Flathead Electric, youth agency team up on solar storage demonstration

A solar electricity storage project in Kalispell, Montana, combines three things at which electric cooperatives excel: testing new technology to see if it is a good fit for members, helping members lower their electric bills and forming partnerships in the community.

Flathead Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (FEC) recently selected the Flathead Youth Home to test rooftop solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall battery storage system. The 7.2-kilowatt, net-metered solar array and backup system will save on average about $44 per month on the home’s electric bills while the co-op collects and evaluates performance data on it.

A solar installer mounts panels on the roof of the Flathead Youth Home. The 7.2-kW array will include a storage battery and is expected to save the facility about $44 per month on electric bills.

A solar installer mounts panels on the roof of the Flathead Youth Home. The 7.2-kW array will include a storage battery and is expected to save the facility about $44 per month on electric bills. (Photo by Flathead Electric Cooperative)

Laying groundwork
The battery backup sets this solar installation apart from FEC’s Solar Utility Network (SUN) community solar project and the 38 residential arrays on its system. Energy Services Representative David Bopp is expecting the youth home project to provide deeper insights into the technology. “There is a large potential market for batteries in the future, so we hope to get ahead of it by testing it in its infancy,” he said. “We want to gather data now before people start putting them in and coming to us asking, ‘What can I get?’” 

A committee of utility employees came together to guide the pilot project and provide input on future projects from different perspectives. “The transformative technology committee includes representatives from business technology, member services, GIS, regulatory affairs, public relations and rate design, so they all have a different perspective to offer,” said Bopp. “It formed around the solar project, but we would like to keep it together to evaluate other technologies as they come up.”

Choosing partner
The committee initially considered an employee’s house when it began discussing the project, because the goal was to see how the system worked in a residential setting. But when the time came to site the project, they decided to choose a local charity with a similar electricity-use profile, noting that they could gather data for their purposes and benefit a nonprofit at the same time.

Finding the right charity—and in a hurry—posed something of a challenge to FEC. “It was late in the development process, so we didn’t have time to put it in our newsletter,” Bopp recalled. “We used social media to ask our customers for recommendations, called a nonprofit development group and United Way and brainstormed internally.”

One consideration was that many residential charities have confidentiality and safety concerns, and FEC wanted a partner that could participate in marketing and public outreach efforts. The charity would have to be comfortable with allowing FEC personnel access to the system and with the data being publicized at conferences. The Flathead Youth Home, which provides short- and long-term services to youth, is well established in Kalispell and promotes its work to the public, so it was a good candidate. “Luckily, the home happens to be in a part of town where people can see it, too,” Bopp added.

Installing system
From a technical standpoint, the 10-bedroom facility and administrative office had the right electricity profile. “We needed a minimum use so that the system would not be putting too much electricity back onto the grid,” said Bopp.

Workmen install a Tesla Powerwall storage battery. The demonstration project will help FEC to determine if solar coupled with battery storage can benefit both the utility and its customers.

Workmen install a Tesla Powerwall storage battery. The demonstration project will help FEC to determine if solar power coupled with battery storage can benefit both the utility and its customers. (Photo by Flathead Electric Cooperative)

Built in 2009, the home had good southern exposure and was relatively new so it didn’t need structural or efficiency upgrades. If the building owners were going to make any energy efficiency improvements in the near future, that would have to be factored into the electricity use data. “We wanted a steady load,” Bopp explained. “The home could qualify for a lighting upgrade rebate but that isn’t going to be a big enough change to affect the data.”

The system was installed in December, but winter put a hold on completing the wiring for the solar interconnection. The battery’s capability is being tested while final connections wait for winter’s end.  Bopp expects to fire up the system fully and start collecting data this spring.  The Flathead Youth Home will own the system after 10 years and until then the director will give tours on behalf of the co-op.

Diversifying technologies, energy supply
One of the central goals of the pilot is to discover if solar coupled with battery storage has ancillary benefits for both customers and FEC. The technology committee suspects that system might be useful in helping to manage peak load. The project will test that assumption and help the utility answer questions about rates, incentives and control going forward. “By testing batteries in their infancy, we can figure out how to use them while making sure we are fair to all our members,” said Bopp. 

The utility battery storage pilot project is the first in Montana, just as FEC’s SUN program was the state’s first community solar project. Electricity rates are so low in the region that renewable generators often have a discouragingly long payback period. However, renewable energy is still attractive to customers who have environmental concerns, are interested in energy independence or have remote loads to power.

FEC supports these customers with a net-metering policy, and by acquiring diversified resources. In addition to the residential solar arrays, there are four small wind turbines on its system. The utility owns a 1.5-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy facility and has purchase power agreements for electricity from a small hydropower generator and a biomass facility.

Source: ElectricCoop.com You are leaving WAPA.gov. via Green Power News, 1/24/17

Tribal solar farm breaks new ground for Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation, WAPA’s largest tribal customer, is about to join the ranks of utility-scale renewable energy producers with the construction of a 27.5-megawatt (MW) solar farm at Kayenta, Arizona.

Residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kayenta Solar Farm near WAPA's Kayenta Substation in Arizona.

Residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kayenta Solar Farm near WAPA’s Kayenta Substation in Arizona. (Photo by Travis Weger, WAPA Public Affairs specialist)

WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel and Chief Public Affairs Officer Teresa Plant attended the groundbreaking ceremony on the Navajo Nation, April 23. Also joining the ceremony were residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the primary power provider for the tribe.

The new facility, the largest Native-owned renewable project in the country, is expected to be operational by spring 2017. “We are excited to show that the Navajo Nation can develop an energy project on this scale,” said Deenise Becenti, NTUA spokesperson.

Many reasons to build
In addition to valuable experience, the solar farm will also provide power to a northern section of the Navajo Nation at some of the “lowest consumer electric rates in the region,” according to an NTUA press release. This is significant because of all the Native households in the U.S. that do not have electric power, 75 percent are in the Navajo Nation.

Other benefits of the project include promoting grid modernization and economic development. Construction will require about 100 workers, and there are expected to be five permanent jobs managing the facility. “It may not sound like much,” Becenti acknowledged, “but on the average, each employed tribe member helps to support eight others.”

She added that some people who have left the area to find jobs will be able to return home.

Partnering to reach goals
NTUA has taken the lead on developing the $64 million project, working out an agreement with Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. for the energy credits. SRP’s purchase of two years’ worth of energy and environmental attributes from the Kayenta Solar Farm is helping to fund its construction. The project is also receiving tax credits and loans, mainly from the Cooperative Finance Corporation, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a finance cooperative run by a network of electric cooperatives.

The purchase of the attributes will help SRP meet its goal of getting 20 percent of its retail energy requirements from sustainable resources by 2020. The Arizona-based public power provider contracted in 2012 to buy renewable energy certificates from solar arrays NTUA rents to low-income customers who do not have access to electricity. NTUA also sells SRP the credits from small solar installations on some utility facilities.

Bringing a large-scale renewable energy project to the Navajo Nation has been a long-time goal of the tribal utility, said NTUA General Manager Walter Hasse in a recent interview. “It is an important next step in the development of a green economy for the Navajo Nation,” he stated.

WAPA pitches in
The solar farm will be connecting to the larger grid through WAPA’s Kayenta Substation. WAPA has a long-standing relationship with NTUA, and has cooperated with the 55-year-old tribal utility on past projects.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Gabriel said, “We hope to continue building this kind of mutually beneficial partnership well into the future, especially with our Native American customers. Changes in the electric industry are occurring rapidly and WAPA stands ready to continue providing technical assistance in power marketing, resource management and transmission services for the Navajo Nation.”

Source: WAPA Closed Circuit, June 2016

Federal, state, private agencies partner to increase solar access nationwide

The Obama administration unveiled a new cross-government partnership this week to increase access to solar power, promote energy efficiency and build a more inclusive workforce. In collaboration with state agencies, the Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative aims to bring 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020.

DOE wants your ideas about how to structure and evaluate its Community Solar Challenge. Public comment is due Aug. 2.

DOE wants your ideas about how to structure and evaluate its Community Solar Challenge. Public comment is due Aug. 2. (Artwork by DOE SunShot Initiative )

The new program builds on the successes of the Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, introduced in 2011. SunShot works with private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, state and local governments and national laboratories to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020.

DOE is joining with the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Veteran’s Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency to make choosing solar an easier and more affordable option. The key components of the initiative will unlock financing mechanisms, bolster technical assistance for states and communities, drive innovation and scale up workforce training. These measures will enable more low- and moderate-income Americans to take advantage of the jobs that come with a transition to clean energy.

Accompanying executive actions
In addition to the launching Clean Energy Savings for All Americans, the administration is implementing several executive actions to support American communities in deploying renewable energy.

Programs to scale up Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing will allow homeowners to make energy improvements immediately and pay back the cost over time through their property taxes. Increased technical assistance will make it easier for low-income households to access hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for renewable energy investments. DOE and HUD will work with national laboratories to track the progress of deployment of solar energy systems on targeted households. 

DOE is developing a Community Solar Challenge that will award teams in dozens of communities up to $100,000 to develop innovative models to increase solar deployment and cut energy bills, in particular in low-income communities. Teams will build local capacity around the legal, technical, financial and administrative aspects of community solar programs and projects. The DOE SunShot Initiative has released a request for information to gather feedback and information on the structure of challenge. The deadline is Aug. 2.

The initiative also includes the sharing of best practices on how to finance and how to overcome barriers to creating healthier communities. Over the next months, summits on clean energy savings, community solar project financing and funding resources and training for vulnerable communities will convene across the country. You can keep up with these events and funding opportunities by subscribing to SunShot email updates newsletter.

Developing solar workforce
Solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy, and the Obama administration hopes to train an additional 25,000 workers by 2020. To reach that goal, DOE has teamed up with the Solar Foundation to create the Solar Training Network. The network is designed to connect training providers, employers and job seekers to supply the skilled solar workforce the industry needs to continue to grow.

DOE is also implementing a community and workforce investment program to both create new employment opportunities and train low-income West Baltimore residents for jobs in the solar industry. The initiative will explore options to expand access to solar for renters and local individuals in the Baltimore area.

States, private sector get on board
More than 120 private, state, local and philanthropic sectors in 36 states are pledging to support Clean Energy Savings for All Americans. These new commitments represent $287 million in investment, and nearly 280 megawatts (MW) of community solar and low- and moderate-income solar deployment. Combined with previous commitments, this brings the total amount of commitments secured to more than $800 million in investment and more than 491 MW of solar power.

Rural electric cooperatives are among the partners committing to install community solar projects by the end of 2017. WAPA customer Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. is among the more than 90 member-owned, not-for-profit power providers in 25 states that have brought online community solar projects in the last year.

Utilities hoping to bring the benefits of renewable energy into their communities can join the National Community Solar Partnership. You can learn more about starting a utility community solar program from Community Solar FAQ and find information to encourage solar homes in your territory with Solar Energy Resources for Homebuilders.

Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy via Green Power News, 7/19/16

Electric savings produce fresh results for Holy Cross consumers

When Tom Clark Jr. sized up the grocery store space he’d leased in Snowmass Village, Colorado, last year, it was clear Clark’s Market needed a soup-to-nuts overhaul to take advantage of today’s advanced heating, refrigeration and lighting systems.

Tom Clark in Clark's Market, Snowmass Village, Colorado

Tom Clark was determined to reduce energy use at Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village, Colorado, so he turned to Holy Cross Energy for help. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Gutting the 14,000-square-foot space and installing new super-efficient systems were going to cost more upfront, but, “Going with the standard was never really an option for us,” said Clark.

Clark’s Market turned to member-owned Holy Cross Energy and its We Care energy efficiency program for help, just as hundreds of other businesses and households served by the electric co-op have done over the past nine years.

A rebate of $15,000 from Holy Cross made the market’s investment in high-efficiency upgrades a lot easier to swallow. “These things aren’t cheap, but once you get them in place the benefits are numerous,” said Clark, who opened the market for business in July 2014. “When you are operating with energy-efficient equipment, it runs cooler, runs longer, there’s less maintenance and you can put out a superior product. It has been such a runaway success for us.”

Clark is focused on quality, but the high-efficiency systems are also saving energy. From September 2014 to March 2015, Clark’s Market used 155,000 fewer kilowatt-hours (kWh), cut the store’s electric demand in half and saved $13,268 on electric bills compared to bills tallied by the previous grocery store in the same space.

Results at Clark’s Market prove that energy efficiency is a solid investment, and Holy Cross Energy is working to help more of its business and household consumers benefit from similar paybacks.

Joseph Clark stocking shelves

Joseph Clark pitches in to stock shelves. Holy Cross Energy helps small, family-owned businesses like Clark’s Market succeed by keeping energy costs down. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

One of 1,000 upgrades
Seeking deeper energy savings from its We Care program, Holy Cross Energy set a five-year goal in 2013 for its consumers to save 33,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year by 2017. That is equal to all the electricity used per year by 2,457 homes in the Holy Cross service area, spread across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

Last year, 829 Holy Cross consumers completed more than 1,000 energy upgrades that will save 10,106 MWh of electricity per year, according to Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross. “This is on top of 6,241 MWh of annual savings from projects done in 2013, so we are halfway to our goal in the first two years,” Wiener said.

The first half of 2015 builds on that trend with the co-op paying out rebates for 667 measures. Wiener estimates that the annual savings from this year’s projects so far will total more than 3 million kWh. “And these savings will continue for years into the future,” she added.

Rebates offset project costs
Holy Cross Energy provides expert help and rebates to help its residential and commercial consumers make these upgrades.

“We understand that people appreciate getting help to make smart decisions, and the rebates show our consumers that we are their partner in energy efficiency,” said Wiener.

Holy Cross paid out more than $1.1 million in rebates in 2014 to consumers to offset a portion of their investments in energy savings. A 2-percent surcharge added to electric bills provides funding for the rebates.

Holy Cross staff visited more than 200 homes to provide complimentary home energy assessments. The co-op also helped pay for 68 Energy Smart Colorado home assessments. A total of 592 households made energy upgrades in 2014, said Wiener. “LED lights and recycling old refrigerators were by far the most popular upgrades,” she said. “People also replaced leaky windows, switched to programmable thermostats, swapped out their old holiday lights for LED strings and installed heat tape timers.”

Holy Cross also continued its partnership with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) to offer a home weatherization program to income-qualified households. In 2014, the NWCCOG crew made upgrades for 22 households, using a $46,000 contribution from Holy Cross.

LED lighting is project of choice
Partnering with Energy Smart Colorado has enabled Holy Cross to reach more businesses and multi-family housing properties. Energy Smart Colorado is administered by three local energy organizations, Clean Energy Economy for the Region, Community Office for Resource Efficiency and Walking Mountains Science Center. The partnership also provides free building walk-throughs and energy coaching to business and rental property owners.

Because such facilities use so much more electricity than single-family homes, projects at 177 of these properties delivered 93 percent of the total electric savings from 2014 projects.

For these projects, LED lighting was the upgrade of choice, delivering the added benefit of reduced maintenance. “LED lighting is the hot ticket for businesses, lodges and condos,” said Wiener. “These projects deliver immediate energy savings and rapid payback on your investment. We expect to see a lot more lighting upgrades as people see the excellence of these new LED fixtures and bulbs.”

More rebates available
Saving energy through efficiency upgrades and generating energy from solar panels means Holy Cross Energy is passing up sales of electricity. “Why would a utility want its consumers to use less electricity? Because it actually saves Holy Cross money,” explained Holy Cross CEO Del Worley. “In fact, we expect the savings from this past year’s efforts to save Holy Cross $1.8 million in power costs over the next five years.”

Worley pointed out that energy conservation is a cost-effective alternative to investing in costly new power plants, and it reduces the peak demand charges utilities pay their suppliers. Conservation is the most cost-effective investment we can make,” he added.

Members have shown that they support that investment by their participation in the co-op’s rebate program. Holy Cross Energy will continue to support their members—and its five-year goal—with rebate funding and technical assistance to home and business owners.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 7/1/15

And the winning CUE Exchange sessions are…

Thanks to all the readers who let us know which sessions of the Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange they want Breaking News to cover. On Thursday, Oct. 14, the morning sessions are Focus on Residential Energy Efficiency and Focus on Commercial Efficiency.  Here is the schedule you selected: 

8:30–9:00 a.m. Utility Commercial Program Snap Shots
Five-minute highlights of utility program activities presented by the session co-chairs and other participants. 

9:00–9:30 a.m. Creating a Compelling Home Energy Audit (res.)
Learn about a pilot project by Xcel Energy and Apogee Interactive, Inc. to study the accuracy and performance of a web RESNET certified software modeling tool. 

9:30–10:00 a.m. Driving Scale and Adoption in the Hard to Reach Small Business Sector (com.)
This presentation focuses on an effective, high-touch, tiered program that drives energy education and energy-efficiency adoption in San Antonio, Texas.

10:30–11:00 a.m. Existing Home Efficiency – Covering All the Bases (res.)
Learn how Fort Collins developed the standards, training and quality assurance aspects of installing insulation, air sealing, windows and HVAC measures and get a progress report on the first 10 months.

11:00–11:30 a.m.  Residential Audits to Homeowner Action in One-Step: How Oklahoma Gas & Electric Is Driving an Innovative Bundled Energy Audit & Residential DSM Effort to Produce Surprising Results (res.) 
This overview of OG&E’s new bundled residential energy-efficiency audit and DSM program covers the program’s innovative use of technology such as real-time scheduling and staff coordination, paperless and tablet-computer driven home audit process and more.

11:30 a.m.–noon  Home Energy Audit Software Selection for Kansas and Utah (res.)
Presentation of home energy audit software selection for two different programs (Kansas and Utah) with similar but distinct objectives.

The themes of the afternoon tracks are Focus on Technology and Focus on Partnerships:

1:00–1:30 p.m. Partnership Snap Shots
Five-minute highlights of utility program activities presented by the session co-chairs and other participants.

1:30–2:00 p.m.  Select HVAC Joint Program Implementation (tech.)
The Select HVAC, a joint utility program developed by Poudre Valley REA and Platte River Power Authority, provides educational opportunities for qualified HVAC professionals and requires a commitment to proper installation practices and commissioning. 

2:00–2:30 p.m.   CARE Program (part.)
Poudre Valley REA has started a CARE program to bring energy efficiency to 50 homes in its service territory.  This program is providing funding for energy audits and improvements on participants’ homes. 

2:30–3:00 p.m.  Moving Beyond Savings: Exploring Techniques for Determining the “How” and “Why” Behavioral Program Success (part.)
Learn how to collect the information utilities really need  to move beyond cookie-cutter intervention models and get to the next level of success. 

3:30–4:00 p.m.  Why Utilities Should Add Geothermal To Their Service Offering (tech.)
Case studies summarize the demand and energy reductions from geothermal heat pump installations across the country and highlight innovative approaches that rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and investor-owned utilities are using to accelerate the deployment of these systems.

4:00–4:30 p.m. Energy Efficiency Incentives That Motivate Home and Business Owners (part.)
Discover best practices and lessons learned from leading utilities, municipalities and manufacturers that partner with installation contractors to design and deliver rebate and financing incentives.

4:30–5:00 p.m.  ENERGY STAR HVAC Quality Installation Program (tech.)
The ENERGY STAR HVAC Quality Installation program goes beyond traditional equipment incentives to deliver energy savings from proper installation of high efficiency HVAC equipment. In addition to realizing the full energy-saving potential of these systems, this new approach can increase customer confidence in their contractor and utility.

Visit the complete agenda for last minute additions to the program. If you see a session that really strikes a chord, let us know. We  encourage guest contributors, and we’ll try to enlist attendees from those sessions to fire off reports in their own words. And of course, we look forward to hearing from you, our readers.