Customer engagement comes first, energy savings follow

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. must balance two competing challenges that will sound all too familiar to rural power providers across the nation. On one hand, San Bernardino County, California’s oldest electric utility has a fierce summer peak; on the other, a significant population of low-income customers struggles with each month’s electric bill. In true public power spirit, Colton Electric’s “Spring into Summer” campaign seeks to manage its peak by putting the needs of its ratepayers first.

The campaign, which runs from March 20 to June 20, encourages customers to upgrade certain items in their homes to energy-efficient products prior to the start of summer. The utility notifies customers about the program on their utility bills, Facebook, Instagram and the electric website. Flyers are also placed in city hall, the electric office and community centers.

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

Customers can take advantage of increased rebates for box fans, ceiling fans, swamp coolers, room air-conditioning units and air-conditioning system tune-ups, as well as whole-house systems. “We want to give all of our customers a chance to save,” explained Environmental Conservation Supervisor, Jessica Sutorus.

Utility programs for saving energy often focus on big measures like entire home cooling system replacement because those retrofits provide the best results, for both the customer and the power provider. However, low-income customers can rarely afford major home improvements, even though they need the savings as much as, or more than customers in other demographics.

Different demographic, different goals
Even so, the “Spring into Summer” promotion is as much about customer outreach as it is about energy efficiency. “You have different expectations than when you are marketing to more affluent customers,” Sutorus acknowledged.

In that respect, “Spring into Summer” has been successful, increasing participation in the cooling rebate program by 40 customers annually, a 43 percent increase in participation. “Obviously those aren’t huge numbers, but we have only 16,000 residential customers and most of the participants are investing in the smaller-ticket items,” said Sutorus.

So while the savings to the customers may be meaningful, the program has not made much of a dent in Colton Electric’s summer load. Many Colton families pass their homes from generation to generation and don’t have the resources to make the kind of deep retrofits that are useful for load shaping. A lot of those houses are several decades old and still have the original windows, Sutorus noted. “Our residential programs are about serving the community,” she explained. “We have other plans to meet state goals for energy savings.”

Part of bigger picture
Colton has recently begun to install smart thermostats throughout city facilities, and to replace old air-conditioning systems with Ice Bear high-efficiency cooling equipment. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The measures are part of the Climate Action Plan the city adopted in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is where California’s progressive approach to climate change is helpful to the small “Inland Empire” city. The state’s Title 24 Building Standards Code requires developers to build housing that is highly efficient and solar- and electric vehicle-ready. This is good news for a city that is finally beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery. “We are expecting new residential development, but industry is our fastest growing load,” Sutorus observed.

Colton Electric offers a menu of commercial customer rebates, including automated online energy monitoring analysis, lighting rebates and time-of-use rates. Support for commercial customers can help grow local industry and bring more jobs to the area. More jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, too, will be good for ratepayers.

Roseville Electric program takes home efficiency to next level

Even the most successful energy-efficiency program, like Roseville Electric Utility’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. high-performing BEST Homes partnership, needs a periodic renovation if it is to continue its success. To keep up with the changing times—and codes—the municipal utility recently unveiled its new Roseville Advanced Homes Program (RAHP).

Roseville Electric Utility's updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction.
Roseville Electric Utility’s updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction. (Photo by California Advanced Homes Program)

RAHP is the next step in market evolution that Roseville began with BEST Homes, explained Program Manager Mark Riffey. “When we launched BEST Homes, Roseville builders weren’t installing solar and energy efficiency was nothing more than doing what was required,” he recalled. “But [California Building Standard] code has caught up with the program and will pass it soon.”

Title 24 You are leaving WAPA.gov. now requires new homes to be solar ready to meet requirements, making incentives for solar unnecessary. By 2020, the code will require all new homes to meet the net-zero energy standard.  RAHP encourages builders to meet that requirement proactively, building efficiency into homes before they even think about solar.

Starting on right foot
The program aims to get builders involved well in advance of submitting plans to the city, said Riffey. “The earlier they enter the conversation, the better chance of success.”

Any residential builder planning a development in Roseville may participate in RAHP by signing a prerequisite agreement confirming that their homes will include:

  • 75-percent high-efficacy lighting
  • HERS verification of Quality Insulation Installation
  • Electric vehicle charging station pre-wiring

These measures were chosen to provide a solid energy-efficiency foundation and because they are easy and relatively inexpensive to install early in construction. “The time to make sure a house is insulated correctly or to put in a dedicated breaker and conduit for an electric vehicle charger is when you are in the design phase or early in construction,” Riffy pointed out. “You can add those things later, but it is much more expensive.”

Once the prerequisites are in place, builders can earn incentives up to $3,500 per house for adding bonus measures such as whole-house fans, high-performance attics and LED lighting. Roseville is considering adding battery storage and triple-pane windows to RAHP in the future to move homes closer to the net-zero energy goal.

The completed home, with its tight shell and efficient systems and equipment, is then ready for a solar array. The homeowner can size the photovoltaic system for a load that has been reduced up front by best construction practices. “RAHP leads builders down the path to be aware of the measures that will get them to the 2020 requirement of zero-energy homes,” explained Riffey.

Or, to put it another way, it is going to take an integrated approach to meet the ambitious clean energy goals California has set for itself.

Working together
That focus on integration may be one of the biggest changes Roseville has made in its updated residential construction program. Where BEST Homes was a local effort guided by local stakeholders, RAHP was designed with the help of a third-party administrator to align with Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) California Advanced Home Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CAHP).

TRC, an engineering and construction management consultant, has administered CAHP for PG&E since 2011. “It was the best use of our resources,” observed Riffey. “TRC has spent years working with Title 24, and they can tell us measures that get the most bang for our buck.”

Coordinating with PG&E made sense, as well, because many Roseville residents are PG&E natural gas customers. After all, a well-insulated home is going to cut both heating and cooling costs. “Builders need to turn in only one set of papers for both programs,” said Riffey. “Anything that streamlines the program for the builder/customer improves its chance for success.”

Roseville Electric Utilities aims to succeed. Over its ten-year run, BEST Homes succeeded beyond expectations. A very high percentage of homes recently built in Roseville are solar ready, and California has made that requirement part of its building code. If RAHP enjoys the same kind of success, Roseville’s housing stock may set a zero-energy example for the whole state.