Following in the footsteps of Gunnison County Electric Association and Southeast Electric Cooperative, ALP Utilities in Alexandria, Minnesota, recently borrowed a demonstration kit to teach their future customers about the science behind electricity.
Show and tell
Western’s fuel cell kit and infrared camera made an appearance at the first STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Expo hosted by Alexandria Area High School March 26. ALP and its power wholesaler Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) helped sponsor the event with School District 206 and other community partners. The event featured hands-on demonstrations and learning exhibits by the sponsoring partners, as well as students’ projects in STEAM subjects.
At the ALP exhibit, visitors could learn where power comes from and how it gets to their homes. Two students from the school’s science academy helped at the ALP booth and showed visitors how the fuel cell produced electricity. “They were so excited to learn about the equipment,” said ALP Energy Services Representative Vicki Gesell, who coordinated ALP’s participation. “I was really impressed with their ability to explain how fuel cells work and answer visitors’ questions.”
A working solar panel from MRES was also on display, as well as linemen gear and a length of underground cable, with a ratchet cutter so students could cut off a souvenir.
A lighting display featuring light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting showed how smart electrical energy choices save electricity, money and limited resources. Students surveyed their surroundings through the infrared camera and learned how to find heat loss and detect potential equipment failures. Gesell noted that kids loved seeing infrared images of themselves, confirming that the powerful diagnostic tool can also be a secret weapon for public outreach.
Hundreds of students and parents attended the expo, making it a great place to meet and chat with customers. “An event like this gives us the chance to be a part of the community, to talk to our customers in person about their needs and to remind them about the programs ALP offers,” Gesell observed.
Lots to discover
ALP offers residential customers plenty of ways to control and reduce their energy use. Customers can receive rebates on eight different Energy Star appliances and all-electric water heaters with 92-percent or greater efficiency factor. After installing a qualified water heater, ALP adds a load controller free of charge to cycle the unit for short durations during peak load times. The utility also has an off-peak heating program.
Through the MRES Bright Energy Solutions (BES) program , ALP provides rebates on high-efficiency electric furnaces, heat pumps, air conditioners and lighting. “Now that LED products are coming down in price, customers are interested in making the switch to these longer lasting bulbs,” noted Gesell.
BES has an extensive list of rebates for commercial customers, too. Incentives are available for heating and cooling systems, manufacturing equipment, commercial food handling appliances, efficient lighting for new and existing buildings and custom measures. Another service BES offers is a New Construction Design Review to help customers build efficiency into their new facilities and get incentives to help pay for the measures.
Building efficient future
The site of the STEAM Expo illustrates the benefits of planning for energy efficiency with the help of your power provider. Completed in 2014, Alexandria Area High School is expected to save more than $76,000 in energy costs each year.
Last December, ALP and MRES presented school officials with a check for $121,849 through Bright Energy Solutions. The rebate covered insulation in the school’s roof and walls, windows and sunshades, efficient heating and cooling system and lighting. Also, the school district purchased several ENERGY STAR appliances for the cafeteria, culinary arts and concession areas.
Like participating in the STEAM Expo, offering incentives to improve energy efficiency in schools is more than just good customer relations—it is an investment in the future. Money the district saves on energy costs can be used to educate students in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. More students studying those disciplines today mean a better-prepared workforce tomorrow. ALP Utilities may one day hire some of those students to provide the community with reliable electricity and help more businesses manage their energy use.
If not quite the “Circle of Life,” you could call it a Circle of Sustainability, and Western is pleased to loan our customers educational displays to keep it going.