Upper Great Plains taps South Sioux City for Administrator’s Award

WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City.  The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. gasifier power plant.

Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.

Leading in renewables
South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.

A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs. (Photo by Nebraskans for Solar)

In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plant You are leaving WAPA.gov. displaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.

The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.

Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.

Conserve, reduce, manage
Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.

When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy. (Photo by Ammodramus)

The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.

To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. markets.

Practicing stewardship
South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.

Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Tree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.

Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

Partners make it happen
Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.

South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.

WAPA honors Moorhead Public Service with Administrator’s Award

Moorhead Public Service You are leaving WAPA.gov. is receiving well-earned recognition for giving its customers the choices they need to save energy, money and the environment. Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s Administrator Award to the municipal power provider, Oct. 11, at Moorhead City Hall in Minnesota.

Moorhead Public Service General Manager Bill Schwandt talks to a local reporter at the 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture the Sun. The municipal power provider is making more news this year by unveiling the second phase of its popular community solar program and winning WAPA’s Administrator’s Award.

Moorhead Public Service General Manager Bill Schwandt talks to a local reporter at the 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Capture The Sun. The municipal power provider is making more news this year by unveiling the second phase of its popular community solar program and winning WAPA’s Administrator’s Award. (Photo by Moorhead Public Service)

One of the things we at WAPA most enjoy about our work is the opportunity to recognize our customers for their commitment to serving the community and using energy wisely. And MPS, with 18,000 meters, has much to celebrate, from successful development of utility-owned renewables to a broad range of customer energy-efficiency programs. “Moorhead Public Service proves that a utility of any size can forge a powerful partnership with the community by being responsive to its customers’ needs,” said WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel. “The Administrator’s Award honors that dedication to service and best business practices.”

Upper Great Plains Customer Service Representative Jim Bach, who has worked with MPS for years, added, “The great thing about MPS is that it has been focused on customer service, environmental stewardship and supporting the community long before these ideas became marketing strategies. They just see it as how you do business,” he added.

MPS General Manager Bill Schwandt, who will be accepting the award, confirmed Bach’s observation. “To run a business successfully—especially one that the community relies on—you have to put the customer first,” he said. “Recognition like the Administrator’s Award is just evidence that we are on the right track.”

“Capturing” clean energy
For example, MPS launched its customer-driven Capture The Wind program years before the industry was talking about community renewable projects. More than 400 customers signed up to support the construction of Zephyr, a 750-kilowatt wind turbine, in 1999. The program was so successful that MPS installed a second turbine, Freedom, in 2001, with the support of another 400 members. Capture The Wind has effectively prevented the emission of more than 16 million pounds of greenhouse gases, and boasts a 7-percent customer participation rate, one of the highest participation rates per capita in the nation.

Building wind power in the state that now ranks seventh in the nation for installed capacity makes sense, but solar power is a tougher sell in northern states. To alleviate concerns about the viability of solar in the local climate, MPS built a solar demonstration project in 2011.

A utility survey and public meetings followed the successful demonstration, all indicating that customers were interested in solar power in spite of the fact that many were unable to install arrays on their homes. A community solar farm offered not only a tailor-made solution, but one that felt familiar to customers as well. In 2015, MPS built the first phase of its Capture The Sun community solar garden project. The demand for customers wanting to purchase solar panels was so strong that MPS expanded Capture The Sun in 2016 and is looking to expand again in 2017.

American Public Power Association has given both the wind and solar projects its Energy Innovator Award. Under the umbrella name, Capture The Energy, the programs will continue to meet customer demand for a clean energy option.

Putting efficiency first
As any good member services representative will attest, customers benefit as much—if not more—from energy-efficiency measures as they do from renewables projects, and MPS customers have plenty to choose from. As a member utility of Missouri River Energy Services, You are leaving WAPA.gov. MPS offers the Bright Energy Solutions program, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a portfolio of energy-efficiency incentives to help customers reduce their electric costs and operate more efficiently.

Customers can find rebate forms on the website for lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, motors, pumps, variable frequency drives and more. Both commercial and residential customers can subscribe to the monthly Bright Ideas newsletter. The e-newsletter features the latest in energy technologies and energy-saving tips, along with free features and tools connected to Bright Energy program to help customers reduce energy use at home and work.

Business and commercial customers can also sign up for free technical assistance through Questline. This free service provides customers with resources such as an online library of technical business and engineering documents, an online portal to targeted research tools and an “Ask an Expert” hotline, at no cost.

Saving energy in business
MPS recently awarded more than $44,000 in rebate checks for energy conservation to American Crystal Sugar Company as part of the Bright Energy Solutions program. Earlier this year, in conjunction with MPS’ Bright Energy Solutions program, American Crystal Sugar Company worked with the program to upgrade several of its process motors with variable frequency drives. This upgrade project will save the factory an estimated 863,081 kilowatt-hours per year.

Good business also means investing in your own infrastructure, which MPS did this year by building a new high-service pumping station. The purpose of the project was to replace outdated 1950s pumps and fixed-speed motors with new variable-speed pumps and to update backup generation for the pumps and an adjacent facility. Installing new variable-frequency drive-powered pumps reduced the station’s energy use and maintenance costs and improved the system operation.

The capital project also included a 1.3‑megawatt natural gas generator with an automatic switchover to provide emergency backup power supply for the pumping station. The generator also enables peak-shaving during peak-load situations, so MPS can use it for electrical containment. The generator and associated switchgear cost $2,200,000, but the utility’s savings on purchased power costs bring the payback for the project to around 17 years. The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Drinking Water Revolving Fund You are leaving WAPA.gov. are providing financing for the pumping station upgrade.

Partnering with state agencies, energy services providers and, most of all, customers has been the secret of Moorhead Public Service’s ability to deliver reliable, affordable power and innovation. That neighborly attitude has given the Minnesota utility a strong base on which to build a successful future. WAPA is proud to honor that spirit with the Administrator’s Award.

City of Banning utility appreciates value of integrated resource plan

The utility industry is going through a period of intense change—some would say upheaval—that makes planning more important than ever and well worth the time involved. Just ask Jim Steffens of the City of Banning, California, Electric Utility. You are leaving Western's site. “I like that the integrated resource plan (IRP) touches on so many areas of the utility,” said the Electric Utility Power Resources and Revenue Administrator. “The process made us think about how all the different parts, like the distribution system, play into delivering electricity.”

California’s Public Benefits Charge of 2.85 percent of retail sales make the municipal utility eligible to file a minimum investment report instead of an IRP. Yet the city opted to do the full IRP process for Banning’s 2015 report. “Historically, our five-year IRPs were very simple and didn’t change much because not much had changed since we last did a full IRP,” explained Steffens. “Then over the last few years, due to legislative and regulatory mandates, everything started changing fast and we really needed the comprehensive picture you get from an IRP.”

Times a-changin’
Banning Electric gets the majority of its electricity supply through contracts with the Southern California Public Power Authority You are leaving Western's site. for coal, nuclear and hydropower. Because California law does not permit electric utilities to invest in coal-fired power, SCPPA will be divesting its part ownership of the San Juan Unit 3 coal plant in New Mexico in 2017. “So there goes 20 megawatts (MW) of baseload power, which is a big deal for Banning,” said Steffen, adding, “Yes, we are a tiny utility.”

Some of that power will be replaced by 9.6 MW of landfill gas power from the Puente Hills facility You are leaving Western's site. built by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. A utility-scale solar farm on the border of Kern and Los Angeles counties will provide another 8 MW. In other words, Banning is looking down the road at a whole new resource mix by 2018.

Being located in a state on the cutting edge of transforming the power supply means that the city of 30,000 will have to look for ways to innovate, and that is where planning comes in. California’s carbon cap-and-trade program You are leaving Western's site. gives utilities allowances for compliance that can be auctioned. The IRP helped Steffens figure out how much of the auction proceeds Banning can bank to help cover the cost of prematurely getting rid of the San Juan plant.

Steffens also used the plan to track the city’s progress meeting the state’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard. “It showed that we may come up slightly short in one particular year, so we can start planning for that year now,” he said. “However, we are very proud of the fact that the utility power supply will be more than 70 percent renewable by 2018.”

Evolving load
Like the power supply, Banning’s load is also starting to change after decades of relative stability. Electricity demand dropped during the recession and has not yet fully recovered, but signs point in different directions.

In an economically challenged area, Banning residents have not adopted rooftop solar systems or electric vehicles (EVs) at the same rate as in other parts of the state. But both of these technologies are becoming more common and more affordable, so the city has to be ready. EVs could bring load growth, even as distributed generation reduces the utility’s load. Such uncertainties make the annual IRP progress report that much more important.

The rooftop solar array topping The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city's power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future.

The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city’s power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Population growth is putting more pressure on Banning too, with two large housing developments scheduled to start construction soon after 2020. “The past 10 years have been a real lesson in how quickly things we used to take for granted can change,” observed Steffens.

Plan points way
Efficiency is also included in Banning’s plan for the future. “A good portion of our Public Benefits funding covers the low-income Banning Electric Alternative Rate, or BEAR, but we also fund rebates,” noted Steffens. “Efficiency programs are an important part of customer service.”

Residential and commercial rebates are available for Energy Star appliances, air conditioner replacements, shade trees, weatherization, low-flush toilets, new construction, renewable systems and refrigerator and freezer recycling. The utility just launched a new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, or “The BEEF, developed specifically for our small and mid-sized business community,” said Steffens.

Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts.

Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Most of the businesses in Banning are small mom-and-pop operations that often don’t have extra capital for upgrades but could benefit greatly from lower utility bills.

Participants receive a free walk-through energy assessment to identify potential energy-saving upgrades to lighting, heating and cooling, water heating, motors and refrigeration. The businesses can then select the retrofit that best meets their needs and the utility pays up to $2,750 for the project.

When asked what percentage of Banning customers were commercial, Steffens checked his IRP. “Twenty-seven percent,” he replied. “The great thing about the IRP is that I have the answer to questions like that right in front of me.”

Steffens pointed out that the benefits of the IRP go well beyond just getting information in one place. “When things are changing as much as they are for Banning, you need to see the big picture and dive deep into the details,” he said. “We didn’t have to do the full IRP, but it is a great exercise to show you where you are going.”

Small town reduces big demand charges through self-generation

Development of a renewable energy project is governed by circumstances specific to that site, and the reasons for building the generation are often just as unique. For the little town of Neligh Redirecting to a non-government site (pop. 1,600) in northeastern Nebraska, renewable energy offered a creative path to avoiding high peak demand charges.

A front south view of the Neligh Electric Generation Plant.

A front south view of the Neligh Electric Generation Plant. (Photo by Roxanne McNally)

The city installed a 6.5 megawatt bio-diesel electric generation plant—one of a kind in the state—in 2012. The generation capacity allows Neligh to purchase economical electricity from outside entities while using the bio-diesel generators for peak electric demand and emergencies. Self-generation saves the city a wholesale electricity supplier demand charge.

“The bio-diesel generation has been a great savings for our community, and a safety net for Neligh and the surrounding communities,” commented former Mayor Jeri Anderson, who left office at the end of 2014. “Neligh can generate to help the capacity loads for other communities in emergency situations, and it is a great backup energy resource for us.”

Searching for solutions
For large electricity customers, demand charges—that fee your power provider adds to your bill for your highest energy use—can be notoriously tricky to control. Efficiency reduces the overall amount of energy a facility or community uses. However, an unexpected event like a large manufacturing order or extreme weather can cause the need for electricity to spike, and that need must be met. For years, Neligh bought expensive wholesale power to meet peak demand and emergencies, resulting in monthly supplier demand charges of around $50,000.

Besides reducing demand charges, the city also wanted to purchase low-cost “economy energy” from the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska Redirecting to a non-government site (MEAN). Economy energy is the standby reserves that large generators always have on hand to meet sudden demand. To offset the cost of producing this energy, the generators sell it to various buyers on an hourly or day-by-day basis. Under the state Power Review Board Redirecting to a non-government site (PRB) rules, a city may buy economy energy if it owns generation capable of producing 115 percent of its demand. Clearly, it was not difficult for Neligh to make a business case for building its own power plant.

Answer is green
The problem with that solution was that a private investor cannot own a generator in the all-public power state of Nebraska. Also, the PRB must approve all new generation, which places the burden on cities and villages to prove a verifiable need for additional generation. That is a difficult hurdle to clear in a state that has plenty of generation capacity.

A potential loop-hole opened several years ago, when a hog farmer installed a methane digester generator and petitioned the PRB to sell his excess power to Nebraska Public Power District Redirecting to a non-government site. The board determined that since this energy was renewable—“green”—it was regulated by FERC, so the PRB had no authority to rule either way on the sale. “When I learned of the decision, I began researching green energy systems that Neligh could install,” said City Attorney Jim McNally.

A bio-diesel generator of less than 40 megawatts met the PRB’s criteria, and Neligh was issued a permit to build. Mayor Joe Hartz attributed the outcome to a strong relationship with NPPD and to cooperation between Neligh’s municipal utility, NPPD and MEAN. “That allowed us to provide the best of all worlds for our customers,” he said.

Logistically, economically feasible
The installation itself was a straightforward project, since the generators are conventional diesel equipment. It is the fuel—100-percent soy oil in Neligh, rather than fossil fuel—that qualifies the project as renewable. Only the rubber hoses had to be changed out on the four used Caterpillar generator sets. Because the fuel tends to jell when cold, the plant is housed in a heated building.

Generation Supervisor Josh Capler syncs generator #3 into the Neligh Electric system to bring the motor online.

Generation Supervisor Josh Capler syncs generator #3 into the Neligh Electric system to bring the motor online. (Photo by Roxanne McNally)

The city paid a little more than $3 million for the generators and some lightly used controls, financing the purchase on a 15-year bond. The power plant now qualifies Neligh to purchase economy energy from MEAN, but more importantly, having its own power supply has saved the city from paying demand charges. “In place of the $50,000-per-month demand charge, we have a monthly bond payment of about $17,000 for the equipment,” McNally explained. “The city nets around $30,000.00 a month in savings, or $300,000 annually after the bond payment. That is significant for a city of 1,600.”

The attorney added that Neligh’s new access to the economy energy market is what makes the renewable aspect of the project economically viable. “Wholesale power in Nebraska is less expensive than self-generation with either diesel or biodiesel,” McNally acknowledged.

Potential environmental regulations could change the equation, but McNally believes the bio-diesel generators will continue to be a net winner for the city budget. The little city of Neligh should not have any problems handling whatever the future holds. Volatile prices and new rules are no match for ingenuity and savvy planning.

City of Palo Alto Utilities tests smart streetlights along El Camino Real

City seeking feedback on solar project

This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents  to give their opinions on the streetlights in an online survey.

This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents to give their opinions on the project in an online survey.

El Camino Real, a historic road that runs nearly the full length of California’s coastline, is making history again for its role in a six-month pilot project being conducted by the City of Palo Alto Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site (CPAU). In partnership with energy technology provider Petra Systems, Redirecting to a non-government site CPAU recently installed a string of nine smart solar streetlights along “The Royal Road.”

The installation is testing the potential to generate renewable energy on streetlight poles. Solar photovoltaic, or PV, modules placed high on the poles capture the sun’s energy and send it to the city’s electric grid. The technology could help transform ordinary streetlights into a network of distributed solar power generating assets.

Taking community’s pulse
The PV-fitted streetlights are located along a well-trafficked mile of El Camino Real. Interpretive signs in the area educate passers-by about the technology. “The pilot project area runs right by Stanford University, as well as soccer fields and parks, so residents will see what we are doing and be able to form an opinion about it,” noted CPAU Communications Manager Catherine Elvert. “We are encouraging community members to provide feedback through an online survey.”

The survey asks questions about residents’ support for CPAU increasing the use of solar power, and allows them to express concerns about aesthetics, light quality and other issues. “The customer response to these modules can help us gauge how aggressively to pursue this type of local generation,” Elvert added.

CPAU is engaged in several local solar initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to invest in clean energy resources.

Innovating through partnership
Through its Program for Emerging Technologies, the municipal utility is able to “test drive” systems that may improve operations, create jobs and boost the sustainability of CPAU’s generation portfolio. Launched in 2012, the program seeks out and nurtures creative products and services that manage and better use electricity, gas, water and fiber optic services.

Partnering with high-tech companies keeps the cost of innovation down. The El Camino Solar Test project will increase Palo Alto’s renewable energy production at no cost to the city. Petra Systems offered CPAU the solar modules to evaluate their performance over the six-month pilot duration. The nine units are estimated to have a total nameplate capacity of about 2.25 kilowatts, with each solar module expected to produce 374 kilowatt-hours per year. That electricity is enough to power the equivalent of two streetlights, making the LED, or light-emitting diode, streetlights net producers of electricity.

Improving service, lowering costs
Project Manager Lindsay Joye pointed out that generation is just a small part of smart solar technology performance. “The technology goes well beyond self-powering to give the city greater control of its streetlight assets,” she said.

The modules are equipped with an LED light controller that allows the city to remotely turn streetlights on or off. The brightness of individual lights or groups of lights can be adjusted to accommodate the traffic levels in different neighborhoods, as well. On a citywide scale, the dimming function can provide even deeper energy savings from the already-efficient LED lamps, Joye noted.

The system offers additional features that can streamline maintenance and enhance public safety. The controller can flicker specific lights to help direct emergency response personnel when needed, and can notify the city immediately of a malfunctioning light, including the failure type and exact location. Elvert said, “If the city decides to expand the project, high-traffic roads and expressways would be good candidates for installations. With the smart-grid and remote control capabilities, there would be less need to put our crews in harm’s way.”

Hunt for project funding easier with Energy Services

Money—where to get it, how best to spend it, where to find more—is a topic very much on people’s minds, whether their needs are personal or strictly business. Utilities face those same questions, but unlike individuals and other organizations, they can ask Energy Services for guidance. A large part of our service is networking with state and federal agencies, trade associations and nonprofits to track down funding opportunities Western customers can use to launch programs or upgrade facilities.

Makeover time
Take the city of White, S.D.Redirecting to a non-government site, for example, and its 40-year-old community center. “We would like to get rid of the paneling, remodel the kitchen and reconfigure the office space,” explained Finance Officer Melanie Haber.

The city of White, S.D., is investigating grants available for upgrading its community center. Municipalities have many options for funding energy-efficiency retrofits to public buildings, but sometimes it is necessary to think outside the box. (Photo by the City of White, S.D.)

The city of White, S.D., is investigating grants available for upgrading its community center. Municipalities have many options for funding energy-efficiency retrofits to public buildings, but sometimes it is necessary to think outside the box. (Photo by the City of White, S.D.)

She added that the fluorescent lighting throughout the building is poor quality, especially in the big hall where most events are held. Replacing the five furnaces heating the multi-use facility with one central system and zoned controls could help to reduce operating costs and improve comfort. In short, “It needs a complete update, inside and out,” Haber admitted.

Only the beginning
The community center project is still in the planning stages, so Haber has only done preliminary research into funding sources. “We can’t apply for a grant until we have specifics about what we want to do to the building and what that is likely to cost,” she said.

Heartland Consumers Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site, the city’s wholesale cooperative, offers incentives for commercial lighting upgrades, heating and cooling system retrofits and efficient appliances. The systems that would be installed in the community center would be subject to Heartland’s as-yet-unpublished 2014 rebate menu, however.

The South Dakota Office of Economic DevelopmentRedirecting to a non-government site might also be a source of low-interest loans for the project, Haber noted. “We have reached out to the regional office, but again, we don’t know what programs the project might be eligible for until we have more details,” she said.

No stone unturned
In addition to investigating loan and rebate programs, Haber also contacted Marsha Thomas, Western’s Upper Great Plains Energy Services representative for more ideas about potential funding sources. Thomas, in turn, decided to “crowdsource” Haber’s question with other Energy Services staff. “The great thing about having an Energy Services representative in each region is that we all bring a different background and perspective to the job,” said Thomas. “Any one of us can tap that collective experience to find answers for our customers.”

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman observed that Haber is off to a solid start in her search for funding. “Check with your generation and transmission provider first,” he advised. “They understand your load in the context of the community and local climate, and they have a vested interest in helping their members manage their demand.”

Here are some other recommendations municipalities might consider for securing funding:

  1. Assemble a list of stakeholders on the project and brainstorm with them to come up with a list of potential sources. Your colleagues and neighbors may surprise you with their resourcefulness and innovative thinking.
  2. If the city participates in the American Public Power Association (APPA) Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency DevelopmentsRedirecting to a non-government site (DEED) program, it may be eligible for a DEED scholarship or grant. Contact APPA for more information and eligibility requirements.
  3. Don’t stop with your state’s economic development office. Check with the state energy office, parks and recreation department, education department and public health office to learn about their grant opportunities. Projects that address the goals of more than one state (or federal) agency often have a better chance of receiving funding.
  4. County governments also offer economic development grants or loans, or serve as pass-through agencies for federal monies. Private businesses and nonprofit agencies frequently collaborate with counties to set up revolving loan funds for projects that benefit communities.
  5. Inquire with your local and state chamber of commerce about grant opportunities they may offer or be aware of.
  6. Hire a grant writer. This professional knows how to speak the language of funders and how to highlight the facets of the project that appeal to them. Grant writers who specialize in a specific field or type of project also keep up with the funding agencies and opportunities pertaining to their specialties.
  7. Seek donations from individuals or service clubs in the community. Supporting energy efficiency in public buildings today can help keep taxes and fees down tomorrow. Donating also gives residents ownership in the success of the project and a feeling of civic pride.

Ultimately, more projects are hobbled by a lack of imagination than a lack of funding, Horstman insisted. “Make the effort to think outside the box, and you may discover financing options that would never have occurred to you otherwise,” he said. “You may even improve on the efficiency and functionality of your original plan if you stay open to creative thinking.”

Good luck!
Energy Services wishes White, S.D., and all our customers the best of luck in developing the modern, efficient facilities their communities need to remain vibrant and healthy. More than that, we are always sharing ideas to accomplish that goal through our website, blog and our representatives.

Most of all, we urge you, our customers, to share your experiences with each other. Contact your peers directly through Energy Services Bulletin stories, send them to the editor or give us your two cents’ worth in the comments below.