UEF survey asks for ideas from utility, government professionals

April 25-27
Doubletree Hotel
Rohnert Park, CA

The 38th annual Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. (UEF) will begin as it has for the past several years with a Pre-Forum Workshop just for the people who keep the lights on—staff from utilities and government agencies.

This year's Utility Energy Forum will take place at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park, California, near the Sonoma Wine Country.

This year’s Utility Energy Forum will take place at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park, California, near the Sonoma Wine Country. (Photo by Doubletree Hotels)

The session gives power providers and government representatives their own time to candidly discuss issues that concern them, strictly from their own point of view. “The UEF attracts a lot of trade allies and representatives from related field, but it is first and foremost for utilities,” explained WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “Giving utilities a chance to ‘talk amongst themselves’ first sets the tone for the meeting. They go into the forum with a clear idea of their shared challenges and what they hope to learn.”

Give them something to talk about
The program planning committee is accepting topic suggestions through an online surveyYou are leaving WAPA.gov. not just from those who are planning to attend, but from any government or utility employees who want to weigh in. Electric vehicles? Storage? Distributed generation? Hardening the grid to weather events? What is keeping you up at night? Your thoughts are the grist for our mill.

Horstman and Paul Reid of Azusa Light and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. are moderating the workshop, and no topic is off limits, no idea too “out there,” for these UEF veterans.

Feb. 9 is the deadline for responding to the survey and shaping the agenda of this year’s UEF. Remember, participation in the Pre-Forum Workshop is limited to utility and government employees.

Join us!
The UEF is a California-centric event, but don’t let that stop you from offering your two-cents worth—or from attending. You may have more common ground with West Coast utilities than you think you do.

It is a great opportunity to network with energy services colleagues, and learn about their customer programs related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, key account management and other customer services. This year’s theme, Preparing for the New Energy Future, asks us to challenge our traditional thinking and better prepare for the rapidly changing energy utility industry.

The Double Tree Hotel in Rohnert Park, California, will host the UEF. The registration rate includes not only your conference registration, but your lodging and all your meals. The views of the Sonoma Wine Country are free.

So share your concerns today, and then join other utility and government employees to brainstorm the answers April 25-27.

OPPD program harnesses smart thermostats for savings

Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats give homeowners unprecedented opportunity to control their energy use, and Omaha Public Power District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPPD) has now created a program that rewards customers for sharing that control with the utility.

The Nest thermostat™ can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills.

Nest thermostats™ can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills. (Photo by Nest)

Different kind of demand response
Residential customers who have installed, or who plan to install, Nest thermostats™ are eligible to enroll in “Nest Rush Hour Rewards.” They receive a $100 credit on their electric bill for enrolling in the program and an additional $20 credit annually.

On certain days in May through October, when demand for electricity is high, OPPD may declare a Rush Hour event during which Nest adjusts participants’ air conditioning through their thermostats. This can occur for up to four hours, between noon and 9 p.m. Participants generally have two hours’ notice before the event, giving Nest time to pre-cool the home. OPPD may schedule critical Rush Hour events in an emergency, where customers would receive a 10-minute notice.

Customers don’t need to be home to turn down their heating or cooling and if they get uncomfortable during the Rush Hour, they are able to adjust their home temperature remotely.

Automation makes it easy
Nest Rush Hour Rewards You are leaving WAPA.gov. is a partnership between the smart-thermostat manufacturer and energy providers. By teaming up with Nest, utilities gain a tool for lowering demand while helping consumers get the most value from their investment.

The OPPD request for proposals (RFP) for a smart-thermostat program called for a cost-effective, easy-to-use unit that had high acceptance in the marketplace. Jay Anderson, project director for OPPD’s Power Forward Initiative, noted that Nest best matched the RFP’s criteria. “We will consider other thermostats as we learn from operating the program,” he said.

Nest is among the most popular interactive thermostats on the market today. It can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills. Homeowners can adjust their heating and cooling systems remotely and allow their power providers to do the same.

Part of big picture
The Thermostat Program is part of a broader initiative OPPD launched with the goal of reducing demand by 300 megawatts (MW) by 2023. “Reducing our need for electricity, when demand is at its highest, helps reduce our need to purchase electricity or build a new power plant,” said Anderson. “And that helps keep costs down for all of OPPD’s customers.”

OPPD is not relying on smart thermostats alone to achieve such an ambitious goal. The initiative encompasses programs that tackle commercial and industrial, as well as residential loads. The utility’s Cool Smart program currently controls 60 MW of residential air conditioning, not including the Nest thermostat™ program. Cool Smart participants must cancel their enrollment in that program before signing up for Nest Rush Hour Rewards. “The two programs use different strategies to curtail the same load, so there are no additional savings to be gained from participating in both,” Anderson explained.

The Thermostat Program and Cool Smart are the only residential demand response programs that OPPD offers at this time. But the “bring-your-own-device” model for Rush Hour may prove to be a way OPPD can adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. “This allows us to see what customers are interested in and add new technology to our efficiency programs as it makes sense,” said Anderson.

Smart technology offers many potential benefits to the consumer who is willing to try something new. Omaha Public Power District, a smart utility, is discovering it can share in those benefits by rewarding its customers’ pioneering spirit.

Source: Public Power Daily, 12/14/17

SMUD recognized for innovation at gathering of state utility regulators

WAPA congratulates customer Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SMUD) on receiving an innovation award at the annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NARUC) in November.

The award for Municipal-level Innovation in Regulatory Policy recognized SMUD’s work testing a new cooling technology that significantly reduces summer peak loads. SMUD’s project was one of 10 innovation awards NARUC presented at the meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Widely recognized need
For summer-peaking utilities, the air conditioning load is the 600-lb. gorilla. According to a 2006 California Energy Commission report, on the hottest summer days, air conditioning alone accounts for more than 30 percent of the peak demand on the statewide electric network. Conventional rooftop-packaged cooling units—80 percent of building systems—exacerbate the heavy demand that summer air conditioning puts on the grid.

In a hot, dry climate (like much of WAPA’s territory), indirect evaporative cooling (IDEC) technology has shown strong potential for reducing peak demand. It works on the same principle as direct evaporative cooling lowering air temperature by causing water to evaporate. The main difference with an indirect system is that a heat exchanger is used to cool the air supplied to the living space. The fact that the technology also uses less water than the direct method makes it even more attractive in the drought-wracked West.

IDEC cooling was an excellent candidate for SMUD’s Customer Advanced Technologies (CAT) Program, You are leaving WAPA.gov. designed to help customers use and evaluate new or underutilized technologies. The CAT program pays some of the costs for installing the demonstration equipment.

Tale of two businesses
SMUD enlisted two large customers, both with cooling issues, to participate in a demonstration spanning the summers of 2014 to 2015. Tri-Tool, a custom tool manufacturer, replaced its conventional cooling system in the shop with a Climate Wizard You are leaving WAPA.gov. IDEC system. Environment Synectics, which provides environmental services for the government, installed a hybrid system combining Climate Wizard units with conventional systems.

TriTool employees get a look at the new indirect evaporative cooling system SMUD tested on their facility. The Climate Wizard also improved air quality on the shop floor.

TriTool employees get a look at the new indirect evaporative cooling system SMUD tested on their facility. The Climate Wizard also improved air quality on the shop floor. (Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District)

The CAT program paid for the incremental cost of the Climate Wizard over standard air conditioning technology. The units are manufactured in Australia, so between shipping costs and smaller-scale production, the initial cost of the equipment can be a barrier to adoption. But SMUD Program Manager Jim Parks observed, “If your region has enough hot days, you will get your money’s worth.”

SMUD monitored the companies’ summer energy use after the significant retrofits to determine savings compared to the Title 24 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (California’s energy efficiency standards) baseline. The results from a summer of data collection indicated that both companies had reduced their energy use for cooling by around 50 percent compared to code requirements. “That falls right in the mid-range of Climate Wizard estimates of 40- to 65-percent savings,” said Parks.

The pilot system installed at Environmental Synectics combined Climate Wizard Units with conventional cooling equipment to reduce energy use during the summer cooling season.

The pilot system installed at Environmental Synectics combined Climate Wizard Units with conventional cooling equipment to reduce energy use during the summer cooling season. (Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District)

The benefits of IDEC for Tri-Tool went beyond lower electricity bills. The Climate Wizard not only made the facility more comfortable, but it purged contaminated air from the shop floor. The dry air supplied by IDEC also reduced the humidity in the shop, a problem caused by the use of water in the manufacturing process.

Recognition rolls in
The NARUC award is not the first one SMUD has received for the IDEC project. APPA honored the project with its 2017 Energy Innovator Award You are leaving WAPA.gov. and then nominated it for the NARUC award. “I didn’t know we were in the running until NARUC called to tell me that we won,” recalled Parks.

He added that SMUD enjoys getting the recognition. But it would be even better if the awards called attention to a product that, in the right climate, can reduce a large commercial customer’s energy use by double-digit percentages. The Climate Wizard could also help summer-peaking utilities effectively reduce their air conditioning loads. And that is better than any award.

Source: Public Power Daily, 11/15/17

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

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.

 

Take stock of 2017 with Utility Dive industry survey

It has been quite a year for the electric utility industry, with seemingly conflicting signals and demands coming from so many different directions, and 2018 looks to be equally unsettled and unsettling. Utility Dive is asking utilities how they coped with 2017 through its fifth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The research report captures the trends, technologies and troubles shaping the sector. Take just 10 minutes to weigh in on your experience with regulations, wholesale power markets, distributed resources, environmental mandates and customer engagement, to name just a few topics the survey covers. The more utilities that respond, the more complete the picture of the pressing challenges and exciting opportunities power providers are facing.

Not only do you get the chance to reflect on the past year, you also get access to a year’s worth of powerful insights from your colleagues. All respondents receive a free copy of the survey results delivered directly to them by email.

The results of the survey and an analysis will be released in early 2018. You can download last year’s report You are leaving WAPA.gov. for free.

Source: Utility Dive, 11/16/17

ED3 announces 2018 electric rate decrease of 2 percent

The price of necessities only goes in one direction—up—but don’t tell Electrical District No. 3 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ED3). The Maricopa, Arizona, public utility is lowering its 2018 electric rates an average of 2 percent for residential, commercial, small industrial, large industrial and agriculture customers.

At a time when other utilities and businesses across the nation are raising their rates, the ED3 board of directors approved a rate decrease for the third year in a row. CEO and General Manager William Stacy attributes this exciting accomplishment to sound management and a diligent planning process.

Partnership cuts costs
Specifically, Stacy noted the benefits of being part of the Southwest Public Power Agency You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SPPA). In 2014, ED3 formed the joint action agency with 17 other Arizona public power and tribal utilities. Members enjoy economies of scale in terms of managing existing resources and developing new ones, Stacy explained. “We see a lot of benefits for our customers, particularly those in Arizona’s rural or tribal areas,” he added.

A new power pooling agreement with SPPA for electricity from the Hoover Dam has allowed ED3 to reduce costs for balancing services. This year ED3 was able to move its controlling area into the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. controlling area for additional savings on operating costs.

Planning for growth
To keep rates down, you also have to keep an eye on the future, especially in a community that is growing as fast as ED3’s service territory. “We are constantly reanalyzing our 10-year load growth plan,” said Stacy.

ED3 is the largest electrical district in the state, currently serving about 25,000 residential, commercial and irrigation meter connections. The district operates 12 distribution-level substations, and is building a new one to accommodate the average of 65 new homes springing up in the area each month. “In terms of rates, being large helps because we are able to spread fixed costs over a wide customer base,” Stacy acknowledged.

Wise use still important
Even with standard residential rates that are 10 percent lower than investor-owned Arizona Public Service, ED3 does not take customer satisfaction for granted. Programs to help customers manage their own energy use are very much a part of the district’s business model.

ED3 offers customers a Home Performance with Energy Star® Home Energy Audit for the heavily discounted price of $49. Homeowners can choose from a list participating contractors posted online. Customers can also attend free quarterly conservation workshops ED3 presents, and find energy conservation tips in the district’s bimonthly newsletter.

Rate, payment flexibility
In addition to having the lowest rates in the area, ED3 residential customers also have the choice of two time-of-use (TOU) rate schedules. The peak time for TOU-A is 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and 12-7 p.m. for TOU-B. The applications provide energy-saving tips so that customers can maximize the benefits of the schedule. “They can choose whichever one works best for them,” said Stacy.

ED3 also implemented a pre-paid metering program last year. Customers pre-pay for their electricity and receive daily text or email notifications of the amount they use and the amount remaining on their account. Studies have shown that customers who use a pre-pay option tend to use less electricity. Whether it is the energy savings or the feeling of control it gives customers, the program has proved surprisingly popular, Stacy observed. “We have 1,470 customers participating in it,” he said.

Which brings up another truism: People are always looking for ways to pay less for necessities. Luckily for ED3 customers, their utility is always looking for ways to help them.

Source: Public Power Daily, 11/6/17

Check out presentations from 11th RMUEE

This year's RMUEE was one of the best-attended in the event's 11-year history. More than 150 utility program managers and trade allies from around the Rocky Mountain region came to Aspen to learn and brainstorm.

This year’s RMUEE was one of the best-attended in the event’s 11-year history. More than 150 utility program managers and trade allies from around the Rocky Mountain region came to Aspen to learn and brainstorm.(Photo by UtilityExchange.org)

If you did not make it to Aspen this year to network with more than 150 utility professionals and trade allies, you can still find out what everyone was talking about (some of it, anyway). Download the presentations You are leaving WAPA.gov. from the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (RMUEE), Sept. 27-29, to get a taste of this year’s hot topics.

Energy Auditor Eileen Wysocki of Holy Cross Energy shares her experience with her colleagues during a presentation. "Share, not stare," is the guiding philosophy of the RMUEE.

Energy Auditor Eileen Wysocki of Holy Cross Energy shares her experience with her colleagues during a presentation. “Share, not stare,” is the guiding philosophy of the RMUEE. (Photo by UtilityExchange.org)

Evergreen issues like customer engagement, quality assurance and program evaluation appeared alongside newer issues like electric vehicles, energy storage and smart buildings. If a theme ran through the event it was that utilities must look forward and plan for what is coming next. The industry must grapple with changing demographics, technologies that are altering the customer-utility dynamic and maturing strategies and policies that make energy and cost savings goals harder to reach.

And did we mention, Aspen, Colorado, in September? (Photo by UtilityExchange.org)

If these issues ring a bell, browse the RMUEE presentations to learn more about how your colleagues are preparing for the future. Then you can save the date of Sept. 19-21, 2018, to join them in person at the 12th annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange.

Sign up to receive notices of upcoming events, including the Call for Presenters for the 12th RMUEE in January 2018.

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.

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.