WAPA has always been committed to helping customers deal with both the routine and unexpected challenges of powering the West and keeping that assistance relevant has required constant evolution over the past 40 years.
Assessing value Lately, WAPA has been looking at the programs and initiatives it offers to determine which bring the most value to customers and which have served their purpose. A cross-functional Assessment Team was formed in 2017 to evaluate various programs and efforts for potential efficiencies, with the goal of improving business processes and allocating resources appropriately for current and future priorities.
WAPA’s Energy Services and its Equipment Loan Program were among those chosen for in-depth evaluation. The Assessment Team reviewed investments and activities in the programs to examine the results, the cost effectiveness and whether or not they were meeting the needs of the organization. WAPA senior leaders and other stakeholders were surveyed to determine the effectiveness of these efforts in fulfilling WAPA’s mission and meeting customers’ needs.
After completing the evaluations, the team recommended that the Equipment Loan Program had served its purpose of making expensive diagnostic tools available to WAPA customers to test at their utilities. The decision to phase out the program saves WAPA about $177,000 annually.
Evolving with times The Energy Services program will continue with some changes that will allow WAPA to reimagine the type of technical assistance that addresses the rapidly shifting business environment customers must face.
A decade ago, the Energy Services website and publications provided a one-stop clearinghouse for energy planners and managers at WAPA utilities. Today, it competes with thousands of other high-quality information sources online. The assessment team determined that integrating Energy Services communications into WAPA’s Public Affairs Office would present a more cohesive message about the mission and value of the organization.
The Energy Services Bulletin sunsets on Nov. 1. The blog will remain active as an archive, so customers can reference past stories and reach contacts for more information about policies and programs. Past issues will remain on the Energy Services website as well. Subscribers will be able to transfer their subscription to Customer Circuit. Along with features about WAPA customers, this publication is filled with news about the organization that touches every part of utility operations: transmission, markets, budget, finance, environment, legislation and more.
Customers will continue to receive support from WAPA for their resource planning activities as they have for more than 20 years. Regional Energy Services representatives will still be available to answer questions about integrated resource planning or to suggest tools and programs that can help utilities reach their load management goals.
At WAPA, customers are partners. Programs like Energy Services give us the opportunity to learn more about their operations so we can continue to build that relationship and increase our value to you. We will continue to seek customer input on the direction of the Energy Services program and on what services you value most. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.
The agenda is now available for the Department of Energy’s 2018 Office of Indian Energy Program Review. The annual event will be held at the Sheraton Denver West Hotel in Lakewood, Colorado, Dec. 10-14.
The Program Review offers a tremendous opportunity for Indian tribes to meet, learn from other tribes that are pursuing energy self-sufficiency and share in each other’s successes.
Attendees will get project status updates from tribes across the nation who are leveraging Office of Indian Energy grant funding to deploy energy technologies or initiate the first steps to energy development.
There is no cost to register for the Program Review; however, advance registration is requested to ensure sufficient appropriate seating and food availability. Onsite registration starts at 12:00 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 1, and continues at 8:00 a.m. each following morning.
A block of rooms is available at the Sheraton Denver West Hotel. To book your room at the group rate, please visit the Sheraton Denver West Hotel website.Note that the discounted group rate is only available until Nov. 12, 2018.
Admittedly, it is no great sacrifice to visit Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, but the utility industry professionals from Colorado and nearby states who are making the trip Sept. 19-21 are not coming to enjoy the scenery. They are coming for the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.
This unique forum has been drawing strong crowds of visionaries and idea people from energy and water utilities, nonprofits and technology vendors for 12 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Finding opportunity in challenge The theme for 2018, “United we understand,” emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conference, and holds one key to why it continues to grow in popularity. The theme resonates with WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “The past model for doing business, where utilities rarely talked amongst themselves, let alone with consumers, won’t work in today’s industry,” he said. Horstman is on the RMUE planning committee and WAPA is a sponsor of the event.
“Consumers expect to have more choice in their services, and that includes their electricity. Providing those options to customers creates opportunities for utilities to build and manage load and develop new products, while meeting environmental goals,” Horstman went on. “But the industry is going to have to communicate with their customers, their communities, equipment vendors and other power providers to realize those opportunities.”
The communication begins Wednesday morning with the Utility and Government Agency Roundtable. Representatives from those entities will share the topics they would most like to discuss and the one thing they would most like to learn during the exchange. Following a break, industry allies are free to join the discussion. This roundtable is for people who are not ready to make a formal presentation but definitely have something to talk about.
Highlighting industry trends The agenda shifts into high gear following lunch. Opening keynote speaker Ann Dougherty of market research firm Illume Advising will be asking utilities to look at their own marketing efforts and question whether they are positioned to innovate. This will be Dougherty’s first time speaking at the RMUE.
The State of Energy Consumers Today will be presented by another newcomer, Nathan Shannon of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative. Shannon will draw on Smart Energy’s 2017 research projects for insights into what today’s consumers want and real-life examples of consumer engagement successes.
The rest of the day’s presentations read like a laundry list of trends that have morphed into looming challenges: utility-led distributed solar programs, climate action plan development, collaborations to expand utility programs’ reach and beneficial electrification. You will learn how other power providers have engaged, rather than resisted these issues to build successful programs.
Digging deeper Thursday morning, RMUE continues with variations on a theme (working together). Sessions examine programs and initiatives that integrate customer experience and community input. Consumers are clearly no longer content to passively accept the electricity coming down their wires. Environmental concerns are pushing them to demand more options and new technology is giving them the power to take more control of their energy use. Hear from utilities and their partners that abandoned the old model of a one-way relationship to find ways to harness efficiency as a resource, manage loads more effectively and help their communities fight and mitigate climate change.
In the afternoon, the agenda splits into dual tracks, giving you the chance to delve into topics in more detail with smaller groups. See if you can identify the subtext. In the first set of tracks, you can explore either customer engagement (communicating with customers) or the technology of the internet of things (communicating with customers through smart devices). The final dual-track sessions look at energy as a service, not a product (communicating with customers in a new way) and reaching hard-to-reach customers (communicating with customers who don’t make it easy).
If you are looking for even more detail than the dual-track sessions provide, get ready for the Friday workshops. Choose from three different sessions:
Electrifying Transportation: Developing Integrated Charging Networks for Electric Vehicles – Explore the role of utilities and government in electrifying the transportation sector.
Customer Experiences Workshop: Journey Mapping – Customer journey mapping provides a framework that can break down departmental barriers that limit a program’s potential. Each workshop participant will represent a different contributor in “our” utility during the workshop.
Community Goals Meet Utility Realities: Developing Best Practices for an Evolving Landscape – This facilitated discussion is an opportunity for local government and utility leaders to communicate directly about understanding and advancing community renewable and energy efficiency goals.
Keep talking—to each other As past attendees will tell you, the sessions are only half of what makes the RMUE such a great conference. Great speakers may bring in attendees, but networking opportunities and relationship building bring them back year after year.
The receptions keep conversations going after the end of the day in a casual atmosphere. The Wednesday night networking event is built around a poster session that allows you to learn more about products, services and programs that might fit into your operations. It also includes heavy hors oeuvres if you want to make a meal of it, rescue animals for the kids and this year, ice-breaker games. This is a family-friendly event and family members can attend for the friendly price of free.
Thursday night, the RMUE goes off-campus to the town of Aspen and the historic Hotel Jerome.
Every refreshment break and meal offers you a chance to ask speakers and colleagues questions, to bounce ideas off other sharp minds and to load up on high-quality calories. Breakfast, lunch and break snacks are included in the price of registration, and the food is terrific.
Details, details… Since the food is so abundant and delicious, you may want to pack your comfortable “business casual” attire—the RMUE is a “no-tie zone.” Those staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort also might want to pack their exercise gear as well, to take advantage of the onsite Aspen Health Club.
The Aspen Meadows RMUE room bloc has filled up, but overflow lodging at the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge in town is still available. You can also contact Liz Pellerin at Aspen Meadows to get on a waiting list in case there are any room cancellations.
If you don’t know where you are going, chances are you will wind up someplace else. As a public power utility, your goal is to provide reliable, affordable electricity, so you—and your customers—cannot afford to miss that destination. A new three-part webinar series from the American Public Power Association will show you how to draw an effective roadmap to your future.
Strategic Planning invites chief executive officers, general managers, senior executives, board and council members, and others involved in strategic planning to deep dive into the background and implementation of this valuable process. The series reviews strategic planning options for public power utilities of different sizes and with a variety of governing structures. Strategic planning for state associations and joint action agencies will also be covered.
Planning in three steps
Participants will learn how to engage policymakers and staff, set realistic timetables and budgets, select the right process for your utility and when and how to hire consultants. The series also includes material on managing financial operations as part of long-term performance planning.
July 26—Prepare for Change: Blueprinting Your Strategic Plan Begin by taking a hard look at where your utility stands in the ever-evolving industry landscape and discover how to take control of your future. New technologies, new power sources, new competitors and changing customer expectations will change the way you do business. Expert speakers will help you determine if your organization is prepared to plan for change. You will leave the webinar with the tools to create a realistic blueprint to adapt to market and policy changes, as well as new customer needs and preferences.
Aug. 16—Finances and Performance: Building Your Strategic Plan Monitoring your organization’s financial health is not the job of only your chief financial officer (if you have one). Your leadership and governance team need to participate in financial planning and oversight as well. Decisions about budgets, rates, power supply, services and system maintenance affect your strategic plan and performance. This webinar presents the big picture on the financial aspect of performance planning.
Sept. 6—Down to Brass Tacks: Implementing Your Strategic Plan Finalizing your strategic plan is the beginning, not the end of your journey, as the next step—implementation—is where the rubber meets the road. This webinar gets into the details of staying the course and avoiding the common pitfalls in acting on your plan. Learn how to keep all stakeholders aware of the plan’s progress and engage productively with outside consultants or facilitators if needed.
Registration for the full webinar series is $550 or $250 for APPA members. Individual webinars are $199 or $99 for APPA members. Links to all handouts and an audio recording will be sent out shortly after the webinar, in case you are unable to attend.
Continue your education
To earn a completion certificate, you must register for a webinar and your participation must be confirmed by the webinar report log. The completion certificate is only available to the person who registered for the webinar.
APPA is presenting this series in cooperation with Hometown Connections, a nonprofit utility service organization formed by five public power joint action agencies. Hometown Connections offers products and services to public power utilities, including consulting support for organization assessment, strategic planning and governance development, customer service, market research, and staffing.
In addition to mandating rooftop solar, the code contains incentives for energy storage and requires new home construction to include advanced energy-efficiency measures. Using 2017 data, ClearView Energy Partners estimate that the mandate could require between 68 and 241 megawatts of annual distributed solar buildout.
Good for consumers, solar, storage industries The commission stated that the new code is meant to save Californians a net $1.7 billion on energy bills all told, while advancing the state’s efforts to build-out renewable energy.
Following the commission’s decision, solar developers such as Sunrun, Vivint Solar and First Solar experienced a surge in stock prices, Bloomberg reported.
The updated codes also allow builders to install smaller solar systems if they integrate storage in a new home, adding another incentive to include energy storage. California has been a leader in incentivizing energy storage. In January, the California Public Utility Commission moved to allow multiple revenue streams for energy storage, such as spinning reserve services and frequency regulation.
Utilities question policy The solar industry received a prior boost in January 2016, when the CPUC approved its net metering 2.0 rate design. The state’s investor-owned utilities asserted at the time that net metering distributed generation from electricity consumers shifted the costs for the system’s maintenance and infrastructure onto consumers who do not own distributed generation.
ClearView analysts pointed to the distributed solar mandate as a possible opening for utilities to argue that California regulators should reconsider the net metering reform proposal. According to the report ClearView published ahead of the CEC’s decision, utilities that opposed the new rate-design could claim that mandating distributed solar alters the policy landscape enough to warrant further review of the compensation levels paid to excess generation.
Platte River Power Authority recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The study found that the northern Colorado generation and transmission utility can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).
A story in RMI Outlet, the Rocky Mountain Institute blog, noted that researchers used relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and did not consider demand-side efforts in their calculations. This is significant not only because the estimated difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent.
History of commitment PRPA and its municipal utility owners—Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland—have a long-standing commitment to clean energy and efficiency. The G&T contracts for approximately 198 megawatts of carbon-free resources from wind, hydropower and solar assets. In fall 2016, PRPA diversified its power production portfolio further by adding 30 MW of solar power at Rawhide Flats Solar.
Calculating total cost Technology company Siemens performed the study that is unique in showing a low cost for net-zero generation that incorporates transmission costs and balancing charges as well as fuel costs. RMI calls it proof that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal even in coal country and that renewables can compete anywhere.
WAPA celebrates PRPA and its members for their initiative and for showing that public power utilities can lead the way to a low-carbon future.
The survey of nearly 700 electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada indicated that their commitment to lower-carbon energy resources remains strong even as concern over market and policy uncertainty grows. Other top takeaways include:
Expectations of load growth – Since 2008, utilities have faced stagnant or declining demand for electricity, but this year, utility professionals see that trend changing.
Uncertainty, particularly in regard to federal regulation – Nearly 40 percent of utility professionals named uncertainty as their top concern about changing their power mix — almost twice the level of concern expressed about integrating distributed energy resources (DER) with utility systems.
Cybersecurity fears – For the second year running, participants placed cybersecurity at the top of their list of concerns, with about 81 percent rating it either important or very important.
Justifying emerging grid investments – Utilities see the need to invest in grid intelligence to manage electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, DER, storage, analytics and cybersecurity. However, demonstrating the return on such high-tech investments to regulators, ratepayers and even their own organizations is complicated.
Traditional cost-of-service regulation falling from favor – Utilities are ready to adapt their business models to take advantage of new technologies and market opportunities. Around 80 percent indicated they either have or want a regulatory proceeding in their state focused on reforming utility business and revenue models.
Perhaps the most positive message to be taken from the results of the 2018 survey is how many utilities are willing to rethink the traditional business model in the face of changes in the industry. The report has a laundry list of other important insights on rate design, DER ownership, the increasing popularity of EVs and more. Whether you participated in the survey this year or not, it is sure to make for interesting reading.
You can download the 86-page survey report for free, or read a rundown of the top results with graphs. Utility Dive also hosted a sneak-peak webinar on the results at the end of January, which you can listen to for free.
The report draws on data from more than 1,000 Americans to yield 534 respondents with household incomes below $50,000. Members of the Low Income Energy Issues Forum, a diverse working group seeking innovations to make utility service more affordable, collaborated on the survey.
Even as the economy continues to grow stronger, many Americans still struggle to pay their utility bills. The number of low-income respondents who reported trouble paying their utility bills in 2017 increased 7 percent over the previous year. Also, 20 percent of respondents had applied for energy assistance.
Contributing to the general anxiety of trying to provide for their families, low-income customers experience uncertainty about the utility bill itself, the complexity of applying for energy assistance and confusion about how to control costs. Utilities seeking to improve service to this demographic might offer a range of voluntary options that customers could choose according to their lifestyle.
Consumers who are intensely focused on their daily budgets need more convenient choices. Simplifying tariffs, facilitating energy assistance through social service agencies and offering individualized “energy counseling” are among the services that could provide greater control to customers with limited financial means.
The findings also indicated that the low-income segment is far more engaged with their energy consumption than utilities believed. A majority of survey respondents have taken action on their own to save money on electric or heating bills. Consumers are eager for more information to save even more.
Perhaps the challenge is not consumer engagement but the entire construct of utility programs and policies to assist these customers. For example, a key metric used by advocates is “energy burden,” referring to the percentage of a household’s income required to pay utility bills. Yet, when asked, low-income customers understood “burden” somewhat differently; they focus more on eliminating uncertainty and getting help when they need it (situational awareness). This is an important distinction.
The 2017 survey points to the long struggle to improve service to low-income customers, beginning with utility program developers being willing to listen more carefully to customers themselves. We must be prepared to let go of the assumptions that undergird programs and assistance measures intended to help these customers, and develop offerings that more closely match their needs.
You can download EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31 and other reports and articles from EcoPinion Publications. Registration and login is required. You can also sign up to receive email updates.
Various renewable resources and natural gas-fueled generation from Lodi Energy Center in Lodi, California, have replaced the 51 megawatts (MW) of coal-powered electricity SVP sourced from San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico. The move reduces the carbon intensity of Santa Clara’s power supply by about 50 percent.
Thanks to customers The accomplishment began with both residential and business customers pushing the utility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. SVP serves many forward-thinking corporations along with a highly educated and unusually engaged group of residents. “We launched the Santa Clara Green Power Program to meet customers’ demands for 100-percent renewable power as the state established its renewable energy goals,” stated SVP Customer Services Manager Larry Owens.
Santa Clara Green Power launched in 2004, two years after California adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and two years before the first expansion of the RPS. The city continued to monitor its emissions, evaluate resources and update its goals to stay ahead of state mandates, but mostly to meet and exceed customer expectations.
Keeping up with the expectations of business customers in the center of the technology industry has challenged SVP to keep reaching higher, too. SVP Public Benefits Manager Mary Medeiros McEnroe noted, “Many of our large key customers have corporate sustainability initiatives and have been the drivers behind some of our programs.”
Businesses subscribing to Santa Clara Green include Intel—a 62-wind turbine partner—Santa Clara University, the Great American Theme Park and the city itself. A number of large commercial customers have installed solar arrays on their facilities ranging from 750 kilowatts to 1 MW per site.
Speed bumps, fast lanes on road to success There are pros and cons to being a leader in clean power initiatives and SVP has seen both sides as it moved toward its goal.
It was clear to the utility partners that a cleaner power supply was the road to the future. Around 2009, as the state set higher renewable energy goals and added new regulations, other California municipal utilities followed M-S-R toward the coal off-ramp. In some ways, Owen observed, the group effort gave utilities more leverage to negotiate their exit from coal power providers. On the other hand, “The more participants, the more complexity,” he said. “And there was a lot more competition for renewable energy. Ultimately, though, the cooperation among utilities was impressive.”
SVP knew that leaving their coal provider and finding cleaner power sources to replace the 51 MW was going to be difficult. But it paid off in the end when San Juan Generating Station permanently closed down half of its units. “We expected that they would just find another buyer for that power, so SVP going coal-free turned out to have a much wider impact by actually decommissioning two of the four units,” said Owens. “That was a nice surprise.”
Future is affordable The greatest fear that grips utilities when they contemplate a future without coal—that it will force them to raise rates—has not materialized for SVP customers.
Utilities are always retiring and acquiring purchase power contracts over time, Owens pointed out, and that will affect pricing. Shifting to the Lodi Energy Center and ramping up green power caused some upward pressures on price for SVP. In the long term, however, “The forward price curves for natural gas and renewables look better than coal,” he stated.
Switching to those resources is also an investment in meeting federal mandates to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, he added.
Given the many factors that shape energy costs, SVP still boasts some of the lowest electricity rates in California. The utility recently announced that there will be no rate increase for 2018, and rates are expected to remain flat for the next couple of years.
Efficiency still matters When rates inevitably change, SVP’s strong customer relationships and menu of long-established efficiency programs will help to ease acceptance.
SVP residential customers can get rebates for efficiency measures including attic insulation, ceiling fans, electric clothes dryers, electric heat pump water heaters and pool pumps. In addition to Santa Clara Green Power, the Neighborhood Solar Program allows customers to sponsor solar installations on public buildings. SVP also provides homeowners with energy audits and loans diagnostic tools to do-it-yourselfers.
While SVP counts some of the world’s most progressive companies among its large key customers, Medeiros McEnroe said that the small commercial customers are surprisingly engaged too. “Quite a few of our small businesses support Santa Clara Green Power, from dentists to auto shops, and many have installed solar arrays on their buildings,” she said. “Sustainability is a community value in Santa Clara.”
Keeping costs down is, nevertheless, still a top concern for small businesses, so SVP offers rebates for specific systems like lighting, as well as custom measures. The utility has also partnered with the Food Service Technology Center for a program to teach food service employees to manage energy and water costs.
SVP also provides energy benchmarking to help companies understand their energy and water use and set goals for improvement. “We have been able to help many customers through free snapshot audits and by educating them about the value of purchasing energy-efficient equipment,” Medeiros McEnroe said.
A utility customer program manager’s work is never done, and sustainability will always be a moving target. Achieving the coal-free goal is impressive but there are still peaks to manage and costs to control. WAPA has no doubt that with the support of its committed customers, SVP will meet each new challenge, exceed expectations and continue to impress.
The videos share the stories of homeowners in three eastern states, and the effect energy-efficiency upgrades have had on their lives. The theme running through the series is that reducing energy waste lessens the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Those cuts deliver big gains in health, because pollutants from burning fossil fuels contribute to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke.
The series is part of ACEEE’s new Health and Environment program, launched last year to research the linkages among health, environment and energy efficiency, and to educate policymakers. Later this year, ACEEE will release a series of reports that will further explore the health and environmental benefits of saving energy.
A two-day Conference on Health, Environment & Energy ACEEE is planning for December will showcase the research and promote others’ work in this growing field. Utilities are welcomed to attend the conference in New Orleans to add their voices to this critical conversation.
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2/6/18