Sustainability commitment leads BHSU to many ‘firsts’

Black Hills State University You are leaving WAPA.gov. (BHSU) in Spearfish, South Dakota, is joining other higher education leaders in renewable energy and sustainable operations by becoming the first university with extensive use of solar power.

The institutional WAPA customer is investigating installing solar panels on four campus buildings to serve those facilities’ energy needs and reduce electricity costs. The solar generation would replace supplemental power from Black Hills Energy and save BHSU an estimated $10,000 in the first year, according to information from the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Dedicated to sustainability
Cost savings—and a hedge against fuel prices—is a great reason for any business to install a renewable energy system, but for BHSU it is not the only one. The university was the first in South Dakota to join the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, You are leaving WAPA.gov. and under the Carbon Commitment program, You are leaving WAPA.gov. has set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the LEED Gold-certified student union puts generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy.

This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of BHSU’s LEED Gold-certified student union generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy. (Photo by Black Hills State University)

The process began with a Climate Action Plan, and includes participation in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System You are leaving WAPA.gov. (STARS). The voluntary self-reporting system helps colleges and universities to assess progress in meeting sustainability goals and sustainability leadership. STARS ratings are based on three main categories: education and research; operation and planning; administration and engagement. On Earth Day 2014, BHSU received a STARS Silver rating, making it the first South Dakota university to achieve that international rating.

Among the “green” initiatives that helped BHSU earn its rating are strong building efficiency standards, a robust recycling program and a campus community garden. Campus dining facilities The Hive and The Buzz Shack both achieved Green Restaurant Certification You are leaving WAPA.gov. in 2014, the first university-attached restaurants in the state to do so.

The university has already made small forays into the use of renewables, installing solar-powered lighting at campus entrances and a 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the student union. “It puts a small amount of generation back onto the grid and provides an introduction to renewable energy for students and visitors,” said Corinne Hansen, BHSU director of university and community relations.

Everyone involved
BHSU students, faculty and staff serve on the Sustainability Committee, which recommends strategies to advance BHSU’s climate goals. This committee meets every semester to plan activities that promote sustainability efforts on campus, and to educate the campus community on sustainability issues.

Successful strategies include faculty carpool and bike leasing programs to cut down on emissions from commutes around town and between Spearfish and the BHSU Rapid City campus. Landscaping with a stormwater management system slows and diverts runoff.

Sustainability concepts have been incorporated into lesson plans and even art projects, including an exhibit at the student union of sculptures made from recycled materials. The school received a national grant to fund a research project on solar cell materials and students have developed business plans for an innovative mobile recycling business.

Building for future
As part of the Climate Action Plan, all new buildings and major renovations at BHSU are built to LEED You are leaving WAPA.gov. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or higher standards. The David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union was the first state building to earn this standard, earning LEED Gold after its 2009 renovation.

The LEED Silver Life Science Laboratory has been chosen as one of the four sites for the solar arrays. Features that earned the building its LEED rating include a design that maximizes daylighting; the incorporation of recycled and local materials during construction; low-flow plumbing fixtures and low emitting carpet, paint, adhesives and sealants.

The other three buildings identified for the solar project include the Young Center, Woodburn Hall and the library, with the Young Center to be the first. “All four buildings have new roofs and good solar exposure,” explained Hansen. “The Young Center has the biggest roof by square feet.”

Lighting retrofits have helped to reduce the electrical loads in the Young Center and the library.

More to come
The university expects installation of the solar panels to be completed this summer, but sustainability is more than just clean energy. BHSU aims to decrease its waste stream by 25 percent from 2014 to 2018 by expanding recycling initiatives and introducing a user-friendly, desk-side disposal system. Going beyond recycling, a plan to discourage the use of disposable water bottles was launched in 2014 with the installation of filtered water bottle-filling stations across campus. Facilities Services will continue to replace traditional water fountains with water bottle-refill stations as needed.

Building upgrades will continue to increase campus energy efficiency, especially areas where electricity or heating demands can be significantly reduced. A complete upgrade of the building automation system is planned for 2018. Also in the next year, BHSU is planning an energy savings performance contract covering all campus academic buildings.

Ultimately, these projects and new ones that will arise as BHSU moves toward climate neutrality are as much about the future of the students as the future of the planet. Renewable energy systems, energy efficiency and recycling will reduce the university’s operating costs over the long term, and the savings can be channeled into improving education. More importantly, embracing sustainability principles prepares students for a rapidly changing world in which they will have many opportunities to achieve their own “firsts.”

Roseville customers get solar advice they can trust

Recognizing customer needs in the growing residential solar market, Roseville Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. has developed a program to help homeowners make sound decisions about installing solar systems and, in the process, is increasing customer satisfaction.Got solar questions? I've got answers. Connect with your Trusted Solar Advisor today at Roseville.ca.us/solar.

Solar installers are now marketing more aggressively to consumers who are definitely interested but want to be better informed before investing in a system. This creates an opening for utilities to become trusted energy advisors, said Alanya Schofield, a senior director at consulting firm E Source.

Schofield made her remarks at the American Public Power Association’s You are leaving WAPA.gov.(APPA) Public Power Forward summit in November and participated in a panel that included Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino. Public Power Forward is an APPA strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for a new era in electricity.

Seeing, meeting need
California passed a law in 2015 requiring utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, increased from the previous goal of 33 percent by 2020. Many public power utilities in the state, however, have been proactively encouraging clean power and energy efficiency for years. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program is just the latest among many examples.

Roseville Electric Utility launched the program in April 2014, in response to the growing number of customers calling with questions about installing solar arrays. A promotional campaign and workshops followed to introduce the website to customers.

Educating first
The website provides a starting point for customers who are trying to figure out if solar is right for them. A solar calculator—the WattPlan created by Clean Power Research You are leaving WAPA.gov. —allows customers to make cost-benefit comparisons based on electricity use, generation, financing options and system size.

Visitors will also find frequently asked questions and information about rebates Roseville offers for solar installation. The Trusted Solar Advisor stresses the importance of doing efficiency upgrades first, and links to a DIY Home Energy Analyzer. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Install when ready
Once a customer decides to go forward with a solar installation, the permitting process begins. Roseville customers can download the residential PV packet and find links to residential and business installation and interconnection forms.

Rather than maintain an approved contractor list, the utility provides helpful resources. The website includes links to Go Solar California, You are leaving WAPA.gov. sponsored by the California Energy Commission, and the Contractor State Licensing Board You are leaving WAPA.gov. so that customers can ensure their contractors have a valid license.

Staying neutral and staying current are the keys to gaining customer trust, noted Energy Program Technician David Dominguez. “We focus on making sure we give our customers the most relevant and up-to-date information,” he said. “That allows them to come to their own conclusions.”

Dominguez, who handles the utility’s retrofit solar interconnections, is the Trusted Solar Advisor and he was answering customers’ solar questions before Roseville created the program. Some customers just feel more comfortable talking to a representative, or they may still have questions after visiting the website, Dominguez acknowledged. “But now, with the website, when people call, they often have a much better idea of what they need to know.”

Source: Public Power Daily, 11/29/16

University of Utah among green power competitors in EPA challenge

When it comes to sustainability, colleges and universities have some of the most aggressive and comprehensive plans in the nation, and WAPA is proud to count some of those institutions as customers. One of our customers, the University of Utah, You are leaving WAPA.gov. is putting its climate action plan to the test in the 2016-17 College and University Green Power Challenge, which encourages higher education institutions to increase their use of green power.gpchallenge

Throughout the academic year, the Green Power Partnership tracks the collegiate athletic conferences with the highest combined green power usage in the nation. The challenge, an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency, is open to any conference in the United States. Currently, 89 schools from 34 athletic conferences are participating in the 2016-17 Challenge. The PAC 12 conference, of which UU is a part, has used 79,173,575 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power so far this year.

Drawing up plan
The University of Utah has been pursuing carbon neutrality since 2007 when the university president signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment You are leaving WAPA.gov.. In 2010, the school set its official goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of its first Climate Action Plan.

The comprehensive plan created the university Sustainability Office and sustainability committees to coordinate education, research and initiatives to reduce the university’s carbon emissions. The carbon commitment works hand in hand with a resilience commitment to strengthen UU’s ability to survive disruption and adapt to change. These commitments combine to form the whole of the plan’s climate commitment.

To meet its stated goals, the plan sets forth structures for guidance and implementation, and decision-making criteria for carbon reduction measures prioritized in an inverted pyramid. Avoiding and reducing emissions top the pyramid as the actions likely to have the greatest effect. Efficiency, resource replacement and offsetting fossil fuel use follow in that order. Every five years, UU will review, revise and resubmit the plan, a process that is currently underway.

Getting started
The first step on the road to carbon neutrality was gathering data on all wholly owned buildings and land area of the university and its subsidiaries. Leased facilities were not included in the accounting.

The difficulty for UU was that metering was only available at campus level when the initiative launched. “We have been working to get building-level information to better understand where we should focus our efforts,” said Myron Willson, the university’s deputy chief sustainability officer.

Data collection has led to an increased emphasis on commissioning and re-commissioning buildings and on major building system retrofits. The Sustainability Office is now looking into district-level energy planning on its health sciences campus.

In 2008, the students unanimously voted for a $2.50-per-semester student fee, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, to support sustainability projects. Since then, SCIF has received proposals ranging in focus from food systems to solar energy, and has allocated more than $400,000 in grants to more than 100 projects. There is now support for turning the fund into a revolving loan program that could help to provide the initial capital needed for energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Power supply plays its part
Although the plan prioritizes avoiding emissions and improving campus efficiency over using green power and offsetting fossil fuel use with renewable energy purchases, those strategies still have a place. UU installed a combined heat and power plant in 2008 that provides 6 megawatts (MW) of power. There is also about 1.5 MW of distributed solar directly on campus, and another 2 MW under contract for three projects on the university’s Research Park.

The university’s latest project brings together the entire community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors and friends for a community solar energy installation program. U Community Solar offers members the opportunity to purchase rooftop solar panels and installation for their homes at 20 to 25 percent below market rate. In return for the significant discount, participants can voluntarily donate their renewable energy credits back to the university. “So far, more than 85 percent of participants have agreed to do so, generating almost 1.8 MW in the first round,” said Willson. “The second round is nearing 1 MW of power. We register those RECs through WREGIS You are leaving WAPA.gov. [Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System].”

So far, so good
In addition to leading its conference in the Green Power Challenge, UU is making progress on its carbon neutrality goals. Its emissions have remained fairly constant since the baseline survey in 2007, but the university has experienced tremendous growth in that time frame. “Our per capita and per-square-foot energy use is down in our latest report, too,” Willson added.

The university continues to move forward with aggressive building standards for new construction and for remodels that are 40 percent better than code and a solar-ready roof initiative. Demand-side incentives from Rocky Mountain Power You are leaving WAPA.gov., the university’s utility, help support efficiency and clean energy projects. “We are able to roll the funds over into next project,” explained Willson. “We have also taken advantage of several Blue-Sky grants to install solar PV.”

To tackle emissions from transportation, the U Drive Electric program offers U community members and Salt Lake City residents the opportunity to purchase or lease electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles at discounted prices. The collaboration between UU, Salt Lake City and Utah Clean Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in hybrid cars this year.

The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City.

The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Sustainable Utah, Green News at the University of Utah)

Willson acknowledged that the 5-year review will bring evolution to the plan. “It is hard to know in the first years what combination of steps will bring the best result,” he said. “But we are currently working with consultants to evaluate several purchase power agreement opportunities for both on- and off-campus generation. This has helped us look at reducing peak demand, opportunities for storage, such as thermal and battery, and how to plan for future campus growth.”

WAPA wishes the University of Utah the best of luck in this year’s Green Power Challenge. But as with most energy competitions, it is not whether you win or lose; it’s how many opportunities for energy savings and load management you discover. In that, UU is already a winner.

If your college or university is interested in joining the 2016-17 Green Power Challenge, check out the steps to join Green Power Partnership for more information. To be listed, a conference must have at least two Green Power Partners and an aggregate green power purchase of at least 10 million kWh across the conference. Partner data deadlines are Jan. 4, 2017, and April 5, 2017.

NMPP helps members with net-metering service, resource book

If integrating distributed generation is challenging for large utilities, imagine the difficulties faced by rural and small municipal utilities. With 200 member communities located in six western states, Nebraska Municipal Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NMPP) doesn’t have to use imagination to identify the needs of its members.

Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed aresource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.

Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed a resource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.

NMPP is the utility services organization of NMPP Energy, the trade name for a coalition of four organizations based in Nebraska that provide municipal utilities with wholesale electricity, wholesale and retail natural gas and energy-related services. Some of its members serve as few as 200 customers with minimal staff who wear many hats, said NMPP Energy Communications Specialist Kevin Wickham. “We saw the need to help our members with interconnection coming several years ago when some of the states we serve passed net-metering laws,” he recalled.

Building new services
NMPP launched a net-metering service in 2010 that 22 member utilities have used to date. That number is likely to increase as the cost of installing individual solar arrays drops and utilities install community solar projects.

The net-metering program offers members a choice of three options, each for a cost-based, one-time fee. Members may choose from assistance in developing their own policy guideline and procedures, review of customer generation application for interconnection or avoided cost rate development for payment for energy delivered to the utility.

As it developed its net metering service, NMPP was also working on a resource guidebook, Recommended Policy and Guidelines for Interconnection of Customer-Owned Generation Including Net Metering. “The guidebook was six years in the making,” said Wickham. “Initially, we were going to offer it as one of the services available under the program.”

Something everyone needs
In 2015, NMPP and its wholesale power supply organization Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MEAN) partnered to provide the guidebook to all of MEAN’s 54 long-term total requirements power participants. “Distributed generation and customer self-generation has really taken off and we realized that there was a greater need for the information,” Wickham explained.

The guidebook contains policy guidance, sample agreements, industry terms and definitions and case studies from the American Public Power Association. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Members will also find net-metering statutes from the states NMPP and MEAN serve (Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas). That was one of the bigger challenges in putting together the guidebook, Wickham acknowledged. “Each city council and each utility designs and administers its own policies and procedures around net metering,” he said. “We had to make sure the guidebook was going to be useful to all our customers.”

Input from several regional utilities and trade associations helped NMPP compile a comprehensive resource. Otherwise, the net-metering guidebook was a product of expertise within the organization. “The guidebook wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation from those utilities, as well as the American Public Power Association,” said Tim Sutherland, MEAN director of wholesale electric operations.

Prepared for future
With an estimated 900 kilowatts of solar power on MEAN’s system, distributed generation has arrived, noted Wickham. “Customers have high expectations when it comes to utility customer service. We  stress to our members to be prepared, starting with things like having an interconnection agreement in place before a customer walks in the door,” he said.

MEAN member utilities, especially the small ones, are finding the resource useful in working out their renewable interconnection policies. “The creation of the net-metering guidebook was the result of being responsive to MEAN’s power participants’ needs,” said Sutherland. “It is just an example of seeing a need and trying to assist our member-owners.”

Utilities can expect to be confronting the challenge of distributed generation and other changes in the electric industry well into the future, Sutherland noted. NMPP and MEAN will continue to look for services, programs and tools to help their member-owners provide consumers with reliable, affordable and sustainable power, he added.

New report looks at utility business models for energy storage

Navigant Research You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Sunverge Energy, Inc. You are leaving WAPA.gov. have teamed up to produce a white paper highlighting opportunities to embrace energy storage in ways that benefit both public utilities and their customers.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical potential of rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) in the United States represents the equivalent of 39 percent of current U.S. electricity sales. The capacity from solar panels, advanced batteries and other forms of distributed energy resources (DER) is likely to keep growing. Some in the industry see this trend as the beginning of the “utility death spiral.” There are optimists, however, who see the chance for utilities—especially publically owned utilities—to reinvent themselves and their customer relationships.

According to the report, Making Sense of New Public Power DER Business Models, advanced energy storage can optimize DER to provide value on either side of the meter. In three featured case studies, public utilities, including Sacramento Municipal Utility DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. leveraged the diverse services energy storage can offer if coupled with state-of-the-art controls software. Smart storage applications proved to be the key to delivering win-win results such as improved reliability, more resilience and greater customer satisfaction.

Public power providers are uniquely positioned to explore new energy service delivery models that can turn the challenge of integrating DER into customer partnerships. You can learn more about innovative business models and up-and-coming technologies by downloading a free copy of Making Sense of New Public Power DER Business Models.

Source: Public Power Daily, 5/9/16

City of Banning utility appreciates value of integrated resource plan

The utility industry is going through a period of intense change—some would say upheaval—that makes planning more important than ever and well worth the time involved. Just ask Jim Steffens of the City of Banning, California, Electric Utility. You are leaving Western's site. “I like that the integrated resource plan (IRP) touches on so many areas of the utility,” said the Electric Utility Power Resources and Revenue Administrator. “The process made us think about how all the different parts, like the distribution system, play into delivering electricity.”

California’s Public Benefits Charge of 2.85 percent of retail sales make the municipal utility eligible to file a minimum investment report instead of an IRP. Yet the city opted to do the full IRP process for Banning’s 2015 report. “Historically, our five-year IRPs were very simple and didn’t change much because not much had changed since we last did a full IRP,” explained Steffens. “Then over the last few years, due to legislative and regulatory mandates, everything started changing fast and we really needed the comprehensive picture you get from an IRP.”

Times a-changin’
Banning Electric gets the majority of its electricity supply through contracts with the Southern California Public Power Authority You are leaving Western's site. for coal, nuclear and hydropower. Because California law does not permit electric utilities to invest in coal-fired power, SCPPA will be divesting its part ownership of the San Juan Unit 3 coal plant in New Mexico in 2017. “So there goes 20 megawatts (MW) of baseload power, which is a big deal for Banning,” said Steffen, adding, “Yes, we are a tiny utility.”

Some of that power will be replaced by 9.6 MW of landfill gas power from the Puente Hills facility You are leaving Western's site. built by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. A utility-scale solar farm on the border of Kern and Los Angeles counties will provide another 8 MW. In other words, Banning is looking down the road at a whole new resource mix by 2018.

Being located in a state on the cutting edge of transforming the power supply means that the city of 30,000 will have to look for ways to innovate, and that is where planning comes in. California’s carbon cap-and-trade program You are leaving Western's site. gives utilities allowances for compliance that can be auctioned. The IRP helped Steffens figure out how much of the auction proceeds Banning can bank to help cover the cost of prematurely getting rid of the San Juan plant.

Steffens also used the plan to track the city’s progress meeting the state’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard. “It showed that we may come up slightly short in one particular year, so we can start planning for that year now,” he said. “However, we are very proud of the fact that the utility power supply will be more than 70 percent renewable by 2018.”

Evolving load
Like the power supply, Banning’s load is also starting to change after decades of relative stability. Electricity demand dropped during the recession and has not yet fully recovered, but signs point in different directions.

In an economically challenged area, Banning residents have not adopted rooftop solar systems or electric vehicles (EVs) at the same rate as in other parts of the state. But both of these technologies are becoming more common and more affordable, so the city has to be ready. EVs could bring load growth, even as distributed generation reduces the utility’s load. Such uncertainties make the annual IRP progress report that much more important.

The rooftop solar array topping The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city's power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future.

The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city’s power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Population growth is putting more pressure on Banning too, with two large housing developments scheduled to start construction soon after 2020. “The past 10 years have been a real lesson in how quickly things we used to take for granted can change,” observed Steffens.

Plan points way
Efficiency is also included in Banning’s plan for the future. “A good portion of our Public Benefits funding covers the low-income Banning Electric Alternative Rate, or BEAR, but we also fund rebates,” noted Steffens. “Efficiency programs are an important part of customer service.”

Residential and commercial rebates are available for Energy Star appliances, air conditioner replacements, shade trees, weatherization, low-flush toilets, new construction, renewable systems and refrigerator and freezer recycling. The utility just launched a new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, or “The BEEF, developed specifically for our small and mid-sized business community,” said Steffens.

Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts.

Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Most of the businesses in Banning are small mom-and-pop operations that often don’t have extra capital for upgrades but could benefit greatly from lower utility bills.

Participants receive a free walk-through energy assessment to identify potential energy-saving upgrades to lighting, heating and cooling, water heating, motors and refrigeration. The businesses can then select the retrofit that best meets their needs and the utility pays up to $2,750 for the project.

When asked what percentage of Banning customers were commercial, Steffens checked his IRP. “Twenty-seven percent,” he replied. “The great thing about the IRP is that I have the answer to questions like that right in front of me.”

Steffens pointed out that the benefits of the IRP go well beyond just getting information in one place. “When things are changing as much as they are for Banning, you need to see the big picture and dive deep into the details,” he said. “We didn’t have to do the full IRP, but it is a great exercise to show you where you are going.”

Sioux Valley Energy dips toe in solar power for members

The words “renewable energy” and “South Dakota” usually call up images of wind turbines rather than solar panels, and rightly so—the state has almost 900 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity, compared to less than 300 kilowatts (kW) of solar. Under those circumstances, you might expect South Dakota consumers and utilities both to have a lot of questions about solar power. Sioux Valley Energy You are leaving Western's site. is taking the do-it-yourself approach to finding answers by installing a small solar array on one of its facilities.

Sioux Valley Energy employees work together to install a 24-kilowatt solar array on the cooperative’s Brandon, South Dakota, service center. The demonstration project is a learning experience for both the electric cooperative and its members. (Photo by Sioux Valley Energy)

Sioux Valley Energy employees work together to install a 24-kilowatt solar array on the cooperative’s Brandon, South Dakota, service center. The demonstration project is a learning experience for both the electric cooperative and its members. (Photo by Sioux Valley Energy)

The 24-kW array on the Brandon, South Dakota, service center consists of 80 panels, aimed in three different directions to determine which configurations work best during peak energy use times. In addition to siting, Sioux Valley is also collecting data on selecting equipment, cost benefit and installation.

Carrie Law, the cooperative’s director of Communications and Government Relations, explained, “Our members want to know more about distributed generation and how solar panels perform in our climate. We wanted our employees to get experience with the systems, too,” she added. “In the long run, that experience is likely to be worth more than the small amount of power the system generates.”

Well-rounded solar education
The demonstration project became something of a crash course in solar for Sioux Valley employees. A committee drawn from customer electrical services, customer service, accounting and engineering was involved at every step, from surveying members about their interest in solar to designing and installing the array. “The board asked us basically to throw everything solar on the table,” said Reggie Gassman, manager of Customer Electrical Services.

Installation turned out to be one of the easier parts of the project, noted Law. “Panels are designed now so that it is not that difficult to put them up,” she said. “From a safety standpoint, though, it is always good to work with qualified technicians. We want our members to know that their utility can provide that expertise now.”

All fired up
The array began generating power in May, with the south and southwest panels being the high performers. “That was pretty much to be expected,” said Law. “It will change come fall and winter. We will need to collect a lot more data before we are ready to draw any conclusions about performance,” she added.

If members are interested in learning how solar performs in the local climate, the utility wants to know more about how it performs in relation to peak demand. Once a winter-peaking utility, Sioux Valley now faces the challenge of a diverse load that includes agriculture customers, data centers and a growing residential territory. East River Electric Power CooperativeYou are leaving Western's site. one of Sioux Valley’s wholesale power suppliers, connected the array to a SCADA system. “That should give us some good information on peak offset,” observed Gassman.

Waiting, watching
Now that the solar array is up and generating, members are taking a wait-and-see approach. That is not surprising, given that the survey the employee committee conducted last fall showed that people wanted more data to help them make informed decisions. “We already knew that our members are very interested in solar power, and that came out in the survey,” Gassman noted, “but so did their concern about costs and payback. That is why we chose the demonstration route.”

In the meantime, members can see the solar system when they drive by the service center, which is located on a main road between Brandon and Sioux Falls. Managers from other co-ops have toured the facility, and Gassman recently gave a presentation on the project to the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League You are leaving Western's site. conservation group.

Members can also follow the array’s output from an online dashboard You are leaving Western's site. that displays the kilowatt-hours generated each day and a monthly comparison. “We have been urging members to use the website, and one recently came up to me on a camping trip to tell me that he is monitoring the project,” said Law.

Next step for renewables
The data Sioux Valley is collecting will help the co-op determine how solar fits into its overall mix and what direction a member program might take. Gassman thinks it may take several years for solar to really catch on in South Dakota. “We have such affordable rates right now that renewable energy doesn’t really pencil out for most people. But the survey indicated that members believe renewables should play a part in Sioux Valley’s future portfolio,” he acknowledged.

The co-op’s portfolio already includes about 15 member-owned solar systems, hydropower, waste heat recovery, a small amount of biogas from manure digesters and wind. Most of the wind comes from generation-and-transmission co-ops East River and Basin Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving Western's site..

Future regulation, new technology, changes in the economy and environmental concerns are likely to factor into shaping Sioux Valley’s energy mix, as well. The one thing utilities can count on today is that tomorrow will be different. Fortunately, with a board, staff and members who are willing to learn something new, Sioux Valley Energy will be prepared for whatever comes next.

Diverse power portfolio keeps Silicon Valley Power’s electricity rates low

As many California utilities scramble to replace hydropower megawatts drying up in the ongoing drought—and raise their rates sharply to pay for that electricity—Silicon Valley Power’s You are leaving Western's site. (SVP) more moderate increases keep their rates among the lowest in the state, thanks to a diverse portfolio.

“For utilities with more than 5,000 customers, Silicon Valley Power’s average system rate is the lowest in California [EIA – form 861, 2013 data],” stated Larry Owens, SVP customer services manager.

Generation resources located across a broad geographical area help to create a stable platform for SVP rates. (Artwork by Silicon Valley Power)

Generation resources located across a broad geographical area help to create a stable platform for SVP rates. (Artwork by Silicon Valley Power)

SVP’s decades-long investment in a diverse mix of resources saved its customers more than $100 million last year, compared to the rates paid in neighboring communities. The city of Santa Clara municipal electric utility credits the “whole portfolio” approach with its ability to maintain a rate advantage over surrounding communities during historic drought.

For 2014, more than 36 percent of SVP’s electricity came from renewable resources including geothermal, solar, landfill gas, wind and eligible hydropower. Natural gas and large hydropower from Western make up the bulk of the conventional generation, rounded out with a small amount of coal and other resources.

Diversify three ways
Fuel sources are not the only thing about SVP’s portfolio that is diverse, but it is primary to their approach. Power comes from wind turbines in the state of Washington, geothermal and small hydro from all over northern California and a utility-scale solar plant in Kern County, California.  In-town resources include a 147-megawatt (MW) combined-cycle plant, a 7-MW co-generation plant, 750 kilowatts (kW) of landfill gas power and 500 kW of solar.

Wind power from Washington state helps to balance SVP's resource mix. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

Wind power from Washington state helps to balance SVP’s resource mix. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

Geographic diversity—when power resources are spread over a wide territory—helps reduce single-point-of-failure risk from extreme weather, transmission congestion and even earthquakes.

Ownership is the third aspect of the “triple diversity” strategy SVP uses to balance its portfolio. Most of the electricity is purchased through power purchase agreements and joint power agency contracts, but SVP owns or co-owns a natural gas power plant, some hydropower facilities and photovoltaic arrays. In addition to the SVP-owned local arrays at Jenny Strand Research Park You are leaving Western's site. and the Tasman Parking Structure at Levi’s Stadium, business and residential customers contributed 11.4 MW of installed capacity in 2014. “By not relying too much on one particular provider or one type of contract, SVP has created a very stable platform to keep rates affordable,” explained Owens.

Playing long game
That was the scenario that originally motivated SVP to pursue diversification in the 1980s when it was still a full-service taker from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). “The first energy embargo was a wake-up call for our city leaders. They realized that moving away from a profit-motivated, sole source provider and seeking freedom from volatile fuel prices was key to providing affordable, reliable electricity to its customers,” Owens said.  “Renewable energy in particular could help SVP achieve its environmental goals.”

Silicon Valley Power began to acquire renewable resources in the 1980s with the purchase of hydropower from Western and wind power. (Artwork by Silicon Valley Power)

Silicon Valley Power began to acquire renewable resources in the 1980s with the purchase of hydropower from Western and wind power. (Artwork by Silicon Valley Power)

Hydropower from Western and wind from the Altamont Pass wind turbines were the first carbon-free resources into SVP’s (power) pool in 1985, followed by geothermal power from the North Bay Area in 1988. “Geothermal is a great fit for our needs,” said Owens said. “It is such a reliable base-load resource for our customers.”

The solar power portion of SVP’s portfolio has been growing rapidly in the last few years, thanks to dropping equipment prices, the utility’s generous support for customer systems and California’s renewable portfolio standard. The state must get 33 percent of its retail electricity sales from renewables by 2020.

SVP has already met the state’s 33-percent goal, but the utility will continue to evaluate new renewable resources to meet its continued growth in retail sales and to address the expectation of even higher renewable requirements. Currently, SVP has more capacity than load, “So we can shop around for the options that best meet our ‘triple diversity’ criteria,” observed Owens. “Even though we are in a severe drought now, equipping existing small hydro dams with high-efficiency turbines is an approach that still has some potential opportunities,” he added. “With a surplus of both capacity and renewable energy, SVP has many opportunities to sell into the renewable and non-renewable markets available in California.”

Recognizing opportunity and knowing when to seize it has given Silicon Valley Power a drought-resistant portfolio, brag-worthy rates and a solid foundation for meeting future challenges. Because keeping rates low, complying with regulation and protecting the community’s resources for the next generation is simply too big a job for one resource alone.

Source: The Outlet, June 2015

Around the Web: NRECA Unveils Interactive Website Tracking Cooperative Solar Development

AroundTheWebThe National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has unveiled an interactive websiteRedirecting to a non-government site tracking solar development by electric cooperatives. Offering maps, data, photos and video, the website provides an overview and new details about the recent dramatic increase in cooperative-owned and purchased solar capacity.

Member-owned, not for profit co-ops either have online or are planning to develop 240 megawatts of owned and purchased solar capacity in 34 states. According to NRECA, this development is distinguished by its large footprint, rapid growth and potential for expansion.

“Co-op solar is consumer-owned solar,” said NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson. “The solar website shows how the consumer-owned utility business model can spur innovation and expand solar capacity in regions where this resource had previously been written off as too expensive or not viable.”

Highlights of the new website include maps showing the co-op solar footprint, solar projects developed abroad by NRECA International and median income levels and co-op solar development. Visitors will also find a chart showing the cumulative growth of co-op solar capacity, and videos, pictures and stories of significant co-op solar projects throughout the nation.

The website complements NRECA research, funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative, to develop tools and business strategies to accelerate the deployment of utility-scale solar.

Co-ops are making significant investments in renewable resource generation, using loans from the Rural Utilities Service and other sources. With solar becoming more cost-competitive, electric co-ops are poised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new projects. In addition, co-ops purchase renewable energy from large projects such as the 31 MW Cimarron Solar Facility in New Mexico and the 7.7 MW Azalea Solar Power Facility in Georgia.

Source: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association via Renewables Biz, 11/8/14

Palo Alto honored for successfully streamlining solar permitting process

CPAU_logoAt the 2014 Solar Power Generation USA CongressRedirecting to a non-government site in San Diego, the national Award for Best Collaboration went to the city of Palo Alto, Calif.Redirecting to a non-government site, for streamlining its residential and commercial solar array approval process.

Palo Alto earned the award by bringing together stakeholders from the public, private and government sectors to make it faster and easier to install a photovoltaic (PV) system in the city. The collaborative project reduced the average 122-day wait for a solar permit in Palo Alto to five days, and in most cases the permit can be issued over the counter. The time it takes until final inspection is down to 140 days from the 209 days, with inspection requests being accommodated on the same or next day. As a result of these improvements, the number of solar applications received in city the same three-month period increased by 67 percent.

The best intentions
Standards for solar panel installation vary from state to state, even city to city; and contractor certification requirements are equally inconsistent. A strong approval and inspection process for installations ensures public safety, code compliance and quality work. “There will always be a few bad actors who will take advantage of cities and utilities that are under pressure to meet renewable energy mandates,” observed Peter Pirnejad, Development Services director for the City of Palo Alto. “Ultimately, that hurts consumers, renewable programs and the industry itself.”

But a too-rigorous process can hinder deployment, too, added Pirnejad, making an agency seem excessively bureaucratic and obstructive. In an effort to protect citizens, Palo Alto requirements had mushroomed to include full copies of installation guidelines on all the components of the array. “It is a balancing act, and we had gone too far in the direction of caution,” he acknowledged.

The first step in restoring balance was getting input from the local solar industry. Pirnejad, who joined the city in 2012, brought together a large group of installers to discuss the process. “We received a lot of feedback about our requirements and responsiveness,” he recalled. “It was clear that the problem was systemic.”

Get it done
Overhauling the process was the goal, and the city wasted no time moving forward. “You can’t say you want to streamline a system, and then take a long time to do it,” Pirnejad pointed out.

The Development Services Department assembled a task force of solar contractors, residents, utility representatives and city officials. In three meetings over four months, the group identified ways to create a more transparent and efficient permitting process.

The first round of fixes included setting a flat fee for residential installations, eliminating the requirement to engineer residential PV systems and reducing the number of required inspections. The city standardized a PV permit checklist, modeled on The Solar America Board Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs) Expedited Permit ProcessRedirecting to a non-government site and created a website where applicants can find all the requirements and city contacts.

Not there yet
The initial changes made a big difference in the first six months following implementation. The average number of days the city took to issue a permit dropped 37 percent. Streamlining reduced the number of days to finalize a permit by 15 percent, and cut in half the time it took to complete a review.

The city presented those results to the community for a six-month review, and the community’s gentle, but firm response was better, but not good enough. “The issues were more about efficiency than speed,” Pirnejad said.

In trying to turn around permit requests in three days, the city was stretching its system to the breaking point. The time it took the city to return plan check comments was viewed as less of a problem than how long it to issue the permit to build. People were having trouble meeting the requirements for over-the-counter permitting. Design plan checks had become faster but the number of rechecks and plan resubmittals had climbed. Similarly, contractors were less concerned about how long it took the city to respond to the field inspection request and more concerned about how often inspections were being failed.

The task force reached out to PV designers and installers again for help in refining the process. Pirnejad credits that input with helping the city find a balance between speed and thoroughness. “If I had one word of advice for cities trying to simplify and expedite their PV review and inspection experience, it would be ‘collaboration,'” he said. “To get a process that works for both the city and the designers, both parties have to come together.”

Better than awards

This is the 500th PV system installed in Palo Alto's territory, replacing the first system installed in 1983! The city's streamlined permitting process is helping to increase applications to install solar panels on homes and businesses. (Photo by City of Palo Alto)

This is the 500th PV system installed in Palo Alto’s territory, replacing the first system installed in 1983! The city’s streamlined permitting process is helping to increase applications to install solar panels on homes and businesses. (Photo by City of Palo Alto)

Palo Alto seems to have reached the goal of a process that works for the most people. In last quarter of 2013, the city received more solar permit applications than during the entire year of 2012. In December of 2013 alone, 38 applications moved through the process, compared to 40 in all of 2011.

Streamlining the permitting process will help the already carbon-neutral city increase the amount of clean electricity generated locally. The process for permitting electric vehicle charging stations was also covered in the overhaul, so it is likely to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, too.

Shortly after the improved process went into effect, the Vote Solar Initiative contacted Palo Alto. The nonprofit renewable energy advocate had heard about the collaborative project and wanted to feature it in a webinar about how cities should work. Project Permit, a Vote Solar program that scores municipal solar permitting practices nationwide, has given the Palo Alto permitting process a gold star.

The PV industry has shown its appreciation too, with SolarCityRedirecting to a non-government site and Cobalt Power SystemsRedirecting to a non-government site, two of the city’s largest PV installers, publicly praising the dramatic changes. “The City of Palo Alto deserves a tremendous amount of credit for listening to the needs of solar customers and making direct changes based on those needs,” said Jefferson Silver, senior commercial project manager for SolarCity.

“This type of collaboration between city staff and developers facilitates a deeper level of interaction within our community,” said Palo Alto City Manager James Keene in an interview.

Keep on keeping on
Pirnejad and the Development Services team have not allowed success to go to their heads. “Municipalities need to continuously monitor their requirements to make sure they remain efficient and reflect current best practices,” he explained.

The ties the city built with the community during the streamlining project will help to keep the process from backsliding, Pirnejad believes. “Getting all the stakeholders involved and really listening to them is what gets results,” he declared. “The human touch makes all the difference.”