More than one way to improve window efficiency

Window replacement strictly for energy savings carries a big price tag that can be well out of range for many homeowners. Fortunately, there are several lower-cost options for reducing energy loss through windows that utility program managers might consider adding to their incentive offerings.

Window coverings can offer surprising energy benefits at a lower cost than window replacements, making them a good candidate for utility rebate programs.

Window coverings can offer surprising energy benefits at a lower cost than window replacements, making them a good candidate for utility rebate programs. (Photo by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

Reflecting on film
Window films help block against solar heat gain and protect against glare and ultraviolet exposure. According to the International Window Film Association, You are leaving WAPA.gov. professionally installed window film can block 30-60 percent of all energy being lost through window glass throughout the heating and cooling seasons. IWFA also claims that window film in commercial buildings can deliver seven times the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows.

DOE’s Energy Saver blog explains that reflective films work best in climates with long cooling seasons, because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter. Other factors that impact the effectiveness of window films include:

  • Size of window glazing area
  • Window orientation
  • Building orientation
  • Whether the window has interior insulation

Incentives for professional installation of window films could be a winner for utilities serving low-income areas in warmer climates. Homeowners and businesses in such regions might welcome an affordable alternative to window replacement. Check with your state energy office You are leaving WAPA.gov. to see if it offers any tax incentives you can piggy-back on your program.

Drawing on curtains, shades
Carefully chosen window attachments can also save homeowners energy for less than the cost of window replacements. The Attachments Energy Rating Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. is a good place to begin exploring options. The two-year-old organization is working with DOE to provide credible and accurate information about the energy performance of residential and commercial window attachment products.

For an overview of AERC’s work, download “Window Attachments: A Call to Action,” the Council’s updated brief. AERC is holding its annual meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22 to 24.

Efficient Window Coverings, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a guide supported by DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is another valuable resource for evaluating different window products for energy efficiency. Website visitors will find a calculator to help them choose the best covering for their circumstances and a comparison chart to see how coverings stack up against each other. These functions can help utilities identify a range of options to appeal to different customer segments.

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.

Customer service, community support hand in hand for NMPP Energy

NMPP Energy, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a member-driven coalition of four organizations serving nearly 200 member communities in six Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.

NMPP Energy, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a member-driven coalition of four organizations serving nearly 200 member communities in six Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. (Photo by NMPP Energy)

The small towns of Nebraska boast a surprising number of large commercial and industrial customers, drawn in no small part by some of the lowest electricity rates in the country. Ensuring the economic vitality of these businesses—and their communities—is a duty that NMPP Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. and its member organizations take very seriously. “If the businesses are healthy, then the utilities are healthy and we all win,” said Bob Meade, former member services representative for Nebraska Municipal Power Pool and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

Meade, who retired in March, has a long history of working with municipal utilities in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming to help large C&I customers keep their operating costs down. Low rates notwithstanding, Meade’s first contact with a business usually comes when one complains to the local municipal utility about high bills. “Either that, or they have an infrastructure request,” he said. “They want to upgrade their heating and cooling systems or outdated lighting.”

Meade frequently used the opportunity to do an energy audit on the facility. Businesses need the audit to apply for the Rural Energy for America Program from the Department of Agriculture to fund energy efficiency upgrades.

REAP grants provide up to 25 percent of total eligible project costs for improvements such as HVAC, lighting, refrigeration units and insulation. “Those are the most popular improvements for grocery and convenience stores in particular,” observed Meade. “Those upgrades can reduce a store’s energy charges by as much as 60 or 70 percent. The savings pay for the improvements, and in six or seven years the business sees that money go back into the bottom line.”

Bigger they are, more they save
Large—as in multi-national—companies have even more to gain from efficiency upgrades. Becton Dickinson Inc., You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Meade’s hometown of Holdrege, Nebraska, manufactures medical supplies such as insulin syringes to send all over the world. “Because they use robotics, the voltage and current levels have to be almost perfect,” said Meade. “Otherwise, they lose product.”

All products must be sterilized in an underground chamber, too, so a reliable, stable power supply is critical to operations. These circumstances make Becton Dickinson a good candidate for battery storage. NPPD is working with the company to evaluate the benefits and savings of installing a storage system.

Another, better known, large C&I customer is Frito-Lay You are leaving WAPA.gov. in the town of Cozad. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The snack food maker has a significant presence throughout the state due to excellent rail service and, of course, proximity to crops used as ingredients.

Meade recalled performing a detailed infrared inspection of an electrical room at the plant a few years ago, using one of WAPA’s IR cameras. “We identified more than 85 potential outages that could have caused downtime,” he noted. “That proactive inspection saved them a huge amount of lost work and product. It also convinced them to get their own camera and perform regular inspections.”

Saving electricity saves jobs
Sometimes, good C&I customer service can help to retain jobs when a business changes hands. When Bass Pro Shop took over Cabela’s sporting goods stores in Nebraska, the city of Sidney expected to lose hundreds of jobs. However, Bass Pro Shop learned that Cabela’s had a much more sophisticated data collection program, so the company decided to relocate its data operations to the Cabela’s campus.

That plan hit a snag when Bass Pro Shop found low voltage in the selected building, and an engineering report failed to determine the cause. At the request of the Sidney public services director, Meade installed a power analyzer—again from WAPA—on the city’s transformer. The data the analyzer collects will help to correct the problem, and Bass Pro Shop may be able to offset some of Cabela’s layoffs with jobs in the data center.

Tools to build cooperation
Diagnostic tools, borrowed from WAPA, were critical in helping NMPP utilities to resolve electricity issues for both Frito-Lays and Bass Pro Shop. “IR cameras and power analyzers are great for dealing with key accounts,” Meade pointed out. “You are able to walk in and do something proactive for your customers instead of waiting to react to their problems.”

What is even better, he added, is when a member utility or customer decides to buy the tool themselves. Prices for diagnostic technologies keep coming down, and once a customer sees how much they can save doing preventative maintenance, the case is made.

But first, you have to show them, said Meade. “We have a slogan at NMPP Energy, ‘Working together works,’ and it’s true,” he declared. “It works when we get our member utilities to work with their customers and it works when NMPP works with WAPA.”

Richard Eymann is stepping into Bob Meade’s shoes at the end of March to continue NMPP Energy’s tradition of outstanding member services. With 40 years of electrical and maintenance experience, Eymann will be providing the same high level of support and training NMPP Energy communities have come to expect. Members can contact Eymann at 402-474-4759.

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

Platte River RFP calls for solar power, storage proposals

Colorado-based Platte River Power Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. on Feb. 21 issued a request for proposals (RFP) for at least 20 megawatts of new solar energy capacity that could be added to its system. The RFP also calls for up to 5 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy storage capacity.

In the RFP, Platte River said it would consider proposals for a long-term power purchase agreement for solar projects that could be built and operational between June 2019 and the end of 2021.

Platte River also expressed strong interest for technologies that could store up to 5 MWh of energy.

Proposals in response to the RFP will be due by 4 p.m. Mountain time on March 30.

Read more. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Source: Public Power Daily, 2/22/18

Santa Clara reaches coal-free goal in 2018

Silicon Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SVP) reached a major milestone in the long, determined march toward sustainability when the Santa Clara, California, utility permanently eliminated coal power from its energy supply Jan. 1.

SVP sent this greeting to its customers to let them know the gift of a coal-free power supply had finally arrived.

SVP Chief Electric Utility Officer John Roukema sent this holiday greeting to customers to let them know the gift of a coal-free power supply had finally arrived. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

Various renewable resources and natural gas-fueled generation from Lodi Energy Center  You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Lodi, California, have replaced the 51 megawatts (MW) of coal-powered electricity SVP sourced from San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico. The move reduces the carbon intensity of Santa Clara’s power supply by about 50 percent.

Thanks to customers
The accomplishment began with both residential and business customers pushing the utility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. SVP serves many forward-thinking corporations along with a highly educated and unusually engaged group of residents. “We launched the Santa Clara Green Power Program to meet customers’ demands for 100-percent renewable power as the state established its renewable energy goals,” stated SVP Customer Services Manager Larry Owens.

Santa Clara Green Power launched in 2004, two years after California adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and two years before the first expansion of the RPS. The city continued to monitor its emissions, evaluate resources and update its goals to stay ahead of state mandates, but mostly to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Keeping up with the expectations of business customers in the center of the technology industry has challenged SVP to keep reaching higher, too. SVP Public Benefits Manager Mary Medeiros McEnroe noted, “Many of our large key customers have corporate sustainability initiatives and have been the drivers behind some of our programs.”

Businesses subscribing to Santa Clara Green include Intel—a 62-wind turbine partner—Santa Clara University, the Great American Theme Park and the city itself. A number of large commercial customers have installed solar arrays on their facilities ranging from 750 kilowatts to 1 MW per site.

Speed bumps, fast lanes on road to success
There are pros and cons to being a leader in clean power initiatives and SVP has seen both sides as it moved toward its goal.

In 1980, SVP joined Modesto Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Redding Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. to form the M-S-R Public Power Agency, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a partnership that has helped all three utilities evolve with the industry. In 2006, M-S-R worked to acquire 200 MW of new wind power in Brickleton, WA. “We all saw our customers buying more green power,” Owens recalled.

It was clear to the utility partners that a cleaner power supply was the road to the future. Around 2009, as the state set higher renewable energy goals and added new regulations, other California municipal utilities followed M-S-R toward the coal off-ramp. In some ways, Owen observed, the group effort gave utilities more leverage to negotiate their exit from coal power providers. On the other hand, “The more participants, the more complexity,” he said. “And there was a lot more competition for renewable energy. Ultimately, though, the cooperation among utilities was impressive.”

SVP knew that leaving their coal provider and finding cleaner power sources to replace the 51 MW was going to be difficult. But it paid off in the end when San Juan Generating Station permanently closed down half of its units. “We expected that they would just find another buyer for that power, so SVP going coal-free turned out to have a much wider impact by actually decommissioning two of the four units,” said Owens. “That was a nice surprise.”

SVP’s innovative use of wind technology on behalf of its Santa Clara, California, customers earned it the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual Public Power Wind Award.

SVP’s innovative use of wind technology on behalf of its Santa Clara, California, customers earned it the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual Public Power Wind Award. (Picture by Silicon Valley Power)

Future is affordable
The greatest fear that grips utilities when they contemplate a future without coal—that it will force them to raise rates—has not materialized for SVP customers.

Utilities are always retiring and acquiring purchase power contracts over time, Owens pointed out, and that will affect pricing. Shifting to the Lodi Energy Center and ramping up green power caused some upward pressures on price for SVP. In the long term, however, “The forward price curves for natural gas and renewables look better than coal,” he stated.

Switching to those resources is also an investment in meeting federal mandates to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, he added.

Given the many factors that shape energy costs, SVP still boasts some of the lowest electricity rates in California. The utility recently announced that there will be no rate increase for 2018, and rates are expected to remain flat for the next couple of years.

Efficiency still matters
When rates inevitably change, SVP’s strong customer relationships and menu of long-established efficiency programs will help to ease acceptance.

SVP residential customers can get rebates for efficiency measures including attic insulation, ceiling fans, electric clothes dryers, electric heat pump water heaters and pool pumps. In addition to Santa Clara Green Power, the Neighborhood Solar Program allows customers to sponsor solar installations on public buildings. SVP also provides homeowners with energy audits and loans diagnostic tools to do-it-yourselfers.

While SVP counts some of the world’s most progressive companies among its large key customers, Medeiros McEnroe said that the small commercial customers are surprisingly engaged too. “Quite a few of our small businesses support Santa Clara Green Power, from dentists to auto shops, and many have installed solar arrays on their buildings,” she said. “Sustainability is a community value in Santa Clara.”

Keeping costs down is, nevertheless, still a top concern for small businesses, so SVP offers rebates for specific systems like lighting, as well as custom measures. The utility has also partnered with the Food Service Technology Center for a program to teach food service employees to manage energy and water costs.

SVP also provides energy benchmarking to help companies understand their energy and water use and set goals for improvement. “We have been able to help many customers through free snapshot audits and by educating them about the value of purchasing energy-efficient equipment,” Medeiros McEnroe said.

A utility customer program manager’s work is never done, and sustainability will always be a moving target. Achieving the coal-free goal is impressive but there are still peaks to manage and costs to control. WAPA has no doubt that with the support of its committed customers, SVP will meet each new challenge, exceed expectations and continue to impress.