WAPA phases out Equipment Loan Program

Based on a recent evaluation by WAPA’s Assessment Team, Energy Services is sunsetting its popular Equipment Loan Program. The Assessment Team, which was established in 2017, has been studying WAPA programs and initiatives to ensure that they support WAPA’s mission and bring value to the customer. The evaluation concluded that the program had successfully accomplished its original objective of giving power customers the opportunity to test out expensive diagnostic tools that might help them with planning, operations and maintenance.

Diagnostic tools like the Sense Home Energy 3300 power monitor have become less expensive, more accurate and easier to handle than the monitors of even 10 years ago.

WAPA launched the Equipment Loan Program more than 30 years ago when diagnostic tools were often large, cumbersome and expensive. The price of an infrared camera, for example, used to run to several thousand dollars for a basic model. Now you can pick up a pocket-sized camera at Home Depot for a little more than $200. There are even apps you can download to take IR pictures with your cellphone. Likewise, anemometers and weather stations have come down in price so that entities on a tight budget—schools, small municipal utilities—can afford to purchase their own.

Keeping pace with the latest technology has also become a problem for the Equipment Loan Program. The technology behind the tools used to change more slowly, so the program could provide customers with state-of-the-art equipment, or close to it. Today, a new and genuinely improved model seems to come out every couple of years. Even with more affordable prices, updating the tool library becomes an expensive proposition. At the same time, customers often can buy the latest version of a particular tool without denting their own budgets.

These changes in the marketplace have led to a sharp drop in the number of customers using the Equipment Loan Program. At the same time, many of the tools have become outdated. Were the program to continue, bringing the library up to date would be costly. The decision to end the program saves about $177,000 annually—funds that can be directed toward efforts that offer customers greater value.

All of the existing loan requests have been filled and we are in the process of retrieving the equipment so it can be disposed of as federal law requires.

Going forward, WAPA customers will have to make other arrangements for their equipment needs. However, most of the diagnostic tools in the Equipment Loan Program library are readily available from local vendors for rental or purchase. Also, you can contact your regional Energy Services representative for suggestions on where to find tools.

Your support of the Equipment Loan Program over the years has made it a highlight of Energy Services. It has allowed us to meet our customers, learn about your unique operations and find solutions that improve safety, efficiency and occasionally your bottom line. As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Equipment Loan Program, we consider it a success to retire a program that has served its purpose and met your needs.

Equipment Loan Program changes with the times

Chris Lyles, who took over as the new manager of WAPA’s Equipment Loan Program in August, is making some updates to the popular program that reflect the changing needs of our customers, as well as advances in technology.

The Equipment Loan Program stocks infrared cameras, power meters and other diagnostic tools for WAPA customers to borrow free of charge.
The Equipment Loan Program stocks infrared cameras, power meters and other diagnostic tools for WAPA customers to borrow free of charge.

Planning the future
The increasing availability of easy-to-use diagnostic tools is prompting Lyles to look at new ways the Equipment Loan Program can support WAPA customers. “It’s possible now to walk into Home Depot and pick up a pocket-sized infrared (IR) camera for a few hundred dollars that will serve the purpose for a home energy audit,” he observed. “So we are asking ourselves what other needs our customers have that the program can meet.”

One answer is to stock more sophisticated versions of consumer-level tools for linemen and electricians to use for industrial audits and transmission and distribution system maintenance. The boroscope, for example, allows the user to take thermal images in tight spaces where just pointing and shooting with an IR camera might fail to pinpoint the problem. Utility field crews can use the LineTracker power monitor to diagnose fast-moving and minute malfunctions in overhead lines.

Providing instruction on the proper use of borrowed equipment is another one of Lyles’s goals. Currently, customers can find general equipment training resources on the Energy Services website, but Lyles has something more specific in mind. WAPA plans to produce videos that explain how to use the equipment, and post them on WAPA’s YouTube channel. The URLs will be sent to customers in place of physical manuals when they borrow a tool, providing a quicker, easier start when using the equipment. Perhaps most importantly, the customized videos will give customers a more personal connection to Energy Services and WAPA.

Help shape the program
The Equipment Loan Program and Energy Services have always provided WAPA customers with a direct line to technical assistance and support for their maintenance, load management and planning needs. Those needs have evolved—a slow-sounding word for the rapid-fire change occurring in our industry—and we want to make sure our services keep pace. Your input, suggestions and feedback are crucial to the direction the program takes.

Tell us what kinds of tools you would like to see added to our library. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that we understand the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” Lyles explained.

If you know of an online resource that gave you a better understanding of a borrowed tool, share that with Energy Services. The same goes for that clever solution you discovered while using it. The Equipment Loan Program is your program and we are eager to hear how we can better serve you.

Meet Chris Lyles, new Equipment Loan manager

It is with a heavy heart that Energy Services must bid Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann farewell as he moves into a well-deserved retirement. Hoffmann was a tireless champion of our Equipment Loan Program and we will miss his customer service skills, “interesting” theories on how the world works and his tasty vegan recipes (ok, maybe only the Energy Services Bulletin editor will miss the food). The silver lining in this loss is that we gain Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager.

Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.
Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.

Learning new business
When Lyles joined WAPA’s Desert Southwest office in 2008, it was the Energy Department veteran’s first utility industry job. He had been working on environmental cleanup on Super Fund sites but wanted a more people-oriented position. “There seemed to be a lot of job opportunities in the field and I liked the idea of working in a stable industry that provided society with an important product,” Lyles recalled.

Working as project manager in charge of transmission line and substation construction gave Lyles plenty of chance to work with people. He had to help facilitate the selection of capital projects that would best meet the needs of WAPA and its customers’ transmission needs. And since such projects affect customers’ rates, he had to explain the need for them to the customers, too. “When people who have been in the business for 40 years are asking you questions about a transmission project, you had better understand the details and have answers for them,” noted Lyles. “It was a real learning experience.”

Fortunately, Lyles is a quick study and has exceptional listening skills, which came in handy when he visited customers in the field. “That is where they really open up and share their concerns about WAPA and about the industry in general,” he said. “Those meetings really helped me to identify projects that could make a positive difference for our customers.”

Growing on job
WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel was another person who found those one-on-one meetings valuable. When he visited the DSW region, Gabriel often accompanied Lyles on his visits to small utilities. While the administrator was learning more about the specific needs of the region, he was also discovering an employee with exceptional customer service skills. When there was an opening at WAPA headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, for an acting chief of staff, Lyles was selected to fill it.

Filling the temporary position gave Lyles the chance to work with WAPA senior management and learn more about WAPA’s broader mission. One thing that impressed him was how diverse our customer base is. “Each region has different needs and each customer is facing different challenges,” he said.

Finding new ways to help
Lyles also came to appreciate the need to maintain our aging grid infrastructure, an area where he sees potential for the Equipment Loan Program to grow. “We have equipment that can be particularly useful for finding problems on distribution systems,” he pointed out. “One of my goals is to make sure our customers know all the different uses for our tools.”

The distribution system is being used differently now than it ever was before, Lyles added, and Energy Services and the Equipment Loan Program can help customers manage those changes. “For example, distributed generation causes back-feed into the system that can potentially lead to power quality issues,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from customers who see a blip on their system, and need help to track down the issue.”

Lyles is looking forward to learning what is important to customers, and one way to do it is to put equipment into the hands of customers who have not borrowed from the program before. “I would like them to get a chance to play with our tools and discover new uses for them,” he said.

That will also help with another goal Lyles has for the program: modernizing the fleet of equipment. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that WAPA understands the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” he explained.

To that end, Lyles is eager to hear suggestions from customers about tools that could be added to the program. Contact him at 720-962-7249 with your ideas.

Around the web: Western’s Equipment Loan Program

AroundTheWebOne of the great things about the Internet is that, unlike hard copy resources, you can update it in minutes with a few keystrokes. Another handy feature is the ability to create a network of resources around a specific topic—that’s why they call it the web. The new training resources page in our Equipment Loan Program is an excellent example.  The latest addition to the Equipment Loan site offers videos and fact sheets to help Western customers get the best results from the tools they borrow from the program.

Pre-screened by Energy Services
As with any topic, there are hundreds of posts related to energy audits and the equipment used to do them. We combed the web to find the most relevant, informative resources so you don’t have to.

The Department of Energy, the Building Performance Institute Redirecting to a non-government site, Southface Institute Redirecting to a non-government site and Montana Weatherization Training Center Redirecting to a non-government site are among the organizations that produced the resources. Some videos came from equipment manufacturers like the Energy Conservatory and Fluke. The Energy Services team, and especially Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann, reviewed them all for accuracy and clarity. “We were looking for training resources that explained the basic operation of a piece of equipment in a way that the user doesn’t have to be an engineer to understand,” said Hoffmann.

Crash courses
The resources are organized by tool—blower doors, infrared (IR) cameras, duct testers and power meters. Under “Other resources” are links to training libraries that contain presentations covering several types of equipment.

Most of the videos are available free of charge and run from a few minutes to half an hour. These resources are for brushing up on how to set up or operate a tool, or get a quick overview of a model you may not have used before. Online training is not a replacement for auditor certification, but it can be a helpful supplement for trainees who have not had a lot of field experience.

Speaking of the field, the best thing about online training is convenience. You can access the resources from your smartphone, or pad if you have wireless network access. The resources are available any time of the day or night in your office or home, as well.

Web keeps growing
New resources pop up on the Internet every day, and we will be on the lookout for additions to the new page. It is a big web, though—worldwide, in fact—so we are counting on our customers to alert us to resources they find valuable.

Better yet, Energy Services would love to post training resources created by our own customers. Nobody understands utility needs like utilities. We are looking for concise “how-to” videos that demonstrate tool operation, or unique uses for diagnostic tools. Post them on your own website, YouTube or another sharing site, and provide us with the link. As a bonus, Energy Services Bulletin would feature a story on your utility’s foray into film (video) making.

Contact me, Kevon Storie with your suggestions for equipment training videos and links to your own efforts.