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.

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

Study shows net-zero future at cost parity with coal

Platte River Power Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The study found that the northern Colorado generation and transmission utility can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).

A story in RMI Outlet, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the Rocky Mountain Institute blog, noted that researchers used relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and did not consider demand-side efforts in their calculations. This is significant not only because the estimated difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent.

Federal hydropower - 90 MW

Federal hydropower – 90 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

History of commitment
PRPA and its municipal utility owners—Estes Park, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins, You are leaving WAPA.gov.Longmont You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Loveland You are leaving WAPA.gov.—have a long-standing commitment to clean energy and efficiency. The G&T contracts for approximately 198 megawatts of carbon-free resources from wind, hydropower and solar assets. In fall 2016, PRPA diversified its power production portfolio further by adding 30 MW of solar power at Rawhide Flats Solar.

Rawhide Flats Solar - 30 MW

Rawhide Flats Solar – 30 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

A small mountain town with many second-home owners, Estes Park installed two electric vehicle chargers in 2014 and offers its residents energy-efficiency programs and a renewable energy purchase program. Fort Collins, second-place winner of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, has been a global climate leader for nearly 20 years. It was at Fort Collins’ request that PRPA undertook the net-zero study. Longmont City Council recently adopted a goal to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Loveland, an active contributor to the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange, You are leaving WAPA.gov. provides its customers with an extensive menu of energy-saving programs.

Silver Sage Windpower Project - 12 MW

Silver Sage Windpower Project – 12 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

Calculating total cost
Technology company Siemens performed the study that is unique in showing a low cost for net-zero generation that incorporates transmission costs and balancing charges as well as fuel costs. RMI calls it proof that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal even in coal country and that renewables can compete anywhere.

WAPA celebrates PRPA and its members for their initiative and for showing that public power utilities can lead the way to a low-carbon future.

Source: RMI Outlet, 3/8/18

SEPA issues ‘state of market’ report for electric vehicles

The market for electric vehicles is growing quickly, and utilities can expect to play a central role in minimizing the potential grid impacts of this new load and increasing access to charging infrastructure. With that in mind, the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. has surveyed more than 480 utilities about their EV programs to create the industry’s first ever state-of-the-market report for EV programs.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value couldn’t come at a better time, with many industry EV adoption forecasts being revised due to exponential growth. Bloomberg New Energy Finance You are leaving WAPA.gov. predicts that electricity consumption will grow from a few terawatt-hours a year in 2017 to around 118 TWh by 2030. Many utilities may be unprepared for this sudden change in load growth. SEPA has collected information and tools in this report that can help utilities and their partners find a path forward.

The report includes:

  • A first-of-its-kind analytical framework for establishing the maturity of utility EV programs
  • Fourteen types of utility EV programs and activities categorized into early, intermediate and late stages
  • An overview of regulatory decisions regarding utility investments in EV charging infrastructure
  • Recommendations for strategic utility planning on EVs
  • Regulatory analysis and regional trends from over 70 EV-related regulatory dockets

A detailed analysis of the collected data revealed that 75 percent of utilities were in the earliest stages of EV program development. Time is not on the utilities’ side and they must begin now to work with peers and others in the industry to develop a robust EV strategy and identify ways to leverage EVs as a grid asset. Preparation today will equip power providers with the knowledge and technologies they need to unlock value in this new load.

You can download Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value for free. SEPA members can gain access to the dataset by logging in to the SEPA EStore. The dataset includes the list of utilities included in the analysis, the total number of programs and activities identified by stage for each utility and the identified utility stage.

Electric vehicles potentially offer many benefits—as a distributed energy resource with the ability to modulate charge or even dispatch energy back into the grid—along with many unknowns for utilities. Use this report to introduce yourself to the promise and pitfalls of a load that could change our industry.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, 3/15/18

Utility Dive releases annual survey report

Unpredictability has become the new normal for the power industry as Utility Dive’s fifth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. makes clear.

Artwork by Utility Dive

The survey of nearly 700 electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada indicated that their commitment to lower-carbon energy resources remains strong even as concern over market and policy uncertainty grows. Other top takeaways include:

  • Expectations of load growth – Since 2008, utilities have faced stagnant or declining demand for electricity, but this year, utility professionals see that trend changing.
  • Uncertainty, particularly in regard to federal regulation – Nearly 40 percent of utility professionals named uncertainty as their top concern about changing their power mix — almost twice the level of concern expressed about integrating distributed energy resources (DER) with utility systems.
  • Cybersecurity fears – For the second year running, participants placed cybersecurity at the top of their list of concerns, with about 81 percent rating it either important or very important.
  • Justifying emerging grid investments – Utilities see the need to invest in grid intelligence to manage electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, DER, storage, analytics and cybersecurity. However, demonstrating the return on such high-tech investments to regulators, ratepayers and even their own organizations is complicated.
  • Traditional cost-of-service regulation falling from favor – Utilities are ready to adapt their business models to take advantage of new technologies and market opportu­nities. Around 80 percent indicated they either have or want a regulatory proceeding in their state focused on reforming utility business and revenue models.

Perhaps the most positive message to be taken from the results of the 2018 survey is how many utilities are willing to rethink the traditional business model in the face of changes in the industry. The report has a laundry list of other important insights on rate design, DER ownership, the increasing popularity of EVs and more. Whether you participated in the survey this year or not, it is sure to make for interesting reading.

You can download the 86-page survey report for free, or read a rundown of the top results with graphs. Utility Dive also hosted a sneak-peak webinar on the results at the end of January, which you can listen to for free.

Source: Utility Dive, 2/27/18

Kayenta Solar Farm to expand; partners consider more renewables projects

Nothing says success like expansion, and the landmark agreement between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NTUA) and Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) to expand the Kayenta Solar I facility has success written all over it.

Salt River Project purchased two years' worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year.

Salt River Project purchased two years’ worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

Only the beginning
The announcement of the expansion coincided with signing a long-term solar contract for the sale of firmed energy and environmental attributes from Kayenta II, as the project is called. SRP and NTUA also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they committed to pursuing future renewable energy projects.

“The Kayenta I Solar Project has become the Navajo Nation’s showcase renewable energy project to demonstrate that the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy development and operation,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase.

SRP General Manager and CEO Mark Bonsall said that the agreement is an essential platform for the utility and the tribe to develop future projects. “The renewable energy credits from this project will also help SRP expand its renewable portfolio to further reduce carbon emissions,” noted Bonsall.

More renewables to come
Under the MOU, SRP will provide technical support in developing interconnection facilities for large-scale renewable development within the Navajo Nation. The utility will also provide procurement and financing expertise related to the development and ownership of such projects. The agreement targets the development of at least 500 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects over the next five to 10 years within the Navajo Nation.

During the development of Kayenta I, SRP signed a two-year energy and environmental attribute contract. Once Kayenta II reaches commercial operation, the utility will add another year to the Kayenta I contract with options for further extensions resulting from the commitment to jointly pursue additional projects.

So far, development has focused on solar and wind resources, but the tribe is open to exploring other types of renewable generation. “We believe it is our responsibility to take the lead role in the development of renewable energy projects to promote economic development within the Navajo Nation,” said NTUA Spokeswoman Deenise Becenti.

Developing workforce, economy
NTUA anticipates that Kayenta II will further prove the tribe’s ability to develop renewable energy projects and build on the economic gains of the first solar facility.

Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers.

Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility)

The 27.3-MW Kayenta Solar Project generates electricity to power an estimated 18,000 homes served by NTUA. At the height of construction, around 278 people worked on the project, 236 of whom were of Navajo descent.

The Navajo workforce was paid $5.2 million and received over 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for Kayenta I. The construction of Kayenta II will likely employ even more Navajo workers and is expected to produce similar salaries for the employees.

Tribe members have taken the skills they learned on the first Kayenta facility to other projects, added Becenti. “That trained workforce was able to find construction jobs at a solar farm in nearby Gallup, New Mexico,” she said.

The construction also generated $3,017,055 in taxes paid to the Navajo Nation. Overall, it is estimated that $15.6 million in economic activity occurred within the surrounding communities during construction.

Creating bright energy future
The Navajo Nation considers Kayenta II to be the next step toward the tribe producing energy for its own use. The facility is expected to begin commercial operation in the May 2019.

There are no current plans to add storage to the project, but the technology is on the tribe’s radar for future opportunities. This is another area where the Navajo Nation may be able to leverage its partner’s expertise. Last year, SRP signed two power purchase agreements with NextEra Energy Resources, one for a 20-MW solar array with energy storage and a separate agreement for a 10-MW grid-scale battery. The utility also plans to work with NextEra to test the economic viability of using storage to integrate intermittent renewable resources on its grid.

The Navajo Nation appreciates SRP’s willingness to continue to work alongside NTUA, Haase stated. He looks forward to Kayenta II generating not only clean electricity, but more jobs and promising economic activity in the region, as well. “This partnership is all about progress,” said Haase.

Source: SRP, 1/26/18

Ideas wanted: Submit your proposal for RMUE presentations

Deadline: March 16

The Advisory Committee is now accepting session proposals You are leaving WAPA.gov. for the 12th Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange. Presentations that address this year’s theme, “United We Understand,” as it relates to utility end-users will receive preference. The theme leverages concepts from the recent Shelton Group EcoPulse Report.You are leaving WAPA.gov.

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.

Check out tools for resource planning, program development

Everyone loves to get a new tool that will make their job easier, whether it is a power sander for refinishing furniture or a calculator to help you choose the most cost-effective renewable resource or efficiency measure. Here are some “gadgets” that might be just what you need.

Choose your clean power
The Green Power Partnership, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency, has released a new Green Power Supply Options Screening Tool to help you sort through the different supply options. There are many ways to purchase green power—such as green tariffs, competitive green power products and off-site power purchase agreements—and determining which purchasing method works for you can be difficult.

Users answer a few simple questions about their organizations, including their locations and annual energy consumption. The Excel-based tool will describe which supply options might be most feasible, according to the relevant federal, state and utility policies. Background documents accompany the tool to explain how the results are defined and the logic used to produce the result for each supply option.

Calculate equipment efficiency
The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) created the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center as a repository for the lessons learned from other EERE programs dedicated to improving building efficiency. Utility program administrators will find resources here that help them plan, operate and evaluate residential energy efficiency programs.

Artwork by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Artwork by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The Solution Center has recently been branching out with more information about the technical aspects of home performance programs. A new section focused on technology solutions explores innovative technologies, offers installation guidance and estimates potential energy savings.

New pages highlight HVAC systems and heat pump water heaters, two applications that account for about 67 percent of home energy consumption. Use the reports, best practices and other resources to support program offerings and help you to reach your energy-efficiency program targets.

Identify energy savings potential
Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed ResStock, a versatile tool that takes a new approach to large-scale residential energy analysis.

The ResStock software achieves unprecedented granularity and accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock by combining:

  • Large public and private data sources
  • Statistical sampling
  • Detailed sub-hourly building simulations
  • High-performance computing

The research team has run more than 20 million simulations using a statistical model of housing stock characteristics. The results uncovered $49 billion in potential annual utility bill savings through cost-effective energy efficiency improvements.

Using ResStock analysis, utilities can target energy-efficiency improvements to specific customer segments to improve cost-effectiveness. Resource planners can determine which measures and distributed energy resources are best for relieving grid congestion and what housing stock segments can provide the greatest load flexibility.

Utility program managers, municipalities and state energy agencies can use ResStock to identify the most cost-effective—and energy-saving—home improvements. The tool is also valuable for helping cities and states figure out how buildings contribute to energy or emissions targets. NREL is pursuing partnerships with industry to adapt ResStock for specific utility, manufacturer, state and local applications.

NREL will be offering the ResStock software at no cost, leveraging DOE’s open-source building energy modeling ecosystem of OpenStudio® and EnergyPlus. These cloud-based collections of software tools allow users to model energy use for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and plug-and- process loads without a supercomputer.

To learn how ResStock can help your utility contact Eric Wilson at NREL.

Source: US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 1/30/18

ACEEE releases third, final video in ‘Health and Environment’ series

Energy Retrofits Clear the Air in Pittsburgh, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the final installment in a three-part video series from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), is now available to watch online.

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

Annual Report highlights WAPA’S service to customers, communities in American West

Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, Serving Communities, Saving Communities

Western Area Power Administration published its Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, Jan. 31. This year’s theme, “Serving Communities, Saving Communities,”​ highlights WAPA’s accomplishments for the year and demonstrates how WAPA serves communities across the West by focusing on availability, reliability, security and quality.

“Delivering power is about so much more than moving electrons. Our power and our services make a difference in communities we serve,” said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel in his introductory letter. “We are honored to deliver reliable and renewable power to communities who need it most.” Read more.