CSVP Solutions Toolbox supports community solar development

With the average price of utility-scale solar electricity now at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, it makes more sense than ever for utilities to consider adding community solar projects to their generation portfolios. And if your utility is new to the shared solar model, then you are in luck—the Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) has just introduced a new Solutions Toolbox to help you develop a successful program.

In community or shared solar development, customers subscribe to solar project output or purchase or lease solar panels. According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), some 170 utilities nationwide currently offer or are planning to offer community solar.

The CSVP focuses on helping utilities to develop programs that meet the needs of both the utility and the customer. This includes programs that are developed entirely by the utility, as well as programs where the utility works with non-utility service providers.

Six sides of box
The Toolbox distills the wisdom and experiences of dozens of utilities and their trade allies to identify best practices that deliver value while speeding the project to market. The site, “Solutions Outside the Box,” addresses six challenge areas:

  1. Cross-departmental program design
  2. Strategic solar project design
  3. Best-practice financing and procurement
  4. Target marketing for customer acquisition
  5. Integration with solar-plus measures, such as energy storage and demand response (DR)
  6. Analytics, streamlined to get from project economics to program pricing

These issues will sound familiar to anyone who attended the CSVP workshop WAPA hosted at the Electric Power Training Center last June. One takeaway from that event was that every utility planner faces problems unique to their policy environments, organizational structures and customer demands.

Rich in resources
With that in mind, the CSVP built flexibility into the toolbox, stocking each topic with top planning guides, technical summaries, presentations and training webinars.

  • The Process is a flexible, solutions-oriented roadmap utilities can follow to develop their own community solar programs. High-Value Community Solar: A Brief Guide to Utility Program Design, a report in presentation format, summarizes lessons learned and introduces the planning resources on the website.
  • Strategic Design introduces the benefits of local, community-scale solar and of designing with strategic integration value in mind. This section provides tips for making high-value design choices, from strategic siting and solar tracking to gaining added value from solar shade structures. It dovetails with economic analysis process discussed in Section 6, Net-Value Assessment & Pricing.
  • Procurement for Products & Services is an area offering many opportunities for improving net value. Among the resources here, you will find CSVP’s concise outsourcing decision key, project financing models suitable for investor-owned or consumer-owned utilities and a procurement resource guide with direct links to publications on developing a solar request for proposal.
  • Target Market Research & Segmentation is a relatively new approach for utilities, but it is required for success with community solar. This topic covers best practices for community solar programs, with references to relevant resources, a webinar, market research checklist and step-by-step guide to Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success. WAPA customer SMUD You are leaving WAPA.gov. and other Utility Forum members joined CSVP on fieldwork for these resources.
  • Companion Measures, such as solar-plus-storage and DR, can be integrated into community solar projects to create new options and value streams. CSVP’s guide to DR companion measures and guide to storage companion measures define options on either side of the meter that can complement community solar. An annotated resource list is a useful companion guide.
  • Net-Value Assessment & Pricing provides detail on CSVP’s streamlined analytic process to speed the path from early-stage program design to competitive program pricing. It begins with an overview presentation and a paper on CSVP’s streamlined economic analysis and includes three generic scenarios illustrating how this analytic approach applies in different utility settings. A presentation and blog on pricing strategy clarifies the last step in this approach.

The CSVP developed the Solutions Toolbox in partnership with energy industry experts and utilities, including SMUD. The DOE SunShot Initiative provided funding for the project under its Solar Market Pathways program. For more information about Solutions Toolbox or the Community Solar Value Project, contact Jill Cliburn at 505-490-3070.

Solar stock tank group purchase ‘a huge success’

Utility program managers know that equipment rebates are not only a building block of load management strategies, but are also an effective customer outreach tool. Surprisingly effective, in the case of Holy Cross Energy’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. recent Passive Solar Livestock Tank Sales Event.

The passive solar stock tank Holy Cross Energy members Kevin White and Rachel Marble got for their horses was the start of a promotional sale that succeeded beyond the utility's expectations.

Holy Cross Energy Program Administrator Mary Wiener learned about the SunTank passive solar stock tank from members Kevin White and Rachel Marble, who got one for their horses. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

The Colorado electrical cooperative teamed up with Clean Energy Economy for the Region You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CLEER) and Pine Ranch Products You are leaving WAPA.gov. in October to offer the SunTank stock watering tank at wholesale pricing to livestock owners in three Rocky Mountain counties. Members responded enthusiastically to the offer, placing 30 orders for a total of 58 tanks. “It caught us a little off guard,” admitted Mary Wiener, Energy Efficiency Program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

Manufactured by the Utah-based company, the tank eliminates the need either for costly electric heating units or for manually breaking and shoveling ice that forms on tanks in subzero weather. The water in the heavily insulated tank is not exposed directly to sunlight so it is algae resistant and requires less cleaning than a conventional stock tank. As far as Wiener can tell, it is the only product of its type on the market.

Product opens doors
Holy Cross has offered a $250 rebate on solar stock tanks for several years as part of its WE CARE carbon reduction program, but there have been few takers. “We don’t have a big agricultural load,” Wiener explained. “It’s mainly a few irrigation pumps.”

At $649 to $825, the retail price for the 25- and 42-gallon SunTanks might be a barrier as well. However, Wiener thinks that the lack of interest in the rebate mainly stemmed from members not being aware of the offer. “I didn’t know about solar stock tanks until a member told me about them,” she said.

Wiener learned about the water tanks during a home energy audit she performed for members Rachel Marble and Kevin White, who are horse owners. The couple was understandably excited to show off their new solar-heated SunTank to their power provider’s efficiency expert. Wiener, for her part, immediately recognized an opportunity to connect with members she rarely saw outside of the occasional request for an energy audit.

CLEER, a public benefit organization which frequently partners with Holy Cross on member efficiency programs, had expressed interest in doing an outreach project for agricultural members. While the stock tank is not likely to have a big impact on Holy Cross’s load, “It was something that would really help our members,” Wiener said. “Utilities should be looking for services they can offer besides just electricity.”

Word gets out, orders come in
Getting members’ attention is just as critical to a program’s success as identifying valuable products and services. Holy Cross started the promotion with a booth at the local Potato Day Festival, which attracted a lot of members with a drawing for one of the stock tanks. Two articles in local newspapers followed the festival and the October sale was posted on the utility website event calendar.

If Pine Ranch received orders for more than 10 tanks, buyers would get the wholesale price. The company eliminated the shipping fee by agreeing to drive the tanks from the Santa Clara, Utah, factory. To sweeten the deal, Holy Cross increased the rebate from $250 to $300 and covered the 2.9 percent sales tax in the rebate. How could livestock owners resist?

Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross Lineman Foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank.

Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross lineman foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

In fact, not many did. Colorado Mountain College You are leaving WAPA.gov. alone ordered 10 tanks for the veterinary technology program on its Spring Valley campus. The SunTanks support the school’s sustainability efforts while providing the program’s animals with a cleaner, more accessible water source. The sale was so successful, Pine Ranch was swamped by the number of orders and had to move the late November delivery date to mid-December. “I didn’t realize we had so many livestock animals in our territory,” observed Wiener.

Success has its price
Although the partners are pleased that the promotion succeeded far beyond their expectations, Holy Cross has no plans to repeat the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale soon. “I would do some things differently if we did it again,” Wiener acknowledged. “It was a lot of work for a very small member segment.”

Some changes she would make to the program include taking preorders and holding the sale in September to make sure that the tanks arrive by November, ahead of the freezing weather. Wiener also advises choosing your partners carefully, as some organizations that initially wanted to join the promotion failed to follow through with the promised support. Pine Ranch, however, did a great job, she added. “The company was really well organized, which helped them handle the big order.”

Ultimately, Holy Cross Energy counts the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale as a win, and Wiener believes other cooperatives with livestock customers should consider doing a group purchase event. “Try something new,” she urged. “It was good for our customers and our relationship with them, and it brought attention to a great product made by a small business.”

Source: Clean Energy Economy News, 12/4/17

Wholesale electric rate for federal hydropower decreases in nine states

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, electric utilities receiving federal hydropower in nine Rocky Mountain and northern Great Plains states will see lower firm hydropower rates from Western Area Power Administration for the second year in a row. The lower rates will result in savings of roughly $40 million dollars annually for customers.

Firm power customers with contracts with WAPA’s Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin – Eastern Division will experience a 15-percent decrease in the composite rate, and customers with Loveland Area Projects contracts will see a 14–percent decrease.

The two projects serve 415 electric utilities in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska with federal hydropower and related services. ​Read more.

Source: WAPA Newsroom, 12/8/17

Eco Pulse 2017 ends year on message of unity

Artwork by Shelton Group

In a country that increasingly seems to be defined by its division, it can be hard to market products and services that everybody needs, a challenge not lost on electric utilities. Happily, there are still some things people agree on—energy efficiency comes to mind—and the latest Eco Pulse report explores how to use those areas of agreement to tell your product’s story.

Agreeing on Earth
United We Understand You are leaving WAPA.gov. takes a deep dive to look at the values that drive the attitudes and behaviors people have with regard to sustainability. The data collected in the report suggest that the values structure in our country has more common roots than news headlines would indicate.

A survey of 2,000 respondents showed that Americans believe three things:

  1. We all deserve a clean planet.
  2. There’s a big problem happening with our environment.
  3. Everyone bears responsibility for fixing environmental problems.

Also, the number of respondents who say sustainability is an important part of their consumer choices has increased since 2013 and they believe that companies should do their part. However, a majority of respondents believe companies won’t take action unless a law requires them to.

Words matter
The report shares words that can unify Americans and thereby help brands connect with consumers. Using words that unite can help businesses use sustainability to build their brands across a broader audience. For utilities, the carefully chosen marketing language can create support for sustainability initiatives and program offerings, ensure a message that resonates and increase customer loyalty.

Language that divides rather than unites is also covered in the report. Words that trigger neutral or negative responses tend to have a less clear meaning across different demographics and do not resonate with our broader beliefs about how the world works.

Speak to values
Researchers concluded that Americans value the environment more than we might expect, but their reasons for doing so differ. Using a set of agreement statements developed in the seminal book, Environmental Values in American Culture, the Eco Pulse report found motivations that can be categorized into three distinct groups: earth-centric, human-centric and economic-centric. By understanding these values, and how to articulate them, you can better leverage your sustainability story, build your customer relationships and drive program participation.

You can download United We Understand for free from the Shelton Group, but registration is required. Start off 2018 with a revitalized marketing strategy for your customer programs and don’t forget to tell Energy Services how it goes. Happy New Year!

Source: The Shelton Group, 12/7/17

GCEA program introduces members to clean transportation

Electric vehicle (EV) technology has come such a long way in a short time that Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) has included member education in its marketing plan to promote this promising new load.

GCEA added the Chevy Spark-e to its fleet of company cars in 2016. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, one reason people don't buy electric vehicles is that they have never had the chance to drive or ride in one.

GCEA added the Chevy Spark-e to its fleet of company cars in 2016. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, one reason people don’t buy electric vehicles is that they have never had the chance to drive or ride in one. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)

GCEA offers members a rebate on EV chargers and a time-of-use (TOU) rate to encourage EV owners to shift their charging to off-peak times. The program has been in place for almost two years and now supports an estimated 40 vehicles—about a dozen all-electric—in the cooperative’s service territory. That is an impressive uptake rate for the new technology, especially in a largely rural area with harsh winters. It points to the importance of laying the groundwork with customers to help them embrace innovation.

Fueling up
Expanding the supporting infrastructure for EVs was the first step GCEA took to launch an EV program. A January 2016 report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) exploring barriers to EV adoption found that awareness of charging stations was the biggest factor in public acceptance. “We were already gearing up the program when the NREL report came to our attention,” recalled GCEA CEO Mike McBride. “It mostly just confirmed what we already suspected.”

Working with the nearby ski resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado, GCEA energized the first public EV charging station in Gunnison County in late 2015. A grant from the Colorado Energy Office assisted with the purchase and installation. Crested Butte dedicated two parking spots in the middle of town to the charger, a generous gesture considering the shortage of parking in the ski town. “We were understandably nervous about letting a parking space go unused,” McBride observed. “Fortunately, a member who likes to ski there bought a Chevy Volt in December 2015, which certainly helped with utilization early on.”

GCEA's Chevy Spark-e refuels at the charging station the co-op installed in Lake City , Colorado. The model has a range of up to 80 miles from a full charge.

GCEA’s Chevy Spark-e refuels at the charging station the co-op installed in Lake City , Colorado. The model has a range of up to 80 miles from a full charge. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)

Another grant from the Charge Ahead Colorado program supported the installation of another public electric vehicle charging station in Lake City in October of 2016. The station is the same model as the Crested Butte charger, so EV owners enjoy ease of use and familiarity with the equipment.

Meet the EVs
The NREL study also asked if respondents had been in an EV, and most answered that they had not. That hands-on experience is central to convincing people that an EV is a viable choice for personal transportation, noted McBride. “Few people have actually driven, or even ridden in a plug-in electric vehicle,” he added.

By the spring of 2016, two GCEA staff members had their own plug-in EVs and GCEA acquired a plug-in hybrid for its CEO’s use: GCEA got a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, a lineman bought a Nissan Leaf and McBride got a Fiat 500 E. Co-op employees had the chance to drive the vehicles at a company meeting, and “People were surprised by the performance,” said McBride.

GCEA board members decided that it would be great for members to have the same opportunity to test drive an EV at the open house for the Crested Butte charging station. McBride began to look for a rental car but couldn’t find a company that carried EVs. “It seems they had trouble renting them out, so they just phased EVs out of their fleets,” he said.

Not to be deterred, board members authorized the purchase of an EV for the GCEA fleet. Saving gas costs, using the company product to fuel the car and showing members that their co-op walked the walk seemed like a win all the way around, so GCEA bought a Chevy Spark EV.

The company EV has made appearances at open houses, member meetings and even a car show in Gunnison, along with a couple of the employee-owned EVs. One particularly savvy market strategy has been to loan the car for a week to members who are community or thought leaders or who show some interest in the technology.

Making inroads
These efforts have resulted in a slow but steady change in GCEA members’ perception of electric vehicles. “People would say, ‘It’s great but it won’t work for me—I live 20 miles out of town.’ But that is well within range of a charged vehicle,” McBride said. “They worry about not being able to drive an EV in the winter, but now they are seeing EV owners driving their cars year-round.”

Challenges remain, including those specific to a Colorado mountain town. While familiarity tends to ease drivers’ “range anxiety” over time, “When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, the range does go down,” McBride acknowledged.

The relative lack of charging stations between GCEA’s stations and neighboring communities still presents a barrier, too. “If it is cold and snowing and the nearest charger is 65 miles away, that is a real problem for an EV owner,” said McBride. He added, however, “In many two-car households, there would be no inconvenience if one of the cars was electric with the other capable of longer trips.”

Raising awareness, gathering data
As EV ownership becomes more common among GCEA members, the marketing—and education— messages are shifting to focus on time of use.

Most consumers are only vaguely aware of concepts like on-peak rates and demand charges. “But we don’t want them to fuel their vehicles with the least-efficient resource or wind up paying more than necessary for cleaner transportation,” McBride explained.

By requiring members who apply for the charger rebate to sign up for TOU rates, GCEA is encouraging consumers to be more thoughtful about when and how they use energy. The charger rebate has also created a ready-made sample for a case study on TOU rates. “EVs are a great subject because they are a discrete load,” said McBride. “Members know when their vehicles are charging and can clearly understand how that affects their usage pattern.”

Therein lies the difference between a good customer program and a great one. A good program helps customers save money and energy and helps the utility control its load. A great program teaches customers about energy use and creates a dialogue between consumers and their power provider. By that measure, GCEA’s EV program is on track to achieve greatness.

 

Webinar explores rent control, other barriers to solar for apartment buildings

Nov. 8
11 a.m. MT

Residential solar installations on single family homes have soared over the last 10 years, yet most multifamily dwellers are still unable to access energy powered by the sun.

California implemented virtual net metering You are leaving WAPA.gov. (VNM) tariffs that allow solar to be installed on multifamily building rooftops and allocate the benefits between tenants and common area accounts via electricity bill credits. Other states have similar enabling policies, either through their own versions of VNM or broader community or shared solar programs. In jurisdictions with rent control, however, limitations on how much a landlord may increase tenants’ rents can present a barrier to multifamily solar uptake. (Rent control is a policy implemented by local governments that prevents rents from being charged above a certain level or predetermined percentage.)

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. is presenting a free webinar You are leaving WAPA.gov. on Wednesday, Nov. 8, to discuss the benefits of solar on apartment buildings for tenants and property owners and the challenges presented by rent control policies.

Speakers will explore ways in which local jurisdictions could (and have) sought to overcome these challenges while still preserving the important role that rent control plays in keeping rents stable and affordable. IREC’s webinar will do a deep dive into California’s experience and provide insights for other jurisdictions with rent control.

The Virtual Net Metering Market Development Project, funded by the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Solar Market Pathways, identified rent-controlled apartment buildings as one of several barriers to the success of California’s VNM program. The project team—Center for Sustainable Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. IREC and the California Solar Energy Industries Association You are leaving WAPA.gov.—seeks to help advance solar deployment in the multifamily building sector and provide access to tenants in California and across the U.S.

The three-year project is rooted in expanding the awareness, effectiveness and use of VNM. The main objective is to identify obstacles and opportunities associated with the currently underutilized VNM tariff to overcome the challenges of expanding solar PV adoption beyond traditional commercial and single-family rooftop systems.

Erica S. McConnell, special counsel with Shute Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP, is presenting the webinar. Co-presenter Edward Schexnayder is an associate attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP.

As IREC’s representative on renewable energy regulatory matters, McConnell leads the council’s shared renewable energy policy engagement. She was also a major contributor to IREC’s Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs and Shared Renewable Energy for Low-to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions.

Schexnayder’s practice includes multiple aspects of municipal law, as well as adjudicatory proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission. He has advised municipal clients regarding rent stabilization ordinances and has successfully defended rent ordinances from legal challenges in court.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 10/23/17

Poudre Valley REA community solar project broadens access

Sometimes an idea is so good, you just want to be a part of it in some small way. That is how we at WAPA’s Energy Services felt when we learned that Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (PVREA), one of our customers, was building a community solar array with GRID Alternatives Colorado You are leaving WAPA.gov. to serve its low-income and nonprofit customers.

Solar for all
The Coyote Ridge Solar Farm will cover nine acres near the Larimer County Landfill with more than 6,000 320-watt solar panels on a tracking system that follows the sun across the sky. PVREA will make 700 kilowatts (kW) of the 1,962-kW array available to low-to-moderate income subscribers and 500 kW for nonprofit organizations in the utility’s service territory. It will be the nation’s largest community solar project of its kind, and demonstrate complex financial modeling and unique siting.  PVREA has partnered with the nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office You are leaving WAPA.gov. to develop the project.

In August of 2015, the Colorado Energy Office made a $1.2 million grant to GRID Alternatives Colorado for the express purpose of partnering with utilities to implement low-income community solar projects. That focus fit right in with a specific concern of the PVREA board of directors, noted the utility’s Alternative Energy Administrator Milton Geiger. “They were looking for a project that would bring the benefits of solar power to a greater number of our members,” he said. “Our board believes that equitable access to solar power is a cooperative principle.”

Learning by doing
Coyote Ridge is the seventh project to receive funding from the grant. Originally, the plan was to develop at least five different low-income solar projects with the grant, but GRID Alternatives knows how to stretch a funding dollar and build in community participation at the same time.

Designing a community solar array is a complex task, but assembling the parts calls mostly for elbow grease.

Like Habitat for Humanity, an organization to which it is frequently compared, GRID Alternatives invites individuals and community groups to participate in both residential and commercial-scale solar installations. Although designing a solar array is a complex task, assembling the racking and setting modules turn out to be mostly measuring, lifting, lining up and tightening screws. Low-income homeowners and church and community service groups can participate in building the facilities that will lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. More importantly, for those interested in long-term careers in the field, GRID Alternatives provides hours of hands-on training.

WAPA gets involved
The project came up during discussions at a community solar workshop WAPA hosted in early June. At first glance, it had everything we love to cover in Energy Services Bulletin stories: a WAPA customer developing renewable energy for the benefit of members who need it most. More than a third of the electricity produced will be offered at a reduced rate to PVREA households with income levels at or below 80 percent of their county’s median. When Geiger later explained GRID Alternatives’ involvement, and the volunteer opportunity, the story became irresistible.

So on a cold, rainy September morning, Energy Services Director Ron Horstman, Electronics Engineer Kevin Hogg and Energy Services Marketing Coordinator Kevon Storie (me) showed up at the site near the Larimer County Landfill, ready to build some solar. For a little background, our personal experience with solar construction runs the gamut. Horstman installed a 3.2-kW solar array on his own home in 2009, while it was Hogg’s first time working on an installation. I have—well—I’ve seen a lot of pictures of photovoltaic systems.

Satisfaction guaranteed
The crew was 53 strong that day, including several individuals, a group from a Unitarian church and engineering students from the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and Denver University.

When we arrived, the rack for the lower half of the array was partially assembled, but many hands made light work. The crew first learned to install the vertical “arms” that hold up the solar modules, and then moved on to mounting the modules themselves. Shortly after lunch, the array was completely assembled and ready to be wired by professional electricians in the coming week. The crew put up a total of 999 solar panels and continued working on the racking on the second section of the solar farm.

The work was hard and the weather was dreary, but the experience was enlightening. Hogg, who lives in Loveland, Colorado, was gratified to see community engagement in action, and is now interested in adding a solar array to his home. Horstman enjoyed talking to the students about their studies and about WAPA. (Note to utilities and related industries: Volunteering for GRID Alternatives is a great way to meet intern candidates.) For my part, I increased my minimal understanding of solar construction and was delighted to see so much progress in the space of a single day.

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help!” WAPA Volunteers from left to right: Kevin Hogg, Ron Horstman and Kevon Storie.

Size, site matter
PVREA joins other WAPA customers in working with GRID Alternatives and the CEO. Empire Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Delta Montrose Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Holy Cross EnergyYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Yampa Valley Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. San Miguel Power AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Grand Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. have all been partners in developing community solar farms that offer solar credits to low-income subscribers. Once constructed, the facilities become utility-owned assets.

Each installation demonstrates a unique characteristic that makes it work for the utility. In the case of PVREA, Coyote Ridge is sited on a large tract of unused land next to the Larimer County landfill that will have minimal environmental impact. The size of the farm is another key aspect of the project. “It drives the economy of scale and makes it replicable for other utilities,” said Geiger.

Replicability is central to the Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project. GRID Alternatives, the Colorado Energy Office and utility partners are demonstrating that the benefits of renewable energy are for everyone, one solar installation at a time.

New solar learning videos target local code officials, other building professionals

The United States is on track to install 4 million residential solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays by 2020. Ensuring that these installations meet current codes and standards is the job of building and electrical inspectors. To help code officials, architects, builders and solar installers keep up with the latest solar codes and safety requirements, Interstate Renewable Energy Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IREC) has added new informational videos to its suite of training resources.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially. (Artwork by Interstate Renewable Energy Council)

IREC partnered with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IAEI) and the International Code Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ICC) to develop resources for code officials to learn the key aspects of solar technology related to their trade. The educational videos target a broad audience by highlighting the inspection process. Code officials who have experience inspecting solar installations will be reminded of important details of the process. Inspectors who are new to solar PV will be introduced to essential aspects of the inspection and referred to more detailed training.

“Officials involved in the planning, inspection and permitting of residential solar installations now have access to solar training and education in their office, at home and in the field,” says IREC Director of Workforce Development Laure-Jeanne Davignon. “The wide variety of tools allows code officials new to solar and experienced professionals to learn in the format they choose: in-person, online, printable documents or videos.”

IAEI CEO David Clements called the videos a “must-see” and an excellent resource to educate code officials and inspectors working in the field on residential solar installations. “Training from the NEC® You are leaving WAPA.gov. (National Electrical Code), along with other codes and standards, has become a critical combination to ensure a safe installation,” he stated in a press release. “Knowledge and knowing how to apply it will ensure a code compliant installation.”

ICC and IAEI regional chapters have begun hosting one-day trainings where code officials can learn the steps of accurate, consistent solar permit plan review. The trainings focus on the pre-inspection work of reviewing and approving the plan. To complement what they learn in the class, or as an introduction beforehand, participants can watch two new brief videos on the details of residential solar inspection. Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 1: RooftopYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 2: Ground Level You are leaving WAPA.gov. both run a little over four minutes. Professionals can take a deeper dive into field inspection practices in a self-paced online trainingYou are leaving WAPA.gov. All classes and resources are free to participants as part of the Department of Energy SunShot Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) program.

More than 5,000 professionals have engaged in the PV Online Training since it became available in 2012. The new in-person plan review course is being very well received, too, with more than 2,500 participants to date. Evaluations from participants have applauded the hands-on approach to the material and the way it connects the different aspects of inspection to each other and to real-life scenarios.

For more information on these training opportunities, contact IREC at 518-621-7379.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 9/13/17

APPA webinar series offers strategies to modernize customer relations

Oct. 31 and Nov. 16
12-1:30 pm MT

As more and more businesses offer instant, effective and personalized communication, customers are naturally going to expect their power providers to do the same—and that is in addition to all the other challenges facing the utility industry.

Web-based customer engagement programs and activities offer public power utilities a way to build ongoing interactive connections with consumers. The American Public Power Association (APPA) is inviting utilities to learn about these opportunities with Customer Engagement: New Tools and Strategies for Modernizing Customer Relations, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a two-part webinar series beginning Oct. 31.

The material is designed to showcase the potential of online solutions for a broad range of utility professionals, from senior executives to renewable and energy service program managers to customer service representatives. Public communications professionals and information and operations technology personnel will also benefit from the webinars.

Oct. 31 – Boosting Community Solar Program Success Through Customer Engagement explores the often misunderstood and undervalued process of strategic, long-term customer engagement and management.

The success of a utility community solar project depends on keeping subscribers happy and committed to the program. Utilities with active community solar programs or those considering implementing one will not want to miss this webinar. Presentations will examine some engagement strategies and tools needed to improve the customer experience while saving valuable internal team resources and bandwidth. Attendees will gain a greater understanding of how to best prepare their teams to transition smoothly to the evolving world at the grid edge.

Nov. 16 – Using Online Customer Engagement Strategies to Improve Satisfaction and Program Participation looks at best practices and lessons learned from implementing digital communications strategies such as personal energy forecasting and customer service representative applications.

Public power officials will use case studies to present proven strategies for using a variety of digital platforms to build customer relationships and drive up energy program participation. Speakers will also address how to create a web presence and digital strategy that will appeal to customers under 35.

The registration for each webinar is $99 for APPA members and $199 for non-members. A discount is available for registering for both webinars, however you can register for the individual events. APPA will be recording the webinars and making them available for playback later in case enrollees miss the live event.

Source: American Public Power Association, 9/25/17

Upper Great Plains taps South Sioux City for Administrator’s Award

WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City.  The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. gasifier power plant.

Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.

Leading in renewables
South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.

A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs. (Photo by Nebraskans for Solar)

In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plant You are leaving WAPA.gov. displaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.

The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.

Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.

Conserve, reduce, manage
Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.

When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy. (Photo by Ammodramus)

The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.

To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. markets.

Practicing stewardship
South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.

Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Tree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.

Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

Partners make it happen
Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.

South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.