Iowa leads the nation in installed wind capacity—only Texas ranks higher—but lags at 34th for installed solar, leaving utilities like Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) facing a learning curve. To fill in some of those knowledge gaps, the cooperative launched a demonstration project in late January that will allow it to collect data about solar energy and pass it on to its members.
It was growing consumer interest that led to the project, according to Craig Codner, Butler County REC chief executive officer. “As our members continue in the direction of having more interest in renewable energy, we want to share accurate information with them,” he explained. “We want to help members make informed decisions.”
Putting it together
The exploration began with the selection of a 230.6 (kW) direct-current (DC)/147-kilowatt (kW) alternating-current solar array manufactured by Ten K Solar of Minnesota. Codner said the co-op board chose the Duo High-Density system because it was designed for maximum energy generation and has an excellent warranty.
The system’s wave format features both north- and south-facing modules, increasing the opportunity for demand reduction. The north-facing modules will generate more electricity earlier and later in the day, while the south-facing units will produce higher amounts in the middle of the day, increasing the energy per square foot.
A crew from Western Iowa Power Cooperative installed the system at Butler County REC’s warehouse in Horton, north of Waverly, Iowa. The system is interconnected to Butler County REC’s distribution system with bi-directional metering, rather than net metering. The electricity offsets energy and demand at a rate contracted through Corn Belt Power, Butler County REC’s generation and transmission provider.
The co-op expects the arrays to generate about 268,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or enough to serve approximately 15 to 20 members annually. Members and co-op employees can monitor the solar project’s real-time output through a web-based kiosk. Codner said that there are plans to add an educational video to the website, as well. “One of the main reasons for the project is to help members understand solar better, how things like cloud cover or particulates in air affect capacity factor,” he explained.
Paying for experience
The project’s total cost of approximately two dollars per DC watt is partially funded by a $20,000 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, New Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) financing and a federal tax credit.
This was the first time Butler County REC received REAP funding, offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Applying for the REAP grant and for New CREB financing from the National Rural Co-op Finance Corporation was a labor-intensive experience, Codner acknowledged. “I would advise co-ops to look carefully at all their financing options when they undertake a renewable energy project,” he said. “Self-financing avoids a lot of paperwork.”
Continuing renewables support
The new solar array may be Butler County REC’s first foray into utility-owned renewables, but the co-op has offered members the opportunity to support member-owned clean energy projects since 2006. The Energy Wise Renewables program initially supported only wind projects but has been expanded to include solar and other types of generation that enhance the traditional electric power supply. Codner estimates that there are 350 to 500 kW of solar interconnected to the co-op’s system.
Butler County REC is absorbing the solar project’s cost rather than using Energy Wise dollars to offset it, Codner added. “We decided that those dollars should go to member projects as originally intended,” he said.
Now that the solar system is operational, Butler County REC is planning an open house to let members get a closer look at the project and ask questions. Codner is looking forward to testing manufacturer claims about the equipment and learning more about interconnection, operation and maintenance. “Safety—for members and our employees—is our No. 1 concern,” he stated.
If all goes well, the co-op board of directors is considering several possible locations for installing a second array in 2017. This second project may be a community solar initiative that would offer subscriptions for sale to members at a set rate for a certain period of time.
So far, the projects on Butler County REC’s system have been smaller ones that are most cost effective if the generation is consumed on site. But good customer service is about preparation and innovation. Butler County REC is taking steps today to make sure it is ready for whatever is coming tomorrow.
Source: In Touch newsletter, February 2017
Recognizing customer needs in the growing residential solar market, Roseville Electric Utility has developed a program to help homeowners make sound decisions about installing solar systems and, in the process, is increasing customer satisfaction.
Solar installers are now marketing more aggressively to consumers who are definitely interested but want to be better informed before investing in a system. This creates an opening for utilities to become trusted energy advisors, said Alanya Schofield, a senior director at consulting firm E Source.
Schofield made her remarks at the American Public Power Association’s (APPA) Public Power Forward summit in November and participated in a panel that included Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino. Public Power Forward is an APPA strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for a new era in electricity.
Seeing, meeting need
California passed a law in 2015 requiring utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, increased from the previous goal of 33 percent by 2020. Many public power utilities in the state, however, have been proactively encouraging clean power and energy efficiency for years. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program is just the latest among many examples.
Roseville Electric Utility launched the program in April 2014, in response to the growing number of customers calling with questions about installing solar arrays. A promotional campaign and workshops followed to introduce the website to customers.
The website provides a starting point for customers who are trying to figure out if solar is right for them. A solar calculator—the WattPlan created by Clean Power Research —allows customers to make cost-benefit comparisons based on electricity use, generation, financing options and system size.
Visitors will also find frequently asked questions and information about rebates Roseville offers for solar installation. The Trusted Solar Advisor stresses the importance of doing efficiency upgrades first, and links to a DIY Home Energy Analyzer.
Install when ready
Once a customer decides to go forward with a solar installation, the permitting process begins. Roseville customers can download the residential PV packet and find links to residential and business installation and interconnection forms.
Rather than maintain an approved contractor list, the utility provides helpful resources. The website includes links to Go Solar California, sponsored by the California Energy Commission, and the Contractor State Licensing Board so that customers can ensure their contractors have a valid license.
Staying neutral and staying current are the keys to gaining customer trust, noted Energy Program Technician David Dominguez. “We focus on making sure we give our customers the most relevant and up-to-date information,” he said. “That allows them to come to their own conclusions.”
Dominguez, who handles the utility’s retrofit solar interconnections, is the Trusted Solar Advisor and he was answering customers’ solar questions before Roseville created the program. Some customers just feel more comfortable talking to a representative, or they may still have questions after visiting the website, Dominguez acknowledged. “But now, with the website, when people call, they often have a much better idea of what they need to know.”
Source: Public Power Daily, 11/29/16
If integrating distributed generation is challenging for large utilities, imagine the difficulties faced by rural and small municipal utilities. With 200 member communities located in six western states, Nebraska Municipal Power Pool (NMPP) doesn’t have to use imagination to identify the needs of its members.
NMPP is the utility services organization of NMPP Energy, the trade name for a coalition of four organizations based in Nebraska that provide municipal utilities with wholesale electricity, wholesale and retail natural gas and energy-related services. Some of its members serve as few as 200 customers with minimal staff who wear many hats, said NMPP Energy Communications Specialist Kevin Wickham. “We saw the need to help our members with interconnection coming several years ago when some of the states we serve passed net-metering laws,” he recalled.
Building new services
NMPP launched a net-metering service in 2010 that 22 member utilities have used to date. That number is likely to increase as the cost of installing individual solar arrays drops and utilities install community solar projects.
The net-metering program offers members a choice of three options, each for a cost-based, one-time fee. Members may choose from assistance in developing their own policy guideline and procedures, review of customer generation application for interconnection or avoided cost rate development for payment for energy delivered to the utility.
As it developed its net metering service, NMPP was also working on a resource guidebook, Recommended Policy and Guidelines for Interconnection of Customer-Owned Generation Including Net Metering. “The guidebook was six years in the making,” said Wickham. “Initially, we were going to offer it as one of the services available under the program.”
Something everyone needs
In 2015, NMPP and its wholesale power supply organization Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) partnered to provide the guidebook to all of MEAN’s 54 long-term total requirements power participants. “Distributed generation and customer self-generation has really taken off and we realized that there was a greater need for the information,” Wickham explained.
The guidebook contains policy guidance, sample agreements, industry terms and definitions and case studies from the American Public Power Association. Members will also find net-metering statutes from the states NMPP and MEAN serve (Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas). That was one of the bigger challenges in putting together the guidebook, Wickham acknowledged. “Each city council and each utility designs and administers its own policies and procedures around net metering,” he said. “We had to make sure the guidebook was going to be useful to all our customers.”
Input from several regional utilities and trade associations helped NMPP compile a comprehensive resource. Otherwise, the net-metering guidebook was a product of expertise within the organization. “The guidebook wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation from those utilities, as well as the American Public Power Association,” said Tim Sutherland, MEAN director of wholesale electric operations.
Prepared for future
With an estimated 900 kilowatts of solar power on MEAN’s system, distributed generation has arrived, noted Wickham. “Customers have high expectations when it comes to utility customer service. We stress to our members to be prepared, starting with things like having an interconnection agreement in place before a customer walks in the door,” he said.
MEAN member utilities, especially the small ones, are finding the resource useful in working out their renewable interconnection policies. “The creation of the net-metering guidebook was the result of being responsive to MEAN’s power participants’ needs,” said Sutherland. “It is just an example of seeing a need and trying to assist our member-owners.”
Utilities can expect to be confronting the challenge of distributed generation and other changes in the electric industry well into the future, Sutherland noted. NMPP and MEAN will continue to look for services, programs and tools to help their member-owners provide consumers with reliable, affordable and sustainable power, he added.
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM MDT
Join the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for the fifth webinar in the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative Informational webinar series. This webinar series is focused on current and emergent processes and protocols for the interconnection of distributed photovoltaics (PV), with the goal of fostering information and data exchange amongst stakeholders.
“Mitigation Measures for Distributed PV Interconnection” will spotlight recent national laboratory research and feature speakers Michael Coddington, senior electrical engineering researcher and principal investigator in distributed grid integration at NREL and Robert Broderick, principle member of Technical Staff, Grid Integration at Sandia National Laboratories. Coddington will present findings from a recent survey of 19 U.S. electric utilities including current utility screening practices, technical tools and mitigation strategies used for interconnection of PV to the electric distribution system. Broderick will present findings from a recent Sandia survey of 100 small generator interconnection studies, including the most likely impacts of PV system interconnections and an evaluation of the associated costs.
Space is limited so register today. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM MDT
Join the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC) June 12 for Lessons Learned with Early PV Plant Integration, the fifth webinar in the DGIC’s informational webinar series.
Speakers from Arizona Public Service (APS) will explain the utility’s interconnection process for systems greater than 1 megawatt. Frank Greco, senior electrical engineer of renewable energy delivery, and David Narang, engineer of energy innovation, will use APS case studies on high penetration to illustrate lessons learned with early PV plant integration.
Participation is free, but space is limited, so reserve your webinar seat now. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Contact Kristen Ardani at 303-384-6461 for more information.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Solar Energy Power Association, Electric Power Research Institute and Western are sponsoring this webinar series on current and emergent processes and protocols for interconnecting distributed PV. The goal is to foster information and data exchange amongst stakeholders.
The Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), is receiving $2.1 million of a $9 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the North Carolina State University FREEDM Systems Center to develop a “plug and play” photovoltaic (PV) system.
CRN’s role in the project will be to coordinate demonstrations with at least two cooperatives to evaluate the PV systems and test the utility interconnection. In addition to assisting in the design of the project, CRN will also ensure the standards comply with the MultiSpeak specification, the de facto common interface model electric utilities use worldwide.
NRECA Research, Engineering & Technical Services Vice President John Hewa said, “CRN will be focusing on the integration of residential level solar resources on reliability and developing a system that works for both the consumer and the utility, simplifying the installation process without compromising safety or electric reliability.”
More than a dozen cooperatives across the country are developing community solar farms to meet the growing demand from consumer members for solar energy systems. This project will enable cooperatives to offer members more simple, safe and reliable options to add their own renewable energy generators.
The grant is part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other sources of energy by 2020.
The Cooperative Research Network conducts original, collaborative research for the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives.
Learn the latest about planning, integration, operations and new technologies for renewable energy generation and transmission on Oct. 18 at the Renewable Planning and Operations Conference in Denver, Colo.
Presented by the Rocky Mountain Electric League (RMEL), the conference agenda targets professionals in electricity generation and transmission, as well as those who work in sustainable energy programs. Speakers will discuss renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biomass, and cover regulatory and policy issues.
Kicking off the program is a panel on Utility-Owned vs. Purchase Power Agreements. Ron Rebenitsch of Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Dan Brickley of SRP will join Greg Greenwood of Westar Energy to explore the pros and cons of engaging in purchase power agreements and/or owning renewables.
Luke O’Dwyer, also of SRP, will talk about the challenges of interconnecting renewable generator systems. His presentation will cover reliability studies, construction timing, equipment and design changes and interconnection queue management.
Discover how Nebraska utilities used the Nebraska Statewide Wind Integration Study to better understand impacts of wind energy facilities being built in the state. Jon Iverson of Omaha Public Power District will discuss what Nebraska’s largest power providers learned from simulated wind scenarios.
Other presentations will cover wind forecasting for load management, demand-side management, system regulation, storage and more. Attendees will receive a continuing education certificate from RMEL worth 6.0 Professional Development Hours.