Administrator’s outreach builds bridges between customers, WAPA

[Editor’s note: This story will also appear in the spring issue of WAPA’s Customer Circuit]

Like any private business, WAPA exists to serve its customers. Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel has made a special point of meeting customers since he joined WAPA in 2013. In fact, he says it is one of favorite parts of the job. “Powerful partnerships drive our customer service efforts,” Gabriel explained. “When we listen to customers’ needs and concerns, we learn how we can better serve them. As our industry is evolving so quickly, this is one of the most important things we can do.”

Administrator Mark Gabriel addresses customers at the annual meeting of Missouri River Energy Services.
Administrator Mark Gabriel addresses customers at the annual meeting of Missouri River Energy Services. (Photo by Missouri River Energy Services)

Relationships matter
As it turns out, the customers like it, too. “Mark is the exception to the rule of the private sector pulling the best and the brightest away,” said Brad Lawrence, utilities director for the city of Madison, South Dakota. Lawrence first met Gabriel at the winter customer meeting for Heartland Consumer Power District. You are leaving WAPA.gov. “He clearly understood the rank and file, and he wanted to hear from ground troops,” added Lawrence, who has a military background. “It’s fairly rare that people at the bottom get a chance to explain things to people at the top.”

Making that effort to get to know customers face to face is an important piece of relationship building that often gets overlooked in today’s business environment. “It shows respect and our customers respond to that,” explained Tracy Thorne, a public utilities specialist in WAPA’s Upper Great Plains Huron office. Thorne has helped to coordinate Gabriel’s attendance at several events in the region and frequently accompanies him.

Answering questions, honoring innovation
Many different kinds of events give Gabriel the opportunity to visit “the field.” It may be a member meeting being held by one of our generation and transmission customers like the one at Heartland, or the gathering of an industry group.

Last summer, Gabriel was a guest at the annual picnic of the Northwest Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. where five WAPA customers were in attendance. Members were concerned about impending regulations before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Gabriel wanted to discuss the issues. More importantly, he listened. “He was sympathetic to our concerns,” said Eric Stoll, general manager of Milford Municipal Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Iowa. “Gabriel didn’t dismiss us because we are a small customer. That really means a lot to us. We didn’t feel overlooked at all.”

Stoll recalled buzzing around town in a GEM electric vehicle You are leaving WAPA.gov. with Gabriel. “At one point, we pulled up to a curb and someone thought we were the meter maid,” he laughed.

One trip to Nebraska in 2017 was specifically to honor South Sioux City for delivering impressive innovation along with affordable, reliable power. Gabriel presented the municipal utility with WAPA’s Administrator’s Award. “The vision our customers show never fails to impress me and that is especially true of smaller utilities like South Sioux City,” Gabriel said. “It is a pleasure to meet the people who are doing this work and to bring attention to their accomplishments.”

No occasion too big, small for visit
The spring has been an active time for meeting with customers. At the end of April, Gabriel traveled to Nebraska to speak at the Big 10 and Friends Utility Conference You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Omaha. The meeting brings together facility and energy managers from Big 10 and other schools and utility professionals to discuss the business of campus utility production, distribution, metering and efficiency. Gabriel gave the keynote address titled “Radical thoughts: Providing value amid a changing energy landscape” to an audience of about 260 individuals.

Thorne noted that the presentation was very well received. “Afterward, I overheard attendees comment about how much they enjoyed Mark’s presentation—and they didn’t know I was from WAPA!” he added. “People had a lot of good questions for Mark and he had the answers. I think if it had been a smaller crowd, the discussion could have gone on for hours.”

While in Nebraska, Gabriel also attended meetings with several municipal utilities in Randolph You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Fremont, You are leaving WAPA.gov. and met with Nebraska Public Power District You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Columbus. Jody Sundsted, senior vice president and UGP regional manager, joined Gabriel for those meetings. Utility staff and consumers in small towns are engaged with the same issues as their counterparts in more urban areas, Sundsted noted. “People had a lot of questions about the Southwest Power Pool, behind-the-meter generation, battery storage,” he said. “They really appreciate getting answers from the administrator himself.”

WAPA’s experience with the Southwest Power Pool was also a topic of interest at Missouri River Energy Services’ You are leaving WAPA.gov. annual meeting in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 10. Gabriel’s presentation highlighted some of the challenges that WAPA and all utilities will be facing in the future, including societal changes, economic challenges and security challenges. He assured the group of continuing value and business excellence through WAPA’s focus on direction, people and performance.

“The members of MRES look forward to the update that WAPA provides each year at the MRES Annual Meeting,” said Joni Livingston, MRES director of member services and communications. “With 59 of the 61 MRES members having WAPA allocations, they are always anxious to hear about WAPA’s rates for the Pick-Sloan region, particularly since those rates have decreased in 2017 and 2018.”

Sundsted observed that Gabriel meeting with customers benefits WAPA, too. “Customers know our brand, but it helps them to put a face with the logo, to see that WAPA is people in the utility business just like them,” he said.

Rural customers develop efficiency, renewable projects with REAP funds

The June 30 deadline is approaching for the final round of grants and guaranteed loan financing from the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

REAP funding helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. Western customers are among the electric cooperatives, communities and businesses that have benefited from the program.

Making difference in Midwest
Agricultural communities in the Midwest face many economic challenges in spite of the region generally enjoying low-cost power. Since the program’s inception in 2002, REAP has contributed to the economic health of this part of the country by helping farmers and small businesses reduce operating expenses. Rural electric cooperatives have used REAP funding to diversify their resource portfolios.

Nobles Cooperative Electric You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Worthington, Minnesota, was an early REAP recipient. When the state legislature began considering a statewide renewable electricity standard, the co-op applied for a grant to install a utility-scale wind turbine in its territory. In addition to the $500,000 REAP grant, Nobels received $2.5 million through Clean Renewable Energy Bonds from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CFC) to fund renewable energy projects. General Manager Richard Burud noted that the CFC and USDA assistance made the difference between doing the project and not doing the project.

Increasing irrigation efficiency
In the dry western farming region of all-public power Nebraska, growers rely on irrigation systems that use great quantities of both water and energy.  Many irrigation systems are powered by diesel engines, which have high carbon emissions and expose farmers to volatile fuel costs. Nebraska Public Power DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. one of the state’s largest electric providers , teamed up with USDA Rural Development staff in 2004 to help more than 200 farmers receive REAP (then called Section 9006) grants to replace diesel or propane-fueled irrigation motors with electric motors.

NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)
NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)

Close cooperation was critical to the program’s success. Rural Development did extensive outreach to growers, focusing on irrigation projects, while NPPD staff conducted the energy assessments needed to apply for the grants. “We continue to support REAP projects by doing energy audits for applicants,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ron Rose. “Audits performed by a certified energy manager earn more points for the applicant in the USDA scoring process.”

The farmers did their part too, working through the application process to receive grants that averaged around $7,000 per system. “The grants don’t pay for the whole project, but they lower the payback period considerably,” acknowledged Rose.

Given the fuel prices at the time, farmers were able to save as much as 30 percent of their irrigation energy costs by converting from diesel to electric. Rose noted that even though fuel prices have dropped, the electric pumping systems are still popular because remote management technology works better with electric equipment. “The farmers are able to control irrigation from their smart phones or tablets,” he said.

Helping customers helps utility
The REAP project stabilized energy cost for the applicants, gave them greater control over their systems and has encouraged some growers to move to solar powered pumps. Investing in energy efficiency can increase the income for a farm or business, and buying and installing new equipment creates economic activity in the community.

An economically healthier community is always good for a public-power utility. More directly, moving some of its larger customers from fossil fuel to electric power adds to NPPD’s customer base. Other REAP projects, such as solar grain dryers and building envelope upgrades for small businesses, promise future benefits for peak load control while keeping the local economy strong.

Rose urges customers to contact their local USDA Rural Development offices You are leaving WAPA.gov. to get their applications as soon as possible. Power providers may help support applications by providing energy audits. Also, keep in mind that REAP is a grant rather than a rebate, advises Rose. “Complete the application before you start the project.”

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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (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 You are leaving WAPA.gov. . 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.

Irrigation workshop introduces water apps for growers

Western teamed up with Nebraska Public Power District  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NPPD), the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Clean Energy Ambassadors You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Central Platte Natural Resource District You are leaving WAPA.gov. last November to present an irrigation workshop for agriculture energy customers of NPPD members.

REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings: From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the Project offered an overview of load management and efficiency opportunities; the REAP program, including eligible projects and application guidelines; and a case study on a solar pumping system. Participants learned about REAP success stories and utility incentives, met equipment vendors and watched NPPD Energy Consultant Ronald Rose, Kelley Messenger of the USDA and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann demonstrate pump testing methods.

Troy Ingram, of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, (UNL) introduced two new mobile apps the UNL Extension program You are leaving WAPA.gov. developed to help growers manage their irrigation systems. Utilities and their agriculture customers can benefit from these easy-to-use tools, even if they were unable to attend the workshop.

Pricing water
The IrrigateCost app You are leaving WAPA.gov. models center-pivot and gated pipe irrigation systems and the most commonly used energy sources. Using information such as acres irrigated, pumping lift, system PSI, pump and pivot life, and inches applied, the app computes total irrigation cost, along with the total cost of owning and operating a system. It also breaks down costs by irrigation well, pump, gear head, pump base, diesel engine and tank and system and calculates per-acre annual cost and per-acre-inch annual cost.

IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)
IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)

Growers make a number of management decisions based on the annualized costs of owning and operating an irrigation system, starting with whether or not to develop land for irrigation. For a system to be economically feasible, the net income from increased yields due to irrigation development must exceed the additional costs of owning and operating the system over its expected life. Once development is underway, the app can help determine design choices, including selection of energy source for pumping water, the type of distribution system, and so on. Other uses for the app include:

  • Calculating a fair crop-share rental agreement
  • Knowing what to charge for watering a portion of a neighbor’s field
  • Estimating costs to pump an acre-inch of water to help you determine how many additional bushels of a crop are needed by applying one more inch of water at the end of the irrigation season

The app is available through most phone carriers’ app stores. iPod and iPad users can get IrrigateCost from the Apple iTunes store You are leaving WAPA.gov. for $1.99. In The Google App Store You are leaving WAPA.gov. offers a version of the app for Android users, also $1.99.

Pricing efficiency
IrrigatePump You are leaving WAPA.gov. helps to calculate the efficiency of a pumping plant and to determine the potential savings from upgrading the system.

Whether a pumping plant uses diesel, electricity, gasoline, natural gas or propane, chances are it is using 25 percent more energy than expected by the Nebraska Pumping Plant Performance Criteria You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NPC). A pumping plant meeting the criteria delivers the expected amount of useful work, measured as water horsepower hours, for the amount of energy consumed. The NPC is based on field tests of pumping plants, lab tests of engines and manufacturer data on three-phase electric motors.

The user enters six numbers related to pumping lift, pressure at the discharge, acre-inches of water pumped, fuel price and total fuel used. The app then calculates a pumping plant performance rating, provides an estimated cost to bring the pumping plant up to standard and the number of years for payback on the investment at various interest rates.

Both apps provide anonymous results that users can capture and email to their own devices. The cost of IrrigatePump is $1.99 through Apple, Google or phone carriers.

Ingram noted that these apps are new and have not been through a full growing season yet, but he has used them and other agriculture apps on his own farm. Crop Water, an app UNL developed for scheduling irrigation—specifically for Nebraska soils—has been particularly helpful, he added.

Farming goes high-tech
There are now apps for almost every aspect of farming and ranching, from monitoring invasive species in your area to logging machinery maintenance, and most are free or inexpensive. Utilities might consider giving agriculture customers apps that are related to energy and water management like IrrigateCost and IrrigatePump. Apps could be great small incentives and customer relationship builders.

Just remember that not all apps are created equal. Croplife magazine You are leaving WAPA.gov. suggests doing a little homework before selecting an agriculture app. Or, better yet, contact your local university extension service to find out what they recommend or offer. Farming is a tough job, and growers will appreciate anything their utilities can do to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.

[Editor’s note: Apps aren’t the only thing you can offer your ag customers. Contact Energy Services if your utility is interested in sponsoring an irrigation efficiency workshop like the one NPPD presented in Grand Island.]

Workshop focuses on improving irrigation efficiency

Inefficient irrigation systems can be costly—to the grower, the utility and the community—so Western is co-sponsoring a workshop Nov. 18 to help agricultural customers explore resources to tackle the problem.

Lots to learn
REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings—From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site will introduce participants to free equipment-testing programs, grants and incentives to upgrade their agricultural operations. Speakers from Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (NPPD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will share:

  • Details on free programs support through NPPD, Western and other agencies
  • Hands-on training on pump testing and using infrared cameras to identify savings on energy-related costs, such as livestock watering, grain drying and shop energy

Best of all, the workshop is free to NPPD members and their agricultural customers. “We are excited about this workshop because it offers a unique perspective,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ronald Rose. “Irrigation customers will learn about the types of projects that qualify for federal, state and local incentives, and how to design energy efficiency into their projects up front.”

Hear from experts
NPPD is a leader in managing irrigation loads and supporting agricultural customers. Over the past 40 years, connected irrigation horsepower served by NPPD has grown at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of reported peak load controlled in 2010. The power wholesaler’s EnergyWise Pump Efficiency Program offers financial incentives for testing and upgrading eligible electric irrigation pumps to improve overall efficiency.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD's reported peak load controlled in 2010.
Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD’s reported peak load controlled in 2010.

NPPD recently partnered with a grower and vendor on an innovative pilot project, and Rose will be on hand to discuss lessons learned. The 25-kilowatt solar-powered irrigation system comprising 100 250-watt panels generated 40,000 kilowatt-hours in its first year of operation. “As far as we know, the system is the first of its kind in Nebraska,” he observed.

Visitors to NPPD’s website will find an operating-cost calculator and a status window to check on the daily irrigation control schedule. There is also information about specialized rates, incentives and applying for USDA energy grants.

USDA Rural Development provides from $22.8 to $75 million in grant funding to agricultural producers and small rural business owners interested in improving their energy efficiency or investing in renewable resource technology. The nationwide program is available to businesses in populations of 50,000 or less and to farmers and ranchers.

Veteran training provider
Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA), which is coordinating the event, has teamed with Western on many successful workshops, including popular infrared camera training. CEA’s free Lunchtime Webinar series presents a monthly opportunity to learn about cost-effective measures and technologies that can help small electric cooperatives save their customers energy and money.

Registration is required, so don’t wait to take advantage of this training opportunity. After registering you will receive an agenda and directions to the workshop site, the NRD Conference CenterRedirecting to a non-government site in Grand Island, Nebraska. For more information about registration or the workshop, contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Irrigation energy efficiency the topic of free webinar

The next Lunchtime Webinar from Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA) will be of special interest to any utility with a significant irrigation load. Join CEA on Sept. 23 for Irrigation Energy Efficiency—Your Technical and Financing Plan to learn about measures that can be a tremendous source of water, energy and cost savings for agricultural customers and the utilities that serve them.

The webinar will offer the latest information on irrigation and livestock pump efficiency measures, including pump testing and improved system design. Presentations will cover examples from the successful irrigation efficiency program at Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site.  A speaker from the Department of Agriculture will be on hand to offer advice on how REAP grants and loans can help achieve cost-saving improvements. You will also get details about free pump-testing resources available through Western for regional customers.

Utilities, local agencies, individual agriculture customers and those in related businesses will find this session useful.

CEA’s monthly Lunchtime Webinar series explores issues that affect consumer-owned power providers serving rural areas and small towns in the Great Plains and the West. The hour-long events generally take place on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 12 p.m. Central time. The focus is on cost-effective, easy-to-implement strategies to help utilities save money and build customer relationships. Discussions are lively and informal opportunities to share ideas with peers. Recordings of past webinars are available on the CEA website.

If you have any questions, please contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Western congratulates Loup Power District on 80th anniversary

The Loup River Public Power District, a wholesale customer of Nebraska Public Power District Redirecting to a non-government site, built its 35-mile long Loup Canal, two powerhouses, a diversion dam and other facilities in 1933, bringing jobs and electricity to rural Nebraska.

The utility is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2013 as the first public power district in the nation’s only all-public power state. The National Register of Historic Places lists the Loup hydroelectric system, which is being relicensed this year. Loup is also a founding member of the American Public Power Association.

Loup River Power District’s story is related in a new Public Power magazine article, “An Economic Engine.” Redirecting to a non-government site The article will be published in June in the magazine’s print edition. Source: Public Power Daily, 4/26/13

In-depth IR workshop a hit with NPPD members

[Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the January 2013 Energy Services Bulletin.]

It can be difficult to get busy utility professionals to take any time off for training, but a two-day infrared workshop sponsored by Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) recently drew 16 participants—and rave reviews.

Training utilities need

NPPD partner Southern Power District hosted IR for Weatherization and Energy Audits Nov. 28 and 29 at its headquarters in Grand Island, Neb. “A few contractors and representatives came from government agencies, but most of the trainees were our wholesale partners,” said NPPD Business Partner Consultant Roger Hunt, who organized the event.

The idea for the workshop originated with Hunt, who credits NPPD’s strong relationship with its member utilities for uncovering the need. “We knew a lot of our partners had purchased IR cameras, but they weren’t familiar enough with the technology to get the full value from their investment,” he said. “I’ve been through Level I and II IR certification, so I know how important it is to get the right training.”

Hunt chose The Snell Group to present a class aimed at energy auditors, weatherization contractors and home inspectors. He had once attended a similar workshop sponsored by the Nebraska Energy Office, and felt the focus on residential audits would be most useful to NPPD utilities.

Learn your camera

The course covered all models of thermal imaging equipment and included many hands-on simulations and exercises. “Since Snell doesn’t represent any camera manufacturers, the class was equipment-neutral,” said Western Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “The instructors could explain the capabilities and limitations of different cameras.”

That was good news for Wade Rahn, Customer Service Coordinator at Butler Public Power District, who brought along the utility’s ToughCam from IR Cameras, Inc. “I took the workshop to get better acquainted with using the camera in audit situations,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the workshop if the material focused only on the most common models.”

Having worked with IR cameras and  taken several classes, Hoffmann was very impressed with the course content. It offered more background on thermodynamic theory than other workshops he had attended, Hoffmann observed, and he really enjoyed the exercises. For one demonstration, participants were told to point their cameras at a quarter on a hotplate and adjust the focus so they could read the date on the coin. “It was a fun way to familiarize ourselves with our cameras,” Hoffmann observed.

The IR workshop was a first for Tim Ellis, the new Energy Services representative for the Rocky Mountain Region, so the camera exercises were particularly helpful to him. “It was a great opportunity to learn how to work the camera, where settings were, what they did and how to adjust them,” he said.

Audit practice

The longer workshop provided participants with the chance to do a real energy audit on the home of a Southern Power District employee. “The house had a couple of cold rooms, so the homeowner got a free energy audit in return for letting the class practice what they’d learned,” said Hoffmann. “The employee joined us to analyze the IR pictures after the inspection, even though he wasn’t enrolled in the workshop. It was a good deal for everyone.”

infrared picture of heated nickel
One camera control exercise involved adjusting the focus so the operator could read the date on a heated quarter.

 

The audit included visual and thermographic inspections inside and out, a blower door test and a lot of what Hoffmann termed “audit etiquette.” Nicki White, customer service representative for Cuming County Public Power District, found that part of the training extremely helpful. “It was surprising to learn how much background information auditors need before they go into a home,” she said.

Ellis appreciated the reminders about common courtesy and professionalism. “It’s important to remember that you are in someone’s home,” he said. “Auditors need to make sure the homeowner feels comfortable and confident about the inspection.”

Tips included everything from not trampling gardens to turning off gas water heaters so the blower door doesn’t suck carbon monoxide fumes into the house. Hunt reminds himself to turn the water heater back on before he leaves by putting  his car keys on it..

For Ellis, the audit served as a refresher course in building science and the physics behindheat movement through a building shell. “It gave me a chance to apply what I know to problem-solving at the consumer level,” he said. “This would be excellent training for utilities at any stage of developing a home audit program.”

Worth the time

The course would also be good research for utilities that are considering buying a camera, Ellis added, or for professionals looking for a crash course in residential building science. Participants take a written test at the end and receive continuing education credits, another reason to make time for training.

Hoffmann declared that it was the best IR workshop he had ever attended. “We covered a ton of stuff over in two full days,” he said. “It was really interesting and never felt like we were rushing through the material.”

If your utility is interested in sponsoring an in-depth workshop on infrared thermography or other auditing skills, contact your Energy Services representative for more information.

Infrared for Energy Evaluations – Training

Nov. 28-29, 2012
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Southern Power District
4550 West Husker Highway
Grand Island, Neb.

Infrared inspection is a valuable tool for helping homeowners and facility managers conserve energy and save money!

Get hands-on instruction in using infrared thermographic imaging equipment at a two-day workshop for energy auditors and weatherization professionals, sponsored by Nebraska Public Power District Redirecting to a non-government site. Members of Building Performance Institute Redirecting to a non-government site and International Association of Certified Home Inspectors Redirecting to a non-government site will receive certified education units for attending this training.

Thermography training experts The Snell Group Redirecting to a non-government site are presenting the workshop. Draw on their decades of industry experience to discover techniques for getting the most information from IR inspections.

Register by Nov. 15 to ensure your spot. The cost per person is $400, checks only. Make checks payable to Nebraska Public Power District. Send your check, along with the name and model number of your IR camera to:

NPPD
Attn: Energy Efficiency Team
1414 15th St.
Columbus, NE 68601

Note: You may bring your camera if it is available, but there will be cameras at the training.

Questions? Contact Roger Hunt at 402-239-9406.