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

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.

WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program co-sponsors workshop on tough solar-program challenges

June 7-8, 2017
Golden, Colorado

What is the toughest challenge for an electric cooperative or public power utility in planning for community solar? Many utilities say it is solar resource procurement; for others, the top challenge would be pricing that works for both the utility and the customer, and turning that into a program offer. The Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) and WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program have heard these frequently cited concerns, and they are responding with a new, one-and-a-half day workshop, Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, on June 7-8 at the WAPA Electric Power Training Center in Golden, Colorado. Registration You are leaving WAPA.gov. is free and targeted at utilities in the West, whether they are in states like Colorado that have guiding community solar legislation or states in which community solar is an option that requires utility leadership and innovation.

Jill Cliburn explains how the Community Solar Value Project is working to improve the community-scale solar model.

Jill Cliburn explains how the Community Solar Value Project is working to improve the community-scale solar model. (Photo by Community Solar Value Project)

According to Jill Cliburn, program manager for CSVP, this event will be the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year investigation into utilities’ best practices and innovations in community solar. Community solar, or community shared solar, describes a range of programs that allow customers to share, usually by a per-kilowatt-hour subscription or by leasing or buying panels, in a relatively large solar project, regardless of their ability to host a typical rooftop solar system. Projects are currently in place in 29 states, with the total market expected to grow by 20 percent or more annually.

This workshop will feature speakers from utility-led community solar programs, such as those at Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Pedernales Electric Cooperative. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Thought leaders from CSVP’s own expert team, Navigant Consulting, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the Regulatory Assistance Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Rocky Mountain Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) will also speak. RMI’s successful Shine Project recently demonstrated ways to dramatically lower local solar procurement costs, whether for community solar programs or other utility needs.

“We’re also making time for participants to share their own unique challenges and solutions, so everyone will leave the workshop with actionable notes and resources,” Cliburn said.

Working with a utility forum group of about 10 utilities in the West, CSVP has put emphasis on practical solutions. For example, the project’s approach to pricing begins with streamlined utility-side economic analysis, but takes into account the market-target price required for program success. CSVP also has introduced new ways to package community solar with other utility program offers. And the project has published easy-to-use resource guides and checklists to help keep other tasks, from market research to completing the project RFP and procurement, on track and on budget.

Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing begins at 3:00 p.m. (MDT) on Wednesday June 7, with a “lightning round” of community solar best-practice presentations and a quick tour of WAPA’s grid simulator, followed by a cash-bar networking reception. On Thursday June 8, the workshop convenes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with lunch and breaks included. There is no cost for utility representatives to participate in this workshop, thanks to CSVP sponsorship by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and Solar Market Pathways Program and workshop co-sponsorship from the WAPA Renewable Resources Program and Extensible Energy, LLC, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the prime contractor for CSVP. Participants only cover travel and hotel costs and incidentals. For more information, see the registration website or contact workshop coordinator Nicole Enright.

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.

Overton Power District plans to succeed

On the wide spectrum of utility policies that encourage customers to adopt renewable energy systems, Overton Power District 5 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPD) is on the ambitious end of the spectrum.

Desert Southwest Energy Services Representative Audrey Colletti pointed out the strategy in OPD’s most recent integrated resource plan (IRP). “I look for customer goals and achievements in their IRPs and alternative reports,” explained Colletti.

“For example, one customer hasn’t increased rates in over five years, while another is thinking of decreasing rates. Some offer renewable power that is less expensive than fossil generation, but it is unusual for a small customer to make such an aggressive push to add more renewables.”

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to grow the renewable energy portion of its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to increase the amount of sustainable electricity in its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

The Southern Nevada power provider is playing the long game with an eye on someday generating most of its own electricity through renewables. “But that day is a long way off,” acknowledged OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper. “Our current goal is to provide ways to help our customers.”

Keeping customers in mind
Happily, the steps OPD is taking to increase renewables in its portfolio are also good for its 15,000, mostly residential customers. Its generous net-metering policy for small renewable systems is a notable step. Customers who install renewable generators that comply with OPD policies are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500 for homeowners and up to $5,000 for large commercial industrial accounts. Since OPD implemented the policy, 49 net meters have been installed.

Increasing energy-efficiency programs is also part of OPD’s long-range plan that benefits customers in the near term. Thanks to a power contract, OPD will soon be stepping up its efforts to move customers to more efficient appliances and water and space heating systems. “We see natural gas as a reliability measure, but the savings will help to finance more customer efficiency measures, too,” Cooper explained.

Piecing together affordable sustainability
Even with the high cost of tapping gas lines, low natural gas prices are a boon to OPD—for now. “In eight to 10 years, gas prices are likely to go up,” said Cooper. “The cost of renewable resources, which are getting more competitive all the time, won’t be rising.”

The transition to a sustainable power supply is challenging for a utility that must rely on other providers for both generation and transmission, as OPD does. Cooper would like to get more WAPA hydropower, but acknowledges that ongoing drought conditions make that unlikely. OPD now has 49 rooftop solar arrays on its system, but the utility is investigating the feasibility of and support for utility-scale development. “That is where our customers will really see the benefits of alternative energy,” the general manager observed.

OPD also offers customers rebates for wind turbines and ground-source heat pumps.

Using all tools
OPD’s comprehensive long-range plan presents other opportunities—and identifies challenges—for load management as well. A scheme to install low-impedance transformers and implement power factor correction promises to increase systemwide efficiency.

With spillover growth from Las Vegas expected to add load over the next five years, OPD is working to encourage Clark County to adopt high-efficiency building standards. Programs to rebate measures such as weather stripping, relamping, heat pump systems and window replacement are being considered for existing buildings.

Another, nearly inexhaustible resource—an engaged and energy-savvy customer base—factors into OPD’s plans, too. The IRP highlights the utility’s use of social media to educate its customers about building technology, appliance energy use, efficient equipment and systems and no-cost common sense behaviors.

It will take every tool at OPD’s disposal to move its portfolio toward clean resources and self-generation. But that is what long-term planning is for, notes Cooper. “The IRP keeps our goals at the forefront where we can’t forget about them, and it reminds us every day of the issues we have to address.”

IREC publication explores renewables options for low-, moderate-income consumers

“Shared” and “community” solar programs are making renewable energy a more affordable option for Americans, but spreading those benefits to low and moderate income (LMI) households still poses a challenge for utilities. Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model ProvisionsYou are leaving WAPA.gov.  a new publication from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), offers comprehensive guidelines on how to do it with the most meaningful results.
IRECreport

The publication offers information and tools for adopting and implementing shared renewables programs that benefit LMI individuals and households. Utilities, shared renewable energy developers, program administrators and others will gain insight into the unique challenges LMI consumers face to enjoying the benefits of shared renewables programs. Specific case studies examine lessons learned and highlight innovative tools and approaches. Stakeholders will find model rules to provide a strong starting point for discussion and potential implementation.

Low- to moderate-income households (those earning up to 120 percent of Area Median Income) represent approximately 60 percent of U.S. households. These consumers typically spend more of their income on energy costs than higher-income households, so they are in the greatest need of help with reducing their energy bills. Unfortunately, the people in these households often face considerable financial barriers to participating in programs that could help them. Problems like lack of access to capital or insufficient credit can prevent them from benefiting from conservation, energy-efficiency and renewable energy measures such as shared renewable projects.

These first-of-their-kind policy guidelines also consider that moderate-income customers may have different circumstances (such as higher credit scores or higher rates of ownership) than low-income customers. Instead of designing programs that approach all LMI customers as a group, programs that address the range of customers within the LMI category may be a more effective way to reach them.

The publication acknowledges that some barriers are due to policies unrelated to program design. IREC advises policymakers and others to be aware of these restrictions and take them into account when designing programs.

IREC has also produced a four-page quick reference guide to the full LMI report. The guide provides a summary of the key components of the guidelines and model provisions, along with references to the relevant sections in the main report.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 3/10/16

Small power provider makes community solar project happen for customers

Some people might say that renewable energy, like organic produce, is a luxury item better suited to larger utilities with customers who can support “fancy” products. Lincoln County Power District No. 1 You are leaving Western's site. (LCPD) begs to differ and offers its successful community solar project as proof that even a small utility can fit renewable energy into its portfolio.

LCPD divides the generation from its Community Solar Project between subscribers and its general power portfolio, so all customers can enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy. (Photo by Lincoln County Power District 1)

LCPD divides the generation from its Community Solar Project between subscribers and its general power portfolio, so all customers can enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy. (Photo by Lincoln County Power District 1)

Located about four hours north of Las Vegas, Nevada, Lincoln County is almost entirely rural. With a staff of 15, the public power district serves about 1,000, mostly agricultural and residential, customers of modest income. Nevertheless, a 2013 customer survey LCPD conducted uncovered a lot of interest in renewable generation, solar power in general and community solar in particular. “The big sticking point for most of our customers was cost,” noted General Manager Dave Luttrell.

Offering affordable alternative
One way to bring down the cost of installing a solar power system is to spread it among many customers in a community solar project, also called solar gardens. Community solar projects enable people who, for a variety of reasons, can’t own their own solar array to buy shares in a larger project. In the utility-sponsored model, customers may purchase a set amount of electricity at a fixed rate for a long term, such as 20 years. The rate is typically slightly higher than the current retail rate, but may provide protection and stability against rising rates for grid electricity.

In hopes of being able to offer its customers a renewable energy option, LCPD did an analysis of building a community solar project. “The pricing at the time just wasn’t feasible,” admitted Luttrell. “But we didn’t give up on the idea.”

Instead, Luttrell and the board of directors watched and waited and ran the analysis again one year later. The price of solar equipment dropped sharply in 2014 and, “The project began to look more competitive as an alternative to purchasing power on the spot market,” Luttrell said.

Little outside help, lot of DIY
That is to say, more competitive, but not quite where it needed to be. Fortunately, there are state and federal programs to support renewable energy development available to utilities. LCPD worked with the Nevada Governor’s Energy Office You are leaving Western's site. and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program to get the funding needed to make the project feasible.

With funding lined up, LCPD took the do-it-yourself route for reasons that went beyond keeping costs under control. “Las Vegas is the nearest big city, so it would be tough to get a contractor to come all the way down here for a 90-kilowatt project,” Luttrell acknowledged.

The benefits of handling every aspect of development, from design to construction to marketing, soon became apparent to the utility. “Having a new challenge really motivated the staff,” recalled Luttrell. “They had built power lines and substations, but a solar array was something new.”

LCPD crew installed the Community Solar Project. Handling every aspect of the project in-house kept costs down and provided a valuable learning experience for employees.

LCPD crew installed the Community Solar Project. Handling every aspect of the project in-house kept costs down and provided a valuable learning experience for employees. (Photo by Lincoln County Public Power District 1)

Far from being intimidated, the LCPD engineer and field crew discovered that installing solar is about as close to plug-and-play technology as you can get, Luttrell said. “And now they have the confidence to build more and the expertise to advise customers who want to build home systems,” he added.

Bringing community together
The solar system also proved to be a great public relations tool for LCPD. It is located on US Highway 93 where people could see the construction progress once ground was broken in spring of 2015.

Everyone knew about the highly visible site, Luttrell noted, and asked LCPD employees about it when they ran into them at church or the grocery store. “It created a lot of goodwill in the community and gave us a chance to educate customers about solar power,” he said.

Starting a year or more before energizing the solar array, LCPD ran stories about the solar farm in every issue of their bi-monthly newsletter, Ruralite. The local newspaper gave plenty of coverage to the project and, as construction neared completion, the utility sent a direct mailer to its customers.

A series of public meetings gave customers a chance to learn what to expect from owning a share of community solar. “We wanted them to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the resource,” Luttrell said. “For example, LCPD is actually a winter-peaking utility, so maximum generation does not coincide with our customers’ highest energy use.”

Firing it up
When the project was energized on July 1, LCPD had yet to sign up any subscribers for solar shares at that point for a reason. “We wanted it energized and generating on a real-time basis before we offered subscriptions,” Luttrell explained.

Customers started signing up for solar shares in September and continued through mid-October. Half of the array is fully subscribed, Luttrell said, and the rest of the generation goes into the utility’s resource portfolio. “We decided early on that the solar project should be an economical resource to benefit all our customers,” he pointed out.

Supporters turned out in force for the October 5 dedication of the community solar array. The USDA state director and a representative from the Governor’s Energy Office joined the LCPD board president, middle school students and other customers for the occasion.  At the dedication shareholders got to tour the site and meet other attendees.

LCPD General Manager David Luttrell presents a resolution of appreciation from the LCPD board to Sarah Adler, state director, USDA Rural Development, for supporting the Community Solar Project.

LCPD General Manager David Luttrell presents a resolution of appreciation from the LCPD board to Sarah Adler, state director, USDA Rural Development, for supporting the Community Solar Project. (Photo by Lincoln County Power District 1)

Everyone who is interested can follow the solar garden’s real time production through a Web portal.

More solar to come
Customers who took the wait-and-see approach to the first project will soon have another chance to become community solar shareholders. LCPD hopes to break ground on Phase 2 in August, and again will offer half of the generation for subscription. “I think the first project met most of the pent-up demand,” said Luttrell, “but we wanted to have shares available for future interest.”

LCPD has had a customer-owned solar policy since 2007, and individuals can still install their own solar arrays if they want to. “We wanted to make it clear that we are not phasing out support for customer-owned solar,” Luttrell stated.

However, there have not been any new requests for interconnection since the community solar project energized. “Community solar just gives people one more option to decide what makes the most sense for them,” said Luttrell. “The economies of scale and not having to contend with operation and maintenance certainly make it attractive for a lot of customers who couldn’t consider solar otherwise.”

The most important thing for LCPD customers is that they have options. Whether they install their own solar, buy solar garden shares or just enjoy the stability that comes from a utility portfolio that includes renewables, they are getting big service from a small utility.

Make community solar better with free webinar series

Oct. 22, 12 p.m.
Nov. 19, 12 p.m.
Dec. 10, 12 p.m.

The Community Solar Value Project You are leaving Western's site. (CSVP) and Clean Energy Ambassadors You are leaving Western's site. have teamed up to produce a series of free webinars and discussions on how to make community solar better.JillSolarSlide350

The series has enlisted utility leaders and key stakeholders to weigh in on different aspects of this multi-faceted challenge. Discussions will cover such topics as better solar project design and procurement, ways to address solar variability by using demand-response and storage companion measures, program design for targeted customer appeals and win-win programs for low-income communities.

Join Clean Energy Ambassadors on Thursday, Oct. 22, for How SMUD and Other Utilities are Rethinking Marketing for Community Solar. You are leaving Western's site. A long-time leader in US solar energy deployment, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) crafted many programs to reduce the economic barriers to solar energy deployment. SMUD’s Solar Shares program targets renters and homeowners who may have solar siting issues to make solar energy accessible when customer-sited generation is not an option. Learn about the innovative solutions SMUD and other utilities are creating to improve upon their past program efforts and to make the benefits of clean energy even more widely available. A question and answer session will follow the presentations.

The November 19 webinar will explore Community Solar that Makes Sense for the Utility and its Low-income Customers. Speakers will discuss projects that address challenges specific to the low income market and different approaches utilities have taken.

On Dec. 10, Holiday Review: New Tools and Resources from the Community Solar Value Project, the final webinar in the series, examines the CSVP’s progress in helping utilities and their customers to work together to speed the transition to a high-value, low-carbon utility of the future.

Recordings of two other discussions, Central Better Community Solar Procurement and Design and How Demand Response and Storage Measures Address Solar Variability and Add Value, are available online.

All webinars take place at 12 p.m., Central Time. There is no cost to participate but registration is required.

Source: Clean Energy Ambassadors, 9/30/15

Wind, solar acquisitions make sense for Lincoln Electric System

Staring down a future of potential environmental regulations and uncertain production tax credits, Lincoln Electric System Redirecting to a non-government site (LES) in Lincoln, Nebraska, is surging forward on “greening up” its power portfolio.

Elkhorn Ridge is one of five wind facilities currently supplying green power to Lincoln Electric System. In 2015, LES will add another 173 MW from the Prairie Breeze II in Nebraska and Buckeye in Kansas. (Photo by Nebraska Public Power District)

Elkhorn Ridge is one of five wind facilities currently supplying green power to Lincoln Electric System. In 2015, LES will add another 173 MW from the Prairie Breeze II in Nebraska and Buckeye in Kansas. (Photo by Nebraska Public Power District)

The municipal utility closed 2014 with a power purchase agreement to add 173 megawatts (MW) of wind energy and 5 MW of solar energy to its power supply resource portfolio by 2016. The move will reduce coal resources from 43 percent of LES’s installed nameplate capacity to 34 percent.

This latest acquisition is not part of a predetermined goal, but simply a good business decision, observed LES Administrator and CEO Kevin Wailes. “When viewed as a package, our wind and solar contracts are expected to save LES customer-owners approximately $429 million over the next 25 years,” he pointed out when announcing the agreements.

LES Communications Manager Kelley Porter added, “Responding to customer input and being good environmental stewards is part of doing business as a public power utility.”

Wind brings development
The wind additions, spread across two contracts with developer Invenergy Redirecting to a non-government site, involve the 73-MW Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center in northeastern Nebraska and 100-MW Buckeye Wind Energy Center in north-central Kansas. The projects will bring LES’ total wind portfolio to 304 MW, and increase the utility’s renewable generation portfolio to the equivalent of 48 percent of LES’ retail energy.

Prairie Breeze II is an expansion of Invenergy’s first Nebraska wind farm, which began operation in May 2014. The developer expects to complete Prairie Breeze II by the end of 2015. The project will create an estimated 90 jobs during the construction phase, and is expected to require seven permanent full-time employees to operate and maintain the 41 turbines.

Let the sun shine
Cost savings from the wind agreements will help supplement customer participation in LES’s new SunShares community solar program. LES launched the program in partnership with its customers to bring a community solar project to the Lincoln area. The 5-MW solar array—the largest in the state—will provide the utility with valuable solar experience.

The solar contract was in response to an LES survey indicating customers were willing to support more local solar energy. About 44 residential customers take advantage of LES’s renewable generation program and net-metering policy, but the city has a lot of older neighborhoods with large trees, Porter noted. “The solar project offers an affordable alternative for customers who would like to be involved with solar but don’t have the ideal circumstances,” she said.

The enthusiastic response to the solar farm indicates that a good many LES customers fall in that category. The program launched on Aug. 1, 2014. “We held a press conference to announce it on Aug. 2, and 1,200 customers had signed up by the time we signed the agreement,” Porter recalled.

Marketing of the solar installation was not limited to the news conference. LES enlisted the same local environmental groups and citizens who had pushed for the project to speak to community groups. Promotion also included a two-month blitz of social media, radio interviews, posters, newspaper ads and bill stuffers.

Future builds on past
Now that LES has had a chance to gauge the real interest in the solar project, the promotion has entered its second phase. “The site is highly visible from Interstate 80, so the community can watch as the project is constructed and feel like a part of it,” Porter said.

The solar farm will significantly increase the amount of solar power in the municipal utility’s resource mix. In addition to the customer rooftop systems, LES recently added 50 kilowatts of solar energy through a rooftop solar array on one of its service buildings.

LES prides itself on a history of aggressively building its renewable energy portfolio, starting with two utility-owned and customer-financed wind turbines in 1998. The new solar program further diversifies an energy supply that includes 4.8 MW generated by the Bluff Road Landfill waste-to-energy facility, commissioned in 2013.

The new wind and solar contracts are only the latest example of the municipal utility’s move toward greater sustainability. In a changing industry, this openness to innovation has helped LES control costs, ensure reliable power delivery and keep rates affordable for its customer-owners. As Wailes explained, “We make decisions to best reflect the values of our community.”

Webinar explores community solar, wind projects

CEAlogoIn less than a decade, community-shared solar has gone from an idealistic dream to a viable renewables development strategy employed in some 50 communities nationwide. Utilities can choose to ignore this trend or seize the opportunity to partner with their customers and communities, while meeting their own clean energy goals. Find out What’s New in Community Solar and WindRedirecting to a non-government site on Nov. 18, a Clean Energy Ambassadors Redirecting to a non-government site (CEA) Lunchtime Webinar.

The presentation will cut through the confusion surrounding the many different paths to project development. Get an overview of emerging trends and take a closer look at a few projects, including utility-owned and third-party models, with a focus on lessons learned from prior green power and community wind programs. The webinar will also examine how community renewables can bring utilities and community members together to achieve shared goals.

CEA members will be familiar with speaker Jill Cliburn, a leader in the field of shared renewables. Her experience includes working on municipal utility and electric cooperative projects involving both solar and wind.

The free Lunchtime Webinar Series share winning strategies for energy efficiency and renewable energy development with community-owned utilities. For more information about webinars or other CEA programs, visit Clean Energy Ambassadors on the web or contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.