Community solar workshop presentations now available

If you missed Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, a workshop WAPA cosponsored with the Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) and SunShot Solar Market Pathways, you can now download the presentations from the CSVP website.

WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman (standing right) talks about the opportunities and challenges community solar represents for utilities.

WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman (standing right) talks about the opportunities and challenges community solar represents for utilities.

The free event was held at WAPA’s Electric Power Training Center in Golden, Colorado, and drew strong attendance from every type of utility, especially in the West. As the workshop title stated, the agenda focused on the logistical aspects of building a community solar project and explored ways to make projects more successful. Speakers and participants discussed best practices for analyzing solar development opportunities, writing requests for proposals, engaging internal and external stakeholders, working with contractors and vendors and designing rates.

Customers share experience
Several WAPA customers were on hand to share their experiences with developing their own projects. Luis Reyes of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. sat on a panel that focused on improving the procurement process. The Taos, New Mexico, utility launched its first community solar project in 2012 and has an ambitious initiative to install 35 megawatts of photovoltaics this year.

Participants throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks during table-top sessions on program design, procurement, rate design and marketing.

Participants throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks during table-top sessions on program design, procurement, rate design and marketing.

A panel on pricing challenges included John Phelan from Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. in northern Colorado. As a pioneer with Rocky Mountain Institute in clean energy and sustainability solutions, the city of Fort Collins has discovered that success brings a new set of challenges. For example, the utility is wrestling with how to design a rate that accommodates both a legacy community solar garden and a new array for qualified low-income customers.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. is currently developing a 6,000-panel community solar project with carve-outs for local nonprofit organizations and another for income-qualified customers. Making community solar available to customers who need the most help with utility bills was another topic that received a lot of attention. Utilities are experimenting with different business models for low-income projects, but most agree on the potential benefits: freeing up more money for other needs, bringing more certainty to monthly bills and raising energy awareness in a hard-to-reach group.

Attendees were all at different points on the learning curve with community solar. Representatives from the City of Fort Collins Utilities, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the city of Lamar, Colorado, shared their experiences during the free workshop.

Attendees were all at different points on the learning curve with community solar. Representatives from the City of Fort Collins Utilities, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the city of Lamar, Colorado, shared their experiences during the free workshop. (Photo by Jill Cliburn)

Ask for more
WAPA thanks the Community Solar Value Project for partnering with us to put on Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing. Utilities are still learning about this form of distributed energy and how to gain the most benefits from it for their customers and their own operations. To learn more, check out the workshop presentations, along with past CSVP webinars. Also, let us know if there are other types of workshops you would like to see WAPA present, or partners or subject matter experts we could collaborate with.

CARE Program

Gary Myers, Poudre Valley REA, and Deacon Taylor, Sangfroid Inc.

Poudre Valley REA serves 35,000 members in Northern Colorado, and had 2009 revenues in excess of one billion dollars.

In 2009, the utility sponsored a Home Energy Makeover contest, with a grand prize of $20,000 to install a geothermal heat pump. The ideal home would be 3,000 square feet and have high energy bills. Partners in implementing the contest included Colorado Geothermal Drilling, Roberts Heating and Air, and Thermal Partners. The winning family started with bills of $435 month for heating only. After the makeover, the bill dropped to $40 per month.

The general manager of Poudre Valley wanted to extend the benefits to other members, but at a lower cost. The Concern About Residential Energy efficiency program was born. The program aims to do as many homes as possible in the $1,500 range. Weatherization improvements are the most cost effective.

To qualify for the program, customer must be a Poudre Valley member and homeowner with a demonstrated need.

To begin the process an intern from Front Range Community College is performing energy audits. The auditor collects gas usage data and structural details, lighting details, outlet cover count, heating system type and water heater type and temperature data. Details about the attic structure and amount and type of insulation in the attic space are recorded. The homeowner gets a CO monitor, more than one for a multilevel home. Poudre Valley reviews the auditor forms and dispatches the contractor, who coordinates directly with the homeowner.

Locating qualified contractors was a challenge. Poudre Valley chose Lawton energy Saving Solution and This Efficient House to do the weatherization. The contract required a blower door test, combustion safety test and make specified improvements. An independent third party, Thermal Concepts, does another blower door and combustion safety test to insure proper installation.

So far, 55 applications have been screened, and the auditor has begun collecting information.

Select HVAC Joint Program Implementation

Gary Myers, Poudre Valley REA, and Mike Rubala, Platte River Power Authority

One of the biggest energy-related problems for utility customers and contractors is HVAC. The goals of the Select HVAC program is to “stop the madness” of poor installation, and to develop a list of competent HVAC contractors within legal bounds.

When the utility receives a call from a customer with an HVAC complaint, it may be about a high bill or air quality, safety concerns or poor performance. An inspector visits the customer and often discovers alarming problems. Systems are poorly designed and haven’t been commissioned. The ductwork may be improperly designed or disconnected or the installer failed to test the system. Sometimes there is no filter.

There are operational problems, too. Homeowners haven’t been properly instructed in how to use the programmable thermostat, or they have not been told how to maintain or service the unit.

It’s time to demand contractors adhere to industry required standards. HVAC systems are complex, and contactors must understand many factors. To be a Select contractor, the contractor must hold all the necessary licenses, maintain proper insurance, comply with program code of ethics, hold any pertinent certifications required by Poudre Valley and Platte River, do proper commissioning and agree to third party inspections.

Initially, the utilities sent invitation to 101 contractors, but only 12 responded—about 10 percent of the contractors are “sane.” To play ball, they have to sign several agreements. Front Range Community College is conducting required training. The college has an established HVAC program.

The customers now have access to reliable contractors, and the contractors get referrals. The program is also promoted on the utilities’ websites, in bill stuffers, city newsletters and newspaper ads. The magazine Colorado Country Life carries ads for the program that the contractors couldn’t afford on their own.

The program is increasing professionalism among the participating contractors. Contractors are able to charge more for a better job, and customers trust the work. No one has dropped out of the program.