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.

SEPA issues ‘state of market’ report for electric vehicles

The market for electric vehicles is growing quickly, and utilities can expect to play a central role in minimizing the potential grid impacts of this new load and increasing access to charging infrastructure. With that in mind, the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. has surveyed more than 480 utilities about their EV programs to create the industry’s first ever state-of-the-market report for EV programs.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value couldn’t come at a better time, with many industry EV adoption forecasts being revised due to exponential growth. Bloomberg New Energy Finance You are leaving WAPA.gov. predicts that electricity consumption will grow from a few terawatt-hours a year in 2017 to around 118 TWh by 2030. Many utilities may be unprepared for this sudden change in load growth. SEPA has collected information and tools in this report that can help utilities and their partners find a path forward.

The report includes:

  • A first-of-its-kind analytical framework for establishing the maturity of utility EV programs
  • Fourteen types of utility EV programs and activities categorized into early, intermediate and late stages
  • An overview of regulatory decisions regarding utility investments in EV charging infrastructure
  • Recommendations for strategic utility planning on EVs
  • Regulatory analysis and regional trends from over 70 EV-related regulatory dockets

A detailed analysis of the collected data revealed that 75 percent of utilities were in the earliest stages of EV program development. Time is not on the utilities’ side and they must begin now to work with peers and others in the industry to develop a robust EV strategy and identify ways to leverage EVs as a grid asset. Preparation today will equip power providers with the knowledge and technologies they need to unlock value in this new load.

You can download Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value for free. SEPA members can gain access to the dataset by logging in to the SEPA EStore. The dataset includes the list of utilities included in the analysis, the total number of programs and activities identified by stage for each utility and the identified utility stage.

Electric vehicles potentially offer many benefits—as a distributed energy resource with the ability to modulate charge or even dispatch energy back into the grid—along with many unknowns for utilities. Use this report to introduce yourself to the promise and pitfalls of a load that could change our industry.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, 3/15/18

SEPA report offers guidance on planning for distributed energy resources

As tempting as it may be for utilities to ignore the growth of distributed energy resources (DER), they must plan for integration of this form of generation. To help power providers develop a strategy to accommodate increasing DER penetration, Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SEPA) has published a two-volume report, Beyond the Meter: Planning the Distributed Energy Future.

Volume I: Emerging electric utility distribution planning practices for distributed energy resourcesThe utility industry is changing and many of the changes are being driven by consumers seeking new energy choices, technology advances leading to lower costs and better performance and new policies. Both utilities and their customers will have to work together to ensure grid reliability as distributed energy resource (DER) penetration increases. Engineering consultants Black and Veatch You are leaving WAPA.gov. collaborated with SEPA to provide a new strategy to become a proactive distribution planning utility.

Volume I: Emerging electric utility distribution planning practices for distributed energy resources outlines why traditional distribution system planning framework does not meet the needs of today’s grid. Five investor-owned and public power utilities shared their drive, progress and challenges when planning and proactively integrating distributed energy resources within their distribution system. The report covers:

  • Practical framework for distribution planning utilities
  • Insight from sector leaders on challenges and successes
  • Tools to better understand customer needs

Volume II: A case study of integrated DER planning by Sacramento Municipal Utility District details how SMUD used the findings of Volume I to forecast DER growth and plan for distribution challenges. Through the lens of SMUD, the report looks at the broader scenarios the electric utility industry can expect to encounter. The report covers:

  • Results of the new utility planning strategies
  • Risks and opportunities of new DER systems
  • More on the new distribution system planning framework

Beyond the Meter is free to download for both SEPA members and non-members.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, May 2017