Santa Clara reaches coal-free goal in 2018

Silicon Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SVP) reached a major milestone in the long, determined march toward sustainability when the Santa Clara, California, utility permanently eliminated coal power from its energy supply Jan. 1.

SVP sent this greeting to its customers to let them know the gift of a coal-free power supply had finally arrived.

SVP Chief Electric Utility Officer John Roukema sent this holiday greeting to customers to let them know the gift of a coal-free power supply had finally arrived. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

Various renewable resources and natural gas-fueled generation from Lodi Energy Center  You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Lodi, California, have replaced the 51 megawatts (MW) of coal-powered electricity SVP sourced from San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico. The move reduces the carbon intensity of Santa Clara’s power supply by about 50 percent.

Thanks to customers
The accomplishment began with both residential and business customers pushing the utility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. SVP serves many forward-thinking corporations along with a highly educated and unusually engaged group of residents. “We launched the Santa Clara Green Power Program to meet customers’ demands for 100-percent renewable power as the state established its renewable energy goals,” stated SVP Customer Services Manager Larry Owens.

Santa Clara Green Power launched in 2004, two years after California adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and two years before the first expansion of the RPS. The city continued to monitor its emissions, evaluate resources and update its goals to stay ahead of state mandates, but mostly to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Keeping up with the expectations of business customers in the center of the technology industry has challenged SVP to keep reaching higher, too. SVP Public Benefits Manager Mary Medeiros McEnroe noted, “Many of our large key customers have corporate sustainability initiatives and have been the drivers behind some of our programs.”

Businesses subscribing to Santa Clara Green include Intel—a 62-wind turbine partner—Santa Clara University, the Great American Theme Park and the city itself. A number of large commercial customers have installed solar arrays on their facilities ranging from 750 kilowatts to 1 MW per site.

Speed bumps, fast lanes on road to success
There are pros and cons to being a leader in clean power initiatives and SVP has seen both sides as it moved toward its goal.

In 1980, SVP joined Modesto Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Redding Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. to form the M-S-R Public Power Agency, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a partnership that has helped all three utilities evolve with the industry. In 2006, M-S-R worked to acquire 200 MW of new wind power in Brickleton, WA. “We all saw our customers buying more green power,” Owens recalled.

It was clear to the utility partners that a cleaner power supply was the road to the future. Around 2009, as the state set higher renewable energy goals and added new regulations, other California municipal utilities followed M-S-R toward the coal off-ramp. In some ways, Owen observed, the group effort gave utilities more leverage to negotiate their exit from coal power providers. On the other hand, “The more participants, the more complexity,” he said. “And there was a lot more competition for renewable energy. Ultimately, though, the cooperation among utilities was impressive.”

SVP knew that leaving their coal provider and finding cleaner power sources to replace the 51 MW was going to be difficult. But it paid off in the end when San Juan Generating Station permanently closed down half of its units. “We expected that they would just find another buyer for that power, so SVP going coal-free turned out to have a much wider impact by actually decommissioning two of the four units,” said Owens. “That was a nice surprise.”

SVP’s innovative use of wind technology on behalf of its Santa Clara, California, customers earned it the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual Public Power Wind Award.

SVP’s innovative use of wind technology on behalf of its Santa Clara, California, customers earned it the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual Public Power Wind Award. (Picture by Silicon Valley Power)

Future is affordable
The greatest fear that grips utilities when they contemplate a future without coal—that it will force them to raise rates—has not materialized for SVP customers.

Utilities are always retiring and acquiring purchase power contracts over time, Owens pointed out, and that will affect pricing. Shifting to the Lodi Energy Center and ramping up green power caused some upward pressures on price for SVP. In the long term, however, “The forward price curves for natural gas and renewables look better than coal,” he stated.

Switching to those resources is also an investment in meeting federal mandates to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, he added.

Given the many factors that shape energy costs, SVP still boasts some of the lowest electricity rates in California. The utility recently announced that there will be no rate increase for 2018, and rates are expected to remain flat for the next couple of years.

Efficiency still matters
When rates inevitably change, SVP’s strong customer relationships and menu of long-established efficiency programs will help to ease acceptance.

SVP residential customers can get rebates for efficiency measures including attic insulation, ceiling fans, electric clothes dryers, electric heat pump water heaters and pool pumps. In addition to Santa Clara Green Power, the Neighborhood Solar Program allows customers to sponsor solar installations on public buildings. SVP also provides homeowners with energy audits and loans diagnostic tools to do-it-yourselfers.

While SVP counts some of the world’s most progressive companies among its large key customers, Medeiros McEnroe said that the small commercial customers are surprisingly engaged too. “Quite a few of our small businesses support Santa Clara Green Power, from dentists to auto shops, and many have installed solar arrays on their buildings,” she said. “Sustainability is a community value in Santa Clara.”

Keeping costs down is, nevertheless, still a top concern for small businesses, so SVP offers rebates for specific systems like lighting, as well as custom measures. The utility has also partnered with the Food Service Technology Center for a program to teach food service employees to manage energy and water costs.

SVP also provides energy benchmarking to help companies understand their energy and water use and set goals for improvement. “We have been able to help many customers through free snapshot audits and by educating them about the value of purchasing energy-efficient equipment,” Medeiros McEnroe said.

A utility customer program manager’s work is never done, and sustainability will always be a moving target. Achieving the coal-free goal is impressive but there are still peaks to manage and costs to control. WAPA has no doubt that with the support of its committed customers, SVP will meet each new challenge, exceed expectations and continue to impress.

Fort Collins forges ahead on climate goals

Throughout the nation, municipalities are showing leadership in addressing climate change, and Fort Collins, Colorado, is leading the leaders. The city recently revised its climate action goals to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030 across all sectors relative to 2005 levels.

An article in the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) Outlet You are leaving WAPA.gov. notes that the 2030 target is 20 years sooner than the “80 by ‘50” goal other leading cities have set, making it among the most ambitious of any city in the world. RMI is among the many partners the Fort Collins City Council engaged to assess the costs and benefits to the community of accelerating the city’s greenhouse gas emissions goals. The partnership includes community leaders, local businesses, citizen advisory groups, the communities’ generation and distribution utilities and research institutes.

Investment required
Led by city government and Fort Collins UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. the partnership has discussed, analyzed and reviewed approaches to achieving the goals. The forward-looking plan lays the groundwork to stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars of new investments in efficiency and renewable resources in the years ahead. The upfront capital requirements will be high, but RMI estimates that the investments in carbon reduction will begin producing real financial benefits to the community close to 2030.

In addition to investing in infrastructure upgrades and clean central generation, the community will need to improve its building stock as well. The targets the city has identified to achieve its goals include:

  • Reduce building emissions by 40 percent through greater efficiency and distributed solar adoption
  • Reduce carbon emissions from the utility electricity system by 79 percent from 2005 levels
  • Reduce transportation carbon emissions by 57 percent from 2005 levels
  • Create a zero-waste community

Utility tackles challenge
Increasing the efficiency of the building stock poses a special challenge, as buildings are responsible for 53 percent of emissions and participation in retrofit programs is often low. The city’s municipal utility plays a central role in encouraging citizens to invest in efficiency for homes and commercial facilities. A recently approved update to the utility’s on-bill financing program allows unprecedented access and flexibility for financing efficiency. The plan gives customers the ability to allocate costs between tenant and landlord, and includes longer financing terms that match the life of the upgrades, lower interest rates and an easier approval process.

The integrated utility services model You are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins Utilities developed with RMI’s support could, if adopted, do even more to promote building efficiency. It would allow the utility to centrally deliver energy services; such as efficiency, distributed renewables and value-added services; at scales that will achieve cost savings and high-quality service, and be paid for on customers’ electricity bills. This approach offers an innovative model for utilities seeking to grow their business by diversifying their services to customers.

Long journey to sustainability
The new goals are part of continuing process that has engaged the city and its partners for more than 15 years.

The Fort Collins City Council passed a resolution in 1999, committing the city to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2010. The landmark year of 2007 saw the formation of the city’s Climate Task Force and the implementation of FortZED, funded by an $11 million federal grant. The project created a zero-energy district in Fort Collins’ downtown business district and the Colorado State University You are leaving WAPA.gov. campus. It also launched a dialogue between the university, the utility and the city that continues today, and led directly to the city council’s vote to adopt the historic new goals.

The process has not been smooth or easy, but the city has already made significant progress. By continuing its methodical, inclusive and thoughtful approach, Fort Collins is showing how even a town of 150,000 can make big strides in fighting climate change.

Source: RMI Outlet, 3/4/15