California utilities discuss concerns at UEF roundtable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nominations sought for APPA DEED awards for utility innovators

Deadline Jan. 31, 2017

It is time to gain recognition for your energy services programs and share your success stories with your customers, communities and industry colleagues. The American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (APPA) presents two awards annually to member utilities that embody the spirit of the association’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments (DEED) program. The research and demonstration program funds innovative activities dedicated to improving the operations and services of public power utilities.

The Award of Continued Excellence (ACE) recognizes a DEED member utility that has demonstrated continued commitment to the DEED program and its ideals. Criteria include involvement in the DEED program, including grants and scholarships; commitment to energy-efficiency; investigation or use of renewable resources and support of public power. This year’s award presentation will take place during the 2017 APPA Engineering and Operations Technical Conference, May 7-10, in San Antonio, Texas.

Several WAPA customers are among past winners of the ACE, including Riverside Public Utilities, You are leaving WAPA.gov. City of Palo Alto, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Silicon Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Platte River Power Authority.You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The Energy Innovator Award (EIA) recognizes utility programs that have demonstrated advances in the development or application of creative, energy-efficient techniques or technologies. Projects and programs that provide better service to electric customers or that increase the efficiency of utility operations or resource efficiency are eligible, too. Judges will take into account transferability and project scope in relation to utility size.

WAPA customer Moorhead Public Service received an Energy Innovator Award in 2016 for developing its Capture the Sun community solar garden. Lincoln Electric System, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Omaha Public Power District, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Alameda Municipal Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov.  are other WAPA customers that have earned the award with innovative programs.

APPA may give up to three awards in a given year. The awards will be presented during the 2017 APPA National Conference, June 16-21, 2017, in Orlando, Florida.

Nominations for both the ACE and the EIA may be submitted via the web-based application process. Submissions must be received no later than Jan. 31. For questions, contact the DEED program staff at 202-467-2960 or 202-467-2942 or via email.

After completing your nomination, don’t forget to share it with Energy Services Bulletin. Every utility program has an important story to tell and all WAPA customers are winners.

Source: Public Power Daily, 1/5/17

Proven Practices: Engage Media to Garner Credibility

As challenging as it is to design an energy efficiency or renewable energy program for utility customers, getting the word out and driving adoption often seems like the greater struggle. You know how to come up with an approach that balances your utility’s goals with customer needs, ensure that quality equipment or systems are available in your area and streamline the application and installation processes. Now all you have to do is persuade your customers to get on board. Before you print another bill stuffer or pay for a newspaper or radio ad, visit the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center for some tips on building credibility through earned media.

Coverage that comes from good public relations may not generate immediate leads, but it can increase program recognition and lay the groundwork for future leads. A customer who has seen a news story about how a home energy upgrade helped a local family reduce electricity bills may pay more attention to the bill stuffer announcing your program. Timely content, such as a story about weatherizing or upgrading homes in the winter, can generate interest and even phone calls to customer service representatives.

The Residential Solution Center offers the following suggestions to earn media coverage:

  • Mark major milestones to spur momentum – Media outlets are interested in stories about the first or the biggest.
  • Keep content fresh and relevant – Refresh your messages about your program with stories about how it helped individuals, groups or the community.
  • Become a resource for energy efficiency – Your staff has experience and knowledge about issues that concern homeowners and contractors. Reach out to local home improvement shows and newspaper columns, or better yet, start your own.

Learn more 
Visit the Residential Solution Center to find more tips, examples and tools for marketing and outreach. If you haven’t used this online resource before, start the New Year by taking a tour of the Solution Center.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Initiative, 12/12/16

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.

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange a decade strong, growing

Sept. 28-30
Aspen Meadows Resort
Aspen, Colorado

To say that the utility landscape has changed since 2007 is a laughable understatement—new technologies, new regulations, new customer expectations and economic ups and downs challenge our industry like never before. But the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, You are leaving WAPA.gov. now in its tenth year, provides attendees with a touchstone for the evolution of their customer efficiency programs.

The Doerr-Hosier Conference Center at Aspen Meadows Resort has been the "home" of the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange since 2007. (Photo by Aspen Meadows Resort)

The Doerr-Hosier Conference Center at Aspen Meadows Resort has been the “home” of the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange since 2007. (Photo by Aspen Meadows Resort)

It seems like only yesterday that 92 Colorado utility program staff and allies gathered at Aspen Meadows Resort for the first Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange. Programmable thermostats were basically timers that controlled your furnace and there was little or no talk of micro-grids or data analytics. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) were state-of-the-art lighting technology and the centerpiece of many a utility energy efficiency initiatives.

Learning to share
In fact, the event grew out of a meeting UtilityExchange.org You are leaving WAPA.gov. Executive Director Ed Thomas attended at Platte River Power Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. on the possibility of coordinating a statewide CFL retailer point-of-purchase promotion. Adam Perry, Platte River’s customer services supervisor for energy efficiency, had just moved to Colorado from Oregon where he was accustomed to working with multiple utilities on customer programs. “I thought it was that way across the country,” Perry admitted. “I wondered where Colorado utilities got together to talk to their peers about their programs and collaborate on regional programs. I soon found out that venue didn’t exist.”

The meeting also included Jeff Rice, then utilities efficiency specialist for the city of Aspen You are leaving WAPA.gov.. Thomas asked the two if their utilities would be interested in supporting an event where program managers could exchange ideas on energy-efficiency programs and learn from each other. “The hope was that sharing would lead to regional and statewide partnerships and collaboration,” explained Perry. “Looking back I can say that RMUEE has allowed me to build great friendships and relationships with my utility program peers. Being able to share ideas and our successes and failures in energy-efficiency program design and implementation has really benefitted both me and my utility.”

The city of Aspen became the event host, in no small part because Rice had just received an energy-efficiency mandate and had no idea where to start. Gas utilities were also being required to launch demand-side management (DSM) efforts, and their program managers were equally eager to learn from others. Returning attendees acknowledge that their programs did, indeed, make “progress through poaching.” Jim Dillon, Black Hills Energy senior manager for energy efficiency, has attended several exchanges over the years. “We feel that the ability to collaborate with our peers is instrumental in building a quality energy-efficiency portfolio that serves all customer classes and moves customers down the energy efficiency pathway,” he said.

Attendees, issues have staying power
The event grew, attracting attendees from the wider region, and the name changed in 2011 to Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange to reflect this inclusive approach. This year, more than 120 attendees—many familiar faces—are expected to come together to grapple with underlying questions that are also all too familiar: How do we meet mandates? How do we increase the efficiency of the building stock? How do we educate and engage customers? How do we fund programs? How does new technology fit into the bigger picture?

The agenda puts a 2016 spin on these timeless issues, starting with a round table discussion based on topics suggested in a survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. you can submit in advance (by Sept. 23). Presentations on Wednesday, Sept. 28, focus on teaching customers to take control of their energy use and integrating the most effective approaches to meet aggressive energy-efficiency goals. A case study on a good, old-fashioned municipal lighting upgrade—now with LED [light-emitting diode] technology—wraps up the first day’s sessions.

The popular dual-track schedule on Thursday morning allows attendees to switch between residential- and commercial-focused sessions. On the residential side, speakers will share their experiences designing, financing, marketing and delivering programs to help homeowners save energy. Aspen Utilities Efficiency Specialist Ryland French will talk about the city’s participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. The commercial track will cover strategies for motivating different types of business customers and ways to increase their satisfaction. The afternoon offers program snapshots and a look at market transformation and financing models.

Bryan Hannegan of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Ben Bixby, energy products director for Nest Labs, You are leaving WAPA.gov. will deliver the keynote speeches. Hannegan, NREL’s associate lab director for energy systems integration, will talk about integrating electricity, fuel, thermal, water and communication networks to achieve a more sustainable society. Bixby’s keynote will explore business models and partnering strategies for utilities.  Sneak Peek Preview webinars were conducted with the keynotes and advisory committee in August and the archived recordings are available on the event home page.

Eat! Drink! Network!
One feature that helps to keep the RMUEE fresh and growing is that as much “exchanging” happens outside the sessions as during. Presentations are where the conversations begin, but they continue, deepen and expand during refreshment breaks, meals and receptions.

Attendees at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange wave their green flags to signal that they will be back next year.

All in favor of going to the 2016 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, wave your green card! (Photo by DKeith Pictures)

Wednesday night’s poster reception is like a private presentation where you can question the speaker one-on-one, with a beverage and snack in hand. The Thursday night networking event at the Limelight in Aspen is a chance to mix it up with the rest of the attendees in an even more relaxed setting.

Other things that haven’t changed in 10 years include:

  • The food at Aspen Meadows Resort is still delicious
  • Aspen is still beautiful in the fall
  • Dress is still casual (leave the tie at home)
  • WAPA Energy Services representatives will be there

Yes, the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange gives us a chance to meet with you, our customers, in one place. We catch up on what is happening in your world, answer questions you might have and learn from you. Every year since 2007, we have returned from the RMUEE, impressed with your innovative ideas and commitment to doing the best for your communities. And we look forward to seeing what the next decade brings. See you in Aspen!

Tell us what you want from Energy Services

When Western’s Energy Services regional representatives get together to talk about the program, it is not a subdued affair. The five regions within Western are all different from each other, and each representative brings a different perspective on what customers in their service territory need. One thing we do share is a passion for serving our customers, so the discussions can get pretty lively. At the end of a good meeting, however, we walk away with new ideas, renewed determination and a better understanding of the challenges customers face in other regions.

That is a pretty good description of what happened at the annual “face-to-face” meeting Energy Services held at Western Headquarters in October. The meeting gives Energy Services representatives an opportunity to plan for the coming year and to let management, the marketing team and the Equipment Loan Program know what kind of support their efforts need. This year’s meeting was particularly crucial since Western recently parted company with Energy Experts. We are exploring ways to offer customers more relevant technical assistance to replace the resources of the online service provider.

Feeling changes
The utility industry is standing on shifting ground, and power providers across Western’s service territory are feeling the changes. Complying with new regulations, joining a regional transmission organization, competing with new technologies and services, planning for extreme weather and meeting renewable goals and mandates are only a few of the issues keeping customers awake at night.

As we talked (and talked!) about how we can help our customers manage these and other concerns, one word kept coming up: training. The old saying, “Knowledge is power,” is old for a reason. Understanding even just the basics about a situation gives you more control and more options for dealing with it.

Western is in a great position to deliver training, too, in part, thanks to its Electric Power Training Center. For years, EPTC has delivered the highest quality power systems operation training to diverse audiences from power plant operators to dispatchers to support staff who just want to learn more about the business. It  streamlines the process of enrolling participants and hosting workshops.

Creating new product
Energy Services would like to extend EPTC course offerings to other aspects of utility business, such as long-range resource planning, load management and renewables and efficiency integration. Our contacts at the departments of Energy and Agriculture, utilities, universities and professional organizations give us access to experts on a wide array of topics. Training could be offered as on-site workshops or webinars, depending on interest and subject matter.

Speaking of subject matter, this is where you, our customer, can help us. The regional representatives came up with a long list of potential training topics, and we need your help to prioritize it. Please look over the following topics and select your top five concerns:

Your input required
It is quite a list, and likely far from complete. Feel free to add your own ideas about training that could help you or your staff feel more prepared to deal with today’s challenges and the ones you see coming.

Send your suggestions for workshops (or publications, or other types of technical assistance) to your regional representative or to the Energy Services manager. Energy Services is, after all, your program, and we are eager to hear what you want it to be.

RMUEE presentations now online

Attendees at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange wave their green flags to signal that they will be back next year.

Attendees at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange wave their green flags to signal that they will be back next year. (Photo by DKeith Pictures)

If you missed the ninth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, You are leaving Western's site. or you just want to share a particular presentation with your staff or board, you can download them now.

The event was a great success with 150 of your colleagues sharing stories of customer program successes and challenges. We hope you will find ideas, solutions and inspirations in the presentationsespecially the inspiration to join us in Aspen next year for the 10th RMUEE!

Increase your energy efficiency IQ at two fall events

Maybe it is the debate over the administration’s clean power plan or Tesla’s announcement of a new consumer energy storage system or the media buzz around the “Internet of things.” Whatever the reason, consumers—both residential and commercial—are thinking and talking more about energy use and management. Despite a lot of gloomy prognosticating, that is good for utilities. Two upcoming conferences, one new and one established, can help you to turn this growing consumer interest in energy use to your advantage.

Spanning Western territory
The Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange is now in its ninth year of bringing together utility program managers and industry allies to explore the many facets of energy-efficiency programs. Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado, will host conference veterans and newcomers Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 for in-depth discussion, discovery and networking.

Does your service territory look more like prairie than mountain? Then consider attending the Introduction to Demand Response training, Integrating Energy Efficiency with Demand Response in the Midwest workshop and networking reception in Chicago, Sept. 15 to16. These three separate events have a slightly different focus than the RMUEE, but still provide an outstanding learning opportunity for utility professionals involved in energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman passes the microphone. RMUEE is a "share, not stare" event where every attendee is encouraged to speak up. (Photo by Tiger Adolf)

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman passes the microphone. RMUEE is a “share, not stare” event where every attendee is encouraged to speak up. (Photo by Tiger Adolf)

Hear from leaders
Western customers are involved in both events, so you can expect to hear a frontline perspective on program creation, management and evaluation. The City of Aspen Utilities, Holy Cross Energy and Platte River Power Authority are long-time sponsors of RMUEE. Representatives from those utilities will moderate panels and give presentations alongside many other Western customers.

At the workshop portion of the Chicago event, Ken Glaser of Connexus Energy, a member cooperative from Great River Energy will participate in a demand response roundtable. Representatives from Consumers Energy and Duke Energy are also on the panel.

Event sponsors Peak Load Management Association (PLMA) and Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) chose speakers with hands-on experience in creating and implementing demand response (DR) and demand-side management (DSM) programs. Gary Connett, demand-side management director at Great River and PLMA member noted that cooperatives and municipal utilities are leaders in load management. “They are a great resource for power providers who are just getting their programs started.”

Start your programs right
The event is specifically for utilities that are new to DSM and DR, added Connett. “The workshop is designed for people who are considering their first program and are looking for models and ideas,” he explained. “Attendees will learn the fundamentals of each strategy, the benefits and how to implement a program.”

 Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance headquarters is located in the Historic Civic Opera Building, about 20 minutes from either Chicago Midway International Airport or O'Hare International Airport. (Artwork by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance)

Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance headquarters is located in the Historic Civic Opera Building, about 20 minutes from either Chicago Midway International Airport or O’Hare International Airport. (Artwork by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance)

Introduction to Demand Response is a good place for newcomers to begin. The one-day course provides a comprehensive overview of demand response topics. Current issues will be explored from the perspectives of utilities, retail energy providers, customers, independent system operators, and other demand response technology and services providers.

After a day of intensive training, attendees can unwind at a networking reception on the roof of MEEA headquarters. There is nothing like sipping, nibbling and chatting with colleagues in the presence of one of America’s great skylines to get the ideas flowing. The Wednesday workshop, “Integrating Energy Efficiency with Demand Response in the Midwest,” is tailored to the specific goals and challenges facing midwestern utilities. The first two sessions separately address DR and energy-efficiency professionals, and the third covers program models that successfully combine the two points of view.

You may register for all three events as a package or in any combination, including just the reception. Hotel accommodations must be reserved separately and are not included in event registration.

Efficiency issues, conference evolve
Much has changed and much has stayed the same in nearly a decade of talking energy efficiency at RMUEE. Stubborn challenges persist, such as program evaluation, reaching low-income customers and creating a trusted contractor pool, although each year brings clever and creative local solutions. On the positive side, utilities can choose from a variety of mature behavior-based programs for engaging customers, and have plenty of data to make the selection easier.

Technology, always a hot topic, keeps challenging utilities to keep up with it. Lighting upgrades continue to offer the most bang for the buck, but LED, or light-emitting diode, lamps have displaced compact fluorescent lights as the state-of-the-art in efficiency. Automated systems to manage home energy use are still popular, but programmable thermostats seem almost quaint compared to smartphone apps that allow people to control multiple systems remotely. The cost of solar panels has dropped sharply in nine years, making distributed generation a more pressing issue, and carbon emissions regulations now seem closer than ever.

The RMUEE agenda covers all these topics and more, with presentations by your colleagues—the people who design and implement customer programs. You will also hear from trade allies who offer energy products and services and from government agencies that work with utilities to meet efficiency goals.

With so much experience in one place, networking usually turns out to be the star of the RMUEE. Attendees will have plenty of time to make new contacts and compare notes with old friends during meals, breaks and receptions. For a change of pace this year, the final day will be dedicated to outdoor teambuilding activities, including a guided hike and a bike ride to the Maroon Bells. That is, weather permitting, of course, but the fall weather in Aspen is generally cooperative.

There is still time to register for RMUEE, and rooms at the Sky Motel in Aspen are available at a special conference rate. The motel is only a short drive from the Aspen Meadows Conference Center, and will also host the Thursday evening reception.

The Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange and the Midwest regional workshops differ in focus. One explores the broad range of customer efficiency programs while the other hones in on two specific strategies. The target audiences deal with different geographic challenges. But the events are tied by the belief that the real experts on the utility industry are the utilities themselves. We will discover all the expertise we need to deal with environmental, regulatory and technological changes if we just talk to our neighbors.

SRP surpasses energy-efficiency goals, heads for sustainability

Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. exceeded its annual goal of helping residential and commercial customers save energy and money through the Phoenix, Arizona-based utility’s energy-efficiency programs and initiatives.

Last year, SRP’s energy-efficiency programs for both residential and commercial customers provided annual energy savings equal to 2.3 percent of SRP’s retail energy sales. The Fiscal Year 2014 program goal was 1.5 percent of retail sales, so saving 640 million kilowatt-hours—the equivalent annual energy use of 35,000 homes—is quite an accomplishment.

“The energy-efficiency goal is part of our longer term Sustainable Portfolio Objective,” explained Dan Dreiling, SRP director of Market Research and Customer Programs. “SRP established an objective to meet 20 percent of our expected retail energy requirements with sustainable resources by 2020. Sustainable resources include energy efficiency, hydroelectric generation and other renewable generation.”

Energy efficiency is proving to be not only the most cost-effective way for SRP to help customers save energy and money, but also the sustainable resource with the most potential. The largest savings came from the Retail Lighting Program, which offered customers discounted prices on LED and CFL light bulbs. Reduced prices, which SRP provides to several big box retailers and home center stores, drove annual customer purchases to more than 2 million lamps.

Retail lighting programs, both commercial and residential, provided SRP with its biggest energy savings. (Photo by Salt River Project)

Retail lighting programs, both commercial and residential, provided SRP with its biggest energy savings. (Photo by Salt River Project)

Dreiling attributes the program’s considerable success to partnering with large, recognizable retailers, offering a diverse product mix and providing meaningful discounts on popular products. An effective multi-channel marketing campaign helped to spread the word to a relatively young energy-efficiency marketplace.

Cooling and more
Other high-performing programs that contributed to the goal include appliance recycling, Energy Star New Homes and rebates for Energy Star-certified, variable-speed pool pumps and, of course, efficient air conditioners. SRP offers substantial rebates for air conditioners and heat pumps with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, of 15 or higher.

The air conditioner rebate was so attractive that one energy-savvy SRP customer couldn’t resist. “Since I work in Energy Services, I am very aware of our home energy use,” said Western Public Utilities Specialist Patricia Weeks. “For the last several years, we have been watching our utility bills increase, and I suspected that our two 20-year-old, heating-and-cooling units were to blame.”

Weeks purchased two energy-efficient systems that qualified for the SRP rebate last winter. “Our home is more comfortable and our utility bill is averaging $24 less per month compared to last year,” she stated.

Residential customers also increased their comfort and savings with comprehensive home assessments and rebates for services and products such as home duct repair and window shade screens. “In terms of motivation,” Dreiling observed, “we have learned that increasing comfort and convenience is just as important to customers as saving money on their utility bill.”

For ‘bottom liners’
Lighting was the source of most of SRP’s commercial energy savings. Enhanced lighting rebates through Standard Business Solutions, large commercial and industry energy-efficiency projects through Custom Business Solutions and lighting retrofit projects under the Small Business Solutions program collectively saved nearly 179,000 MWhs of energy.

Fry’s Food Stores, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a Phoenix supermarket chain, participated in the SRP Business Solutions rebate programs to implement 50 projects in 30 metropolitan stores. So far, the grocery retailer has realized about 1.2 million kWh per year in energy savings. “SRP rebate programs help Fry’s continue to reduce our carbon footprint, which is good for the environment as well as our bottom line,” said Ben Tan, energy manager of Fry’s Food Stores Facilities Engineering.

Dreiling acknowledged that reaching commercial customers with efficiency programs is a challenge for SRP, as it is for so many utilities. “But we are seeing more and more customers moving in this direction,” he noted. “It comes down to demonstrating that efficiency is a value proposition, not only for the organization, but its customers, as well.”

The best advertisement for business efficiency programs is a success story like Fry’s Food Stores, he added.

Up next
Perhaps the biggest challenge an energy-efficiency program faces after a successful year is how to build on that success.

While the popular lighting program will continue, SRP plans to put more emphasis on its residential whole-house program in the coming year. Comprehensive solutions for the entire home have a higher price tag than energy-efficient light bulbs, but produce deeper energy savings for the homeowner. “We will continue to offer specific air conditioner-related savings measures, as well,” said Dreiling. “In Arizona, air conditioning is a primary energy consumer so managing that load is key to deferring future resource needs.”

Thanks to commitment and savvy energy planning, SRP seems well prepared for the future. The timetable for meeting its goal of 20 percent sustainable resources by 2020 is already ahead of schedule. Almost 13 percent of its retail energy needs currently come from wind, geothermal, solar, landfill gas, biomass and hydropower, as well as energy-efficiency programs. In balancing reliability, affordability and environmental stewardship, SRP is proving that energy efficiency tips the scale toward success.

Collaboration produces results in Roaring Fork Valley

Aspen Utilities Energy-efficiency Manager Jeff Rice eschewed the usual slide show on the Roaring Fork Valley Utility Collaborative to share his presentation with partners. Jason Haber of the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) and Rob Morey of the nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) in Carbondale, Colo., joined Rice on stage to discuss the value of teamwork.

The Collaborative comprises utilities that serve the Roaring Fork Valley in the central Rocky Mountains—the municipal utilities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Holy Cross Energy, SourceGas and Xcel—as well as the two nonprofits. Rice explained that by working together, the utilities are able to provide a level of programming and services far beyond their individual resources. “If one of us doesn’t have the expertise, equipment or rebate a customer needs, someone else does,” he said.

Where funding is concerned, teaming up has created a larger pool. The utilities receive funding individually from sources such as Energy Star Partners, but leverage their funds to offer stronger incentives, or build larger projects. For example, working together on a solar thermal/photovoltaic installation on a senior housing facility, CLEEN and CORE were able to install a system that met 20 percent instead of 10 percent of the building’s load.

Aspen and Holy Cross teamed up with CORE to apply for Recovery Act funding. The nonprofit, which has funded renewable and energy-efficiency projects, and provided consumer education and policy recommendations to Pitkin County for 16 years, is administering the grants for the utilities.  “It frees me up to take care of my customers, instead of spending time on paperwork,” said Rice.

The advantages are not all financial, either. When Aspen set out to develop a program to improve the efficiency of existing buildings, Rice turned to Holy Cross and SourceGas to make sure he wasn’t duplicating any efforts. Borrowing from the two utilities’ established programs, Aspen has completed 91 home energy audits this year and has a dozen more scheduled. Local auditing and retrofit contractors have enjoyed an increase in business as a result.

Recently, the Roaring Fork Utility Collaborative successfully applied for a grant from the Small Commercial Efficiency Initiative, offered by the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office. They are now in the process of devising a program to deliver greater efficiency to small businesses. You can be sure it will benefit the entire Roaring Fork Valley.