ACEEE report: Energy efficiency helps rural ratepayers

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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,” You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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.

You can download this and other reports from ACEEE’s website for free.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 8/23/18

Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange encourages utilities to build bridges

Sept. 19-21
Aspen Meadows Resort
Aspen, Colorado

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.

Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 26-29 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level.
Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 19-21 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level. (Photo by Randy L. Martin)

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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.You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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.You are leaving WAPA.gov.

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.

Office of Indian Energy internship program builds technical expertise

Students learn about different types of solar panels and arrays during the July 2016 Ute Mountain Ute Youth Energy Day in Colorado, hosted by the DOE Office of Indian Energy as part of its efforts to promote STEM education in tribal communities. The event is one of many education and training opportunities the Office of Indian Energy offers to tribes.
Students learn about different types of solar panels and arrays during the July 2016 Ute Mountain Ute Youth Energy Day in Colorado, hosted by the DOE Office of Indian Energy as part of its efforts to promote STEM education in tribal communities. The event is one of many education and training opportunities the Office of Indian Energy offers to tribes. (Photo by DOE Office of Indian Energy)

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 AuthorityYou are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov., 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.

Source: DOE Office of Indian Energy blog, 5/29/18

USDA Rural Development loans fund improvements for WAPA customers

Mountain View Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Farmers Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. are the latest WAPA customers to receive loans from the Rural Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Ann Hazlett made the announcement during a visit to the Central Iowa Power CooperativeYou are leaving WAPA.gov. the generation and transmission utility for Farmers Electric.

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:

  • State and local governmental entities
  • Federally-recognized tribes
  • 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.

Fort Collins Utilities awarded 2018 Green Building of the Year

Colorado's first facility to achieve a LEED v.4 Platinum rating, the Fort Collins Utilities Administrative Building is the first phase of an efficient new civic campus planned for Downtown Fort Collins.
Colorado’s first facility to achieve a LEED v.4 Platinum rating, the Fort Collins Utilities Administrative Building is the first phase of an efficient new civic campus planned for Downtown Fort Collins. (Photo by City of Fort Collins)

The United States Green Building Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently recognized WAPA customer Fort Collins Utilities’ You are leaving WAPA.gov. Administration Building with the Mountain West Region 2018 Colorado Green Building of the Year award.

Fort Collins Utilities was honored along with other award recipients May 3 at the Rocky Mountain Green Conference You are leaving WAPA.gov.  in Denver.

Sustainable architecture firm Stantec You are leaving WAPA.gov. designed the Administrative Building to embody the community values demonstrated by Fort Collins energy and climate policies, and to document these high performance goals with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Version 4. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Construction was completed in 2016, and accolades followed quickly. The building also earned an ENERGY STAR® score of 100 for operations in 2017.

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.

Administrator’s outreach builds bridges between customers, WAPA

[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.”

Administrator Mark Gabriel addresses customers at the annual meeting of Missouri River Energy Services.
Administrator Mark Gabriel addresses customers at the annual meeting of Missouri River Energy Services. (Photo by Missouri River Energy Services)

Relationships matter
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. You are leaving WAPA.gov. “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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Fremont, You are leaving WAPA.gov. and met with Nebraska Public Power District You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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’ You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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.

Community Solar gets enthusiastic reception in Fremont, Neb.

Sometimes, you just don’t know what people want until you ask them, as the municipal utilities board of directors in Fremont, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. learned when they set out to diversify their municipal power portfolio.

The residents of Fremont, Nebraska, enthusiastically embraced community solar. The 1.5-megawatt solar farm was fully subscribed in only seven weeks.
The 1.5-megawatt Fremont Community Solar Farm unleashed a pent-up demand for renewable energy options, selling out subscriptions in just seven weeks. (Photo by Fremont Utilities)

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.

So Newton took the prudent step of consulting experts before rushing headlong into a project. After scoring a Department of Energy Technical Assistance Grant, the city teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. to gauge customer interest in renewables and to explore financing options.

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.

WAPA customers receive USDA Rural Development loans

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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, You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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, You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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.”

Applications for the Rural Energy for America Program Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Loans & Grants are due April 30. Contact your local field office for more information.

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.

Phase out residential lighting programs? Not so fast…

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. 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

Customer engagement comes first, energy savings follow

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. must balance two competing challenges that will sound all too familiar to rural power providers across the nation. On one hand, San Bernardino County, California’s oldest electric utility has a fierce summer peak; on the other, a significant population of low-income customers struggles with each month’s electric bill. In true public power spirit, Colton Electric’s “Spring into Summer” campaign seeks to manage its peak by putting the needs of its ratepayers first.

The campaign, which runs from March 20 to June 20, encourages customers to upgrade certain items in their homes to energy-efficient products prior to the start of summer. The utility notifies customers about the program on their utility bills, Facebook, Instagram and the electric website. Flyers are also placed in city hall, the electric office and community centers.

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

Customers can take advantage of increased rebates for box fans, ceiling fans, swamp coolers, room air-conditioning units and air-conditioning system tune-ups, as well as whole-house systems. “We want to give all of our customers a chance to save,” explained Environmental Conservation Supervisor, Jessica Sutorus.

Utility programs for saving energy often focus on big measures like entire home cooling system replacement because those retrofits provide the best results, for both the customer and the power provider. However, low-income customers can rarely afford major home improvements, even though they need the savings as much as, or more than customers in other demographics.

Different demographic, different goals
Even so, the “Spring into Summer” promotion is as much about customer outreach as it is about energy efficiency. “You have different expectations than when you are marketing to more affluent customers,” Sutorus acknowledged.

In that respect, “Spring into Summer” has been successful, increasing participation in the cooling rebate program by 40 customers annually, a 43 percent increase in participation. “Obviously those aren’t huge numbers, but we have only 16,000 residential customers and most of the participants are investing in the smaller-ticket items,” said Sutorus.

So while the savings to the customers may be meaningful, the program has not made much of a dent in Colton Electric’s summer load. Many Colton families pass their homes from generation to generation and don’t have the resources to make the kind of deep retrofits that are useful for load shaping. A lot of those houses are several decades old and still have the original windows, Sutorus noted. “Our residential programs are about serving the community,” she explained. “We have other plans to meet state goals for energy savings.”

Part of bigger picture
Colton has recently begun to install smart thermostats throughout city facilities, and to replace old air-conditioning systems with Ice Bear high-efficiency cooling equipment. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The measures are part of the Climate Action Plan the city adopted in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is where California’s progressive approach to climate change is helpful to the small “Inland Empire” city. The state’s Title 24 Building Standards Code requires developers to build housing that is highly efficient and solar- and electric vehicle-ready. This is good news for a city that is finally beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery. “We are expecting new residential development, but industry is our fastest growing load,” Sutorus observed.

Colton Electric offers a menu of commercial customer rebates, including automated online energy monitoring analysis, lighting rebates and time-of-use rates. Support for commercial customers can help grow local industry and bring more jobs to the area. More jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, too, will be good for ratepayers.