Customer service, community support hand in hand for NMPP Energy

NMPP Energy, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a member-driven coalition of four organizations serving nearly 200 member communities in six Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.
NMPP Energy, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a member-driven coalition of four organizations serving nearly 200 member communities in six Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. (Photo by NMPP Energy)

The small towns of Nebraska boast a surprising number of large commercial and industrial customers, drawn in no small part by some of the lowest electricity rates in the country. Ensuring the economic vitality of these businesses—and their communities—is a duty that NMPP Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. and its member organizations take very seriously. “If the businesses are healthy, then the utilities are healthy and we all win,” said Bob Meade, former member services representative for Nebraska Municipal Power Pool and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

Meade, who retired in March, has a long history of working with municipal utilities in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming to help large C&I customers keep their operating costs down. Low rates notwithstanding, Meade’s first contact with a business usually comes when one complains to the local municipal utility about high bills. “Either that, or they have an infrastructure request,” he said. “They want to upgrade their heating and cooling systems or outdated lighting.”

Meade frequently used the opportunity to do an energy audit on the facility. Businesses need the audit to apply for the Rural Energy for America Program from the Department of Agriculture to fund energy efficiency upgrades.

REAP grants provide up to 25 percent of total eligible project costs for improvements such as HVAC, lighting, refrigeration units and insulation. “Those are the most popular improvements for grocery and convenience stores in particular,” observed Meade. “Those upgrades can reduce a store’s energy charges by as much as 60 or 70 percent. The savings pay for the improvements, and in six or seven years the business sees that money go back into the bottom line.”

Bigger they are, more they save
Large—as in multi-national—companies have even more to gain from efficiency upgrades. Becton Dickinson Inc., You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Meade’s hometown of Holdrege, Nebraska, manufactures medical supplies such as insulin syringes to send all over the world. “Because they use robotics, the voltage and current levels have to be almost perfect,” said Meade. “Otherwise, they lose product.”

All products must be sterilized in an underground chamber, too, so a reliable, stable power supply is critical to operations. These circumstances make Becton Dickinson a good candidate for battery storage. NPPD is working with the company to evaluate the benefits and savings of installing a storage system.

Another, better known, large C&I customer is Frito-Lay You are leaving WAPA.gov. in the town of Cozad. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The snack food maker has a significant presence throughout the state due to excellent rail service and, of course, proximity to crops used as ingredients.

Meade recalled performing a detailed infrared inspection of an electrical room at the plant a few years ago, using one of WAPA’s IR cameras. “We identified more than 85 potential outages that could have caused downtime,” he noted. “That proactive inspection saved them a huge amount of lost work and product. It also convinced them to get their own camera and perform regular inspections.”

Saving electricity saves jobs
Sometimes, good C&I customer service can help to retain jobs when a business changes hands. When Bass Pro Shop took over Cabela’s sporting goods stores in Nebraska, the city of Sidney expected to lose hundreds of jobs. However, Bass Pro Shop learned that Cabela’s had a much more sophisticated data collection program, so the company decided to relocate its data operations to the Cabela’s campus.

That plan hit a snag when Bass Pro Shop found low voltage in the selected building, and an engineering report failed to determine the cause. At the request of the Sidney public services director, Meade installed a power analyzer—again from WAPA—on the city’s transformer. The data the analyzer collects will help to correct the problem, and Bass Pro Shop may be able to offset some of Cabela’s layoffs with jobs in the data center.

Tools to build cooperation
Diagnostic tools, borrowed from WAPA, were critical in helping NMPP utilities to resolve electricity issues for both Frito-Lays and Bass Pro Shop. “IR cameras and power analyzers are great for dealing with key accounts,” Meade pointed out. “You are able to walk in and do something proactive for your customers instead of waiting to react to their problems.”

What is even better, he added, is when a member utility or customer decides to buy the tool themselves. Prices for diagnostic technologies keep coming down, and once a customer sees how much they can save doing preventative maintenance, the case is made.

But first, you have to show them, said Meade. “We have a slogan at NMPP Energy, ‘Working together works,’ and it’s true,” he declared. “It works when we get our member utilities to work with their customers and it works when NMPP works with WAPA.”

Richard Eymann is stepping into Bob Meade’s shoes at the end of March to continue NMPP Energy’s tradition of outstanding member services. With 40 years of electrical and maintenance experience, Eymann will be providing the same high level of support and training NMPP Energy communities have come to expect. Members can contact Eymann at 402-474-4759.

Ideas welcomed at 2014 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

With more than 110 utility and energy industry professionals already packing their brief cases for the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency ExchangeRedirecting to a non-government site (RMUEE), you may want to take a look at the agenda to see what is attracting such a crowd to Aspen, Colo.

Western Administrator Mark Gabriel was a keynote speaker at the 2013 RMUEE. (Photo by RL Martin)
Western Administrator Mark Gabriel was a keynote speaker at the 2013 RMUEE. (Photo by RL Martin)

Admittedly, scheduling this popular conference for Sept. 24-26 puts it at the height of Colorado’s fall color season, but the real magnet is the diverse and packed agenda.

Now in its eighth year, the RMUEE is the regional conference for the people who design and deliver energy-efficiency programs to residential and business consumers. Look for utility and government program managers to share the speaker’s podium with trade allies who support those programs with cutting-edge products and services. Experts in marketing, finance and technology will weigh in on best practices alongside the people who turn the practices into action—and results!  

Something to talk about
Veterans of past RMUEEs are no doubt looking forward to lively discussions in which they are the “thought leaders.” Newcomers are always welcomed and may only need a little introduction to prepare for sharing their experiences, expertise and opinions with colleagues. The roundtable discussions that open the RMUEE on Wednesday morning are just the thing to put everyone at ease. Representatives from City of Aspen UtilitiesRedirecting to a non-government site, City of Fort Collins UtilitiesRedirecting to a non-government site, Platte River Power AuthorityRedirecting to a non-government site, Poudre Valley Electric CooperativeRedirecting to a non-government site and Colorado Springs UtilitiesRedirecting to a non-government site will stir up dialogue about the challenges that are most on attendees’ minds.

The afternoon sessions highlight specific topics including energy efficiency education, program integration and financing. While these presentations are more structured than roundtable discussions, questions, answers and observations are always encouraged.

The dual-track sessions on Thursday morning break down barriers even more with smaller group presentations. Choose between the residential track and the commercial track, but don’t be surprised to find yourself wishing you could be two places at once.  Don’t worry—you can ask your colleagues what you missed and fill them in on your session choices over lunch. In the afternoon, the whole group will reunite to talk about collaboration, system and building technology and program evaluation and evolution.

Friday brings a change of pace with the return of last year’s popular and fast-paced Switch~TalksRedirecting to a non-government site. Speakers have five minutes and 20 slides to share their thoughts on energy efficiency, renewable resources, the latest technology or anything else that interests them. The RMUEE closes with a screening of the documentary “Watershed,”Redirecting to a non-government site about the management of the Colorado River. This movie is a must-see for anyone who is involved in the delivery of electricity or water in the dry Rocky Mountain region.

And that’s not all
You will undoubtedly hear comments during the sessions that call for more discussion, but proceedings have to move along. Hold those thoughts for the leisurely meals, refreshment breaks and social hours scattered liberally throughout the RMUEE. Any past attendee will tell you that the networking opportunities are just as educational—and sometimes more so—than the formal presentations.

The poster session on Wednesday evening will introduce some new ideas in tasty, bite-sized portions, along with tasty, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. Grab a beverage and a snack and quiz your colleagues about their mini-presentations on subjects ranging from heat pumps and building-manager training to social media and what it means to be an energy services provider.

Thursday night attendees repair to downtown Aspen to enjoy more socializing. Many a partnership and project have been hatched over a beer or a good meal at one of the city’s fine drinking and dining establishments.

Special guest stars
As usual, exciting keynote speakers will be contributing fresh insights and provocative points of view to the mix. Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton GroupRedirecting to a non-government site sustainability marketing firm returns as opening keynote speaker on Wednesday. Learn what Americans really think about energy efficiency and how those lessons applied to the firm’s recent campaigns, Avoid the Energy DramaRedirecting to a non-government site and FiveworxRedirecting to a non-government site.

James Mandel of the Rocky Mountain InstituteRedirecting to a non-government site will speak on Thursday about the institute’s partnership with the city of Fort Collins to reduce carbon emissions on a community-wide level. The groundbreaking project is yielding, among other things, a new business model for utilities of the future.

Clearly, the program committee, which includes several Western customers as well as Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman, is not afraid to lay the ideas on thick. The RMUEE is where program managers can take a break from the daily challenge of keeping the lights on to imagine their utility’s future. We hope to see you, and your ideas, in Aspen.