Community Solar gets enthusiastic reception in Fremont, Neb.

Sometimes, you just don’t know what people want until you ask them, as the municipal utilities board of directors in Fremont, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. learned when they set out to diversify their municipal power portfolio.

The residents of Fremont, Nebraska, enthusiastically embraced community solar. The 1.5-megawatt solar farm was fully subscribed in only seven weeks.

The 1.5-megawatt Fremont Community Solar Farm unleashed a pent-up demand for renewable energy options, selling out subscriptions in just seven weeks. (Photo by Fremont Utilities)

City Administrator Brian Newton recalled that one of his first projects after joining the city staff three years ago was to work with the board of directors on a strategic plan for their power supply. At the time, the city of around 27,000 was powered mainly by coal and natural gas. “The board decided it would be a good idea to investigate adding other resources,” said Newton.

Consulting experts, customers
His initial reaction was that the customers would not be interested in solar energy. After all, Fremont residents enjoy a low residential rate of just 8 cents per kWh, and no one had installed a privately owned solar system.

So Newton took the prudent step of consulting experts before rushing headlong into a project. After scoring a Department of Energy Technical Assistance Grant, the city teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. to gauge customer interest in renewables and to explore financing options.

That was a smart move, because SEPA research has shown that a successful community solar project starts with knowing your audience. The survey SEPA conducted was an eye-opener for Newton. “More than 70 percent said they were interested in solar power, and some said they’d pay $10 more per month for it, which I doubted,” he said.

Just to make sure the survey results were on track, Newton held numerous public meetings to explain community solar to customers and get feedback from them. More than 500 people signed up to receive information about solar energy and many were adamant about joining the community affair. They not only wanted the solar power to be sold in Fremont, they also wanted it built by local developers, financed by local money and under community control.

Designed to sell
To make participation easy, Fremont put together a unique package of options. Customers can choose between purchasing panels, buying one or more solar energy shares and subscribing to a combination of panels and shares.

Solar subscriptions can cover up to 80 percent of residential customers’ annual kilowatt-hour consumption and 50 percent for commercial customers. One panel generates an average of 43 kWh monthly, while one solar energy share represents 150 kWh monthly. Customers who purchase panels are able to take advantage of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, making participation even more attractive.

If the utility board of directors had any remaining doubts about customers’ interest in solar, those were laid to rest when the 1.5-megawatt solar farm sold out in seven weeks. Fremont promoted the project with customer meetings, emails and bill stuffers, the usual avenues for getting the word out. Newton noted that the 1.2-MW second phase of the solar farm is selling out by word of mouth alone.

Newton may have been surprised by customers’ eagerness to invest in renewables, but he told SEPA the rural community’s latent environmentalism shouldn’t be surprising. The community has always been firmly rooted to the land because agriculture is central to the local economy, he said. “Damaging the land or air isn’t an abstract idea. Fremonters can see the impact of environmental degradation on their livelihoods.”

Or, as one resident observed, Fremont’s support for solar power is not a surprise, as much as it is the natural progression of a long history of civic involvement in environmental stewardship.

Check out tools for resource planning, program development

Everyone loves to get a new tool that will make their job easier, whether it is a power sander for refinishing furniture or a calculator to help you choose the most cost-effective renewable resource or efficiency measure. Here are some “gadgets” that might be just what you need.

Choose your clean power
The Green Power Partnership, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency, has released a new Green Power Supply Options Screening Tool to help you sort through the different supply options. There are many ways to purchase green power—such as green tariffs, competitive green power products and off-site power purchase agreements—and determining which purchasing method works for you can be difficult.

Users answer a few simple questions about their organizations, including their locations and annual energy consumption. The Excel-based tool will describe which supply options might be most feasible, according to the relevant federal, state and utility policies. Background documents accompany the tool to explain how the results are defined and the logic used to produce the result for each supply option.

Calculate equipment efficiency
The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) created the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center as a repository for the lessons learned from other EERE programs dedicated to improving building efficiency. Utility program administrators will find resources here that help them plan, operate and evaluate residential energy efficiency programs.

Artwork by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Artwork by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The Solution Center has recently been branching out with more information about the technical aspects of home performance programs. A new section focused on technology solutions explores innovative technologies, offers installation guidance and estimates potential energy savings.

New pages highlight HVAC systems and heat pump water heaters, two applications that account for about 67 percent of home energy consumption. Use the reports, best practices and other resources to support program offerings and help you to reach your energy-efficiency program targets.

Identify energy savings potential
Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed ResStock, a versatile tool that takes a new approach to large-scale residential energy analysis.

The ResStock software achieves unprecedented granularity and accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock by combining:

  • Large public and private data sources
  • Statistical sampling
  • Detailed sub-hourly building simulations
  • High-performance computing

The research team has run more than 20 million simulations using a statistical model of housing stock characteristics. The results uncovered $49 billion in potential annual utility bill savings through cost-effective energy efficiency improvements.

Using ResStock analysis, utilities can target energy-efficiency improvements to specific customer segments to improve cost-effectiveness. Resource planners can determine which measures and distributed energy resources are best for relieving grid congestion and what housing stock segments can provide the greatest load flexibility.

Utility program managers, municipalities and state energy agencies can use ResStock to identify the most cost-effective—and energy-saving—home improvements. The tool is also valuable for helping cities and states figure out how buildings contribute to energy or emissions targets. NREL is pursuing partnerships with industry to adapt ResStock for specific utility, manufacturer, state and local applications.

NREL will be offering the ResStock software at no cost, leveraging DOE’s open-source building energy modeling ecosystem of OpenStudio® and EnergyPlus. These cloud-based collections of software tools allow users to model energy use for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and plug-and- process loads without a supercomputer.

To learn how ResStock can help your utility contact Eric Wilson at NREL.

Source: US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 1/30/18

Report, tools seek to boost building efficiency

Utilities have a vested interest in working with homeowners and businesses to accurately estimate and control energy costs. It is not only good for load management goals, it is also good for the local economy. A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) and tools being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can help utilities and cities move toward a more efficient building stock.

Changing real estate conversation
According to the online real estate platform Redfin, You are leaving WAPA.gov. energy bills can add as much as 40 percent to annual housing costs in some parts of the country. An MPG for Homes: Driving Visible Value for Home Energy Performance in Real Estate, the RMI report, makes the argument for incorporating energy use data into the total cost of homeownership calculations.

The authors emphasize, however, that making home energy use data more accessible is part of a greater vision. True market transformation will require a change in both homebuyer behavior and policies and approaches across several interconnected industries. The real estate, finance, home improvement and—yes—utility industry would all play a part and could all benefit in the long run from improving home performance metrics and making the data more transparent and accessible to homeowners.

RMI notes that the “green real estate” movement is already starting to catch on with online real estate portals featuring home energy scores on property listings. Partnerships between the Zillow Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. and UtilityScore, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Estately You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Clearly Energy and Redfin and Tendril You are leaving WAPA.gov. are aiming to make home energy scores a bigger consideration in buying decisions.

Recent home purchases drove 26 percent of home renovations in 2015, and preparation for resale led to 13 percent of renovations, according to Houzz and Home: Overview of Renovation. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Moreover, 67 percent of study respondents cited improving energy efficiency as an important reason for making a renovation. Clearly, renovation projects offer utilities an opportunity to promote energy-efficiency measures and programs to a receptive audience. Establishing relationships with housing professionals in the community could pay off for utility program managers in a big way.

Tools analyze home, infrastructure projects
Once you connect with customers who are interested in making energy-efficiency improvements, the next challenge is determining what upgrades will save them the most money and energy. The ResStock analysis tool from NREL provides detailed information on the technical and economic potential of residential energy-efficiency improvements and packages for 48 U.S. states.

By combining large data sources and statistical sampling with detailed building simulations, the program achieves unprecedented accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock. The ResStock software leverages DOE’s open-source building energy modeling platforms OpenStudio® You are leaving WAPA.gov.  and EnergyPlus You are leaving WAPA.gov. so you won’t need a supercomputer to run the program. Contact NREL to find out more.

On a larger scale, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility is working on a demonstration project that is developing a buildings and district energy modeling tool, URBANopt. The demonstration integrates URBANopt with grid modeling software, OpenDSS, to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of a planned 382-acre mixed-use development. The Denver, Colorado, site includes corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel and parking and street lighting. This project will result in several tools that others can use to replicate this project across the country, including an enhanced version of URBANopt and a developer’s handbook.

DGIC: Key Outcomes of NREL’s Utility Technical Assistance Program

Dec. 8, 2016
12:00–1:30 p.m. MT

The quarterly meeting of the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative highlights the experiences of two utilities who applied for and received assistance from the DOE’s Utility Solar Technical Assistance program pilot. Register today You are leaving WAPA.gov. to learn about two of these in-depth projects:

  • Financial viability of co-located solar-plus-storage facilities in Pasadena, California
  • Project finance for community solar in the U.S. Midwest

The technical assistance recipients and NREL subject matter experts will discuss the key outcomes and lessons learned from these experiences.

Source: WAPA Renewable Energy Program, 12/1/16

Get sneak preview of RMUEE keynote speaker

Update: A preview of the closing keynote by Ben Bixby of Nest Labs has been added Aug. 31, 10:30-11 a.m. MT.

Register You are leaving WAPA.gov. for this free webinar. If you are unable to participate, the recorded webinars will be archived on the RMUEE website. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Aug. 17
10:30-11:00 a.m. MT

Thinking about joining Energy Services at the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, Sept. 28-30 in Aspen, Colorado? Good idea! This free webinar gives you the opportunity to discover whether this event is right for you and consider who else in your organization might benefit from attending.RMUEElogo

Bryan Hannegan, associate laboratory director – energy systems integration with National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will speak about “The Challenge and Promise of Energy Systems Integration” as part of the Exchange’s theme of “Where Will Utilities be in 10 Years?” Hannegan leads NREL’s global initiative to optimize links between electricity, fuel, thermal, water and communication networks for a more sustainable society.

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

Aspen reaches 100-percent renewables goal

A decade of striving to build a clean energy portfolio culminated in success for Aspen, Colorado, You are leaving Western's site. when the city recently announced that its municipal electric utility now receives all of its power from renewable sources.

A contract the city signed in late August with its power wholesaler Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska You are leaving Western's site. (MEAN) replaces coal power—about 20 percent of Aspen’s electricity supply—with wind energy. The MEAN purchase, which put Aspen over the finish line, will initially add less than $2 per month to the average residential utility bill.

Aspen Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher praised MEAN, noting, “If it weren’t for MEAN we couldn’t be in this position. The members (of MEAN) are valued and proactive – this is a win-win for both organizations.”

Mixing it up
The City of Aspen Utilities You are leaving Western's site. energy portfolio consists of about 53 percent wind power and 46 percent hydroelectricity, with small amounts of solar and landfill gas. The wind comes through MEAN from wind farms in the Nebraska cities of Kimball, Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Petersburg and Crofton Bluffs, and one in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. In addition to an allotment from Western, generators on Ruedi Reservoir, Maroon Creek and Ridgway Reservoir make up the hydropower portion.

The Ruedi Dam and Reservoir, part of a multipurpose, trans-mountain water diversion project, provides about one-third of Aspen's power requirements. (Photo courtesy of City of Aspen Utilities)

The Ruedi Dam and Reservoir, part of a multipurpose, trans-mountain water diversion project, provides about one-third of Aspen’s power requirements. (Photo courtesy of City of Aspen Utilities)

“The challenge is to secure the most effective mix of renewables to meet the customer load reliably,” Hornbacher explained. “Each community’s energy use is unique, and each renewable energy source has its own personality.”

Getting the right mix means more than just resources, Hornbacher added. “The key is projects, conservation and efficiency and partners,” he said. “We are lucky to have such willing and supportive partners in MEAN, NREL You are leaving Western's site. [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] and Western.”

NREL worked with Aspen, MEAN and other agencies to define renewable energy, determine what projects would best fit with Aspen’s load and evaluate the utility’s conservation and efficiency measures. Those tools include a renewable energy mitigation program, green building code, tiered rate structure and energy performance contracting. “If you aren’t working with customers and managing your load, you could wind up using more energy,” said Hornbacher.

Community driven
Customer support for a local renewable energy supply dates back to the 1980s when the Aspen city council decided to build the plants at Ruedi Reservoir and Maroon Creek. The community formalized the plan to go 100-percent renewable 10 years ago. “Aspen residents have always had very strong environmental values,” said Hornbacher. “It helps to live in a town where the civic leadership is representative of the community.”

Built in 1980, the Maroon Creek hydroelectric project was one of Aspen's first foray's into local renewable energy development. (Photo by City of Aspen Utilities)

Built in the 1980s, the Maroon Creek hydroelectric project was one of Aspen’s first foray’s into local renewable energy development. (Photo by City of Aspen Utilities)

Smaller municipalities so far have a clear edge on large metropolitan areas in “going green.” The mountain resort town of 7,000 joins Burlington, Vermont, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 45,000) and Greensburg, Kansas, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 800) in becoming the first cities in the nation to reach the all-renewable energy goal. Georgetown, Texas, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 47,000) plans to follow these leaders next year with a 25-year contract to buy 150 megawatts (MW) of clean power from new SunEdison You are leaving Western's site. solar plants.

Hornbacher noted that being small is not necessarily an advantage, although a smaller load opens up the possibility of fitting smaller projects into the portfolio. “It is important to note that each of these communities took a different course to reach their goal. You have to look carefully at your own situation,” he cautioned. “One important takeaway is that renewable energy does not automatically translate to higher rates. Aspen’s residential rates are still among the lowest in the state.”

Going above, beyond
Aspen’s vision does not stop at the city limits, however. Hornbacher hopes the city’s accomplishment will spark a dialogue on the state level and challenge other municipalities to engage with their energy supply.

The media beyond Colorado have taken notice as well. Television stations from California, Utah and China have interviewed the utility to find out how a small town in Colorado achieved the big goal of shifting its energy supply to renewable resources. “We’ve demonstrated that it is possible,” Hornbacher said. “Realistically, we hope we can inspire others to achieve these higher goals.”

That is the kind of attention Western likes to see its customers receive. We congratulate the city of Aspen on setting their sights high, sticking to their plan and creating a clean, reliable energy future.

Distributed PV Interconnection: Recent Analysis Findings

Jan. 21, 2015
11:30 AM Mountain Time

Register now You are leaving WAPA.gov. for the first Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC) quarterly meeting and informational webinar of 2015!

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will present the results of forthcoming DGIC data collection and analysis measuring the timeframes for each stage of the interconnection process. Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) will follow NREL with a presentation of its recent survey of utility interconnection practices.

NREL and SEPA jointly facilitate the DGIC, with advisory support from Western and the Electric Power Research Institute. Quarterly DGIC meetings focus on current and emergent processes and protocols for interconnecting distributed PV, with the goal of encouraging stakeholders to share information and data.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/7/15

NREL Brings Precision, Savings to Energy Audits

An energy audit tool that more accurately pinpoints potential energy savings while potentially costing 35 percent to 75 percent less than traditional audits is set to hit the multi-billion-dollar energy retrofit industry next year.

The simuwatt Energy Auditor software package was developed by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in partnership with Denver-based software developer concept3D. simuwatt Energy Auditor replaces the clipboard-and-pencil approach of most building audits with a package that uses sophisticated, comprehensive computer modeling to find more potential energy savings.

The commercial buildings sector in America alone represents 7 percent of total energy consumption worldwide. Commercial buildings in the United States consume about $134 billion in electricity each year for lights, computers, office machines, appliances, and the like, according to the Energy Department’s Buildings Energy Data Book. Even a modest reduction in electricity costs would mean huge savings. Read moreSource: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 10/22/13

FREE Pilot Home Energy Professional Certification Exams Available to WAP Personnel

Free exams offered through Weatherization Training Centers that qualify for subsidy 

The Building Performance Institute Redirecting to a non-government site (BPI) is inviting current and former Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) personnel and contractors to take BPI’s new pilot Home Energy Professional certification exams for FREE when they take the exams at qualified Weatherization Training Centers Redirecting to a non-government site (WTCs).

These advanced certifications are designed for experienced home performance professionals, and focus on the most important jobs in the home energy upgrade industry: energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew leader and quality control inspector. The new certifications are offered by BPI and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  

The results of the pilot test cycle will be used to set passing scores for the national exams. Candidates who take these exams and meet passing requirements will be among the first group of professionals to earn these advanced certifications. BPI expects to roll the exams out nationally in the fall of 2012.

The standard price for the pilot exams is $250 for the written exams and $500 for the field exams. Current or former WAP personnel and contractors are eligible to take the exams for free at WTCs that qualify for the DOE subsidy. To qualify for the free exams, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • An applicant must have been employed by a WAP agency or contractor for at least six months from the period beginning March 31, 2009 to March 31, 2012
  • The applicant must provide BPI with proof of that employment by way of a letter from the employer, or pay stubs covering a six-month period
  • The employer must provide BPI with proof of their association with the WAP either as a sub-grantee or as a contractor to a WAP sub grantee  

Apply Now 
To apply to take the exams, candidates should fill out an application Redirecting to a non-government site by July 31, 2012.  After BPI approves the application, candidates should schedule their exam by contacting a qualified WTC or BPI Test Center participating in this pilot.

Note: If you cannot find a qualified WTC near you, some WTCs have agreed to travel to candidates’ location if there is a group of candidates to be tested at once.

For more information, contact Kirsten Richnavsky. WTCs that wish to offer the subsidized exams, but are not on the list of participants should contact Josh Olsen at DOE.