Farmers Electric Cooperative in Greenfield, Iowa, is receiving a $1.4 million USDA loan to invest in smart grid projects. The co-op plans to install more than 5,800 single-phase meters and additional meter reading equipment in its west-central Iowa service area.
MVEA, headquartered in Limon, Colorado, will use the investment to build 197 miles of line and make improvements to another 197 miles and other parts of the system. The loan amount includes $2.6 million for smart grid projects. The utility serves nearly 50,000 consumers in a 6,055-square mile territory covering Arapahoe, Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln and Pueblo counties.
In total, the USDA is investing $309 million in 16 projects through its Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program. It helps finance generation, transmission and distribution projects; system improvements; and energy conservation projects in communities with 10,000 or fewer residents.
The current round of loans is funding infrastructure improvements for utilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota and Washington. MVEA and Farmers Electric are only the latest WAPA customers to access funding through the program to build and upgrade their infrastructure.
Most retail or power supply providers serving qualified rural areas may apply for a loan, including:
Nonprofits including cooperatives and limited dividend or mutual associations
For-profit businesses (must be a corporation or limited liability company)
Utilities may use the funds to finance maintenance, upgrades, expansions, facilities replacement, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. See the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations for additional guidance or contact your general field representative to learn more.
The Electric Power Research Institute recently launched its Efficient Electrification Initiative to analyze the impacts of electrifying the end use of energy, where it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.
In an article in the EPRI Journal, President and CEO Mike Howard drew a distinction between the original meaning of electrification—extending electrical service to people who lacked it—and EPRI’s demonstration program. Efficient electrification, Howard explained, looks to integrate the energy network to help achieve the most efficient use of energy and the cleanest production, delivery and consumption of that energy.
As defined in EPRI’s U.S. National Electrification Assessment, electrification refers to the adoption of electric end-use technologies to displace other commercial energy forms and provide new services. According to the assessment, electrification yields benefits to the economy that include:
Lower energy use
Reduced air emissions and water use
Improved health and safety for workers, potentially leading to gains in productivity and product quality
Greater grid flexibility and efficiency
More uses, less consumption Among the assessment’s key findings is the expectation that electricity’s share of final energy consumption will grow from 21 percent today to 32–47 percent in 2050. Transportation—for personal vehicles and for commercial truck fleets and other heavier-duty applications—accounts for a large share of this growth. Advanced heat pumps, industrial process equipment and other technologies will also contribute to that increase.
The analysis considers regulatory and economic barriers and points to opportunities for financing, recalling how rural electrification financing enabled technology that dramatically increased farm production. In the 21st century, indoor agriculture through electrified production of crops could sharply reduce water and other resource consumption, Howard asserted.
Balancing act with benefits One surprising fact that emerged from EPRI’s analysis is that even as electricity use increases, the overall use of energy decreases, hence the pairing of “efficient” with “electrification.” The entire energy system would become more efficient through efficient electrotechnologies, and become cleaner as it uses less energy to do the same work.
The efficient electrification scenario makes the entire system more dynamic, too. As more applications rely on electricity, grid operators have more resources to manage and draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources.
Discover possibilities To move the conversation about electrification forward, EPRI is hosting the inaugural Electrification 2018 International Conference & Exposition Aug. 20-23 in Long Beach, California. Manufacturers, policymakers, academia, researchers, utility professionals and more will come together to explore the potential for electrifying at the point of end use.
This is an excellent opportunity to find out where electrification is today and where it could go tomorrow. Attendees will see the latest technologies in action and learn about the quantifiable benefits of electrification for consumers and the environment. Utilities and vendors will share cutting-edge practices from innovative programs they have implemented.
Now is the time for power providers to be talking about efficient electrification. Utilities that are ready to address the challenges and seize the opportunities can become leaders in efficiency, sustainability, service and customer satisfaction. Learn more about the conference and don’t forget to share your stories with WAPA.
The facility was the first in Colorado and fourth in the world to receive the Platinum designation under the latest version of the LEED standard. In addition to being one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the state, more than 95 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfills. It features a 104-kilowatt solar system, and the city is currently reviewing designs to add a storage battery later this year.
Shoot for gold, hit platinum The request for proposals called for the building to achieve a minimum of a LEED Gold rating under the new LEED v.4 standard, which has a more performance-based approach than previous versions. “The architecture went through a lot of iterations—in square footage, budget and so forth—but the specificity of the goals we set for the project in the RFP kept the design and construction team on track,” said John Phelan, Fort Collins Energy Services manager.
The city required the design and construction team to achieve all of the energy and atmosphere points to ensure ongoing performance, and challenged the team in other areas to achieve the certification. The choice to apply LEED v.4 presented the city with some challenges. For example, Phelan recalled that the materials category has new methodology and standards so the updated material data sheets were not always available. “That made it hard for the contracting team to get the necessary documentation,” he explained.
The integrated approach produced some clear triumphs as well. The design team focused on a well-insulated, tight envelope with extensive daylighting, resulting in a building with extraordinary light quality and views. “If you are not in a bathroom or closet, you can see the sky,” Phelan proudly stated.
Sustainability quest continues The Utilities Administration Building is the first phase of an efficient new civic campus planned for Downtown Fort Collins. The master plan calls for the buildings clustered in a two-block area to be heated and cooled by a shared geothermal well field. Designers prepared the new building for that eventuality. It was designed to be able to connect the district heating system, promising an even better energy performance in the future.
Energy isn’t the only kind of performance the city is planning to measure. In an effort to understand the value of indoor environmental quality of this building, occupants have taken pre- and post-construction surveys on their comfort, satisfaction and how they feel about their work environment. Ultimately, annual utility bills are very small compared to the utility’s investment in its employees, explained Phelan. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that you are building for the people who work inside, doing the work that the community wants,” he said.
WAPA congratulates Fort Collins Utilities for another achievement in sustainability. The forward-thinking municipal utility has made great strides in lowering its carbon intensity, and never rests in pursuing more innovative solutions.
A new rooftop photovoltaic solar array is being installed every minute in the United States, with 4 million expected to be generating power by 2020. Knowledgeable building code professionals are needed to make sure these systems are installed correctly and safely. To help ensure quality inspections, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council has launched a new online interactive video solar training series for local code officials.
Taking the approach of the popular DIY series, This Old House, developers have created videos that are as entertaining as they are informative. Online viewers join IREC Training Specialist Joe Sarubbi to follow seasoned building and electrical inspectors through the finer points of five different solar inspections. Each video highlights a different type of system and technology, including:
DC-DC converter systems
Tesla Powerwall energy storage systems
Ground mounted AC-coupled systems with energy storage
Commercial carport systems
Presented in an engaging, easy-to-watch video format, the training can be completed in just a handful of lunch-hour sessions and is aimed at new and experienced residential inspectors, as well as residential PV installers.
The videos incorporate the 2017 National Electrical Code and the most current international building, residential and fire codes. “The new PV Inspector Online Training course for code officials brings together a remarkable group of experienced PV system inspectors from across the country to present a wide variety of PV system types and technologies,” said Rebekah Hren, a member of the NEC’s Code Making Panel 4.
Check out this short video for a look at how the solar training for code officials looks and feels. The training is available onlinefree of charge for a limited time.
Sometimes, you just don’t know what people want until you ask them, as the municipal utilities board of directors in Fremont, Nebraska, learned when they set out to diversify their municipal power portfolio.
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.
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.
Window replacement strictly for energy savings carries a big price tag that can be well out of range for many homeowners. Fortunately, there are several lower-cost options for reducing energy loss through windows that utility program managers might consider adding to their incentive offerings.
Reflecting on film
Window films help block against solar heat gain and protect against glare and ultraviolet exposure. According to the International Window Film Association, professionally installed window film can block 30-60 percent of all energy being lost through window glass throughout the heating and cooling seasons. IWFA also claims that window film in commercial buildings can deliver seven times the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows.
DOE’s Energy Saver blog explains that reflective films work best in climates with long cooling seasons, because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter. Other factors that impact the effectiveness of window films include:
Size of window glazing area
Whether the window has interior insulation
Incentives for professional installation of window films could be a winner for utilities serving low-income areas in warmer climates. Homeowners and businesses in such regions might welcome an affordable alternative to window replacement. Check with your state energy office to see if it offers any tax incentives you can piggy-back on your program.
Drawing on curtains, shades
Carefully chosen window attachments can also save homeowners energy for less than the cost of window replacements. The Attachments Energy Rating Council is a good place to begin exploring options. The two-year-old organization is working with DOE to provide credible and accurate information about the energy performance of residential and commercial window attachment products.
For an overview of AERC’s work, download “Window Attachments: A Call to Action,” the Council’s updated brief. AERC is holding its annual meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22 to 24.
Efficient Window Coverings, a guide supported by DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is another valuable resource for evaluating different window products for energy efficiency. Website visitors will find a calculator to help them choose the best covering for their circumstances and a comparison chart to see how coverings stack up against each other. These functions can help utilities identify a range of options to appeal to different customer segments.
LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs have become a major market player in recent years and can be expected to grow when new lighting efficiency standards come into effect in 2020. Utilities might be tempted to think that there is little of this “low-hanging fruit” left for residential efficiency programs to pluck. Before utility program planners sunset this portfolio mainstay, however, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy suggests you take a closer look at the particulars of your program.
Well-designed lighting programs will likely continue to garner savings for utilities through 2019, but the outlook gets more complicated on January 1, 2020. For one thing, regional differences play a role in how lighting programs perform after the standards are raised. LED adoption varies from state to state and even within states. In most of WAPA’s territory, LEDs are between 20 and 30 percent of the light bulbs purchased. That leaves plenty of room for an effective program to grow the market.
Sales data indicates that lighting programs and retail support are strong drivers of LED adoption. Also, preliminary evidence from New York and Massachusetts indicate that LED adoption drops when programs end. So utilities would be premature to start scaling back their lighting programs—certainly where LED sales are low, and even in states like California where LEDs represent 40 percent of light bulb sales.
ACEEE identifies several program options that could continue the progress in lighting efficiency, even after the standards go into effect.
Underserved markets: Lighting programs can find additional savings by targeting rural, elderly and low-income market segments that have been slower to adopt LEDs.
Specialty lamps: LED versions of popular specialty lamp styles are now available, including decorative, candelabra, globe and reflector lamps. Yet these styles sell significantly fewer units than general-purpose LED lamps, suggesting that consumers need more education about the products.
High quality lamps: Programs should continue to promote high-performing ENERGY STAR-branded products, rather than “value” LED lamps that do not meet ENERGY STAR standards.
Controls: Dimming and occupancy controls offer significant additional savings opportunities. Lighting programs can help connect consumers to quality control solutions that are easy to install and operate.
While residential lighting efficiency programs still have plenty of savings left to tap, the technology’s increasing efficiency will eventually end their usefulness. It is not too soon for utilities to start considering the next opportunities for helping customers control and reduce their energy use.
Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 4/9/18
In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility 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.
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. 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.
The small towns of Nebraska boast a surprising number of large commercial and industrial customers, drawn in no small part by some of the lowest electricity rates in the country. Ensuring the economic vitality of these businesses—and their communities—is a duty that NMPP Energy and its member organizations take very seriously. “If the businesses are healthy, then the utilities are healthy and we all win,” said Bob Meade, former member services representative for Nebraska Municipal Power Pool and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.
Meade, who retired in March, has a long history of working with municipal utilities in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming to help large C&I customers keep their operating costs down. Low rates notwithstanding, Meade’s first contact with a business usually comes when one complains to the local municipal utility about high bills. “Either that, or they have an infrastructure request,” he said. “They want to upgrade their heating and cooling systems or outdated lighting.”
Meade frequently used the opportunity to do an energy audit on the facility. Businesses need the audit to apply for the Rural Energy for America Program from the Department of Agriculture to fund energy efficiency upgrades.
REAP grants provide up to 25 percent of total eligible project costs for improvements such as HVAC, lighting, refrigeration units and insulation. “Those are the most popular improvements for grocery and convenience stores in particular,” observed Meade. “Those upgrades can reduce a store’s energy charges by as much as 60 or 70 percent. The savings pay for the improvements, and in six or seven years the business sees that money go back into the bottom line.”
Bigger they are, more they save Large—as in multi-national—companies have even more to gain from efficiency upgrades. Becton Dickinson Inc., in Meade’s hometown of Holdrege, Nebraska, manufactures medical supplies such as insulin syringes to send all over the world. “Because they use robotics, the voltage and current levels have to be almost perfect,” said Meade. “Otherwise, they lose product.”
All products must be sterilized in an underground chamber, too, so a reliable, stable power supply is critical to operations. These circumstances make Becton Dickinson a good candidate for battery storage. NPPD is working with the company to evaluate the benefits and savings of installing a storage system.
Another, better known, large C&I customer is Frito-Lay in the town of Cozad. The snack food maker has a significant presence throughout the state due to excellent rail service and, of course, proximity to crops used as ingredients.
Meade recalled performing a detailed infrared inspection of an electrical room at the plant a few years ago, using one of WAPA’s IR cameras. “We identified more than 85 potential outages that could have caused downtime,” he noted. “That proactive inspection saved them a huge amount of lost work and product. It also convinced them to get their own camera and perform regular inspections.”
Saving electricity saves jobs Sometimes, good C&I customer service can help to retain jobs when a business changes hands. When Bass Pro Shop took over Cabela’s sporting goods stores in Nebraska, the city of Sidney expected to lose hundreds of jobs. However, Bass Pro Shop learned that Cabela’s had a much more sophisticated data collection program, so the company decided to relocate its data operations to the Cabela’s campus.
That plan hit a snag when Bass Pro Shop found low voltage in the selected building, and an engineering report failed to determine the cause. At the request of the Sidney public services director, Meade installed a power analyzer—again from WAPA—on the city’s transformer. The data the analyzer collects will help to correct the problem, and Bass Pro Shop may be able to offset some of Cabela’s layoffs with jobs in the data center.
Tools to build cooperation Diagnostic tools, borrowed from WAPA, were critical in helping NMPP utilities to resolve electricity issues for both Frito-Lays and Bass Pro Shop. “IR cameras and power analyzers are great for dealing with key accounts,” Meade pointed out. “You are able to walk in and do something proactive for your customers instead of waiting to react to their problems.”
What is even better, he added, is when a member utility or customer decides to buy the tool themselves. Prices for diagnostic technologies keep coming down, and once a customer sees how much they can save doing preventative maintenance, the case is made.
But first, you have to show them, said Meade. “We have a slogan at NMPP Energy, ‘Working together works,’ and it’s true,” he declared. “It works when we get our member utilities to work with their customers and it works when NMPP works with WAPA.”
Richard Eymann is stepping into Bob Meade’s shoes at the end of March to continue NMPP Energy’s tradition of outstanding member services. With 40 years of electrical and maintenance experience, Eymann will be providing the same high level of support and training NMPP Energy communities have come to expect. Members can contact Eymann at 402-474-4759.
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.