Community solar garden captures innovation award for Moorhead, Minnesota

Moorhead Public Service You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MPS), based in Minnesota, recently received the Energy Innovator Award from American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. for giving residents what they want: clean solar power.

Moorhead Public Service installed its community solar garden near its first renewable energy systems, two wind turbines.

Moorhead Public Service installed its community solar garden near its first renewable energy systems, two wind turbines. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

The award-winning, 40-kilowatt (kW) Capture the Sun Community Solar Garden went online in 2015, after public outreach indicated strong support for more solar options. Moorhead customers pay for the power output of one of the 144 non-rotating, photovoltaic (PV) panels that make up the array. The value of the energy generated by the panels is prorated annually in the form of bill credits to participating customers. MPS is responsible for ongoing maintenance and delivering the energy to subscribers’ homes and businesses.

“The point of the gardens is to allow people who don’t have the ability to have solar panels at their home, to help feed solar energy into the grid,” said MPS Energy Services Manager Dennis Eisenbraun. “That fits the criteria for the Energy Innovator Award very well.”

The award recognizes utility programs that demonstrate advances in the development or application of creative, energy-efficient techniques or technologies. Judges also look for programs that improve service to electric customers or projects that increase the efficiency of utility operations or resource efficiency. Transferability and project scope in relation to utility size are also considered. APPA presented the award during its annual National Conference in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

Keeping customers satisfied
Although support for clean energy—especially the home-grown kind—is strong among consumers, many homes and businesses are not in the position, literally or figuratively, to install solar. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about three-quarters of all buildings are not suitable for a solar array due to shading, roof orientation, structural issues and other concerns.

Shared solar, however, has the potential to greatly increase consumer access to solar PV, a fact not lost on MPS customers. “We did an initial survey to gauge customer interest last year, and then held a couple of public meetings,” Eisenbraun recalled. “Finally, we sent out a mass mailing seeking a commitment to the project and there was an overwhelming positive response.”

Moorhead residents, utility employees, city officials and contractors attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun, Oct. 6, 2015. MPS is planning a ceremony for the second phase of the solar garden this coming October.

Moorhead residents, utility employees, city officials and contractors attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun, Oct. 6, 2015. MPS is planning a ceremony for the second phase of the solar garden this coming October. (Photo by Moorhead Public Utilities)

Capture the Sun quickly attracted more subscribers than it had panels to accommodate them. “We knew before we finished building the 2015 project that it was only going to be ‘Phase One,’” said Eisenbraun. “Between the waiting list and a second mass mailer sent earlier this year, we had enough support to go ahead with another array in 2016.”

Poised for success
The second phase of Capture the Sun will be fully subscribed when it goes online this fall. MPS is planning a public dedication, Oct. 4, during Public Power Week.

The success of the solar garden is not surprising, given that Moorhead residents are already familiar with the concept of community renewable energy development. MPS built two wind turbines, one in 1999 and another in 2001, and more than 800 customers signed up to support the Capture the Wind program with a small green power tariff on their monthly electricity bills. “Our first foray into renewable energy was a resounding success,” Eisenbraun acknowledged. “The turbines were a great public relations tool and they reached payback in just 11 years, four years ahead of schedule.”

Going local
Like the wind turbines, Capture the Sun is a distinctly local project that keeps control in the community and the economic benefits within the region. MPS self-financed the solar garden with a combination of subscriptions and funds shifted from its renewable system incentive program. “We didn’t have as many individual customers installing systems as we hoped,” explained Eisenbraun. “So instead of leaving that money on the table, we decided to use it to give our customers another option.” A very popular option, as it turned out.

Solar installers from Enterprise Sales mount PV panels on a rack. The project brought attention--and business--to the regional construction company.

Solar installers from Enterprise Sales mount PV panels on a rack. The project brought attention–and business–to the regional construction company. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

MPS also chose Enterprise Sales Co. You are leaving WAPA.gov. from nearby Valley City, North Dakota, to build the project. The website states that Enterprise is “more than a contractor,” but Eisenbraun was surprised to learn that the company builds solar arrays. “I was only familiar with them as grain bin builders,” he admitted. “But they came in with the best price and their project manager worked everything out to the finest detail.”

At Moorhead Public Service, bringing recognition to a local business, self-financing community renewables projects and giving customers what they want is not so much about innovation as it is about doing the right thing. “We didn’t build Capture the Sun because of any mandates,” Eisenbraun pointed out. “We did it because it was a great idea and our customers thought so, too.”

And that kind of thinking deserves an award.

APPA publication helps utilities report sustainability activities

It is hard enough to agree on a definition of sustainability, let alone measure and account for it. Yet the general public, along with local, state and federal governments are increasingly calling upon electric utilities to demonstrate sustainable operation. To help power providers meet these demands, the American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. is offering a new publication, Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities

(Artwork by American Public Power Association)

Use this resource to learn how to account for and report your utility’s positive economic, environmental and social impacts. You will discover how to build, maintain and use reports to impact your strategy.

Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities describes current trends in sustainability accounting and offers guidance on reporting to stakeholders and employees on your sustainable activities. This publication provides you with up-to-date practices on sustainability accounting and reporting by:

  • Explaining what sustainability reporting is
  • Introducing you to standards-setting entities
  • Describing processes for gathering sustainability statistics
  • Showing how to build and maintain sustainability reports
  • Demonstrating how sustainability reporting can impact utility strategy

Written by Megan Decker and Russ Hissom of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Sustainability Reporting for Electric Utilities will help to establish your utility as a good steward of the resources it uses to deliver reliable and affordable energy to customers.

Source: American Public Power Association, 3/14/16

Western customers score high in customer satisfaction on annual study

When J.D. Power released its 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study You are leaving Western's site., the list of eight U.S. electric utilities included Western customers.

(Art by JD Power)

(Art by JD Power)

The 17th annual study ranked utilities based on customer satisfaction by size and region. Omaha Public Power District You are leaving Western's site. (OPPD) rated highest in the Midwest Midsize category. Salt River Project You are leaving Western's site. (SRP) in Arizona outperformed other utilities in the Large West category and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) excelled in the West Midsize category. OPPD and SRP also ranked highest in last year’s study, the only two among the eight power providers to repeat their appearance on the list.

The other five electric utilities with highly satisfied business customers are:

  • Con Edison (East Large)
  • Met-Ed (East Midsize)
  • Ameren Missouri (Midwest Large)
  • Entergy Arkansas (South Large)
  • JEA (South Midsize)

Except for JEA, based in Jacksonville, Florida, these are all investor-owned utilities. “The public power utilities that have won the J.D. Power honors all exemplify this excellence in customer service,” said Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association You are leaving Western's site. (APPA).

Focused on sustainability
OPPD works with more than 45,000 commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to help them improve energy efficiency and develop new renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass. In an interview with APPA for Public Power Daily, Jim Krist, OPPD manager of key account sales and service, pointed to a heightened interest among business customers in sustainability and driving their own energy choices. “The customer continues to change the way we think, operate and serve,” he said.

OPPD has 10 account executives dedicated to servicing the utility’s largest C&I customers. These customers receive annual energy reviews and work with the utility on economic development issues. OPPD account executives and electric service designers consult with business customers on demand-side management programs to help them reduce energy demand and receive rebates.

Communicating proactively
Even a brief power outage can cost a business thousands of dollars—or worse—so providing timely, accurate information about outages and quickly restoring electric service strongly affects a utility’s rating.

SRP has introduced online and mobile-friendly apps to provide detailed power outage information to businesses, and to send power outage notifications and weather alerts to customers via email and text. Every business customer who contacts SRP to report an outage receives a follow-up call by the next business day. The utility uses the opportunity to educate them on how to use online outage map and reporting tools.

This aggressive approach has paid off in significant increases in the satisfaction scores. “And our customers are telling us how much they appreciate this proactive outreach,” Jennie King, the utility’s director of strategic energy management, told APPA.

SRP’s robust portfolio of 20 energy-efficiency programs is another reason the utility has ranked first in the West by J.D. Power for three consecutive years. Program offerings range from low- to no-cost options for limited-income residential customers to comprehensive programs for industrial clients.

Expanding customer engagement
Taking the proactive approach for keeping in touch with business customers figures heavily in SMUD’s business customer service strategy, too. Account representatives serve as trusted energy advisors to their assigned business customers, matching various utility programs with the specific needs of their clients.   The Sacramento utility has 67,000 contract accounts representing the 32,000 businesses in its service territory. Last year, the utility decided to ramp up its outreach by putting a C&I customer strategic plan in place. A staff training program aimed at engaging more business customers was a key part of the plan.

Rob Lechner, manager of SMUD’s commercial and industrial account solutions team, said the five-person team now averages 150 face-to-face meetings per week. Team members spend much of their time in the field, visiting the customers and getting to know them. The customer representatives bring a list of questions to in-depth sit-down meetings that might last more than an hour, Lechner explained. “We want customers to be our partners,” he said, and the first step is to understand those customers.

Study benchmarks
J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm, annually measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities that serve more than 25,000 business customers. The survey rates for overall satisfaction, calculated on a 1,000-point scale across six factors (in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

The 2016 results show overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers to be at its highest level in eight years, driven mainly by communications, corporate citizenship and price. John Hazen, director of energy practice at J.D. Power, observed that communication and corporate citizenship are important to businesses. “Business customers like to see their provider giving back, whether it’s through charities and civic organizations or through economic development such as buying locally and creating jobs,” he said.

Western congratulates Omaha Public Power District, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Salt River Project for recognizing what their business customers want and delivering it.

Source: APPA Public Power Daily, 2/9/16

Around the web: Celebrate Public Power Week with these resources

Public Power Week, You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 4-10, is a great excuse to remind your members that they are the “public” in public power, and to educate them about energy issues. America Public Power Association (APPA) has put together a list of online resources to help cooperatives and municipal utilities in their public outreach efforts, during Public Power Week and beyond. You can link to them from your website and include the resources in your publications and communications. 

  • DOE Energy Saver
    What better way to celebrate Public Power Week than introducing your members to this treasure trove of tools and information on saving energy and money at home. If your utility already shares Energy Saver tips through your website and bill stuffers, consider tying topics from Prices and Trends to a big-picture story about how public power benefits the community.
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Student’s Corner
    Very few people outside the power industry now what FERC does or the part the commission plays in keeping our lights on. Even adults could learn a thing or two from the games, quizzes and other multimedia on this website.
  • APPA Pride in Public Power campaign
    This campaign encourages public power utility managers, staff and governing bodies to promote the benefits of public power to the communities they serve. Find programs and tools to help you tell your story.

Source: American Public Power Association

Consultant predicts home batteries will cause load change, not grid departure

In the barrage of reactions from the power industry to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery, Redirecting to a non-government site a few clear-headed observers presented plausible scenarios and possible strategies for dealing with the potentially game-changing technology.

One of the more thoughtful opinionsRedirecting to a non-government site came from a speaker at the pre-conference seminar held at American Public Power Association’s 2015 National Conference and Public Power Expo in Minneapolis. Charles Janecek, senior utilities consultant at Leidos Engineering, declared that all the talk about grid defection missed the point, which is how the battery will change energy consumption patterns. “It’s not about sort of the extreme solution but understanding what it’s going to do before you get to that extreme solution,” he said.

Janecek was one of several executives from LeidosRedirecting to a non-government site who led the seminar discussion about the strategic planning implications of distributed generation. In his view, batteries are more likely, at least initially, to turn a utility’s traditional load on its head. Janecek imagined consumers relying on PV systems and battery storage throughout the summer, and buying power from their utilities in the winter. “That customer’s not leaving the grid, they’re not going away from you, but they’re almost leaving your grid for some months out of the year, and that type of operational pattern is something that is very different than any of us have really seen before,” he said.

That change in load shape, he added, has the potential to cause utilities lots of planning problems they aren’t expecting.

Leidos recently completed a distributed generation guidebook for public power utilities, copies of which were provided to seminar attendees.

Source: Public Power Daily, 6/10/15

APPA offers energy efficiency management certificate workshop

Early-bird discount ends April 13.

May 4-8 Antlers Hilton
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Celebrate the season of fresh starts with a new professional credential from the American Public Power Association (APPA). In conjunction with its Spring Education Institute, Redirecting to a non-government site APPA is offering a comprehensive Energy Efficiency Management Certificate Program for utility professionals interested in starting or enhancing energy- efficiency programs.

Join your colleagues at the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 4-8, to learn what it takes to build a successful energy-efficiency program. The Energy Efficiency Management Certificate Program gives participants a firm grounding in all aspects of energy-efficiency program development, implementation, budgeting, marketing and management.

To earn this certificate, participants have two years to complete six required courses, pass an online exam and submit an energy-efficiency program business plan. All six courses are being offered during the Spring Education Institute.

An early-bird discount on registration is available before April 13. You do not have to be a member of APPA to enroll in the program. For more information, contact Meghan Riley, APPA’s Education Specialist, at 202-467-2919.

Source: American Public Power Association, 4/6/15

APPA offers new resources on integrating solar into your energy mix

Public power utilities seeking to integrate solar power into their energy mix should check out a new publication from American Public Power Association Redirecting to a non-government site (APPA). Solar Engagement Options for Public Power, explains the four ways — purchased power, utility ownership, customer engagement and community solar — and discusses the benefits and challenges of each option.

The publication covers costs and financing, solar forecasting and energy storage information. Public power case studies and charts are included to help utilities understand and evaluate the options. The Solar Electric Power Association Redirecting to a non-government site prepared this reference guide with funding from APPA’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments program.

For more on developing solar power in the utility setting, attend APPA’s new series of five webinars on distributed generation, Feb. 26-May 7.

The series will review how solar technologies benefit utilities and customers; explain the value of community solar; discuss the impact of rooftop solar on costs and retail rates; and outline the different ways in which public power utilities can provide solar options to customers.

  • Distributed Generation: A Primer – Feb. 26
  • Distributed Generation: Implications for Public Utilities – March 12
  • Understanding the Potential Value of Community Solar – April 2
  • Solar Rooftop Impact on Retail Rate Recovery – April 21
  • Solar Engagement Options for Public Power Utilities – May 7

Recordings of completed webinars are available for purchase.

Source: American Public Power Association, 3/10/15

APPA webinar series explores key account development

February 24
March 24
April 23
12 – 1:30 p.m. MST

The American Public Power Association  Redirecting to a non-government site (APPA) is presenting three webinars based on the new APPA Key Accounts Field Manual, beginning Feb. 24.

The Art of Key Account Program Development and Enhancement will provide practical tips and guidance for public utility key account professionals on the three primary issues encountered when developing and maintaining effective programs:

  • Time
  • Gaining buy-in
  • Financial resources

Participants will also receive a logic model worksheet to help them navigate the process of goal setting and budget development.

The series focuses on getting your utility’s key accounts program aligned with your leadership, your community and your personal skill set. The instructor will discuss how to take ownership of a program and how key accounts professionals can gain support for their efforts.

The webinar topics include:

  • Starting from within—Leveraging individual strengths to develop a key accounts program that fits personal skill sets
  • Discovering clarity—Removing obstacles in order to identify the true need of a key accounts program for specific communities
  • Defining success—Setting proper expectations to ensure success
  • Gaining buy-in—Getting the right people on board to elevate the key accounts program

Webinar instructor Erick Rheam is the coauthor of the key accounts manual, a resource for key account representatives and those who manage a utility’s key accounts program. Rheam currently serves as vice president of business development for Automated Energy, a web-based energy information provider in Bloomington, Indiana. His previous experience in the utility industry includes working as a key accounts coordinator and key accounts manager for municipal utilities in Indiana and Colorado.

This webinar is worth 1.5 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits, .2 Continuing Education Units (CEU) or 1.5 Professional Development Hour (PDH) credits in the CPE Field of Study, Specialized Knowledge & Applications. Only participants who register and whose attendance is confirmed by the webinar report log will receive the completion certificate.

The cost for attending the webinar series is $200 for APPA members, or $400 for nonmembers. APPA members may register for individual webinars for $89 per webinar; the individual cost for nonmembers is $179.

Key accounts representatives and program managers can register online or contact Sara Krautbauer at 202-467-2965. Links to all presentations and an audio recording will be sent out shortly after the webinar occurs.

Sharpen public outreach skills at APPA Customer Connections Conference

Communicating with utility customers is becoming an increasingly important part of our job as power providers. The Customer Connections ConferenceRedirecting to a non-government site in Jacksonville, Florida, Oct. 26-29, is an excellent opportunity to explore the challenges of engaging our consumers, and the strategies and tools that can help.

American Public Power Association sponsors this annual event for utility professionals who work in customer service, economic development, energy services, key accounts and public communications. Meet with colleagues from utilities across the country to network and find answers to questions communicators face every day.

Program looks at today, tomorrow
This year’s agenda offers 40 breakout sessions highlighting the latest trends in communication, including:

  • DIY: Creating and Using Compelling Visual Communications
    Learn how to connect with customers through low-cost, easy-to-produce yet high-impact photo and video.
  • Five Ways to Measure What Matters
    Discover the latest trends and tools to measure results for your media relations, website performance, social media and marketing efforts.
  • Are We Communicating Effectively with ALL of Our Customers?
    This session looks at the challenge of engaging different audiences and shares secrets that can help meet the challenge.
  • Taking a Seat at the Strategic Planning Table
    Explore the lifecycle of the strategic plan from creation with utility executives to execution, and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Public Communication Roundtable
    Join your public communications colleagues for two open discussions on key challenges and tactics for success in the communications field.
  • Surviving the “Info Avalanche”
    Learn tips and tricks to process all the news, articles, feeds, blogs, emails, reminders and tweets that inundate utilities daily. Be ready to share and gain support from fellow infoholics.

Early bird learns more
Those who can make it to Jacksonville early will be rewarded with an impressive menu of pre-conference sessions on Sunday, Oct. 26. These seminars offer a deep dive into hot topics, with smaller classes, longer class times and a more interactive format. Sessions include:

  • Managing Change: Creating a Playbook for Utility Success
    This course will cover how to prepare for some of the most important industry changes that are coming in the next few years (new technologies, environmental regulations, economic pressure, market dynamics, new customer expectations, etc.) and provide practical examples of and a comprehensive approach to developing effective change management and strategic planning skills.
  • Customer Engagement for Advanced Grid Technologies
    A new guidebook to be published by APPA in the summer of 2014 provides information and resources on how to better communicate with customers about new grid technologies and their advantages. The tools and resources in the guidebook will be previewed at this pre-conference seminar.
  • Build Your Brand, Tell Your Story: Developing and Marketing Web & Social Media Content
    Participants will learn how to build a strategic content development plan and use video and social media to broaden the utility’s reach. The instructors will use a public power case study to demonstrate how rich content and social media channels can be used to market stories to media and customers while engaging all audiences.

Both pre-conference seminars and main conference sessions may be eligible for Continuing Education Units, Continuing Professional Education Units or Professional Development Hours. APPA provides a recommended credit level for each session.

Meet, eat, recognize excellence
In addition to abundant education opportunities, you will hear from expert speakers, network with colleagues and honor creativity and ingenuity in communications.

The opening keynote speaker, Dr. Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence,Redirecting to a non-government site will talk about the issues that will dominate the coming year, and how they will affect our communities. Consultant Dennis Snow, a former Disney executive, will wrap up the conference with a presentation on creating a service-driven culture.

Special events include networking receptions hosted by industry sponsors, meals with friends at local restaurants, and “The Year in Public Power Videos” reception. Attendees will view video submissions from other utilities and present their own at an informal reception. Viewers will then vote for their favorite video and the “Audience Choice Award” will be presented at the closing session on Wednesday. All spots must be received by Oct. 10, and a utility representative must be at the conference to present the entry.

Reach small business customers and achieve program success

Free webinar
Aug. 19, 2014

12 p.m. CDT

One area where municipal utilities, electric co-ops and rural community organizers have an edge over their big-city neighbors is in reaching small business owners to help boost individual energy savings and local economic development.

Even in a middle-sized city, it is not too hard to know dozens of your utility’s small business customers. You see them at civic clubs, at church, at your kids’ ball games—or when you visit as a customer for retail or service help.

What a different experience from New York’s ConEdRedirecting to a non-government site. Just a few years ago, the utility admitted to signing up only a few hundred small business customers for energy savings programs from the 250,000 it serves.

So, bask in your small-town communication skills! Imagine how many small businesses you could reach and what a high percentage that is of your total community. But don’t bask for too long. There is a difference between reaching customers and achieving program success. That is subject of Clean Energy Ambassadors’Redirecting to a non-government site (CEA) Aug. 19 Lunchtime Webinar, Lessons Learned about Small Business Energy Savings.

The theme is “Lessons Learned” because there’s no better wisdom than that gained in the field. Moderator Jill Cliburn will be joined by Joni Livingston, Energy Services manager for Missouri River Energy ServicesRedirecting to a non-government site (MRES). The public power joint action agency serves much of CEA territory. Her MRES Bright Energy SolutionsRedirecting to a non-government site program has done a great job of reaching small to medium-sized commercial customers through a variety of channels, including working with local Chambers of Commerce. The program includes seasonal marketing campaigns, including one that is just right for the upcoming fall season.

Participants who don’t come from an MRES community will find Joni’s remarks helpful in customizing their approach for small business customers. Of course, if you are in an MRES community, this could be a timely reminder to tap into the resources that the joint action agency offers.

Cliburn’s presentation will focus on technical tips and advice about customizing the right approach for your community, drawn from Energy Matters for Small Business. The updated guide, authored by Cliburn and published by American Public Power AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site (APPA), has been one of APPA’s top selling resources since it was first released six years ago.  Utilities buy it in bulk to share with their small business customers during energy audits or at meetings with Chambers of Commerce and civic clubs. It is also a “must-have” resource for all utility staff, as everyone from front desk representatives to the linemen should have a reference to answer the questions they face as they mingle with small business people in the community.

Cliburn will highlight five items to answer the question, “What’s changed on the small business energy scene since 2009?” These include changes in the advice you need to give small business energy customers about lighting, controls, and window systems. You’ll also learn more interactive, convenient, and fun ways to turn engagement into action. By the time this lunchtime seminar is done, you should be ready to start a low cost fall campaign that meets both utility and small business goals.

Register today for Lessons Learned about Small Business Energy Savings. There is no cost to participate in the monthly Lunchtime Webinar series. Clean Energy Ambassadors presents the webinars  to highlight issues that affect consumer-owned power providers serving rural areas and small towns in the Great Plains and the West. Discussions are lively and informal opportunities to share ideas with peers. If you have any questions, please contact CEA at 406-969-1040. Source: Clean Energy Ambassadors, 7/30/14