Conference highlights initiatives worth imitating

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange
Aspen Meadows Resort
Sept. 27-29

Rolling into its second decade, the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange You are leaving WAPA.gov. has now been around long enough for its many participants to see the fruits of meeting annually to swap program ideas and stories of successes and failures with colleagues from across the region.

Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 26-29 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level.

Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 27-29 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level. (Photo by Randy L. Martin)

Forward-looking agenda
This year’s theme, “Initiatives worth Imitating,” focuses on using lessons learned from past programs to address the new issues and opportunities utilities are facing. Programs incorporating time-of-use rates, community solar, the internet of things and big data will be in the spotlight. Sessions will also cover new spins on demand response, customer outreach, behavior change and incentive programs.

“Technology often integrates tools and strategies that were part of successful energy-efficiency and load management programs in the past,” explained Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “Load management today and going forward requires updates and changes in approach that will maximize the new resources and technology that are constantly being introduced to the industry. This year’s agenda encourages that kind of thinking.”

The future is on the minds of keynote speakers, too. Mark Martinez, the senior portfolio manager for emerging markets and technologies with Southern California Edison You are leaving WAPA.gov. will deliver the opening keynote, Preparing Today for an Integrated Demand Side Management Future. He will draw on his more than 25 years of experience in the design, management and evaluation of electric demand side management (DSM) programs to present a vision of how DSM needs to change.  

The closing keynote by Ellen Steiner, the vice president of Opinion Dynamics You are leaving WAPA.gov., will explore how utility customer programs can adapt to meet the needs of changing demographics. A master methodologist, Steiner has strong energy-efficiency industry experience encompassing workforce education and training, marketing, community outreach and HVAC program design and evaluation.

Hear from your peers
New and familiar faces host the regular sessions, including the dual track residential and commercial sessions on Thursday. Sponsors the City of Aspen You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Holy Cross Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. will join Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov., Colorado Springs Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov., Nebraska Municipal Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. and many more regional utilities to talk about the state of customer programs in 2017. Research agencies and nonprofits like Rocky Mountain Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. and National Renewable Energy Laboratory team up with program vendors such as CLEAResult You are leaving WAPA.gov., Franklin Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Nexant You are leaving WAPA.gov. to discuss the latest services and solutions available to help utilities manage their loads.

Friday offers a special treat with a focus on electric vehicles and storage. These topics were overwhelmingly popular at the 2017 Utility Energy Forum in California, and Rocky Mountain area utilities will be facing the same issues sooner than we expect.

Network toward your goals 
If the sessions are a great way to explore the nuts and bolts of program design and delivery, the networking opportunities let you take the pulse of the regional industry.

In addition to breaks and meals (pack your “comfortable” business casual wear), attendees will have plenty of time to mingle with their colleagues and swap ideas. On Wednesday, Sept. 27, grab a snack and a beverage and check out the poster session reception. These mini-presentations allow attendees to talk one-on-one with presenters about topics as diverse as community solar, connected home devices and infrastructure planning.

Relaxed networking continues Thursday night at the Limelight Hotel in downtown Aspen. This venue provides a low-key atmosphere where it is easy to carry on a conversation. If you hatch dinner plans at the end of the evening, the city’s world-class dining options are close by, or, you can catch an airport shuttle from the hotel lobby if need to depart early.

Enjoy Aspen
Of course, it would be a shame to cut your conference experience short, between the intriguing Friday sessions and the pleasures of September in the Rockies. We can’t promise good weather, but, most years, the days have sparkled with sunshine and fall colors and the nights have been crisp and clear.

Aspen Meadows Resort is now sold out, but you can still stroll the grounds. The city is close enough that you could park your car at your hotel and walk off the delicious meals—included in your registration fee—on your way to and from the conference.

If you need one more reason to attend the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, the Building Performance Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. awards continuing education units (CEUs) for many of the sessions. Download the instructions to find out how to verify your attendance.

Western customers play role in latest green power rankings

The latest Green Power Partnership update on renewable energy use by businesses, government facilities and educational institutions shows the importance of partners in meeting clean power goals. Western customers—and Western itself—figure prominently on the quarterly list released April 25. gpp_logo

There are now 764 Green Power Partners using renewable energy to meet 100 percent of their U.S. organizationwide electricity use. That is a lot of green kilowatt-hours (kWh)—16 billion annually—to keep the lights on and the equipment humming. The list of power providers needed to supply all that clean electricity is a long one and there are several familiar names on it.

Large, small partnerships
Apple alone purchases renewable energy from more than 30 providers, including Salt River Project, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Sacramento Municipal Utility District, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Silicon Valley PowerYou are leaving WAPA.gov.  City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU) and Omaha Public Power District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPPD). Alpine Bank relies on Holy Cross EnergyYou are leaving WAPA.gov. San Miguel Power AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Yampa Valley Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Delta-Montrose Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and La Plata Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (LPEA) among others to power its 38 branches across Colorado. Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. is among several providers that supply green power to outdoor equipment retailer REI.

On the other end of the spectrum, Silicon Valley Power meets all the electricity needs of industrial goods manufacturer Roos Instruments. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. is the sole green power provider to Wolf Creek Ski Area.

DIY spreading
As equipment and installation costs drop, many organizations are adding renewable energy systems on their own facilities. Omaha, Nebraska-based Morrissey Engineering supplements its green power purchase from OPPD with on-site generation. The city of Durango, Colorado, has partnered with LPEA on community solar gardens.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory generates 20 percent of its electricity on-site with solar panels. The remaining 80 percent comes from Western and private renewable energy companies.

Other notable achievements
Western customers appeared in the ranking not just as providers but as partners. The University of Utah You are leaving WAPA.gov. came in at number 86 in the overall Top 100 Green Power Partners, and was number 14 in the Top 30 colleges and universities.

Los Angeles World Airports, served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, ranked 23rd among local government green power users. Sustainability pioneer CPAU was number 28 on that list.

Long-term power contracts, for five years or longer, play an important role in growing the renewable energy market. BD, a global medical technology company, signed a 20-year purchase power agreement with Nebraska Public Power District for more than 120,000,000 kWh of wind power.

Western customers go above and beyond to provide their consumers with the products and services they need, including cleaner, greener electricity. We look forward to seeing their names become a growing presence on future Green Power Partnership lists.

Source: EPA Green Power Partnership via Green Power News, 5/2/16

More than $4 million in member equity distributed to Holy Cross members

Holy Cross Energy You are leaving Western's site. members can expect a Christmas present from the cooperative’s board of directors in the form of a member equity distribution refund of more than $4 million.HolyCrossLogo

More than 32,000 current and former members who purchased electricity from Holy Cross in 1999 and 2000 should receive member equity refund checks by mid-December.  Refunds of less than $10.00 will appear as a credit on upcoming member electric statements.

As an electric cooperative, Holy Cross Energy shares its success with all its members, and member equity distribution is an important part of the cooperative philosophy. The not-for-profit utility’s mission includes providing electric service at a reasonable cost and returning profits or “margins” remaining after operation expenses back to its members.

“We have an impressive track record regarding member equity,” stated Holy Cross Member Services Manager Stephen B. Casey. “This distribution represents the 34th consecutive year that member equity has been returned to our members. Since 1963, Holy Cross Energy has returned nearly $135.7 million to its members!” he added.

Holy Cross Energy is a rural electric distribution cooperative organized in 1939 to provide electricity to more than 55,500 services in western Colorado. Western congratulates our customer for showing what public power is all about: savvy energy management and outstanding service to its members.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 12/8/15

Electric savings produce fresh results for Holy Cross consumers

When Tom Clark Jr. sized up the grocery store space he’d leased in Snowmass Village, Colorado, last year, it was clear Clark’s Market needed a soup-to-nuts overhaul to take advantage of today’s advanced heating, refrigeration and lighting systems.

Tom Clark in Clark's Market, Snowmass Village, Colorado

Tom Clark was determined to reduce energy use at Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village, Colorado, so he turned to Holy Cross Energy for help. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Gutting the 14,000-square-foot space and installing new super-efficient systems were going to cost more upfront, but, “Going with the standard was never really an option for us,” said Clark.

Clark’s Market turned to member-owned Holy Cross Energy and its We Care energy efficiency program for help, just as hundreds of other businesses and households served by the electric co-op have done over the past nine years.

A rebate of $15,000 from Holy Cross made the market’s investment in high-efficiency upgrades a lot easier to swallow. “These things aren’t cheap, but once you get them in place the benefits are numerous,” said Clark, who opened the market for business in July 2014. “When you are operating with energy-efficient equipment, it runs cooler, runs longer, there’s less maintenance and you can put out a superior product. It has been such a runaway success for us.”

Clark is focused on quality, but the high-efficiency systems are also saving energy. From September 2014 to March 2015, Clark’s Market used 155,000 fewer kilowatt-hours (kWh), cut the store’s electric demand in half and saved $13,268 on electric bills compared to bills tallied by the previous grocery store in the same space.

Results at Clark’s Market prove that energy efficiency is a solid investment, and Holy Cross Energy is working to help more of its business and household consumers benefit from similar paybacks.

Joseph Clark stocking shelves

Joseph Clark pitches in to stock shelves. Holy Cross Energy helps small, family-owned businesses like Clark’s Market succeed by keeping energy costs down. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

One of 1,000 upgrades
Seeking deeper energy savings from its We Care program, Holy Cross Energy set a five-year goal in 2013 for its consumers to save 33,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year by 2017. That is equal to all the electricity used per year by 2,457 homes in the Holy Cross service area, spread across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

Last year, 829 Holy Cross consumers completed more than 1,000 energy upgrades that will save 10,106 MWh of electricity per year, according to Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross. “This is on top of 6,241 MWh of annual savings from projects done in 2013, so we are halfway to our goal in the first two years,” Wiener said.

The first half of 2015 builds on that trend with the co-op paying out rebates for 667 measures. Wiener estimates that the annual savings from this year’s projects so far will total more than 3 million kWh. “And these savings will continue for years into the future,” she added.

Rebates offset project costs
Holy Cross Energy provides expert help and rebates to help its residential and commercial consumers make these upgrades.

“We understand that people appreciate getting help to make smart decisions, and the rebates show our consumers that we are their partner in energy efficiency,” said Wiener.

Holy Cross paid out more than $1.1 million in rebates in 2014 to consumers to offset a portion of their investments in energy savings. A 2-percent surcharge added to electric bills provides funding for the rebates.

Holy Cross staff visited more than 200 homes to provide complimentary home energy assessments. The co-op also helped pay for 68 Energy Smart Colorado home assessments. A total of 592 households made energy upgrades in 2014, said Wiener. “LED lights and recycling old refrigerators were by far the most popular upgrades,” she said. “People also replaced leaky windows, switched to programmable thermostats, swapped out their old holiday lights for LED strings and installed heat tape timers.”

Holy Cross also continued its partnership with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) to offer a home weatherization program to income-qualified households. In 2014, the NWCCOG crew made upgrades for 22 households, using a $46,000 contribution from Holy Cross.

LED lighting is project of choice
Partnering with Energy Smart Colorado has enabled Holy Cross to reach more businesses and multi-family housing properties. Energy Smart Colorado is administered by three local energy organizations, Clean Energy Economy for the Region, Community Office for Resource Efficiency and Walking Mountains Science Center. The partnership also provides free building walk-throughs and energy coaching to business and rental property owners.

Because such facilities use so much more electricity than single-family homes, projects at 177 of these properties delivered 93 percent of the total electric savings from 2014 projects.

For these projects, LED lighting was the upgrade of choice, delivering the added benefit of reduced maintenance. “LED lighting is the hot ticket for businesses, lodges and condos,” said Wiener. “These projects deliver immediate energy savings and rapid payback on your investment. We expect to see a lot more lighting upgrades as people see the excellence of these new LED fixtures and bulbs.”

More rebates available
Saving energy through efficiency upgrades and generating energy from solar panels means Holy Cross Energy is passing up sales of electricity. “Why would a utility want its consumers to use less electricity? Because it actually saves Holy Cross money,” explained Holy Cross CEO Del Worley. “In fact, we expect the savings from this past year’s efforts to save Holy Cross $1.8 million in power costs over the next five years.”

Worley pointed out that energy conservation is a cost-effective alternative to investing in costly new power plants, and it reduces the peak demand charges utilities pay their suppliers. Conservation is the most cost-effective investment we can make,” he added.

Members have shown that they support that investment by their participation in the co-op’s rebate program. Holy Cross Energy will continue to support their members—and its five-year goal—with rebate funding and technical assistance to home and business owners.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 7/1/15

Electricity savings bear results for Holy Cross consumers

Out-of-date lights at Bear Paw Lodge Redirecting to a non-government site in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were eating up not only electricity, but also staff time to replace burned-out bulbs. To tame the lighting system’s bruin-sized appetite, the managers of the luxury home and condo resort turned to Holy Cross Energy Redirecting to a non-government site for help.

Over the last nine years, the cooperative’s We Care energy-efficiency program has helped hundreds of businesses and households in the Roaring Fork Valley upgrade to more efficient systems and equipment.

Retrofit delivers lower costs, less maintenance
The slope-side resort invested in high-efficiency LEDs for the common areas, parking garages, stairwells and ski lockers. The Bear Paw homeowners’ association can expect savings on their energy bill of about $23,000 per year. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, also provide better light and last significantly longer than conventional lamps. Tim Schwartz, chief engineer for the lodge, said he is looking forward to working until retirement without having to change a single light bulb.

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

A rebate of $31,500 from Holy Cross, plus $2,500 from Energy Smart ColoradoRedirecting to a non-government site made Bear Paw’s total project investment a lot easier to swallow. The lower, out-of-pocket costs give the whole project a payback period of less than three years.Results like Bear Paw’s prove that energy efficiency is good business sense. Member-owned Holy Cross Energy is working to help more of its business and household consumers realize similar paybacks.

Savings pile upHolyCrossSideBar
Seeking deeper energy savings from its We Care program, the utility set a five-year goal in 2013 for its consumers to save 33,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year by 2017. That equals all the electricity used annually by 2,457 homes in the Holy Cross service area, which spreads across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

In 2014 alone, more than 1,000 energy upgrades done by 829 Holy Cross consumers will save 10,106 MWh of electricity per year, according to Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross.

“This is on top of 6,241 megawatt-hours of annual savings from projects done in 2013, so we are halfway to our goal in the first two years,” Wiener said. “These savings will continue for years into the future,” she added.

Consumers get on board
To encourage residential and commercial consumers to make energy-saving upgrades, Holy Cross Energy provides expert help and rebates. “We understand that people appreciate getting help to make smart decisions, and the rebates show our consumers that we are their partner in energy efficiency,” said Wiener.

In 2014 alone, Holy Cross paid out more than $1.1 million in rebates to consumers to offset a portion of their investments in efficiency. Funding for the rebates comes from a 2-percent surcharge added to electric bills.

Holy Cross energy coaches visited more than 200 homes to provide complimentary home energy assessments, and the cooperative helped pay for 68 Energy Smart Colorado home assessments. A total of 592 households made energy upgrades in 2014, said Wiener.

“LED lights and recycling old refrigerators were by far the most popular upgrades,” she said. “People also replaced leaky windows, switched to programmable thermostats, swapped out their old holiday lights for LED strings and installed heat tape timers.”

Holy Cross also continued its partnership with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Redirecting to a non-government site (NWCCOG), which offers a home weatherization program to income-qualified households. In 2014, the NWCCOG crew used a $46,000 contribution from Holy Cross to make upgrades for 22 households.

LED lighting is project of choice
Bringing the benefits of efficiency to businesses and multi-family housing properties is a challenge for all utilities. Holy Cross partnered with Energy Smart Colorado to offer free building walk-throughs and energy coaching to this hard-to-reach market. Locally administered by the Community Office for Resource EfficiencyRedirecting to a non-government site Clean Energy Economy for the Region Redirecting to a non-government site and Walking Mountains Science CenterRedirecting to a non-government site Energy Smart Colorado provides program services to help utilities and municipalities meet energy-efficiency and carbon reduction goals.

Because businesses and lodging use so much more electricity than individual homes, projects at 177 businesses and 51 multi-family properties delivered 93 percent of the total electric savings from 2014 projects.

LED lighting was the project of choice—not surprising, given the added benefit of reduced maintenance. “LED lighting is the hot ticket for businesses, lodges and condos,” said Wiener. “These projects deliver immediate energy savings and rapid payback on your investment. We expect to see a lot more lighting upgrades in 2015 as people see the superior quality of these new LED fixtures and bulbs.”

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

More rebates for 2015 projects
So why would a utility want its consumers to use less electricity? “Because it actually saves Holy Cross money,” explained Del Worley, Holy Cross CEO. “In fact, we expect the savings from this year’s efforts to save Holy Cross $1.8 million dollars in power costs over the next five years.”“Energy conservation means we don’t need to invest in costly new power plants, and it reduces the peak demand charges we pay our supplier. Conservation is the most cost-effective investment we can make,” he said.

Holy Cross Energy members agree, and have expressed support for these programs. They can expect more rebate funding from Holy Cross this year to help them invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 3/12/15

Agenda now online for 7th Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

October 9-11, 2013
Aspen Meadows, Aspen, Colorado

Mark Gabriel, top, and Jeff Ackerman will share their views on the utility industry at the 7th annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange.

Mark Gabriel, top, and Jeff Ackerman will share their views on the utility industry at the 7th annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange.

Western Area Power Administration Administrator Mark Gabriel and Colorado Energy Office Director Jeff Ackermann will keynote the 7th Annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange Redirecting to a non-government site. More than 80 presenters are expected to join them for this year’s event. The general, breakout and poster sessions will explore case study best practices and lessons learned from those who develop, implement and evaluate utility customer programs dealing with energy and water efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management.

The Rocky Mountain Exchange is a networking and professional development forum for about 100 utility and government organization professionals as well as trade allies who provide products and services to support utility customer programs. The conference provides general and breakout sessions as well as networking opportunities.

Volunteers from regional utilities and sponsor organizations comprise the Agenda Advisory Committee, which sets the agenda format and reviews more than 50 responses to a call for presenters.

Western customers are strong supporters of this event. City of Aspen Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site and Holy Cross Energy Redirecting to a non-government site  are the event co-hosts and platinum-level sponsors. Green-level sponsors providing additional support include Platte River Power Authority Redirecting to a non-government site with Fort Collins Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site, Longmont Power & Communications Redirecting to a non-government site and Loveland Water and Power Redirecting to a non-government site; as well as Building Performance Institute; Colorado Energy Office; Nexant and Xcel Energy. Sponsorships are still available, and Early-bird registration rates apply through Sept. 9.

Holy Cross Energy Employees Collect Over Two Tons of Food!

Holy Cross Energy employees proudly display the results of their successful May food drive. As many as 14 percent of Colorado residents may experience food hardship. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

During the month of May, Holy Cross Energy Redirecting to a non-government site (HCE) employees collected over 2.2 tons (4,434 pounds) of non-perishable food. The food will be distributed to a variety of area charities including Salvation Army, Eagle, Colo., Food Pantry, Lift-Up, and Advocate Safehouse. In addition, donations of pet food will be provided to the Colorado Animal Rescue (C.A.R.E) facility in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

According to a 2011 USDA survey, 1 in 7 people in Colorado experience food hardships.  For Holy Cross, that unfortunately suggests that nearly 5,600 of their consumers could be dealing with this circumstance.  Thanks to the generosity of the communities the cooperative serves and Holy Cross employees, recent collection efforts may help improve the quality of life for those less fortunate.

Western congratulates Holy Cross Energy for working to make the food drive a success, and for showing such commitment to its community.  Source: Holy Cross Energy, 6/10/13

Education of an energy-efficiency program manager

[Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Energy Services Bulletin.]

 Holy Cross Energy recently chose Mary Wiener, a former energy advisor with Boulder County EnergySmart, to head up its energy-efficiency program. Throughout the year, Energy Services Bulletin will follow Wiener in her first utility job, as she develops programs to reduce members’ energy use and reach Holy Cross’s ambitious goals.

Reinventing savings
Utilities with established energy-efficiency programs must perform a balancing act. On one hand, offerings and strategies must be updated to reflect changes in technology, fuel prices and load and market conditions. On the other, few consumers have the time or inclination to follow an ever-changing menu of rebates and incentives.

Holy Cross’s carbon reduction program has successfully walked the tightrope since the Glenwood Springs, Colo.-based cooperative introduced it eight years ago. In the fall of 2012, Wiener joined the utility as its first energy-efficiency program administrator to take the program through its next evolution. “People are familiar with WE CARE, but the rebates are changing,” she explained. “We’re relaunching the program Jan. 2 with a new marketing plan and logo specifically to communicate those changes to our customers.”

The biggest change in Holy Cross’s program is its focus on the commercial sector. The utility’s plan to save 33,039 megawatt-hours (MWh) over five years is committing 60 percent of the WE CARE funding to an energy efficiency portfolio, and two-thirds of the portfolio funding to commercial programs.

Holy Cross will continue to offer incentives to help residential customers make their homes more comfortable and efficient, but the commercial sector uses far more energy. “Recreation and tourism are the biggest industries in the Roaring Fork and Vail valleys, and ski resorts are Holy Cross’s biggest customers,” Wiener pointed out. “If we are going to reach our goal of 6,600 megawatts of incremental savings annually, we have to reduce the biggest load.”

Opportunities in every business
The program takes aim at those customers with rebates for refrigeration, motor and lighting upgrades. “Lighting is a great place for businesses to reduce energy use, and it opens doors to talk about other improvements because it’s everywhere,” notes Wiener. “Ski resorts, hotels and restaurants may call about lighting upgrades, but learn that upgrading to more efficient motors or refrigeration systems offers even more savings.”

Motor loads may not be as obvious to a hospitality business as lighting, but they are just as important to saving energy. Improving motor efficiency in water treatment systems, air handlers, agricultural pumps and even cooling equipment could give Holy Cross a big push toward its goal. Coming from Colorado’s Front Range, and EnergySmart’s generous rebate for rooftop cooling units, Wiener learned that air conditioning in the mountains in the summer is a bigger load than most people realize.

One issue that is the same on either side of the Continental Divide is that commercial lighting has plenty of room for improvement. Wiener recalled that about 90 percent of the rebates EnergySmart paid out were for efficient lighting upgrades. Lighting became her specialty, and she has applied that expertise to developing more sophisticated incentives for Holy Cross. “Customers can still get rebates for LEDs and controls, but the rebates are for watts saved, rather than one-for-one lamp replacement,” she explained.

Wiener added that her experience is also helpful when dealing with contractors. “I can look at quotes and suggest different solutions,” she said. “Sometimes, contractors need a little push to think outside the box; for example, using low-wattage 28-watt T8s instead of 32-watt units.”

Unique residential challenge
Wiener admits to being less familiar with residential efficiency, but is learning fast from Holy Cross Energy Auditor Eileen Wysocki. Holy Cross offers residential customers complimentary walk-through audits with an infrared camera, and she has joined Wysocki on several occasions. The audits will continue to be part of Holy Cross’s residential efficiency program.

Even if she had more residential experience, Wiener would be encountering a different challenge in Holy Cross’s territory—the large, second-home property. Unlike primary residences on the Front Range, these homes sit unoccupied for long periods. With multiple refrigerators and freezers, entertainment systems, heating and cooling systems, spas, incandescent lighting, heat tape and snowmelt systems, these homes can use more energy than a small business. “It takes more than an understanding of building science to reduce the energy use in big vacation homes,” Wiener acknowledged. “We are actively working with property managers and homeowners to help minimize energy use in these homes when they are unoccupied.”

Ropes to learn
Wiener has set some other goals for the next year, both personally and professionally. Because she is new to the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as to the utility industry, she plans to get acquainted with as many businesses as possible. “Holy Cross has a reputation as a utility that cares about its customers, and I’m going to build on that,” she said.

Another priority is to make it as easy as possible for customers to submit rebate paperwork for prescriptive measures, or to design their own custom efficiency packages. “We’re in the market to buy ‘negawatts’— or more simply, we are paying for energy savings,” she said. “If they are already making the effort to reduce their energy load, they should be rewarded for their efforts.”

The biggest hurdle for Wiener, however, is just getting the word out and hitting Holy Cross’s goal. Western wishes Mary Wiener and Holy Cross good luck with the new energy-efficiency program and looks forward to following their progress.

Holy Cross reduces emissions with vented methane power

This story initially ran in the September 2012 Energy Services Bulletin.

A coal mine that generates electricity and carbon offsets may sound like the energy equivalent of a unicorn, but an innovative project in Gunnison County, Colo., promises to provide both to Holy Cross Energy.

Specifically, the electricity will come from burning methane vented from the Elk Creek Mine. By preventing the release of the powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) into the atmosphere, the project will qualify for approximately 80,000 carbon offsets annually, and is registered for verification with Climate Action Reserve (CAR).   The offsets will be initially registered with NYSE Blue.

Vessels Coal Gas is building what will eventually be a 3-megawatt (MW) power plant to capture the waste gas. Holy Cross is purchasing the entire output of the project, starting with the first 1-MW generator coming online this fall. “Otherwise, the methane is just escaping into the atmosphere from the active mine,” observed Special Project Engineer Chris Hildred, “and it would continue to for years after the mine closes. Turning it into electricity is a cleaner, safer alternative.”

Groundbreaking project

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, coal mining activities worldwide emit about 986 billion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere every year.

These emissions represent not only an environmental hazard—methane is more than 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2)—but an economic opportunity, as well. Vessels Coal Gas specializes in capturing this wasted resource, converting it to pipeline gas, heating or electricity. The bulk of captured methane goes into natural gas pipelines after gas treatment. However, according to the EPA database the Elk Creek Mine project will be the first small scale (less than 50 MW) power plant, and the second overall in our nation to collect methane from a still-active mine and turn it directly into electricity.

The gas will be dried and filtered for more efficient combustion, and burned in a reciprocating engine to generate electricity, which will be transmitted over a nearby 44-kilivolt (kV) line. “The gas preparation is a little different at the front end,” explained Tom Vessels, company president. “But otherwise, it’s the same process as capturing methane from a landfill, wastewater treatment plant or confined animal operation.”

The technology is good for any gas waste stream with a methane content of 20 percent or more, Vessels added. “There are facilities of this type all over Germany, and some are in operation in Australia and China. The United States has a significant potential power resource, if there was greater acceptance of the technology.” 

Lining up the partners

Holy Cross’s challenge, as the power purchaser, was to arrange transmission from the mine. “The electricity had to be wheeled over medium-voltage distribution lines to a TriState [Generation and Transmission Association] substation, then across  Western and Xcel Energy transmission lines,” said Hildred. “We weren’t sure in what order we needed to talk to people. DMEA [Delta Montrose Energy Association], the owner of the line that supplies power to the mine, had never dealt with anything like this before.”

All of the parties proved cooperative, so Holy Cross was able to sort out the distribution without encountering too many barriers. The utility signed the power purchase agreement and DMEA built a substation with a short extension to the 44-kV line.

Of course, no project happens without funding, and the developer was fortunate in finding an “angel” with an interest in alternative energy. Randy Udall, a sustainable energy advocate and former executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, happened to be at Vessels’s first meeting with Holy Cross Energy. “Afterward, Randy asked me if we were seeking partners and gave me the number of the sustainability director for Aspen Skiing Company,” Vessels recalled.

The innovative project appealed to the ski resort owner with its long history of supporting environmental causes, and the company put up the bulk of the funding to build the Elk Creek facility. “Aspen Skiing Company and Holy Cross Energy deserve accolades for seeing beyond the end of their noses,” declared Vessels.

Comprehensive stewardship

The Elk Creek methane capture project is just one more of Holy Cross Energy’s forward-thinking strategies to manage its environmental footprint. The utility has an internal goal of limiting its carbon emissions growth to half its sales growth rate, and the plan does not ignore other GHGs.

Holy Cross Energy also has its own ambitious goal of getting 20 percent of its sales from renewable energy by 2015, and has already surpassed Colorado’s renewable energy requirement of 10 percent by 2020. The state does not count coalmine methane capture as renewable energy, but the project’s carbon credits are a proactive hedge against potential legislation that may eventually require all utilities to limit their emissions. 

Holy Cross consumers actively participate in—and benefit from—their utility’s sustainability efforts.  The co-op’s Wind Power Pioneers and Local Renewable Energy Pool programs have nearly 2,400 subscribers who purchase more than 1,562,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy each month. The WE CARE (With Efficiency, Conservation And Renewable Energy) program, launched in 2004, has resulted in 2,786 kW of net-metered and community-owned renewable energy generation capacity. 

Holy Cross Member Services Manager Stephen Casey estimates that the WE CARE renewables program alone has prevented 3,886 tons of CO2 emissions (Assuming 1,500 kWh annually per kW of capacity, and 1.86 lb/kWh carbon intensity factor).

Calculating the emissions avoided through WE CARE’s conservation and efficiency measures is more difficult, but the programs’ popularity is not in question. Since its inception, WE CARE has distributed more than $4.53 million to its member-consumers in incentives and rebates. “Co-ops are about working with the community to find long-term solutions to problems like greenhouse gas emissions,” said Casey. “Thus far, our sustainability efforts have resonated favorably with many business and residential member-consumers of Holy Cross Energy.”

Western customers show up in DOE Top 10 Utility Green Power Programs

Public power utilities, including several Western customers, scored well in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Top 10” rankings of utility green power programs for 2010.

Ranked by renewable energy sales, Sacramento Municipal Utility District sold the fourth largest amount of renewable energy (kWh/year) in the nation (including investor-owned utilities). SMUD was the only public power utility to crack the top 10 in total number of customer participants in green power programs, ranking fourth in that category as well.

Using information provided by utilities, NREL developed rankings of utility green power programs for 2010 in a variety of categories. Other Western customers appearing in the Top 10 included:

NREL recently added the category of community solar programs to its ratings, giving Western customers another chance to shine. Holy Cross Energy, SMUD, St. George, Utah, and United Power placed sixth through eighth. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share.

The Green Power assessment was performed by NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC), which integrates technical and economic analyses and leads NREL’s efforts in applying clean energy technologies to both national and international markets.