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.
RMI researchers found a clear path that consumers follow from being interested in technology to purchasing it for their home. The report helps contractors, utilities and energy auditors understand the pathway and recognize how and when to engage customers, and who is the best messenger for the information. The report also explores the financing options that are most likely to spur residential customers to adopt energy efficiency upgrades.
The basis of the report is a survey RMI’s Residential Energy+ team conducted with 1,210 homeowners from all 50 U.S. states. In addition to learning what types of messengers, financing and timing make most sense to consumers, the team also uncovered other important findings around financing, what customers are willing to pay and what the main motivations are for energy upgrades.
Utility program managers will recognize the triggers that drive home energy upgrades—a new home purchase, a renovation done to sell a home or broken equipment—but the key takeaway is that consumers buy a product when they want it, not when the provider wants to sell it. The study also emphasizes that consumers do not necessarily want to speak to every stakeholder at each step of the process.
Learning which stakeholder is best suited to convey information can be an important marketing tool for service providers. Stakeholders should focus on what they do best and build partnerships with other stakeholders to fill in the gaps and provide consumers with a seamless selection and installation process.
In today’s utility landscape, power providers need a variety of strategies to maintain strong customer relationships and build an environment of trust and collaboration. A customer-centric program that increases homeowners’ investment in energy-efficiency improvements could contribute much to that goal, while supporting utilities’ load management plans.
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.
If you don’t know where you are going, chances are you will wind up someplace else. As a public power utility, your goal is to provide reliable, affordable electricity, so you—and your customers—cannot afford to miss that destination. A new three-part webinar series from the American Public Power Association will show you how to draw an effective roadmap to your future.
Strategic Planning invites chief executive officers, general managers, senior executives, board and council members, and others involved in strategic planning to deep dive into the background and implementation of this valuable process. The series reviews strategic planning options for public power utilities of different sizes and with a variety of governing structures. Strategic planning for state associations and joint action agencies will also be covered.
Planning in three steps
Participants will learn how to engage policymakers and staff, set realistic timetables and budgets, select the right process for your utility and when and how to hire consultants. The series also includes material on managing financial operations as part of long-term performance planning.
July 26—Prepare for Change: Blueprinting Your Strategic Plan Begin by taking a hard look at where your utility stands in the ever-evolving industry landscape and discover how to take control of your future. New technologies, new power sources, new competitors and changing customer expectations will change the way you do business. Expert speakers will help you determine if your organization is prepared to plan for change. You will leave the webinar with the tools to create a realistic blueprint to adapt to market and policy changes, as well as new customer needs and preferences.
Aug. 16—Finances and Performance: Building Your Strategic Plan Monitoring your organization’s financial health is not the job of only your chief financial officer (if you have one). Your leadership and governance team need to participate in financial planning and oversight as well. Decisions about budgets, rates, power supply, services and system maintenance affect your strategic plan and performance. This webinar presents the big picture on the financial aspect of performance planning.
Sept. 6—Down to Brass Tacks: Implementing Your Strategic Plan Finalizing your strategic plan is the beginning, not the end of your journey, as the next step—implementation—is where the rubber meets the road. This webinar gets into the details of staying the course and avoiding the common pitfalls in acting on your plan. Learn how to keep all stakeholders aware of the plan’s progress and engage productively with outside consultants or facilitators if needed.
Registration for the full webinar series is $550 or $250 for APPA members. Individual webinars are $199 or $99 for APPA members. Links to all handouts and an audio recording will be sent out shortly after the webinar, in case you are unable to attend.
Continue your education
To earn a completion certificate, you must register for a webinar and your participation must be confirmed by the webinar report log. The completion certificate is only available to the person who registered for the webinar.
APPA is presenting this series in cooperation with Hometown Connections, a nonprofit utility service organization formed by five public power joint action agencies. Hometown Connections offers products and services to public power utilities, including consulting support for organization assessment, strategic planning and governance development, customer service, market research, and staffing.
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.
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.
[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.