CIPCO builds Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar project

In Iowa, where renewable energy is often synonymous with wind, one generation-and-transmission (G&T) cooperative is making a big investment in utility-scale solar generation. Over the last year, Central Iowa Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CIPCO) built the state’s largest photovoltaic (PV) project across five sites in its service delivery territory.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone's-eye view.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone’s-eye view. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

The member cooperatives involved in the project are Clarke Electric Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov.Consumers Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov. East-Central Iowa REC You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Pella Cooperative Electric. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The 5.5-megawatt (MW) project will provide electricity to all CIPCO members of all income levels. “It is our mission as a cooperative to support all our members equally,” noted Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kerry Koonce. “Choosing the utility-scale model for the project rather than community solar accomplishes that.”

Becoming solar leader
In late 2015, CIPCO issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of the first of what is intended to be a two-phase utility-scale solar project.

Construction workers install solar racks at the Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site.

Construction workers install solar racks at Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

Several of CIPCO’s 13 members showed interest in hosting a site. Then followed the hard work of determining which sites would be appropriate. “Some potential sites didn’t have sufficient resources, others had leasing issues,” recalled Koonce. “It is so important to make sure to get the correct layout, especially with a first-time project.”

CIPCO had help from the National Renewables Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NRCO), a trade group formed by cooperatives to facilitate the development and deployment of renewable energy resources. NRCO managed the RFP process and supplied engineering expertise for the project. CIPCO has used NRCO resources in the past to review wind-purchase contracts as well.

To install the arrays, CIPCO selected Azimuth Energy LLC You are leaving WAPA.gov. of St. Louis, Missouri, an engineering, construction and development-support service company for renewable energy and energy efficient projects. The design of the ground-mounted arrays included features like fixed-axis racking and transformerless string inverters to reduce installation cost, improve performance and simplify maintenance. The projects were completed on schedule by the end of 2016.

Sun keeps rising
The new solar generation is part of a portfolio that includes 199 MW of wind power, 14 MW of WAPA hydropower and 1.6 MW of waste-to-energy generation. In all, CIPCO gets nearly 60 percent of its power supply from low-carbon resources. Koonce observed that clean energy has always been important to CIPCO’s members and with the decline in solar panel prices, the time was right to add solar to the mix.

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array..

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

According to Koonce, the solar site will eventually pay for itself in the energy it produces, although the exact payback period is not known. The $9 million cost of all five solar sites, spread over 20 years to take advantage of some federal solar tax credits, is significantly less than the cost of building a new coal-fired plant, she added.

CIPCO’s overall resource plan focuses on natural gas, wind and more solar, with a second phase of solar development planned for this year. Battery storage is not part of the conversation at this point, Koonce noted, because the cost of storage systems is still very high compared to CIPCO’s stable rates. For now, “Our members won’t be seeing an increase due to adding solar,” Koonce says. “The resource is very cost effective for us.”

But members can be sure that CIPCO will be watching battery storage and other new technologies, as the G&T continues to build its diverse, affordable and environmentally friendly power supply.

Roseville Electric program takes home efficiency to next level

Even the most successful energy-efficiency program, like Roseville Electric Utility’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. high-performing BEST Homes partnership, needs a periodic renovation if it is to continue its success. To keep up with the changing times—and codes—the municipal utility recently unveiled its new Roseville Advanced Homes Program (RAHP).

Roseville Electric Utility's updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction.

Roseville Electric Utility’s updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction. (Photo by California Advanced Homes Program)

RAHP is the next step in market evolution that Roseville began with BEST Homes, explained Program Manager Mark Riffey. “When we launched BEST Homes, Roseville builders weren’t installing solar and energy efficiency was nothing more than doing what was required,” he recalled. “But [California Building Standard] code has caught up with the program and will pass it soon.”

Title 24 You are leaving WAPA.gov. now requires new homes to be solar ready to meet requirements, making incentives for solar unnecessary. By 2020, the code will require all new homes to meet the net-zero energy standard.  RAHP encourages builders to meet that requirement proactively, building efficiency into homes before they even think about solar.

Starting on right foot
The program aims to get builders involved well in advance of submitting plans to the city, said Riffey. “The earlier they enter the conversation, the better chance of success.”

Any residential builder planning a development in Roseville may participate in RAHP by signing a prerequisite agreement confirming that their homes will include:

  • 75-percent high-efficacy lighting
  • HERS verification of Quality Insulation Installation
  • Electric vehicle charging station pre-wiring

These measures were chosen to provide a solid energy-efficiency foundation and because they are easy and relatively inexpensive to install early in construction. “The time to make sure a house is insulated correctly or to put in a dedicated breaker and conduit for an electric vehicle charger is when you are in the design phase or early in construction,” Riffy pointed out. “You can add those things later, but it is much more expensive.”

Once the prerequisites are in place, builders can earn incentives up to $3,500 per house for adding bonus measures such as whole-house fans, high-performance attics and LED lighting. Roseville is considering adding battery storage and triple-pane windows to RAHP in the future to move homes closer to the net-zero energy goal.

The completed home, with its tight shell and efficient systems and equipment, is then ready for a solar array. The homeowner can size the photovoltaic system for a load that has been reduced up front by best construction practices. “RAHP leads builders down the path to be aware of the measures that will get them to the 2020 requirement of zero-energy homes,” explained Riffey.

Or, to put it another way, it is going to take an integrated approach to meet the ambitious clean energy goals California has set for itself.

Working together
That focus on integration may be one of the biggest changes Roseville has made in its updated residential construction program. Where BEST Homes was a local effort guided by local stakeholders, RAHP was designed with the help of a third-party administrator to align with Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) California Advanced Home Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CAHP).

TRC, an engineering and construction management consultant, has administered CAHP for PG&E since 2011. “It was the best use of our resources,” observed Riffey. “TRC has spent years working with Title 24, and they can tell us measures that get the most bang for our buck.”

Coordinating with PG&E made sense, as well, because many Roseville residents are PG&E natural gas customers. After all, a well-insulated home is going to cut both heating and cooling costs. “Builders need to turn in only one set of papers for both programs,” said Riffey. “Anything that streamlines the program for the builder/customer improves its chance for success.”

Roseville Electric Utilities aims to succeed. Over its ten-year run, BEST Homes succeeded beyond expectations. A very high percentage of homes recently built in Roseville are solar ready, and California has made that requirement part of its building code. If RAHP enjoys the same kind of success, Roseville’s housing stock may set a zero-energy example for the whole state.

WAPA’s low rates save Weaverville

By Philip Reed, WAPA technical writer

Trinity Public Utilities District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (TPUD) is a small utility with a workforce consisting of only 22 employees, located in Weaverville, California. It was founded in 1981 and has recently become a valued WAPA customer.

The town of Weaverville had some of California's highest electrical rates until it became a WAPA customer.

The town of Weaverville had some of California’s highest electrical rates until it became a WAPA customer.

“Prior to that, Weaverville was being served by a small investor-owned utility,” said TPUD General Manager Paul Hauser. “They wanted to sell their distribution lines and get out of Trinity County. The community came together to raise and borrow the money necessary to purchase the distribution assets themselves.”

Dick Morris was a founding member of TPUD, and is still on the board today.

“We were motivated to take over the system and partner with WAPA when the previous utility made it clear that they were contemplating the sale of this system, along with their holdings in other small communities,” said Morris. “This was an opportunity. The previous utility had been bombarded by high-bill complaints from customers. City of Redding customers were paying around $21.00 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), while in Weaverville we were paying $72.00 for the same usage. This was our chance to change that.”

Hauser says that joining WAPA saved Weaverville.

“The rates we were paying were far too high, and the local lumber mill was in serious danger of closing because of high electricity prices,” explained Hauser. “Weaverville had some of the highest rates in the state at the time. Now that we work with WAPA, we actually have some of the lowest rates, but that wasn’t the case then. It was difficult for the mill to stay afloat.”

The Trinity River Lumber Company is the municipal utility's biggest load and the heart of the local economy.

The Trinity River Lumber Company is the municipal utility’s biggest load and the heart of the local economy.

The lumber mill is the largest private employer in the area with around 130 employees, and it’s critical to the overall well-being of both Weaverville and Trinity County. It is the only lumber mill still operating in the county, and it represents more than 10 percent of TPUD’s load.

“We pleaded with the mill owners not to scrap out the plant, but to keep it intact for two years while we sought a new owner to take it over,” said Morris. “If we were to succeed in purchasing the distribution assets and start working with WAPA allocation, we pledged to provide the new owners a substantial reduction in their cost of electricity.”

TPUD was able to find a new owner for the mill: Trinity River Lumber Company. They worked with Sierra Nevada staff members to receive a preference power allocation, a process that was completed in 1982.

“The importance of the mill to this community cannot be overstated,” said Hauser. “Had the mill failed, the economy of the entire county would have collapsed. We would have lost those jobs and it would have become uneconomical to perform the forest thinning that allows forest fires to be managed in a way that minimizes impact to the people of Trinity County. Losing the mill would have crushed us.”

Fortunately, TPUD was successful in purchasing the distribution assets and partnering with WAPA. As a result, the mill, the economy, and those 130 jobs were saved, preserving the economic health of the area.

“Thanks to the service we started getting from WAPA, the new owners were able to operate the mill more cost effectively,” Morris said. “The previous utility required the mill to pay around 10 cents per kWh. With WAPA, we were able to reduce the cost to three cents.”

Thirty-five years later the mill, once in danger of shutting down and taking its jobs with it, still operates.

“Access to WAPA’s low-cost hydropower allowed TPUD to offer rates low enough for the mill to stay in business,” Hauser said. “The benefit of partnering with WAPA was that direct.”

TPUD is now also able to offer customers increased reliability, as WAPA line crews provide assistance during major storms and outages. “That’s something we couldn’t do on our own,” said Hauser.

“I am pleased that WAPA was able to work out such a synergistic relationship with the owner- shareholders of TPUD,” said Senior Vice President and Sierra Nevada Regional Manager Subhash Paluru. “I’m also pleased that through the years WAPA and TPUD have continued to be valuable and reliable partners.”

“WAPA really is a fantastic partner,” Hauser concluded. “Its employees are very helpful to a small utility like us. We simply could not operate without the partnership that we have with WAPA.”

Still time to register for free community solar workshop

June 7-8
Golden, Colorado

Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, a free regional workshop for utilities, is filling up fast but there is still room for a few more attendees.

Community solar projects are a successful business model where multiple customers share in a large solar array, paid for through individual utility bills. It has seen such rapid growth across the country that it has become almost commonplace. Despite that fact, utilities are still learning about every aspect of this resource. It is important to get your project off on the right foot or correct missteps before they mushroom.

WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program has teamed up with the Community Solar Value Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) to make it affordable for power providers to share best practices in developing this type of generation. There is no registration fee for this event; attendees need only pay for their travel to Golden, Colorado. “Helping our preference utility customers learn about community solar and other renewable technologies, as well as tools and resources for smooth integration are a core part of WAPA’s Renewable Resource Program,” explained Randy Manion, WAPA Renewable Resources program manager.

The agenda You are leaving WAPA.gov. draws from an investigation conducted by CSVP into utilities’ best practices and innovations in community solar. From design to procurement to marketing, participants will hear from expert speakers and utility peers who will share their experiences. Presentations by WAPA customers include Kit Carson Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. on requests for proposals and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. on integrating community solar with distributed systems.

WAPA’s Electric Power Training Center (EPTC) in Golden, Colorado, is hosting the event. The workshop will begin at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7, with a “lightning round” of community solar best-practice presentations and a tour of EPTC’s grid simulator, followed by a networking reception. On Thursday, June 8, the workshop will convene from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with breaks and a networking lunch provided by Extensible Energy LLC included.

Registration is free, but required. Participants only cover travel and hotel costs and incidentals.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore this promising strategy for incorporating solar power into your resource mix.

Source: Community Solar Value Project, 5/17/17

California utilities discuss concerns at UEF roundtable

An Energy Services Bulletin story last month looked at the results of a Utility Dive survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. that asked power providers what their biggest concerns were. This month, several California utilities—including many WAPA customers—gathered at the Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. (UEF) Pre-Forum Roundtable to talk about the issues that kept them up at night.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable. (Photo by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

The UEF program committee asked utility and government representatives to weigh in on the topics they wanted to discuss in the exclusive session dedicated to those groups. Not surprisingly, the responses reflected California’s unique situation, even as they echoed the findings of the Utility Dive survey.

Energy storage
The question that was No. 1 in the minds of survey respondents was, “What is the value of energy storage for customers, utilities and the grid?” It is not hard to connect the dots between energy storage and concerns about distributed energy policy and aging grid infrastructure that ranked high in the Utility Dive survey. But in California, a combination of legislative and market forces have made energy storage specifically a relevant topic.

Most people automatically think about battery systems when they hear energy storage, and six utilities in the state have already installed and are experimenting with that technology. However, thermal storage—using available renewable electricity to heat water or make ice for later use in heating or cooling—is a proven technology in use at eight California utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric has the state’s only pumped storage project, which uses renewable energy to pump water to a higher-altitude reservoir where it is released to generate hydropower when needed.

Utilities and battery manufacturers still have much to learn about storage batteries, from funding and installation to operation and maintenance to best uses for the systems. Riverside Public Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. enlisted the University of California Riverside as You are leaving WAPA.gov. a research partner to discover more about solar-plus-storage capabilities. Imperial Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. installed 30 megawatts (MW) of storage last October. System operators find it valuable for balancing intermittent solar power during weekdays, but also note that it takes 220 tons of air conditioning to control battery temperatures. Maintaining constant battery temperature is crucial to extending the life of batteries. Tucson Electric Power (TEP) chose to lease 10 MW of storage from Next Era You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Eon You are leaving WAPA.gov. as a way of easing through the learning curve. The system supports 40 MW of solar and provides ancillary services for TEP.

So far, the business case for storage has yet to be made because utilities are still discovering the values associated with it. Also, each utility will have to learn how to maximize storage on its own system. Planning and rate design will play a critical role in unlocking the value of the technology. But utilities can’t afford to hang back, as big, energy-intensive businesses like data centers are already investigating going off-grid with their own solar-plus-storage systems. These customers may prove to be important partners for power providers seeking to meet storage mandates.

More to offer
Stagnant load growth appeared in the Top 10 Utility Dive survey results, a harbinger of reduced revenues utilities can expect from distributed generation and storage technologies. California utilities seem to be ahead of the curve in this respect, interested in exploring new business models to grow services and build relationships. Many roundtable participants have begun to create programs and services that offer customers more than kilowatts.

A number of industry surveys indicate that most consumers still rely on their power providers to help them sort out claims about electrical products and services. Utilities can leverage this trust to get customers to take a holistic approach to energy use, installing weatherization and efficient appliances and systems before moving on to renewables.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU), for example, offers comprehensive home audits and free concierge service that customers can call with any question about energy use. The service is just starting to take off as CPAU hones its message and outreach strategy. “Ongoing customer communication is critical, and not just for specific programs,” observed CPAU Key Account Manager Bryan Ward. “The issues are complex and education is tough, but the more customers understand, the more they can make good decisions for themselves.”

When the customer is ready to install a solar array, the utility has a vested interest in making sure the job is done right. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program has been highly successful in helping its customers make educated decisions about solar installations. The “Solar Guy,” Energy Program Technician David Dominguez, has even become something of a local celebrity. Roseville is considering expanding the program to other services, like electric vehicles and energy storage. The moral of Roseville’s story is that personalizing a program can take it to a whole new level.

EVs, rate design central to discussion
Of course, you can’t have a discussion about new utility services without the subject of electric vehicle charging stations coming up. Roundtable participants represented a number of different approaches to this service. Burbank Water and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. installs level 1 (standard household) charger outlets on customers’ property and offers a rebate to customers to install a level 2 (240-volt) outlet.

CPAU facilitates permitting and filing for residential and commercial charger installation and for transformer upgrades. Multifamily units, nonprofits and schools are eligible for rebates for chargers, but high-tech businesses in CPAU’s territory didn’t need an incentive to install the technology. The important thing, most agreed, was that utilities need to be involved in pushing out EV chargers, both for the new revenue stream and to ensure effective deployment and implementation.

EVs and technologies like home automation—another behind-the-meter product utilities could offer—lend themselves to load shifting, especially in residential settings. To take full advantage of such demand response strategies, utilities will have to design rates that give customers a reason to participate. The Public Utility Commission of California You are leaving WAPA.gov. has called for robust time-of-use rates, which would present utilities with another customer education challenge. Power providers will also want to make sure that vendors of behind-the-meter services are giving consumers honest and accurate information and appropriate support.

Energy efficiency ain’t easy
The final roundtable issue was one that is relevant across the country, but again with special significance to California: What hurdles are you encountering integrating and managing more energy efficiency in your mix?

In addition to the state getting half of its electricity from green energy by 2030, California buildings must also increase energy efficiency by 50 percent. As any utility program manager can tell you, the more successful you are at reducing your customers’ energy use, the harder it is to find new savings. The overall trend toward higher efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, along with some of the toughest building codes in the U.S., is already making it more difficult to design effective efficiency programs.

Encouraging customers to make energy-efficiency improvements is further complicated by the fact that electricity rates may continue to rise anyway. Consumers don’t generally care about the intricacies of load resource balance or system optimization, issues that resist simple messaging. To make matters worse, third-party vendors rarely bother to explain to their customers how installing a measure will actually affect their home utility bills—if they, themselves, understand.

When the subject is energy efficiency, talk always circles back to flat and falling revenues, something affecting almost everyone on the panel. Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. attributes a noticeable decline in sales to building codes. EV charging and electric water heating could help to make up some load, especially since most water heaters in the state are still gas units. But CPAU found few takers for a pilot program offering customers a generous rebate to install electric heat pump water heaters.

Change still only constant
There is still plenty of low-hanging efficiency fruit that utilities have not yet picked, though participants acknowledged that it may be getting more expensive to reach. The “free” electricity from a solar array is a lot more appealing to customers than elusive “savings” from an energy-efficient appliance. It is enough to make utilities wonder if the best days of energy-efficiency programs and incentives are behind them.

And yet, industry research shows a strong correlation between energy efficiency and customer satisfaction. Such programs give utilities a chance to interact with customers in a way they wouldn’t get to otherwise. Board members may continue to support a traditional program that does not contribute much to financial or operational goals because they see the public relations value of it. If utilities are going to phase out traditional energy-efficiency programs, they will need to find other ways keep customers engaged and happy.

The two hours scheduled for the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable passed quickly and—spoiler alert—we did not resolve our most pressing issues. That is likely to take trial, error and perhaps an appetite for risk that is hard to square with our historic mission of reliability and affordability. But it did remind us that customer relationships must be viewed as part of the solution.

Presentations from Utility Energy Forum now online

The 37th Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. was one for the record books, including the record of “First Sold-Out Event.” If you were unable to join us in the Sonoma wine country of Northern California, you can at least get a taste of the informative sessions and expert speakers.

The Utility Program Standup Challenge gives attendees the opportunity to ask presenters questions in a small group.

The Utility Program Standup Challenge gives attendees the opportunity to ask presenters questions in a small group. (Photo by Randy Martin)

The location and dates for the 38th Utility Energy Forum (UEF) will be set in the coming weeks, so watch for an announcement soon. We hope you will save the date and plan to join your colleagues—and your WAPA Energy Services representatives—for three days of learning, networking and professional development.

Next year’s event may even sweeten the deal for busy utility employees with a limited travel budget. The UEF planning committee is considering offering training opportunities in conjunction with the annual Forum as a separate event. The training would take place on Tuesday afternoon before the Forum begins on Wednesday and would be open to Forum attendees for an additional fee.

Please take a moment to complete a brief survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. to tell the committee if this is of interest to you. If there is enough interest, there will be a pilot program at the 2018 event.

Community solar project expands VEA solar portfolio

A leader in solar water heating programs is now adding 15 megawatts of photovoltaic energy to its electricity supply. Valley Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (VEA) has constructed a 54,000-panel solar plant on 80 acres of desert near the California-Nevada border and plans to sell the power to members at a lower price than their current electric rates.

VEA's 54,000-panel solar plant produces enough electricity to power 2,500 homes.

VEA’s 54,000-panel solar plant produces enough electricity to power 2,500 homes. (Photo by Valley Electric Association)

The community solar project located just north of Pahrump, Nevada, VEA’s home town, produces enough electricity to power 2,500 homes. The goal of the plant, according to VEA CEO Thomas H. Husted, is to give members more choice of energy resources.

Members were showing interest in solar but weren’t able to install their own arrays, said Kristin Mettke, VEA executive vice president of Engineering and Compliance. “Also, there aren’t many large solar contracting companies in our service area,” she said. “This project was a good way to offer solar to our members at an economy of scale.”

VEA plans to turn the project into a subscription program. For now, however, the clean electricity is helping the co-op meet its growing demand with a low-cost resource.

Partnering to protect wildlife
Even projects intended to save money—and the environment—come with complications, however, and the community solar project was no different. The chosen site was home to sensitive plants and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise, so accommodations had to be made.

VEA and solar contractor Bombard Renewable Energy worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a habitat conservation plan to minimize the disturbing effects of construction “It gave us the opportunity to try different approaches,” observed Mettke.

Measures included relocating tortoises to a temporary habitat before beginning construction and installing temporary fencing and tortoise-proof access gates to prevent them from returning. The completed project had a permanent security fence with tortoise access points to allow the animals to reenter the site.

To provide habitat for the tortoises, the native vegetation was mowed, crushed or trimmed, rather than removed. Increasing the height and spacing of the PV panels and installing them to follow the natural undulations of the land will also allow the vegetation to recover more quickly after construction.

Solar water heater pioneer
The community solar project continues VEA’s tradition of using solar solutions to provide members with affordable power. In 2009, the co-op launched what was, at the time, the largest solar hot water program in the country.

For around $30 per month paid on-bill, members can install a Rheem solar water heating system. This highly efficient technology uses the sun’s heat to reduce the need for conventional hot water heating by as much as two-thirds. Members can save about $250 to $540 in annually and enjoy 50-100 percent greater hot water capacity.

With 835 systems installed to date, the program avoids more than 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually while building local workforce skills. VEA estimates that solar water heating will save members about $34 million over the next 20 years by decreasing peak power demands and delaying future upgrades to capital infrastructure.

Planning next steps
Now that the solar project is completed, VEA has begun to talk with battery vendors about adding backup storage. “A battery system would complement solar power and help with resource adequacy and shoulder times,” said Mettke.

The co-op is also developing a subscription program that would allow members to lease panels. The program would be introduced through VEA Ambassadors, members who take an active interest in the day-to-day operations of their utility and who offer feedback on VEA initiatives, activities and policies from a consumer perspective. The Ambassadors were instrumental in rolling out VEA’s solar hot water program in 2009.

The solar hot water program and now the utility-scale community solar project have given VEA valuable hands-on experience developing and integrating renewable generation. That expertise may someday come in handy for developing cost-effective clean energy projects for California. The co-op became the first out-of-state utility to join the California Independent System Operator balancing authority in 2013, a move that could present such opportunities to VEA. It would be a challenge, but if it strengthens member relations and builds local workforce skills, Valley Electric Association is up to it.

Utility Dive lists Top 10 transformative trends: What do you think?

Transformation could be the most overused word in the electric utility industry these days. Big data, energy storage, the internet of things and electric vehicles are just a few of the technologies we are being told will change the way we do business forever.

But what utility professionals see on the ground may be quite different, both from what we hear and from what other utilities are dealing with. The trends that are actually affecting your utility depend on what part of the country you serve, what your customer base looks like and whether you are an investor-owned or public power utility.

To get a sense of where the utility industry is headed, the online magazine Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently identified 10 trends that seem destined to shape our near future:

10. Coal power in decline – Since 2009, 25 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity has retired in the U.S., and another 25 GW of retirements are planned by 2022. However, the Environmental Protection Agency still expects coal to be a major fuel source for electricity generation through 2030.

9. Natural gas is growing fast – As market conditions and regulations push older coal generators into retirement, utilities are increasingly looking to gas plants to add reliable capacity quickly. Analysts still expect it to grow steadily over the coming decade and then switch to retirement between 2020 and 2030, a trend that could come sooner if natural gas prices rise from their historic lows.

8. Renewables reaching grid parity – Once dismissed as too expensive to be competitive, wind and solar—especially utility-scale—are reaching grid parity and often pricing out more traditional generation resources. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that wind could be the nation’s single greatest source of energy by 2050, comprising up to 35 percent of the fuel mix.

7. Utilities face growing load defection – With the rapid proliferation of rooftop solar, some customers are bypassing their local utility for their electricity needs, especially in a few markets such as Hawaii and California. Customers combining load management strategies with rooftop solar installations could purchase less power from their utility, and may even cut the cord altogether.

6. Utilities getting in on the solar game – A number of utilities are responding to load defection and consumer demand for clean energy by expanding into the solar industry, both in the utility-scale and rooftop markets. Community shared solar, which allows customers without suitable rooftops for solar to buy a few modules on a larger array, grew exponentially between 2014 and 2016.

5. Debates over rate design reforms and value of distributed energy resources (DERs) are heating up – Altering rate designs to properly value distributed resources is a trend that has largely grown out of retail net metering. This pays utility customers with solar the retail rate for the electricity they send back to the grid.

4. Utilities are modernizing the grid – Adding new utility-scale and distributed renewable capacity has increased the need for utilities to upgrade and modernize their transmission and distribution grids. Many of the regulatory initiatives underway to help determine the value of DERs also order their state’s utilities to prepare their distribution grids for increased penetrations of distributed resources.

3. Utilities buying into storage – Few technologies hold as much promise as energy storage for utilities looking to optimize their distribution grids and integrate more renewables. While the price for battery storage is still too high to make projects economical in regions with relatively inexpensive electricity, costs are coming down quickly.

2. Utilities becoming more customer-centric – Power companies used to think of their consumers simply as ratepayers, or even just “load,” but new home energy technologies and shifting customer expectations are pushing them to focus on individual consumers. Increasingly, utilities are seeing it in their best interests to market themselves to customers as “trusted energy advisors” of sorts.

1. Utility business models are changing – The common thread running through these trends is that they all are changing the way electric utilities have traditionally done business. Where utilities were once regulated monopolies, the growth of distributed resources is forcing them to rethink their business models. California and New York have captured most of the headlines for redefining the utilities’ role on the distribution grid, but other states have initiated their own dockets to transform business models.

It is likely that your utility has had to think about at least a few of these issues and may be grappling with more of them before long. Energy Services is here to help our customers manage these challenges and more. Contact your Energy Services representative to discuss how to turn transformation into your greatest opportunity.

Source: Utility Dive

Silicon Valley Power honored for small business efficiency efforts

The California Municipal Utilities Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CMUA) has awarded Silicon Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SVP) the 2017 Resource Efficiency & Community Service Award for an innovative small business efficiency program. The Small Business Snapshot Audit and Direct Install Program won the Best Energy Program for a Large Municipal Electric Utility at CMUA’s annual meeting in March.

John Roukema, Director of Electric Utility for Silicon Valley Power (center), receives the Resource Efficiency and Community Service Award from the California Municipal Utilities Association. CMUA President Michelle Bertolino (left) and Executive Director Barry Moline (right) presented the award.

John Roukema, Director of Electric Utility for Silicon Valley Power (center), receives the Resource Efficiency and Community Service Award from the California Municipal Utilities Association. CMUA President Michelle Bertolino (left) and Executive Director Barry Moline (right) presented the award. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

Aimed at business customers with a demand of 200 kilowatts (kW) or less, the program helps the notoriously hard-to-reach sector lower energy bills by installing energy-efficient products. Smaller businesses are the ones that can benefit the most from money- and energy-saving utility programs, observed SVP Public Benefits Manager Mary Medeiros McEnroe. “But they usually don’t have the time, up-front money or awareness to take advantage of utility offerings,” she said.

Innovative delivery
To overcome those barriers, the utility designed the program to be high-penetration, low-cost and focus on the customer experience. Eligible customers received a free “snapshot” energy audit and a report for energy-saving recommendations. A third-party contractor provided and installed the energy-efficient products, so that the customer did not have to manage the process. “We have offered audits in the past, but without the direct-install component or the contractor relationship,” Medeiros McEnroe explained.

Perhaps the greatest factor in the program’s success was that Silicon Valley Power opted to provide the measures at no cost to the customer. The products included easily installed indoor and some outdoor lighting, exit and open signs, pre-rinse spray valves and faucet aerators.

The program was so popular that Silicon Valley Power extended it two additional years, through Fiscal Year 2016-2017, and added more products. “In the second round, we offered energy-efficient replacements for T-8 or T-12 tubes that weren’t on the market the previous year,” recalled Medeiros McEnroe. “We also added outdoor wall pack light fixtures, which became one of the most popular measures.”

Active partner
This program marked the first time Silicon Valley Power partnered with the utility consultant Efficiency Services Group, You are leaving WAPA.gov. chosen through a competitively bid request for proposals.

The contractor’s field representatives serve as the point of contact for the customers. Working from a detailed customer list the utility provided, the representatives called on small businesses in person, performed the free audits and installed equipment—usually efficient light bulbs— right on the spot. In the case of more expensive outdoor lighting, customers received additional free products they could install themselves if they liked the performance of the “sample,” and representatives returned to inspect the installation.

Win for everyone
Over two phases, the work saved almost 2 million kilowatt-hours for small business customers in Santa Clara, equating to more than $300,000 annually. Customers who were eligible for water efficiency measures also achieved water savings, and Silicon Valley Power gained information on customers’ electricity use that can be used to develop future programs.

The data the program collected also highlighted how different small business customers are from each other. “There is not a lot of overlap,” Medeiros McEnroe pointed out. “But we have been able to mine the information to create more targeted programs.”

For example, the utility is reaching out to food service customers who participated in the small business program to enroll them in an online Food Service Energy Efficiency Expert training program. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Based on the data, Silicon Valley Power also target marketed for a rebate for rooftop air conditioning unit controls that it is now rolling out to customers.

WAPA congratulates Silicon Valley Power on earning the CMUA award, and especially on its success in bringing efficiency programs to the small business sector. When it comes to innovation and consumer satisfaction, our customers lead the pack.

Utility industry survey identifies top concerns in 2017

The results are in from Utility Dive’s State of the Electric Utility Survey 2017
and the report is available to download. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The top five issues utilities identified as their biggest challenges will no doubt sound familiar to WAPA customers, whether or not they participated in the survey:

  • Physical and cyber security
  • Distributed energy policy
  • Rate design reform
  • Aging grid infrastructure
  • Reliable integration of renewables and distributed energy resources (DERs)
72 percent of utility professionals said physical and cyber security is either "important" or "very important," making it the most pressing issue for the sector in 2017.

72 percent of utility professionals said physical and cyber security is either “important” or “very important,” making it the most pressing issue for the sector in 2017.

The results of the survey, disclosed in late March, found that 72 percent of respondents see physical and cyber security as either “important” or “very important” today, making it the industry’s most pressing issue in 2017. A total of 65 percent considered distributed resource policy either important or very important. Rate design reform ranked as important for 31 percent and very important for 32 percent of respondents. As for aging grid infrastructure, 34 percent of survey respondents see it as important today, while another 28 percent say it is very important. The reliable integration of renewables and DERs finished in the top five with 60 percent identifying it as an important or very important concern.

State regulatory model reform, the aging utility workforce, changing consumer preferences, compliance with state power mandates and stagnant load growth rounded out the top ten issue responses.

Two years ago, physical and cyber security ranked as sixth, behind aging infrastructure, aging workforce, current regulatory models, stagnant load growth and federal emissions standards.

More than 600 electric utility employees from the U.S. and Canada took online questionnaire, offered to Utility Dive readers in January. Investor-owned utilities represented 54 percent of the survey respondents, followed by municipal or public power utilities (32 percent) and electric cooperatives (14 percent).

Among other key takeaways in the 2017 report, the survey found that utilities are most confident in the growth of utility-scale solar, distributed energy resources, wind energy and natural gas generation over the next 10 years. They also expect coal generation to decline significantly, while nuclear generation will stagnate or retire, depending on the region. Utilities consider uncertainty over future energy policies and market conditions to be the most significant challenge associated with the changing power mix, according to the survey.

Region played a role in how utilities viewed challenges. The majority of respondents across the country identified physical and cyber security, DER policy and renewable energy and DER integration as serious issues. However, that concern was markedly stronger in the West Coast, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain and New England regions. Utility Dive noted that those regions feature states with both robust DER growth and utility reform dockets to reshape power sector business models for DER deployment.

Rate design reform and aging infrastructure were of greater concern on the West Coast, while utilities in the Southwest and South Central states were the least worried about those issues.

You can download the report for free and see how your responses stack up to those of your colleagues. Then, share your thoughts on these issues with Energy Services, let us know how you are handling them and how you would like us to help you address them.

Source: Public Power Daily, You are leaving WAPA.gov. 4/10/17