Nebraska City Utilities celebrates Arbor Day year-round

Trees are so beautiful and useful—they provide food, fuel and lumber, prevent soil erosion, cool the planet and inspire poets—so it is fitting that they have their own national holiday: Arbor Day. It is also fitting that the city that held the first Arbor Day in 1872 makes tree planting a part of its ongoing resource planning efforts.

The home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, is now an historic landmark and park in Nebraska City.

The home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, is now an historic landmark and park in Nebraska City. (Photo by Arbor Day Farm)

Recognizing the important role trees play in the environment and in its history, Nebraska City Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NCU) offers its customers not one, but two tree planting programs. Customers can choose the municipal utility’s own “Energy Saving Tree” program.  Also offered in partnership with the National Arbor Day FoundationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. (NADF) is the foundation’s “Three Free Trees” program, which NCU helps to facilitate for its customers. Both programs give NCU the chance to educate customers about planting “the right tree in the right place,” and together have saved more than 67,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

Tale of two programs
The “Energy Saving Tree” program reimburses the customer for half the cost of a pre-approved tree up to $100. “An NCU arborist—someone from our tree line clearance crew —helps the homeowner pick the spot to plant it based on best tree-planting practices,” explained NCU General Manager Leroy Frana.

Wire-friendly varieties that are eligible for the rebate include the Armur maple, hedge maple, serviceberry, eastern redbud, flowering crabapple, Japanese tree lilac and thornless cockspur hawthorn.

Participants receive the reimbursement as a credit on their bill and then enjoy lower utility bills during the summer cooling season. The strategically planted tree also increases the value of the property.

National Arbor Day Foundation’s “Three Free Trees” provides up to three trees of 2 to 4 feet in height at no cost to the customer. The truly dedicated environmentalist can get 10 free seedling trees by joining the foundation. The trees come to the customer by mail and the NADF website helps them with choosing the site for planting. “We budget for 100 trees annually,” said Frana, “It’s a popular program because everybody loves getting something for free.”

Tree-lined history
Soon after arriving in Nebraska City in 1854, journalist J. Sterling Morton began planting orchards, experimenting with various crops and spreading the gospel of trees and conservation to his fellow pioneers. The vast expanse of treeless prairie needed windbreaks to prevent soil erosion, and settlers need building material and shade. Morton not only encouraged individuals to plant trees; he urged civic groups to join in. His work led to an appointment as Secretary of the Nebraska Territory.

Morton organized the first “tree-planting holiday” in 1872 and it is estimated that more than one million trees were planted in Nebraska by individuals and counties in celebration. Nebraska declared Arbor Day a state holiday in 1885 and chose April 22, Morton’s birthday, as its permanent date.

Today, Arbor Day is celebrated around the world on different dates (based on the best time to plant trees in the region), and Morton’s Nebraska City farm is now a 260‐acre National Historic Landmark known as the Arbor Day FarmYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

Like most states, Nebraska now celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of April. Frana recalled having their newly purchased tree riding a float with his children in the city’s 2011 Arbor Day parade, and planting the State Street Maple at their home later in the day. “That tree is about 16 or 18 feet tall now,” he said.

Plant your future
Planting trees is a good investment for a utility even if it is not in the middle of the Great Plains. Nationwide, the Energy Saving Trees program has saved more than 300 million kWh and 4 million therms, sequestered or avoided almost 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and provided $106 million in combined energy and community benefits. To put it in personal terms, “Shading the home is one of the best ways to cut your electric air conditioning load,” Frana pointed out.

Utilities that partner with the Arbor Day Foundation on the Energy Saving Trees program will get help building their program with educational resources, celebration materials and more. Partners can use a calculator on the NADF website to help homeowners determine the right tree for the right place and show much money planting it will save them. Participating in the program can generate positive media attention for your utility, raise public awareness about your programs and beautify your community.

Join other WAPA customers like Sacramento Municipal Utility DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Colorado Springs Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. and, of course, Nebraska City Utilities in planting for the future. Show your customers that you believe as J. Sterling Morton did, that each generation takes the earth as a trustee. Happy Arbor Day from WAPA and Nebraska City Utilities!

Butler County REC tests water for solar energy

Iowa leads the nation in installed wind capacity—only Texas ranks higher—but lags at 34th for installed solar, leaving utilities like Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (REC) facing a learning curve. To fill in some of those knowledge gaps, the cooperative launched a demonstration project in late January that will allow it to collect data about solar energy and pass it on to its members.

Butler County REC chose a Duo High-Density system that features both north- and south-facing panels for maximum generation.

Butler County REC chose a Duo High-Density system that features both north- and south-facing panels for maximum generation. (Photo by Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative)

It was growing consumer interest that led to the project, according to Craig Codner, Butler County REC chief executive officer. “As our members continue in the direction of having more interest in renewable energy, we want to share accurate information with them,” he explained. “We want to help members make informed decisions.”

Putting it together
The exploration began with the selection of a 230.6 (kW) direct-current (DC)/147-kilowatt (kW) alternating-current solar array manufactured by Ten K Solar You are leaving WAPA.gov. of Minnesota. Codner said the co-op board chose the Duo High-Density system because it was designed for maximum energy generation and has an excellent warranty.

The system’s wave format features both north- and south-facing modules, increasing the opportunity for demand reduction. The north-facing modules will generate more electricity earlier and later in the day, while the south-facing units will produce higher amounts in the middle of the day, increasing the energy per square foot.

A crew from Western Iowa Power Cooperative installed the system at Butler County REC’s warehouse in Horton, north of Waverly, Iowa. The system is interconnected to Butler County REC’s distribution system with bi-directional metering, rather than net metering. The electricity offsets energy and demand at a rate contracted through Corn Belt PowerYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Butler County REC’s generation and transmission provider.

The co-op expects the arrays to generate about 268,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or enough to serve approximately 15 to 20 members annually. Members and co-op employees can monitor the solar project’s real-time output through a web-based kiosk.  You are leaving WAPA.gov. Codner said that there are plans to add an educational video to the website, as well. “One of the main reasons for the project is to help members understand solar better, how things like cloud cover or particulates in air affect capacity factor,” he explained.

Paying for experience
The project’s total cost of approximately two dollars per DC watt is partially funded by a $20,000 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, New Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) financing and a federal tax credit.

This was the first time Butler County REC received REAP funding, offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Applying for the REAP grant and for New CREB financing from the National Rural Co-op Finance Corporation You are leaving WAPA.gov. was a labor-intensive experience, Codner acknowledged. “I would advise co-ops to look carefully at all their financing options when they undertake a renewable energy project,” he said. “Self-financing avoids a lot of paperwork.”

Continuing renewables support
The new solar array may be Butler County REC’s first foray into utility-owned renewables, but the co-op has offered members the opportunity to support member-owned clean energy projects since 2006. The Energy Wise Renewables program initially supported only wind projects but has been expanded to include solar and other types of generation that enhance the traditional electric power supply. Codner estimates that there are 350 to 500 kW of solar interconnected to the co-op’s system.

Butler County REC is absorbing the solar project’s cost rather than using Energy Wise dollars to offset it, Codner added. “We decided that those dollars should go to member projects as originally intended,” he said.

Looking ahead
Now that the solar system is operational, Butler County REC is planning an open house to let members get a closer look at the project and ask questions. Codner is looking forward to testing manufacturer claims about the equipment and learning more about interconnection, operation and maintenance. “Safety—for members and our employees—is our No. 1 concern,” he stated.

If all goes well, the co-op board of directors is considering several possible locations for installing a second array in 2017. This second project may be a community solar initiative that would offer subscriptions for sale to members at a set rate for a certain period of time.

So far, the projects on Butler County REC’s system have been smaller ones that are most cost effective if the generation is consumed on site. But good customer service is about preparation and innovation. Butler County REC is taking steps today to make sure it is ready for whatever is coming tomorrow.

Source: In Touch newsletter, February 2017

Change is in air at Utility Energy Forum

May 3-5, 2017
Santa Rosa, California

If the rapid pace of change in the utility industry has become almost a clichéd topic, it is because trying to assess and manage it is a constant challenge across large, small, investor-owned and public power providers alike. So don’t expect attendees at the 37th annual Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. to run out of things to say about this year’s theme, “Change is the Only Constant – Customers, Policy and Technology.”

Packed agenda
Over three days, utility managers and marketers, customer service professionals, program developers, facility managers and industry allies will tackle that theme from many perspectives. The agenda covers the broad categories of policy, strategic planning, technology, customer programs and workforce development.

The opening keynote by Seth Kiner, managing director at Charlotte Street Advisors, You are leaving WAPA.gov. delves into the many shifts underway in the industry and what they mean for utilities, policy makers and electricity customers. Kiner will also explore how energy providers are evolving to meet the needs of consumers, regulators and stakeholders.

Sessions will explore topics such as electric vehicles, building retro-commissioning, window coverings and partnering with specific market segments. As always, WAPA customers play a prominent role in hosting panels and presenting. Roseville Electric You are leaving WAPA.gov. will discuss its revamped residential new construction program, formerly known as Best Home. Burbank Water and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. will explain how teaming up with a gas utility encouraged conservation of water, electricity and gas, all at the same time. Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. will talk about the Coalition for Home Electronics Energy Reduction, a collaborative effort to cut U.S. home entertainment energy consumption by 10 terawatt-hours annually by 2020.

Speaking of utilities, you won’t want to miss the Pre-Forum Workshop, for power providers and government representatives only. Registrants took a survey and voted on the questions they most wanted to address in this year’s roundtable discussion. The top questions are:

  • What is the value of energy storage for customers, utilities and the grid?
  • What beyond-the-meter services is your utility considering?
  • What hurdles are your utility encountering with integrating and managing more energy efficiency in your resource mix?

Make new friends, partners
In addition to the sessions, the forum offers many opportunities for attendees to compare notes, brainstorm, ask each other questions and come up with new answers together.

The Utility Stand-up Challenge is a fast-moving poster session during which attendees can visit up to six storyboards detailing utility-sponsored energy programs or research. Storyboard presenters have up to five minutes (seven with Q&A) to share their program’s goals, successes and lessons learned. A bell rings, attendees choose another storyboard and the clock starts again.

Networking breaks, receptions and meals provide more chances to mingle and chat. The ever-popular “Any Port in a Storm” wine tasting event will be back on Thursday night.

This year, the Utility Energy Forum is meeting at the Hilton Sonoma, in the heart of the California wine country.

This year, the Utility Energy Forum is meeting at the Hilton Sonoma, in the heart of the California wine country. (Photo by Hilton)

Different venue, same high quality
In keeping with the theme of change this year, the UEF is moving to a new home at the Hilton Sonoma in Santa Rosa, California. The hotel is located in the heart of the California wine country, near historic locations.

The nearest airport is the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, just three miles from the hotel. The largest airports are San Francisco International Airport and the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport, both 65 miles away. The Sonoma County Airport Express You are leaving WAPA.gov. provides scheduled shuttle service between San Francisco or Oakland airports to the Sonoma County Airport for $34 each way. You can use a taxi, Uber or Lyft to get to the hotel from the Sonoma County Airport.

Register today!
One of the great things about the Utility Energy Forum that hasn’t changed is its all-inclusive registration fee. You get all your meals and two nights in a standard room for one price. There is an add-on fee for additional nights if you decide to stick around for the weekend and enjoy wine country.

There are also opportunities to get your name in front of your colleagues through sponsorship, event hosting and exhibiting. Several packages come with multiple conference registrations, so they are a good value if your organization plans on sending more than one representative.

Another thing that has stayed the same about the Utility Energy Forum is that representatives from WAPA’s Energy Services will be attending. We look forward every year to meeting our customers in person, and we hope to see you there.

SRP customers enjoy a temporary rate decrease

There is nothing like passing the fruits of good management on to customers to build a strong relationship, and Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) is doing just that by reducing electricity prices by an average of 1.6 percent for the next 10 months.

Starting with the January 2017 billing cycle, typical residential customers will see a reduction of just under a dollar per month during the winter billing season. The savings will increase to $2.50 to $3.50 per month when the summer billing season begins in May. Prices will return to original winter season prices approved in 2015 with the November 2017 billing cycle.

This is the second time in less than a year that the SRP board has lowered electricity prices for the utility’s 1-million-plus customers. SRP previously instituted a temporary reduction of 3.7 percent for the 2016 July and August billing cycles.

The temporary decreases reflect SRP’s success in identifying market opportunities and cutting costs, said SRP General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Mark Bonsall. “Utility customers are generally more used to seeing price increases than decreases, so we are very happy to be able to lower our prices,” he stated.

Controlling costs
SRP has been able to temporarily lower rates because of reduced expenses in two components of its electric prices: the Environmental Programs Cost Adjustment Factor (EPCAF) and the Fuel and Purchased Power Adjustment Mechanism (FPPAM).

EPCAF tracks costs and revenues related to the renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs SRP adopted to comply with its sustainable portfolio standard. The temporary reduction reflects SRP’s ability to meet its sustainable goals at a lower cost to customers.

Arizona Falls generates up to 750 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity, which can power up to 150 homes. The roof of the new turbine building and the adjacent shade structure will house solar panels to power ceiling fans on the public deck.

Arizona Falls generates up to 750 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity, which can power up to 150 homes. This clean resource helps the utility meet its sustainability goals, while keeping rates affordable. (Photo by SRP)

FPPAM allows SRP to recover fuel costs incurred to generate electricity and supplemental power purchases to serve customer needs. Savings in this area are primarily because natural gas costs have been lower than anticipated in the utility’s budget.

SRP passes the costs of these two components directly to customers without any markup. The latest temporary reduction will decrease EPCAF and FPPAM revenue collection by about $40 million.

Succeeding at sustainability
SRP has set a goal to meet 20 percent of its retail electricity requirements through sustainable resources by the year 2020. Solar, wind and geothermal energy, hydropower and energy-efficiency programs currently provide 746 megawatts (MW) of capacity. This diverse mix of clean resources represents more than 14 percent of retail energy needs, putting SRP ahead of schedule to achieve its goal.

Bonsall attributes that success to constantly monitoring the market to find the most reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible resource mix. For example, the 45-MW Sandstone solar power plant puts electricity onto the SRP grid that is both clean and affordable. The cost SRP pays per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from the facility is very close to the utility’s average on-peak market price for electricity.

Energy efficiency programs also play an important role in meeting SRP’s sustainability goals. Last year alone, SRP’s business and residential efficiency programs saved customers 526 million kWh, and they continue to have the most potential of all resources for cost-effective growth.

Communicating is critical
As a not-for-profit public power provider, SRP puts the needs of its consumers first, and that means keeping them up to date on utility activities. Customers learned about the temporary rate decrease through a variety of channels, including customer newsletters, social media, traditional media outlets and through customer service representatives. And customers are giving feedback: “We are hearing from them that they are pleased about the recent announcement,” said SRP Spokesperson Patty Garcia-Likens.

Keeping the lines of communication open, offering customers energy- and money saving programs and providing affordable, reliable electricity has paid off for the utility in customer satisfaction. SRP has ranked highest for residential electric service in the western United States among large electric utilities for the last 15 years, according to annual studies conducted by J.D. PowerYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

Flathead Electric, youth agency team up on solar storage demonstration

A solar electricity storage project in Kalispell, Montana, combines three things at which electric cooperatives excel: testing new technology to see if it is a good fit for members, helping members lower their electric bills and forming partnerships in the community.

Flathead Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (FEC) recently selected the Flathead Youth Home to test rooftop solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall battery storage system. The 7.2-kilowatt, net-metered solar array and backup system will save on average about $44 per month on the home’s electric bills while the co-op collects and evaluates performance data on it.

A solar installer mounts panels on the roof of the Flathead Youth Home. The 7.2-kW array will include a storage battery and is expected to save the facility about $44 per month on electric bills.

A solar installer mounts panels on the roof of the Flathead Youth Home. The 7.2-kW array will include a storage battery and is expected to save the facility about $44 per month on electric bills. (Photo by Flathead Electric Cooperative)

Laying groundwork
The battery backup sets this solar installation apart from FEC’s Solar Utility Network (SUN) community solar project and the 38 residential arrays on its system. Energy Services Representative David Bopp is expecting the youth home project to provide deeper insights into the technology. “There is a large potential market for batteries in the future, so we hope to get ahead of it by testing it in its infancy,” he said. “We want to gather data now before people start putting them in and coming to us asking, ‘What can I get?’” 

A committee of utility employees came together to guide the pilot project and provide input on future projects from different perspectives. “The transformative technology committee includes representatives from business technology, member services, GIS, regulatory affairs, public relations and rate design, so they all have a different perspective to offer,” said Bopp. “It formed around the solar project, but we would like to keep it together to evaluate other technologies as they come up.”

Choosing partner
The committee initially considered an employee’s house when it began discussing the project, because the goal was to see how the system worked in a residential setting. But when the time came to site the project, they decided to choose a local charity with a similar electricity-use profile, noting that they could gather data for their purposes and benefit a nonprofit at the same time.

Finding the right charity—and in a hurry—posed something of a challenge to FEC. “It was late in the development process, so we didn’t have time to put it in our newsletter,” Bopp recalled. “We used social media to ask our customers for recommendations, called a nonprofit development group and United Way and brainstormed internally.”

One consideration was that many residential charities have confidentiality and safety concerns, and FEC wanted a partner that could participate in marketing and public outreach efforts. The charity would have to be comfortable with allowing FEC personnel access to the system and with the data being publicized at conferences. The Flathead Youth Home, which provides short- and long-term services to youth, is well established in Kalispell and promotes its work to the public, so it was a good candidate. “Luckily, the home happens to be in a part of town where people can see it, too,” Bopp added.

Installing system
From a technical standpoint, the 10-bedroom facility and administrative office had the right electricity profile. “We needed a minimum use so that the system would not be putting too much electricity back onto the grid,” said Bopp.

Workmen install a Tesla Powerwall storage battery. The demonstration project will help FEC to determine if solar coupled with battery storage can benefit both the utility and its customers.

Workmen install a Tesla Powerwall storage battery. The demonstration project will help FEC to determine if solar power coupled with battery storage can benefit both the utility and its customers. (Photo by Flathead Electric Cooperative)

Built in 2009, the home had good southern exposure and was relatively new so it didn’t need structural or efficiency upgrades. If the building owners were going to make any energy efficiency improvements in the near future, that would have to be factored into the electricity use data. “We wanted a steady load,” Bopp explained. “The home could qualify for a lighting upgrade rebate but that isn’t going to be a big enough change to affect the data.”

The system was installed in December, but winter put a hold on completing the wiring for the solar interconnection. The battery’s capability is being tested while final connections wait for winter’s end.  Bopp expects to fire up the system fully and start collecting data this spring.  The Flathead Youth Home will own the system after 10 years and until then the director will give tours on behalf of the co-op.

Diversifying technologies, energy supply
One of the central goals of the pilot is to discover if solar coupled with battery storage has ancillary benefits for both customers and FEC. The technology committee suspects that system might be useful in helping to manage peak load. The project will test that assumption and help the utility answer questions about rates, incentives and control going forward. “By testing batteries in their infancy, we can figure out how to use them while making sure we are fair to all our members,” said Bopp. 

The utility battery storage pilot project is the first in Montana, just as FEC’s SUN program was the state’s first community solar project. Electricity rates are so low in the region that renewable generators often have a discouragingly long payback period. However, renewable energy is still attractive to customers who have environmental concerns, are interested in energy independence or have remote loads to power.

FEC supports these customers with a net-metering policy, and by acquiring diversified resources. In addition to the residential solar arrays, there are four small wind turbines on its system. The utility owns a 1.5-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy facility and has purchase power agreements for electricity from a small hydropower generator and a biomass facility.

Source: ElectricCoop.com You are leaving WAPA.gov. via Green Power News, 1/24/17

Consumer surveys explore interest in targeted payment, program options

Energy consulting firm DEFG You are leaving WAPA.gov. has released two new consumer survey reports that could be useful to power providers looking for ways to improve service and satisfaction among different customer groups.

The Best Service for Utility Customers with the Least explores the need for more payment options and programs serving low-income households. These consumers continue to have trouble paying electric and heating bills and struggle to reduce their energy consumption. Respondents expressed concern about paying fees and penalties on their electric bills, and also showed interest in community solar programs. The survey indicates that there are opportunities for utilities to offer this customer group more and better ways to help them manage their energy budgets.

Prepayment appeals to a more segmented audience than low-income programs, but Prepay Energy: Past the Tipping Point and Scaling Up for Success finds that certain customers would welcome this option. Consumers who have adopted prepayment, such as gift cards and reloadable debit cards, and mobile bill payment would like to see their utilities offer them the same convenience. The reasons respondents gave included wanting more control over their energy costs and eliminating surprises by paying for energy as they use it.

An emerging theme across both reports is that consumers across income spectrums are open to utility programs that could help them gain more control over their energy bills. Both reports can be downloaded with a simple email registration.

Source: DEFG, 2/1/17

Weigh in on state of our industry

Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. is looking for input from electric utility professionals for its annual State of the Electric Utility Industry Survey. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

With major policy upheaval at the state and federal level, the results this year could be more important than ever. The online industry news magazine needs the opinion of its readers on where the industry is headed in 2017 and beyond. Offer your perspective in UD’s fourth annual survey and encourage your coworkers to do the same.

The best way to see the results of the survey is to take it. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete and could provide you with powerful insights into the electricity industry’s future. Also, you can download the results of last year’s survey for a look at how trends played out in 2016.

Source: Utility Dive, 2/1/17

Requested: Your ideas for UEF Pre-Forum Workshop topics

Deadline extended to Feb. 15, 2017!

The 37th annual Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. is just around the corner, and with it, the Pre-Forum Workshop for utility and government attendees. This exclusive session is a candid roundtable discussion about pressing issues facing power providers and the government agencies that support them. The program committee is inviting attendees from those sectors to share their greatest concerns in an online survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. by Feb. 8. The topics that get the most votes will be included on the workshop agenda.

This year’s theme, “Change is the Only Constant – Customers, Policy and Technology,” sums up the challenges of doing business in today’s electricity industry. The main agenda offers many perspectives on what customers want, what utilities can do to meet those expectations and what policy makers can do to help.

The workshop, however, is the place to really get into the weeds on how change is reshaping everything from daily operations to long-term planning. If you are worrying about depreciating assets or new net-zero developments in your territory, this is the place to talk about it. If you wonder what kind of skills your employees will need to manage the new environment, suggest that topic. If you are trying to figure out how to work with customers who want to install energy storage batteries on their homes or businesses, the workshop offers the chance to learn from others. And that only scratches the surface.

You don’t have to be attending the Utility Energy Forum, May 3-5, to vote in the survey. All utility professionals and government representatives can contribute their valuable and much-needed perspective. For those who miss the event, Energy Services Bulletin will be reporting on the big stories, and speaker presentations will be posted on the website.

But there is nothing like a face-to-face conversation with your colleagues to get the wheels turning. We hope you will join us at the Hilton Sonoma in Santa Rosa, California, to share ideas, discuss solutions and think about where you—and our industry—are going.

Submit presentation proposals for Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

Deadline: Feb. 27, 2017

WAPA customers are known for creating initiatives worth imitating, and we would like you to share yours for the 11th Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange You are leaving WAPA.gov.(RMUEE). Proposals for sessions You are leaving WAPA.gov. are due Feb. 27, and the Advisory Committee is particularly interested in topics from utilities and government agencies addressing this year’s theme, “Initiatives Worth Imitating.”

(Art work by Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange)

Power providers are taking residential, commercial and industrial programs to a whole new level using imagination to create new offerings, innovation to improve existing programs and integration to break down the silos of thinking. Your successes should be on the agenda when more than 100 utility and government representatives and trade allies meet in Aspen, Colorado, Sept. 27-29.

Conference attendees will be exploring case study best practices and lessons learned about programs related to energy and water efficiency issues and integration with renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management. Special consideration will be given to suggestions for sessions that address:

  • New energy-efficiency and demand-management technology
  • Strategic onsite energy and distribution system management
  • Workforce culture and program staffing challenges
  • Pay-for-performance approaches
  • Consumer engagement
  • Indoor growers and other commercial customer segments at the water/energy nexus
  • Electric vehicle charging, energy storage and other new end-use applications

You may choose a format for your presentation from several options:

  • General or breakout sessions up to 20 minutes in length with Q&A
  • Snapshot panel talks up to five minutes in length
  • Poster discussions during the Wednesday evening reception
  • Workshops or Roundtable Discussions two to four hours in length (for Friday morning)

There is also more than one way to participate. If you have never attended the RMUEE and don’t yet have a program to share, you could be eligible for one of a limited number of scholarships. Or maybe you would like to sponsor the event, a great way to promote your organization. Learn more about these options from the FAQ sheet.

Whatever your level of participation in the RMUEE, you will enjoy an outstanding learning and networking experience in a relaxed atmosphere conducive to sharing. You may even turn this year’s inspiration into next year’s “boffo” presentation.

Customers, not mandates, behind Willmar’s growing renewables portfolio

Willmar Municipal Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (WMU) in central Minnesota is building a power supply that parallels the state’s renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent renewables by 2025, even though the standard only applies to power generators.

Willmar Municipal Utilities installed two wind turbines in 2009 to increase the amount of clean power in its electricity supply.

Willmar Municipal Utilities installed two wind turbines in 2009 to increase the amount of clean power in its electricity supply. (Picture by Willmar Municipal Utilities)

The small (9,600 meters), independent distribution utility is acquiring renewables because consumers are concerned about the environment, said WMU General Manager John Harren. “It is becoming the expectation of our customers,” he stated in an interview with a local newspaper. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The renewable share of Willmar Municipal’s power supply is currently at 22 percent.  The town’s own wind turbines generate 2 percent, WAPA hydropower represents 13 percent and a mix of contracts with multiple generators makes up the balance. Because the Minnesota RPS only allows hydropower from facilities under 100 megawatts (MW), the WAPA allocation would not count toward the 25-percent goal if WMU was subject to the law.

Started with wind
Willmar Municipal took its first steps toward expanding its renewable supply beyond hydropower in 2009 by building two wind turbines, each with a 2-MW capacity. The estimated payback on the $10-million project is 10 to 15 years.

Initially, the turbine manufacturer DeWind Company of Texas was responsible for service and repairs. However, Willmar Municipal took over operation in August of 2014, training seven of its own employees to climb the turbines and perform maintenance. Local control resulted in more timely service and increased generation in 2015.

Power Supply Manager Chris Carlson said, “We’re making a good faith objective to build up our renewable portfolio.”

The rest of the utility’s power comes from the traditional sources of gas, coal and nuclear. “Even if we had a full fleet of renewables, there will always be a need for some sort of fuel supply for backup sources,” Carlson observed, “for times when there’s no wind or sunshine.”

Proceeding with caution
Pursuing clean energy for its consumers, rather than mandates, gives Willmar Municipal the time to carefully consider the advantages and drawbacks of each opportunity. Contracts with power suppliers have been instrumental in adding renewables, primarily wind and renewable energy certificates. As WMU procures additional purchased power agreements, emphasis will be placed on renewables.

Solar generation is growing more slowly in the Upper Great Plains than in sunnier parts of WAPA’s territory, due to the region’s low utility rates and less robust resource. So far, there is only one customer-owned solar array on Willmar Municipal’s system. However, WMU will consider including a solar garden on a new municipal facility it hopes to build, Carlson noted. “Adding solar will increase our costs, so we want to make sure we have a handle on our power supply before we move forward,” she explained.

Carlson expects the percentage of renewables to continue to grow, even as the city’s load remains stable. “If gas prices go through the roof 10 years from now due to the retirement of fossil fuel plants, we could still hedge our costs with renewables that have zero fuel costs,” she pointed out. “That’s one of the reasons why we aim for a diversified portfolio,” Carlson added.