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.

Eco Pulse 2017 ends year on message of unity

Artwork by Shelton Group

In a country that increasingly seems to be defined by its division, it can be hard to market products and services that everybody needs, a challenge not lost on electric utilities. Happily, there are still some things people agree on—energy efficiency comes to mind—and the latest Eco Pulse report explores how to use those areas of agreement to tell your product’s story.

Agreeing on Earth
United We Understand You are leaving WAPA.gov. takes a deep dive to look at the values that drive the attitudes and behaviors people have with regard to sustainability. The data collected in the report suggest that the values structure in our country has more common roots than news headlines would indicate.

A survey of 2,000 respondents showed that Americans believe three things:

  1. We all deserve a clean planet.
  2. There’s a big problem happening with our environment.
  3. Everyone bears responsibility for fixing environmental problems.

Also, the number of respondents who say sustainability is an important part of their consumer choices has increased since 2013 and they believe that companies should do their part. However, a majority of respondents believe companies won’t take action unless a law requires them to.

Words matter
The report shares words that can unify Americans and thereby help brands connect with consumers. Using words that unite can help businesses use sustainability to build their brands across a broader audience. For utilities, the carefully chosen marketing language can create support for sustainability initiatives and program offerings, ensure a message that resonates and increase customer loyalty.

Language that divides rather than unites is also covered in the report. Words that trigger neutral or negative responses tend to have a less clear meaning across different demographics and do not resonate with our broader beliefs about how the world works.

Speak to values
Researchers concluded that Americans value the environment more than we might expect, but their reasons for doing so differ. Using a set of agreement statements developed in the seminal book, Environmental Values in American Culture, the Eco Pulse report found motivations that can be categorized into three distinct groups: earth-centric, human-centric and economic-centric. By understanding these values, and how to articulate them, you can better leverage your sustainability story, build your customer relationships and drive program participation.

You can download United We Understand for free from the Shelton Group, but registration is required. Start off 2018 with a revitalized marketing strategy for your customer programs and don’t forget to tell Energy Services how it goes. Happy New Year!

Source: The Shelton Group, 12/7/17

Take stock of 2017 with Utility Dive industry survey

It has been quite a year for the electric utility industry, with seemingly conflicting signals and demands coming from so many different directions, and 2018 looks to be equally unsettled and unsettling. Utility Dive is asking utilities how they coped with 2017 through its fifth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The research report captures the trends, technologies and troubles shaping the sector. Take just 10 minutes to weigh in on your experience with regulations, wholesale power markets, distributed resources, environmental mandates and customer engagement, to name just a few topics the survey covers. The more utilities that respond, the more complete the picture of the pressing challenges and exciting opportunities power providers are facing.

Not only do you get the chance to reflect on the past year, you also get access to a year’s worth of powerful insights from your colleagues. All respondents receive a free copy of the survey results delivered directly to them by email.

The results of the survey and an analysis will be released in early 2018. You can download last year’s report You are leaving WAPA.gov. for free.

Source: Utility Dive, 11/16/17

Utility industry survey identifies top concerns in 2017

The results are in from Utility Dive’s State of the Electric Utility Survey 2017
and the report is available to download. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The top five issues utilities identified as their biggest challenges will no doubt sound familiar to WAPA customers, whether or not they participated in the survey:

  • Physical and cyber security
  • Distributed energy policy
  • Rate design reform
  • Aging grid infrastructure
  • Reliable integration of renewables and distributed energy resources (DERs)
72 percent of utility professionals said physical and cyber security is either "important" or "very important," making it the most pressing issue for the sector in 2017.
72 percent of utility professionals said physical and cyber security is either “important” or “very important,” making it the most pressing issue for the sector in 2017.

The results of the survey, disclosed in late March, found that 72 percent of respondents see physical and cyber security as either “important” or “very important” today, making it the industry’s most pressing issue in 2017. A total of 65 percent considered distributed resource policy either important or very important. Rate design reform ranked as important for 31 percent and very important for 32 percent of respondents. As for aging grid infrastructure, 34 percent of survey respondents see it as important today, while another 28 percent say it is very important. The reliable integration of renewables and DERs finished in the top five with 60 percent identifying it as an important or very important concern.

State regulatory model reform, the aging utility workforce, changing consumer preferences, compliance with state power mandates and stagnant load growth rounded out the top ten issue responses.

Two years ago, physical and cyber security ranked as sixth, behind aging infrastructure, aging workforce, current regulatory models, stagnant load growth and federal emissions standards.

More than 600 electric utility employees from the U.S. and Canada took online questionnaire, offered to Utility Dive readers in January. Investor-owned utilities represented 54 percent of the survey respondents, followed by municipal or public power utilities (32 percent) and electric cooperatives (14 percent).

Among other key takeaways in the 2017 report, the survey found that utilities are most confident in the growth of utility-scale solar, distributed energy resources, wind energy and natural gas generation over the next 10 years. They also expect coal generation to decline significantly, while nuclear generation will stagnate or retire, depending on the region. Utilities consider uncertainty over future energy policies and market conditions to be the most significant challenge associated with the changing power mix, according to the survey.

Region played a role in how utilities viewed challenges. The majority of respondents across the country identified physical and cyber security, DER policy and renewable energy and DER integration as serious issues. However, that concern was markedly stronger in the West Coast, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain and New England regions. Utility Dive noted that those regions feature states with both robust DER growth and utility reform dockets to reshape power sector business models for DER deployment.

Rate design reform and aging infrastructure were of greater concern on the West Coast, while utilities in the Southwest and South Central states were the least worried about those issues.

You can download the report for free and see how your responses stack up to those of your colleagues. Then, share your thoughts on these issues with Energy Services, let us know how you are handling them and how you would like us to help you address them.

Source: Public Power Daily, You are leaving WAPA.gov. 4/10/17

Weigh in on state of our industry

Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. is looking for input from electric utility professionals for its annual State of the Electric Utility Industry Survey. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

With major policy upheaval at the state and federal level, the results this year could be more important than ever. The online industry news magazine needs the opinion of its readers on where the industry is headed in 2017 and beyond. Offer your perspective in UD’s fourth annual survey and encourage your coworkers to do the same.

The best way to see the results of the survey is to take it. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete and could provide you with powerful insights into the electricity industry’s future. Also, you can download the results of last year’s survey for a look at how trends played out in 2016.

Source: Utility Dive, 2/1/17

Requested: Your ideas for UEF Pre-Forum Workshop topics

Deadline extended to Feb. 15, 2017!

The 37th annual Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. is just around the corner, and with it, the Pre-Forum Workshop for utility and government attendees. This exclusive session is a candid roundtable discussion about pressing issues facing power providers and the government agencies that support them. The program committee is inviting attendees from those sectors to share their greatest concerns in an online survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. by Feb. 8. The topics that get the most votes will be included on the workshop agenda.

This year’s theme, “Change is the Only Constant – Customers, Policy and Technology,” sums up the challenges of doing business in today’s electricity industry. The main agenda offers many perspectives on what customers want, what utilities can do to meet those expectations and what policy makers can do to help.

The workshop, however, is the place to really get into the weeds on how change is reshaping everything from daily operations to long-term planning. If you are worrying about depreciating assets or new net-zero developments in your territory, this is the place to talk about it. If you wonder what kind of skills your employees will need to manage the new environment, suggest that topic. If you are trying to figure out how to work with customers who want to install energy storage batteries on their homes or businesses, the workshop offers the chance to learn from others. And that only scratches the surface.

You don’t have to be attending the Utility Energy Forum, May 3-5, to vote in the survey. All utility professionals and government representatives can contribute their valuable and much-needed perspective. For those who miss the event, Energy Services Bulletin will be reporting on the big stories, and speaker presentations will be posted on the website.

But there is nothing like a face-to-face conversation with your colleagues to get the wheels turning. We hope you will join us at the Hilton Sonoma in Santa Rosa, California, to share ideas, discuss solutions and think about where you—and our industry—are going.

Learn more about WAPA from these resources

Our mission in Energy Services is to keep WAPA customers informed about tools and technologies that help you with resource planning. Now, for those who would like to know more about how WAPA works and why, we offer two online resources: The Source and The Customer Circuit.

The theme for the Customer Circuit Spring 2016 was working with Washington D.C.
The theme for the Customer Circuit Spring 2016 was working with Washington D.C.

Launched in spring of this year, The Source is a one-stop online shop for operational data and financial information about WAPA. Western Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel explained, “We recognize people’s desire to have information at their fingertips. With that in mind, we created this site for stakeholders and the public to quickly find the information they need. When our customers have requests, we are well positioned to deliver.”

Nearly all the information is already available throughout Western’s primary website. The Source, however, provides one convenient location for visitors to find WAPA’s annual reports, budget allocation, presentations and speeches, regional rates and a searchable index of WAPA’s power systems called “By the Numbers.”

The Customer Circuit is a quarterly newsletter that provides customers with information about WAPA’s operations, programs, budget and initiatives. Each issue explores a specific theme; the most recent issue includes a story about how WAPA’s Washington, D.C., Liaison Office works with other federal agencies. The winter issue covered the state of WAPA’s assets including regional offices, hydrology conditions, transmission, security and cyber assets. Customers and other visitors can download the Customer Circuit, including past issues, on The Source.

The Source and Customer Circuit, like WAPA’s website redesign project, are all part of the same effort to enhance and expand transparency and to improve our website functionality. We encourage customers to visit the WAPA website and take the redesign survey. If you would like to have more input in how WAPA shares information with its customers, contact Public Affairs at 720-962-7050, to volunteer for remote user testing.

Chief Public Affairs Officer Teresa Waugh said, “Our goal is to present relevant and timely information in the clearest, most efficient way possible.”

What JD Power results really say about business customers

Western customers were among the eight utilities recognized in J.D. Power’s 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study. A recent article in Intelligent Utility You are leaving Western's site. digs deeper into the survey to find out what is behind an upward trend in customer satisfaction with power providers.

The key turns out to be better communication. Commercial and industrial customers want to understand how and why their bill changes from month to month, and they want to know about utility products and services that can help them manage their energy costs.

Read more about strategies that could land your utility in a top survey slot next year.

Source: Intelligent Utility, 3/1/16

Western customers score high in customer satisfaction on annual study

When J.D. Power released its 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study You are leaving Western's site., the list of eight U.S. electric utilities included Western customers.

(Art by JD Power)
(Art by JD Power)

The 17th annual study ranked utilities based on customer satisfaction by size and region. Omaha Public Power District You are leaving Western's site. (OPPD) rated highest in the Midwest Midsize category. Salt River Project You are leaving Western's site. (SRP) in Arizona outperformed other utilities in the Large West category and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) excelled in the West Midsize category. OPPD and SRP also ranked highest in last year’s study, the only two among the eight power providers to repeat their appearance on the list.

The other five electric utilities with highly satisfied business customers are:

  • Con Edison (East Large)
  • Met-Ed (East Midsize)
  • Ameren Missouri (Midwest Large)
  • Entergy Arkansas (South Large)
  • JEA (South Midsize)

Except for JEA, based in Jacksonville, Florida, these are all investor-owned utilities. “The public power utilities that have won the J.D. Power honors all exemplify this excellence in customer service,” said Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association You are leaving Western's site. (APPA).

Focused on sustainability
OPPD works with more than 45,000 commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to help them improve energy efficiency and develop new renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass. In an interview with APPA for Public Power Daily, Jim Krist, OPPD manager of key account sales and service, pointed to a heightened interest among business customers in sustainability and driving their own energy choices. “The customer continues to change the way we think, operate and serve,” he said.

OPPD has 10 account executives dedicated to servicing the utility’s largest C&I customers. These customers receive annual energy reviews and work with the utility on economic development issues. OPPD account executives and electric service designers consult with business customers on demand-side management programs to help them reduce energy demand and receive rebates.

Communicating proactively
Even a brief power outage can cost a business thousands of dollars—or worse—so providing timely, accurate information about outages and quickly restoring electric service strongly affects a utility’s rating.

SRP has introduced online and mobile-friendly apps to provide detailed power outage information to businesses, and to send power outage notifications and weather alerts to customers via email and text. Every business customer who contacts SRP to report an outage receives a follow-up call by the next business day. The utility uses the opportunity to educate them on how to use online outage map and reporting tools.

This aggressive approach has paid off in significant increases in the satisfaction scores. “And our customers are telling us how much they appreciate this proactive outreach,” Jennie King, the utility’s director of strategic energy management, told APPA.

SRP’s robust portfolio of 20 energy-efficiency programs is another reason the utility has ranked first in the West by J.D. Power for three consecutive years. Program offerings range from low- to no-cost options for limited-income residential customers to comprehensive programs for industrial clients.

Expanding customer engagement
Taking the proactive approach for keeping in touch with business customers figures heavily in SMUD’s business customer service strategy, too. Account representatives serve as trusted energy advisors to their assigned business customers, matching various utility programs with the specific needs of their clients.   The Sacramento utility has 67,000 contract accounts representing the 32,000 businesses in its service territory. Last year, the utility decided to ramp up its outreach by putting a C&I customer strategic plan in place. A staff training program aimed at engaging more business customers was a key part of the plan.

Rob Lechner, manager of SMUD’s commercial and industrial account solutions team, said the five-person team now averages 150 face-to-face meetings per week. Team members spend much of their time in the field, visiting the customers and getting to know them. The customer representatives bring a list of questions to in-depth sit-down meetings that might last more than an hour, Lechner explained. “We want customers to be our partners,” he said, and the first step is to understand those customers.

Study benchmarks
J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm, annually measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities that serve more than 25,000 business customers. The survey rates for overall satisfaction, calculated on a 1,000-point scale across six factors (in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

The 2016 results show overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers to be at its highest level in eight years, driven mainly by communications, corporate citizenship and price. John Hazen, director of energy practice at J.D. Power, observed that communication and corporate citizenship are important to businesses. “Business customers like to see their provider giving back, whether it’s through charities and civic organizations or through economic development such as buying locally and creating jobs,” he said.

Western congratulates Omaha Public Power District, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Salt River Project for recognizing what their business customers want and delivering it.

Source: APPA Public Power Daily, 2/9/16

City of Palo Alto Utilities scores top marks for customer satisfaction

E Source Announces Top Utilities in Large Business Customer Satisfaction

In a recent nationwide survey conducted by E Source  You are leaving WAPA.gov. utility energy efficiency research group, utility large business customers gave top marks to the City of Palo Alto Utilities  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU) for customer satisfaction.CPAUthumbsUp

Among small and midsize utilities, the Western customer ranked number three for utility satisfaction, thanks to superior marks for its account management team. This is the first time in the study’s six-year history that E Source separated utilities into two categories based on size.

For the fourth year in a row, CPAU has earned a top three ranking for customer satisfaction with a utility. CPAU’s large business customers were particularly pleased with their account representatives’ effective communication skills and customer service.

Now in its sixth year, the annual benchmark survey polls utility customers throughout the nation to gauge general satisfaction for communication, affordable rates, reliability and safety. Participants are asked to identify the top priorities for outstanding customer service among utility key accounts and measure how close their utilities come to meeting those expectations. The results are based on survey responses from more than 1,000 large business customers of 25 North American utilities.

This year’s survey respondents identified reliability as the attribute they considered most important for utilities. E Source Market Research Manager Rachel Cooper observed that customers consistently rate reliable energy, low prices and emergency communications as the most important utility services. “Having a utility that’s trustworthy is also extremely important for these customers, particularly when it comes to supplying energy-efficiency advice,” she added. “Large business customers most commonly chose their utility when asked to indicate who they most trust to provide this type of advice.”

Western congratulates CPAU on its strong showing in the survey. The Northern California municipal utility frequently earns recognition for its energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs, but the greatest honor is hearing your own customers say you are the best.