesday evening reception
Friday morning workshops or round table discussions two to four hours in length
The Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange is an intimate forum for networking and professional development that takes place at Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado. Around 150 utility and government organization staff and trade allies attend, giving everyone the chance to learn about utility customer programs and services, and products to support them. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 19-21.
For professionals who have not previously attended the RMUE, a limited number of scholarships are available. See the FAQ sheet for details and to download an application.
The videos share the stories of homeowners in three eastern states, and the effect energy-efficiency upgrades have had on their lives. The theme running through the series is that reducing energy waste lessens the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Those cuts deliver big gains in health, because pollutants from burning fossil fuels contribute to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke.
The series is part of ACEEE’s new Health and Environment program, launched last year to research the linkages among health, environment and energy efficiency, and to educate policymakers. Later this year, ACEEE will release a series of reports that will further explore the health and environmental benefits of saving energy.
A two-day Conference on Health, Environment & Energy ACEEE is planning for December will showcase the research and promote others’ work in this growing field. Utilities are welcomed to attend the conference in New Orleans to add their voices to this critical conversation.
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2/6/18