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.

WAPA honors Moorhead Public Service with Administrator’s Award

Moorhead Public Service You are leaving WAPA.gov. is receiving well-earned recognition for giving its customers the choices they need to save energy, money and the environment. Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s Administrator Award to the municipal power provider, Oct. 11, at Moorhead City Hall in Minnesota.

Moorhead Public Service General Manager Bill Schwandt talks to a local reporter at the 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun. The municipal power provider is making more news this year by unveiling the second phase of its popular community solar program and winning WAPA’s Administrator’s Award.

Moorhead Public Service General Manager Bill Schwandt talks to a local reporter at the 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture The Sun. The municipal power provider is making more news this year by unveiling the second phase of its popular community solar program and winning WAPA’s Administrator’s Award. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

One of the things we at WAPA most enjoy about our work is the opportunity to recognize our customers for their commitment to serving the community and using energy wisely. And MPS, with 18,000 meters, has much to celebrate, from successful development of utility-owned renewables to a broad range of customer energy-efficiency programs. “Moorhead Public Service proves that a utility of any size can forge a powerful partnership with the community by being responsive to its customers’ needs,” said WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “The Administrator’s Award honors that dedication to service and best business practices.”

Upper Great Plains Customer Service Representative Jim Bach, who has worked with MPS for years, added, “The great thing about MPS is that it has been focused on customer service, environmental stewardship and supporting the community long before these ideas became marketing strategies. They just see it as how you do business,” he added.

MPS General Manager Bill Schwandt, who will be accepting the award, confirmed Bach’s observation. “To run a business successfully—especially one that the community relies on—you have to put the customer first,” he said. “Recognition like the Administrator’s Award is just evidence that we are on the right track.”

“Capturing” clean energy
For example, MPS launched its customer-driven Capture The Wind program years before the industry was talking about community renewable projects. More than 400 customers signed up to support the construction of Zephyr, a 750-kilowatt wind turbine, in 1999. The program was so successful that MPS installed a second turbine, Freedom, in 2001, with the support of another 400 members. Capture The Wind has effectively prevented the emission of more than 16 million pounds of greenhouse gases, and boasts a 7-percent customer participation rate, one of the highest participation rates per capita in the nation.

Building wind power in the state that now ranks seventh in the nation for installed capacity makes sense, but solar power is a tougher sell in northern states. To alleviate concerns about the viability of solar in the local climate, MPS built a solar demonstration project in 2011.

A utility survey and public meetings followed the successful demonstration, all indicating that customers were interested in solar power in spite of the fact that many were unable to install arrays on their homes. A community solar farm offered not only a tailor-made solution, but one that felt familiar to customers as well. In 2015, MPS built the first phase of its Capture The Sun community solar garden project. The demand for customers wanting to purchase solar panels was so strong that MPS expanded Capture The Sun in 2016 and is looking to expand again in 2017.

American Public Power Association has given both the wind and solar projects its Energy Innovator Award. Under the umbrella name, Capture The Energy, the programs will continue to meet customer demand for a clean energy option.

Putting efficiency first
As any good member services representative will attest, customers benefit as much—if not more—from energy-efficiency measures as they do from renewables projects, and MPS customers have plenty to choose from. As a member utility of Missouri River Energy Services, You are leaving WAPA.gov. MPS offers the Bright Energy Solutions program, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a portfolio of energy-efficiency incentives to help customers reduce their electric costs and operate more efficiently.

Customers can find rebate forms on the website for lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, motors, pumps, variable frequency drives and more. Both commercial and residential customers can subscribe to the monthly Bright Ideas newsletter. The e-newsletter features the latest in energy technologies and energy-saving tips, along with free features and tools connected to Bright Energy program to help customers reduce energy use at home and work.

Business and commercial customers can also sign up for free technical assistance through Questline. This free service provides customers with resources such as an online library of technical business and engineering documents, an online portal to targeted research tools and an “Ask an Expert” hotline, at no cost.

Saving energy in business
MPS recently awarded more than $44,000 in rebate checks for energy conservation to American Crystal Sugar Company as part of the Bright Energy Solutions program. Earlier this year, in conjunction with MPS’ Bright Energy Solutions program, American Crystal Sugar Company worked with the program to upgrade several of its process motors with variable frequency drives. This upgrade project will save the factory an estimated 863,081 kilowatt-hours per year.

Good business also means investing in your own infrastructure, which MPS did this year by building a new high-service pumping station. The purpose of the project was to replace outdated 1950s pumps and fixed-speed motors with new variable-speed pumps and to update backup generation for the pumps and an adjacent facility. Installing new variable-frequency drive-powered pumps reduced the station’s energy use and maintenance costs and improved the system operation.

The capital project also included a 1.3‑megawatt natural gas generator with an automatic switchover to provide emergency backup power supply for the pumping station. The generator also enables peak-shaving during peak-load situations, so MPS can use it for electrical containment. The generator and associated switchgear cost $2,200,000, but the utility’s savings on purchased power costs bring the payback for the project to around 17 years. The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Drinking Water Revolving Fund You are leaving WAPA.gov. are providing financing for the pumping station upgrade.

Partnering with state agencies, energy services providers and, most of all, customers has been the secret of Moorhead Public Service’s ability to deliver reliable, affordable power and innovation. That neighborly attitude has given the Minnesota utility a strong base on which to build a successful future. WAPA is proud to honor that spirit with the Administrator’s Award.