Warm up with DOE’s winter home tips

Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy's consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material.
Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy’s consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material. (Photo by DOE Energy Saver program)

Around this time of year, we are all getting fed up with cold weather and the high utility bills that come with it. Your customers might appreciate some suggestions for saving money and keeping warm over the next few (or, in some places, several) weeks. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has just the thing for your website or bill stuffer.  Here are simple steps we can all take to stay warm.

1. Spruce up the fireplace
Before you build that cozy fire and settle in with a good book and a hot beverage, give your fireplace some love.

Replacing your inefficient wood-burning fireplace with a more efficient wood stove or gas insert can turn your pretty–but high–maintenance—fireplace into a viable way to heat your home. Converting your fireplace will not only save you on monthly heating costs, it can improve air quality in your community. It could even put money back in your pocket—some states offer rebates or tax credits for upgrading your inefficient fireplace.

If you aren’t ready to update your fireplace, try adding glass doors with a heat-air exchange system. Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. Also, try to keep the fireplace damper closed when you don’t have a fire burning to keep heat from your furnace from going up the chimney.

2. Reverse your fan
The same ceiling fan that helps to keep you cool in the summertime can also help circulate warm air in the winter. Look for a little switch on the motor housing to reverse the direction of your fan, pushing warm air down and recirculating it through the room. How do you ensure that your fan is spinning in the correct direction? When you look up, the blades are spinning clockwise.

3. Protect your lawn so it can protect you
Properly planned landscaping can save you energy and increase your home’s comfort. Windbreaks can help keep your heating bills under control by blocking the cold winter wind around your home. A wall or fence, evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north, west and east sides of your home can be most effective in creating a windbreak and reducing heating costs.

Especially in some parts of the West, wet spring snowfall can snap branches that provide cooling shade during the summer. Worse yet, a broken branch could fall on a power line and cause an outage in the neighborhood.  Use a broom or a mop to shake the heavy snow off tree branches and relieve some of the weight.

4. Air-seal then insulate
Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is one of the most cost-effective ways you can cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort and create a healthier indoor environment. Caulking and weather stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less

5. Windows, windows, windows
Your windows do more than provide a view of snow-covered yards. They also provide a barrier to the cold. Windows with low-e coating reduce heat loss and even reflect back part of the room’s heat. Installing storm windows can also reduce heat loss through windows by about 10 to 20 percent.

If replacing windows is too big an investment, return to Step 4 and put some fresh calking around the panes and sill. Choose window coverings designed to help improve the performance of old windows. As a bonus, your home will get a little spring facelift to help you through the last dreary weeks of winter.

Read more about sustainability and implementing energy upgrades within the home on DOE’s Energy Saver blog, a great resource for customer education material.

Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Annual Report highlights WAPA’S service to customers, communities in American West

Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, Serving Communities, Saving Communities

Western Area Power Administration published its Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, Jan. 31. This year’s theme, “Serving Communities, Saving Communities,”​ highlights WAPA’s accomplishments for the year and demonstrates how WAPA serves communities across the West by focusing on availability, reliability, security and quality.

“Delivering power is about so much more than moving electrons. Our power and our services make a difference in communities we serve,” said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel in his introductory letter. “We are honored to deliver reliable and renewable power to communities who need it most.” Read more.

Fargo wins energy prize, Fort Collins takes second place

After nearly three years of competition, the Georgetown University Energy Prize You are leaving WAPA.gov. (GUEP) announced the winners, and the top honors go to cities served by WAPA customers. Fargo, North DakotaYou are leaving WAPA.gov. took first place, receiving a prize package that includes support toward $5 million in financing for an energy efficiency dream project. Fort Collins, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the only Colorado city to advance to the final round, came in second.

Over the course of the competition, Fargo reduced its overall energy consumption by more than 172 billion Btu, to rank fourth among the 50 semifinalists’ overall energy scores. In the final round, the judges evaluated the 10 top- performing cities and counties on their energy-saving approach, performance and prospects for nationwide replicability and scalability.

Accepting the prize on Dec. 18, from left: eFargo Fellow Dylan Neururer; Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney; NDSU assistant professor of architecture Malini Srivastava; Cass County Electric Cooperative CEO Marshal Albright; Technical Lead Peter Atwood and Uwe Brandes, executive director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. (Photo by Kim Hyatt / Forum News Service)

Lose-A-Watt,” You are leaving WAPA.gov. as Fort Collins dubbed its two-year energy reduction campaign, saved the community more than 160 billion BTUs of energy and reduced carbon emissions by 34,436 metric tons. The contest targeted electricity and natural gas use by residential and municipal and K-12 sectors.

Multi-faceted competition
The beauty of GUEP is that it gave America’s small- to medium-sized towns, cities and counties a way to rethink how they use energy. To reduce their energy consumption, the communities:

  • Implemented bold new local policies on energy-transparency, energy-savings and clean energy technology.
  • Conducted deep data mining of their energy use and community infrastructure.
  • Focused on increasing energy efficiency in neighborhoods with high energy use in all income brackets.
  • Created novel financing mechanisms to enable their residents to invest in new energy upgrades.
  • Used radically unique approaches to change behavior and help communities rethink their energy-use habits, including gamification and the latest methods in social science research.

Starting in April 2014, communities across the country applied to participate and filed detailed long-term plans once accepted into the competition. From January 2015 to December 2016, semifinalists competed to reduce their utility-supplied energy consumption in a way that might yield continuing improvements in their own communities and could be replicated by others.

Judges selected the finalist communities in 2017, based on energy saved during the two-year period. The winner was selected by combining those results with scores in weighted categories, including innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance, equitable access, community and stakeholder engagement, education and overall quality and success.

Teamwork creates success
Fargo’s program was built on a partnership between the city, North Dakota State University You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NDSU) and the utilities Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CCEC). Putting together a team where each party brings a particular expertise to the table was critical to Fargo’s success, said Malini Srivastava, an assistant architecture professor at NDSU. “The university researched and designed the projects to lower energy use, the utilities supplied data for benchmarking and the city provided the communication network to engage the citizens,” she explained.

CCEC had recently installed an automated metering infrastructure that collects data in up to 15-minute intervals. Having a clear picture of electricity use by homes, apartments, schools, park districts and municipal buildings proved to be very beneficial in moving the project forward. “The meter data definitely increased the likelihood of Fargo winning the Georgetown University Energy Prize,” said CCEC President and CEO Marshal Albright.

Engaging online, in person
Srivastava, the project lead for NDSU, created another important piece of the city’s strategy, eFargo. The web portal engaged the community with games and a narrative. “Gaming made saving energy fun and easy to understand,” said Fargo Planning Director Nicole Crutchfield. “eFargo was a great way to educate students and the general public about energy efficiency.”

The website attracted more than 300 participants to play the open game during eight weeks. The school game was even more successful, with more than 1,500—mostly students—participating over a six-week period. “We challenged local schools to defeat the Waste-a-Watt character by using their knowledge about energy and creativity,” Albright said. “The schools competed to reduce energy consumption over six weeks. Fargo’s Roosevelt Elementary won the challenge, reducing the school’s energy consumption by 29 percent.”

Getting school children involved was the most effective outreach, Crutchfield noted, but engaging citizens at libraries, public events, churches and other faith-based groups also paid off. Local experts in energy production and distribution joined the advocacy effort, forming the Citizens’ Local Energy Action Network—CLEAN—to advocate for renewable energy and evolving technologies in transportation.

Upping their building game
Another project that helped secure the top honor was designing affordable “passive houses” Fargo hopes to develop in partnership with a builder. NDSU architecture students researched and designed four high-performance homes. “The students did professional-level work, and I think it was educational for them to watch the city work through the permitting process,” Crutchfield said.

Other initiatives included providing financial assistance to low-income homeowners for weatherization and to preserve existing housing stock in the city’s older neighborhoods. Fargo also adopted and is actively enforcing the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code. The city hopes to keep working with NDSU on coming up with creative ways to reinforce our housing stock. “That is one possible use for the prize,” Crutchfield said.

Words matter
The city of Fort Collins, a long-time leader in municipal sustainability, used the GUEP competition as an opportunity to hone some existing programs and strategies and to test new ones. Fort Collins Utilities (FCU) and the city’s Environmental Services led a campaign built on climate action goals that are already reducing the community’s environmental impact.

One particular area of success, according to Fort Collins Sr. Environmental Planner Katy McLaren, was in tightening up and lightening up the language in outreach material. “We built our messaging around specific actions and limited seasonal campaigns to three actions,” McLaren said.

Social science-based marketing approaches informed the Lose-a-Watt campaign but the website avoided utility jargon to engage visitors with lighter, more fun language. Those lessons will be incorporated into the city’s future marketing and outreach campaigns, noted McLaren. “I think other utilities could benefit from looking at how we framed the efficiency actions, as well as the use of lighter language in messaging,” she added.

Many ways to save
The Lose-a-Watt website provided Fort Collins residents with a variety of options for taking action to reduce their energy use, some established and some launched for the competition. Homeowners could make home performance upgrades with Efficiency Works Neighborhood, a pilot program that streamlined the utility’s rebate process for efficiency improvements. “FCU moved it to full program status and will continue to refine it going forward,” McLaren said.

Volunteers for the Lose-a-Watt Porchlight Campaign went door to door, offering to replace incandescent bulbs in porch lights with a free LED bulb.
Volunteers for the Lose-a-Watt Porchlight Campaign went door to door, offering to replace incandescent bulbs in porch lights with a free LED bulb. (Photo by city of Fort Collins)

Residents who were inspired to volunteer could join the Porchlight Campaign. Volunteers visit neighborhoods around the city to see what type of light bulbs homes have in their porch light fixture. If a home’s porch light has an incandescent bulb, volunteers offer to replace it with a free LED bulb.

The Workwise ChallengeYou are leaving WAPA.gov. got the business community involved in the competition by giving businesses free home conservation kits to hand out to their employees. The business with the most employees installing kits received prizes and recognition. Utility representatives used the challenge as an opening to introduce commercial customers to ClimateWise, the city’s free, voluntary program to help Fort Collins businesses reduce their environmental impact.

Some things work, some don’t
As with Fargo, Fort Collins found engaging students to be the “biggest bang for the buck.” Poudre School District worked with the city to present the Voltbusters education program for K-3 grades. “The kids take the information home to share with their parents, and the parents are much more interested because their kids are into it,” McLaren echoed Crutchfield’s observation.

The Voltbuster Challenge enlisted Poudre Valley students to save energy. Both GUEP winners said that getting children involved in a program is an effective way to reach parents.
The Voltbuster Challenge enlisted Poudre Valley students to save energy. Both GUEP winners said that getting children involved in a program is an effective way to reach parents. (Photo by city of Fort Collins)

Gaming—specifically a gaming app created by Joulebug You are leaving WAPA.gov.—was less of a success for Fort Collins. “It would probably have been more effective if we ran it for one year, instead of two,” McLaren said.

Overall, maintaining the community’s level of engagement for the duration of the competition proved challenging, McLaren acknowledged. The fact that Georgetown University struggled to keep its dashboard updated with progress reports did not help, she said.

Worth effort
Both cities saw the competition as a positive experience that gave them permission to experiment with new ideas and pushed them to communicate more with residents about energy use.

Srivastava agreed with Albright about the importance of having detailed energy-use data to measure programs. She is currently preparing a report on the competition to present at a conference in the spring, and is looking forward to sharing Fargo’s lessons with other cities. Perhaps the greatest lesson the Georgetown University Energy Prize winners learned, said Srivastava, is that, “Small cities shouldn’t be afraid of trying new ideas.”

WAPA congratulates Fargo and Fort Collins on their creativity and initiative, and we look forward to seeing how they build on their success.

Schedule announced for 2018 DOE Tribal Webinar Series

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and WAPA are once again co-sponsoring the Tribal Energy Webinar Series. The 2018 series of 11 webinars focuses on Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination through Community Energy Development. The free webinars are held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mountain Time the last Wednesday of each month, beginning in January and concluding in November.

Roughly two million American Indians and Alaska Natives from 567 federally recognized tribes live on or near 56.2 million acres of Indian land. These lands are also rich in energy resources that offer the tribes the opportunity for economic development and greater self-determination. The 2018 webinar series provides these diverse communities with the information and knowledge required to evaluate and prioritize their energy options.

Topics will cover establishing tribal consensus on energy goals and objectives; instituting short and long-range actions; and making informed technical, financial, market, policy, and regulatory decisions. Speakers will present tribal case studies highlighting proven energy development best practices. Attendees will discover tools and resources to facilitate and accelerate community energy and infrastructure development in Indian Country.

STEM interns, here at the Acoma Pueblo, assist with Office of Indian Energy-funded projects. Former interns will talk about their experiences with the program at the Jan. 31 Tribal Energy Webinar.
STEM interns, here at the Acoma Pueblo, assist with Office of Indian Energy-funded projects. Former interns will talk about their experiences with the program at the Jan. 31 Tribal Energy Webinar. (Photo by DOE Office of Indian Energy)

Action-oriented program
The series begins on Jan. 31 with Office of Indian Energy: Advancing Future Leaders through STEM. You are leaving WAPA.gov. This webinar will highlight the college student internship program for Native students interested in energy project planning and development activities. Former interns will talk about their experience with experts in the field and at DOE’s national laboratories, and how the program helped them make a positive impact in Indian Country. Applications are now being accepted through February 19 for the summer 2018 internship opportunity.

The rest of the schedule builds on past series with an emphasis on process, action and community-wide engagement:

There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. Attendees must have Internet access, computer compatibility with GoToMeeting software, and a phone line.

Source: DOE Office of Indian Energy via Green Power News, 1/19/18

Wholesale electric rate for federal hydropower decreases in nine states

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, electric utilities receiving federal hydropower in nine Rocky Mountain and northern Great Plains states will see lower firm hydropower rates from Western Area Power Administration for the second year in a row. The lower rates will result in savings of roughly $40 million dollars annually for customers.

Firm power customers with contracts with WAPA’s Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin – Eastern Division will experience a 15-percent decrease in the composite rate, and customers with Loveland Area Projects contracts will see a 14–percent decrease.

The two projects serve 415 electric utilities in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska with federal hydropower and related services. ​Read more.

Source: WAPA Newsroom, 12/8/17

Federal energy efficiency programs save energy, create jobs

A recent op-ed in the New York Times You are leaving WAPA.gov. serves as a reminder that energy efficiency is not only one of the most powerful resources we have for meeting energy and environmental goals, it is also a rare source of bipartisan agreement.

Agreed: Energy efficiency works
Citing a poll You are leaving WAPA.gov. by the Conservative Energy Network shortly after the November 2016 election, the writer noted that the majority of voters saw policies supporting energy efficiency as important. This is true despite the fact that energy efficiency itself is largely invisible, with economic impacts diffused throughout the economy. Imagine how enthusiastic Americans would be if they realized that more than 2.2 million people spend some or all of their work hours on energy-efficient technologies and services. That is more than the 1.9 million who work to produce electricity (solar, wind, nuclear), coal, oil and gas.

In addition to providing jobs, energy efficiency protects them by helping industries stay economically viable. Federal agencies develop efficiency standards for household appliances and work with American manufacturers to improve productivity. They provide testing and expertise to develop local and state building-efficiency codes for homes and commercial buildings.

Innovative, federally run efficiency programs boast a decades-long record of economic and environmental success across the nation, dating back at least 30 years. Energy Star is a shining example of a public-private partnership that saves American consumers and businesses billions of dollars per year. About three-quarters of U.S. households recognize the Energy Star label as way to control their energy costs while reducing power plant pollution.

The big picture tells an even more important story. The economy has grown by almost 150 percent since 1980 with a corresponding increase in energy consumption of about 20 quadrillion British thermal units. Over that same period, energy efficiency delivered more than 50 quads worth of energy services, far outpacing all other energy sources combined.

Waste still hurting economy
In spite of such impressive gains, however, energy waste still costs American businesses and households billions of dollars every year. In commercial buildings alone, where annual electricity costs are roughly $190 billion, about a third of this energy goes to waste, according to the Department of Energy. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranks You are leaving WAPA.gov. the United States eighth among the top 23 energy-consuming nations in efficiency.

Emerging technologies and population growth are putting demands on our electricity grids that utilities of a generation ago never imagined. Knowing what is at stake, power providers are investing $7.5 billion annually in cost-effective electricity and natural gas efficiency programs.

The electricity industry can continue to build on the success that began when President Ronald Reagan signed the first legislation authorizing federal efficiency standards. Incorporate tools and strategies from federal energy-efficiency programs into your load management programs. Let your customers know about federal resources that might help them use less electricity. When we harness the power of the cheapest kilowatt—the one that is never used—everyone wins.

Source: New York Times, 11/7/17

Report, tools seek to boost building efficiency

Utilities have a vested interest in working with homeowners and businesses to accurately estimate and control energy costs. It is not only good for load management goals, it is also good for the local economy. A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) and tools being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can help utilities and cities move toward a more efficient building stock.

Changing real estate conversation
According to the online real estate platform Redfin, You are leaving WAPA.gov. energy bills can add as much as 40 percent to annual housing costs in some parts of the country. An MPG for Homes: Driving Visible Value for Home Energy Performance in Real Estate, the RMI report, makes the argument for incorporating energy use data into the total cost of homeownership calculations.

The authors emphasize, however, that making home energy use data more accessible is part of a greater vision. True market transformation will require a change in both homebuyer behavior and policies and approaches across several interconnected industries. The real estate, finance, home improvement and—yes—utility industry would all play a part and could all benefit in the long run from improving home performance metrics and making the data more transparent and accessible to homeowners.

RMI notes that the “green real estate” movement is already starting to catch on with online real estate portals featuring home energy scores on property listings. Partnerships between the Zillow Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. and UtilityScore, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Estately You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Clearly Energy and Redfin and Tendril You are leaving WAPA.gov. are aiming to make home energy scores a bigger consideration in buying decisions.

Recent home purchases drove 26 percent of home renovations in 2015, and preparation for resale led to 13 percent of renovations, according to Houzz and Home: Overview of Renovation. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Moreover, 67 percent of study respondents cited improving energy efficiency as an important reason for making a renovation. Clearly, renovation projects offer utilities an opportunity to promote energy-efficiency measures and programs to a receptive audience. Establishing relationships with housing professionals in the community could pay off for utility program managers in a big way.

Tools analyze home, infrastructure projects
Once you connect with customers who are interested in making energy-efficiency improvements, the next challenge is determining what upgrades will save them the most money and energy. The ResStock analysis tool from NREL provides detailed information on the technical and economic potential of residential energy-efficiency improvements and packages for 48 U.S. states.

By combining large data sources and statistical sampling with detailed building simulations, the program achieves unprecedented accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock. The ResStock software leverages DOE’s open-source building energy modeling platforms OpenStudio® You are leaving WAPA.gov.  and EnergyPlus You are leaving WAPA.gov. so you won’t need a supercomputer to run the program. Contact NREL to find out more.

On a larger scale, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility is working on a demonstration project that is developing a buildings and district energy modeling tool, URBANopt. The demonstration integrates URBANopt with grid modeling software, OpenDSS, to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of a planned 382-acre mixed-use development. The Denver, Colorado, site includes corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel and parking and street lighting. This project will result in several tools that others can use to replicate this project across the country, including an enhanced version of URBANopt and a developer’s handbook.

Poudre Valley REA community solar project broadens access

Sometimes an idea is so good, you just want to be a part of it in some small way. That is how we at WAPA’s Energy Services felt when we learned that Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (PVREA), one of our customers, was building a community solar array with GRID Alternatives Colorado You are leaving WAPA.gov. to serve its low-income and nonprofit customers.

Solar for all
The Coyote Ridge Solar Farm will cover nine acres near the Larimer County Landfill with more than 6,000 320-watt solar panels on a tracking system that follows the sun across the sky. PVREA will make 700 kilowatts (kW) of the 1,962-kW array available to low-to-moderate income subscribers and 500 kW for nonprofit organizations in the utility’s service territory. It will be the nation’s largest community solar project of its kind, and demonstrate complex financial modeling and unique siting.  PVREA has partnered with the nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office You are leaving WAPA.gov. to develop the project.

In August of 2015, the Colorado Energy Office made a $1.2 million grant to GRID Alternatives Colorado for the express purpose of partnering with utilities to implement low-income community solar projects. That focus fit right in with a specific concern of the PVREA board of directors, noted the utility’s Alternative Energy Administrator Milton Geiger. “They were looking for a project that would bring the benefits of solar power to a greater number of our members,” he said. “Our board believes that equitable access to solar power is a cooperative principle.”

Learning by doing
Coyote Ridge is the seventh project to receive funding from the grant. Originally, the plan was to develop at least five different low-income solar projects with the grant, but GRID Alternatives knows how to stretch a funding dollar and build in community participation at the same time.

Designing a community solar array is a complex task, but assembling the parts calls mostly for elbow grease.

Like Habitat for Humanity, an organization to which it is frequently compared, GRID Alternatives invites individuals and community groups to participate in both residential and commercial-scale solar installations. Although designing a solar array is a complex task, assembling the racking and setting modules turn out to be mostly measuring, lifting, lining up and tightening screws. Low-income homeowners and church and community service groups can participate in building the facilities that will lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. More importantly, for those interested in long-term careers in the field, GRID Alternatives provides hours of hands-on training.

WAPA gets involved
The project came up during discussions at a community solar workshop WAPA hosted in early June. At first glance, it had everything we love to cover in Energy Services Bulletin stories: a WAPA customer developing renewable energy for the benefit of members who need it most. More than a third of the electricity produced will be offered at a reduced rate to PVREA households with income levels at or below 80 percent of their county’s median. When Geiger later explained GRID Alternatives’ involvement, and the volunteer opportunity, the story became irresistible.

So on a cold, rainy September morning, Energy Services Director Ron Horstman, Electronics Engineer Kevin Hogg and Energy Services Marketing Coordinator Kevon Storie (me) showed up at the site near the Larimer County Landfill, ready to build some solar. For a little background, our personal experience with solar construction runs the gamut. Horstman installed a 3.2-kW solar array on his own home in 2009, while it was Hogg’s first time working on an installation. I have—well—I’ve seen a lot of pictures of photovoltaic systems.

Satisfaction guaranteed
The crew was 53 strong that day, including several individuals, a group from a Unitarian church and engineering students from the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and Denver University.

When we arrived, the rack for the lower half of the array was partially assembled, but many hands made light work. The crew first learned to install the vertical “arms” that hold up the solar modules, and then moved on to mounting the modules themselves. Shortly after lunch, the array was completely assembled and ready to be wired by professional electricians in the coming week. The crew put up a total of 999 solar panels and continued working on the racking on the second section of the solar farm.

The work was hard and the weather was dreary, but the experience was enlightening. Hogg, who lives in Loveland, Colorado, was gratified to see community engagement in action, and is now interested in adding a solar array to his home. Horstman enjoyed talking to the students about their studies and about WAPA. (Note to utilities and related industries: Volunteering for GRID Alternatives is a great way to meet intern candidates.) For my part, I increased my minimal understanding of solar construction and was delighted to see so much progress in the space of a single day.

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help!” WAPA Volunteers from left to right: Kevin Hogg, Ron Horstman and Kevon Storie.

Size, site matter
PVREA joins other WAPA customers in working with GRID Alternatives and the CEO. Empire Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Delta Montrose Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Holy Cross EnergyYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Yampa Valley Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. San Miguel Power AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Grand Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. have all been partners in developing community solar farms that offer solar credits to low-income subscribers. Once constructed, the facilities become utility-owned assets.

Each installation demonstrates a unique characteristic that makes it work for the utility. In the case of PVREA, Coyote Ridge is sited on a large tract of unused land next to the Larimer County landfill that will have minimal environmental impact. The size of the farm is another key aspect of the project. “It drives the economy of scale and makes it replicable for other utilities,” said Geiger.

Replicability is central to the Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project. GRID Alternatives, the Colorado Energy Office and utility partners are demonstrating that the benefits of renewable energy are for everyone, one solar installation at a time.

Long road leads to solar success for Southern Ute tribe

Tenacity paid off for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on July 24, when they dedicated their newly commissioned and fully operational Oxford Solar Project on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Ignacio, Colorado.

The Southern Ute Tribe built their solar array on the mostly unusable Oxford Tract near a substation and just three miles from the tribal building campus.
The Southern Ute Tribe built their solar array on the mostly unusable Oxford Tract near a substation and just three miles from the tribal building campus. (Photo by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe)

The years it took to develop the 1.3-megawatt (MW), ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) system ultimately ensured that the project was a winner for all involved. The array will reduce operating costs for the tribe by offsetting about 15 percent of the energy used by 10 tribal buildings. The siting of the project repurposes more than 10 acres of tribal land that was mostly unusable due to naturally occurring selenium contamination. The Oxford Tract, as the land parcel is called, has strong solar resources, is located near two substations and does not have any endangered or threatened species on it. La Plata Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. which is purchasing the power and providing the grid connection, counts the electricity toward its goal of 20 percent local generation by 2020.

Slow start gathers steam
The Southern Ute Tribe first began to explore the idea of building a PV system in 2006 as a way of diversifying its business interests, and launched the Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC (SUAE) in 2008. As a for-profit business, the SUAE evaluated solar PV development opportunities on tribal lands from a business perspective. For several years, alternative energy projects remained stubbornly out of reach, too costly for SUAE to pursue.

The turning point came in 2011 when the tribe performed a new feasibility study to look at potential sites and business models. James Jensen, who had recently joined the SUAE staff, recalled that the study was very thorough. “We were open to projects either on or off of tribal land,” he said. “If it was on tribal land, what was the best location? We evaluated environmental factors like whether the land was arable or disturbed or in a floodplain.”

The study also considered the proximity of transmission and substations to potential sites and did economic modeling on hypothetical projects. “We came out of the process with a comprehensive understanding of what would make a successful solar project,” said Jensen.

The findings determined that the Oxford Tract was the most suitable location for a utility-scale solar development, and that a grant was needed to make the project economical.

JumpSTARTing project
Southern Ute Grant Specialist Jody Rosier began working with Jensen on the grant application to submit to the Department of Energy (DOE). Financial help wasn’t the only thing DOE had to offer the tribe, however.

Just as important, Rosier recalled, was the tribe’s participation in the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program. START, a program of the DOE Office of Indian Energy, provides technical assistance to help Native American tribes complete renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. “START analyzed and validated the findings of the feasibility study,” Rosier recalled, “and helped the tribe to establish a relationship with DOE.”

The program also helped the tribe determine the siting of the project near substations belonging to LPEA. “Initially, the project was planned as a ‘virtual metering’ situation, where any kilowatt-hours being generated would offset kilowatt-hours the tribe was using,” explained LPEA Engineering Manager Ron Meier. “Siting the array near a substation was key to making physics work. It really simplified the development process for them.”

Beyond that, Meier added, the purchase power agreement was pretty straightforward. With a budget of $3 million co-funded by the tribe and a $1.5 million grant from the DOE, it was time to start building.

Ready, set, install!
SUAE issued a request for proposals at the end of 2014 for an 800-kW system. It was around that time that the solar industry saw a significant drop in the price of panels. “We were pleasantly surprised when the bids came back to find that we could afford to build a somewhat larger project,” said Jensen.

The tribe chose Boulder, Colorado-based Namaste Solar to design the project for the tribe and install the tracking panels. Jody Rosier noted that tracking technology is becoming more common in new solar installations. “Panels that follow the sun across the sky generate more electricity and that improves a project’s economics,” she said.

The long process that culminated in the July 24 celebration provided the Southern Ute tribe with a thorough education in solar development. Jensen observed that the most important lesson they learned might be to keep the first project simple. He pointed to the selection of a site that did not require an environmental impact study as one factor that kept the project from getting too financially and legally complicated.

Although grants that require matching funds may put projects beyond a tribe’s reach, Rosier encourages tribes that are interested in developing renewable energy systems to investigate available grants. “Grants that require matching funds may not work for tribes,” she warned. “But once the renewable system is up and running, it provides years of sustainable electricity and needs little maintenance.” 

Source: Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, 7/25/17

UNL embraces proven storage technology to control costs

Architect rendering of the new $11.9 million thermal energy storage tank being built near landscape services buildings north of 17th and Y streets.
Architect rendering of the new $11.9 million thermal energy storage tank being built near landscape services buildings north of 17th and Y streets. (Artwork courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

As in life, so it is in energy storage: maturity is often not considered very sexy. With all the attention lately being showered on lithium-ion battery energy storage systems, we might forget to consider an effective storage technology that has been around awhile. However, the facilities systems team at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln You are leaving WAPA.gov. (UNL) is showing its appreciation for maturity by planning a new chilled-water thermal energy storage (TES) cooling system at its City Campus.

Shaving the peak
Like many satisfied TES cooling system owners, including the California State University system You are leaving WAPA.gov. with 19 TES installations on 14 campuses, UNL is a repeat customer. The university’s first experience with the technology was a 2.4 million-gallon system installed at its East Campus location in 2009.

As the largest load served by Lincoln Electric SystemYou are leaving WAPA.gov. UNL was looking for a way to lower its high demand charges. TES uses off-peak electricity to chill water for cooling a building or a group of buildings during the hottest time of day when electricity is most expensive. “Electricity rates are not usually the driver for installing TES, especially in a state like Nebraska where electricity is very inexpensive,” explained Lalit Agarwal, interim director of utility and energy management for UNL’s facilities systems.

The City Campus TES will save UNL between $800,000 and $900,000 annually in demand savings by shifting chilled water production from peak to off-peak hours. Agarwal suspects that there are additional savings because chillers run more efficiently at night when it is cooler. “But we are not hanging our hat on those figures,” he added.

Right technology for right place
Before finalizing the decision to build a second TES cooling system on the City Campus, the facilities team weighed other options. Cool Solutions, a thermal energy storage consulting company, performed a scoping study for UNL.

The new thermal energy storage tank is located on the north side of City Campus, immediately south of the Devaney Sports Center (left) and Nebraska Innovation Campus (right).
The new thermal energy storage tank is located on the north side of City Campus, immediately south of the Devaney Sports Center (left) and Nebraska Innovation Campus (right). Photo by Craig Chandler / University of Nebraska-Lincoln Communication

In addition to being extremely cost effective, TES leads the other technologies in such areas as safety, ease of permitting and life expectancy. Siting flexibility is another advantage TES offers that was particularly important for UNL, as the City Campus is “landlocked,” observed Agarwal. “There is a certain amount of NIMBY-ism [not in my backyard] involved with other types of systems and only so many places we can build,” he acknowledged.

Related to the siting issue is the ease with which TES can be expanded. The system will be located on the edge of the campus and have oversized piping so it can be expanded in the future. Stefan Newbold, director of UNL Engineering Services, pointed out that the ideal time to look at installing TES is when a chilled water plant is already close to reaching its capacity. “It grows chilled water capacity significantly,” he explained. “TES is economical anyway, but it becomes more so when you throw in not having to expand a chilled water plant.”

Findings from the Cool Solutions study made up the basis of an article in District Energy’s quarterly newsletterYou are leaving WAPA.gov. The story also included a comparison of TES with a hypothetical battery system.

Tried and true pays off
The new TES system, which has four times the capacity of the East Campus plant, will be commissioned over the winter and spring, and be ready for the 2018 cooling season. The system controls will be centralized to eliminate the need for additional staff and to minimize new demands on existing staff. Using existing infrastructure and operators who already have chiller experience is another way the technology keeps costs down.

As the grid and the power supply continue to evolve, large facilities and municipalities will have to look at new solutions for managing their energy use. And while every end-user faces different circumstances, UNL’s story is a reminder that sometimes the best answer to a new challenge is an “old” idea.

Source: District Energy, 2nd Quarter 2017