Solar stock tank group purchase ‘a huge success’

Utility program managers know that equipment rebates are not only a building block of load management strategies, but are also an effective customer outreach tool. Surprisingly effective, in the case of Holy Cross Energy’s You are leaving recent Passive Solar Livestock Tank Sales Event.

The passive solar stock tank Holy Cross Energy members Kevin White and Rachel Marble got for their horses was the start of a promotional sale that succeeded beyond the utility's expectations.
Holy Cross Energy Program Administrator Mary Wiener learned about the SunTank passive solar stock tank from members Kevin White and Rachel Marble, who got one for their horses. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

The Colorado electrical cooperative teamed up with Clean Energy Economy for the Region You are leaving (CLEER) and Pine Ranch Products You are leaving in October to offer the SunTank stock watering tank at wholesale pricing to livestock owners in three Rocky Mountain counties. Members responded enthusiastically to the offer, placing 30 orders for a total of 58 tanks. “It caught us a little off guard,” admitted Mary Wiener, Energy Efficiency Program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

Manufactured by the Utah-based company, the tank eliminates the need either for costly electric heating units or for manually breaking and shoveling ice that forms on tanks in subzero weather. The water in the heavily insulated tank is not exposed directly to sunlight so it is algae resistant and requires less cleaning than a conventional stock tank. As far as Wiener can tell, it is the only product of its type on the market.

Product opens doors
Holy Cross has offered a $250 rebate on solar stock tanks for several years as part of its WE CARE carbon reduction program, but there have been few takers. “We don’t have a big agricultural load,” Wiener explained. “It’s mainly a few irrigation pumps.”

At $649 to $825, the retail price for the 25- and 42-gallon SunTanks might be a barrier as well. However, Wiener thinks that the lack of interest in the rebate mainly stemmed from members not being aware of the offer. “I didn’t know about solar stock tanks until a member told me about them,” she said.

Wiener learned about the water tanks during a home energy audit she performed for members Rachel Marble and Kevin White, who are horse owners. The couple was understandably excited to show off their new solar-heated SunTank to their power provider’s efficiency expert. Wiener, for her part, immediately recognized an opportunity to connect with members she rarely saw outside of the occasional request for an energy audit.

CLEER, a public benefit organization which frequently partners with Holy Cross on member efficiency programs, had expressed interest in doing an outreach project for agricultural members. While the stock tank is not likely to have a big impact on Holy Cross’s load, “It was something that would really help our members,” Wiener said. “Utilities should be looking for services they can offer besides just electricity.”

Word gets out, orders come in
Getting members’ attention is just as critical to a program’s success as identifying valuable products and services. Holy Cross started the promotion with a booth at the local Potato Day Festival, which attracted a lot of members with a drawing for one of the stock tanks. Two articles in local newspapers followed the festival and the October sale was posted on the utility website event calendar.

If Pine Ranch received orders for more than 10 tanks, buyers would get the wholesale price. The company eliminated the shipping fee by agreeing to drive the tanks from the Santa Clara, Utah, factory. To sweeten the deal, Holy Cross increased the rebate from $250 to $300 and covered the 2.9 percent sales tax in the rebate. How could livestock owners resist?

Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross Lineman Foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank.
Booboo and his owner Rodney, a Holy Cross lineman foreman, wait for the installation of their new SunTank. (Photo by Joey Calabrese, Holy Cross Energy Communications Specialist)

In fact, not many did. Colorado Mountain College You are leaving alone ordered 10 tanks for the veterinary technology program on its Spring Valley campus. The SunTanks support the school’s sustainability efforts while providing the program’s animals with a cleaner, more accessible water source. The sale was so successful, Pine Ranch was swamped by the number of orders and had to move the late November delivery date to mid-December. “I didn’t realize we had so many livestock animals in our territory,” observed Wiener.

Success has its price
Although the partners are pleased that the promotion succeeded far beyond their expectations, Holy Cross has no plans to repeat the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale soon. “I would do some things differently if we did it again,” Wiener acknowledged. “It was a lot of work for a very small member segment.”

Some changes she would make to the program include taking preorders and holding the sale in September to make sure that the tanks arrive by November, ahead of the freezing weather. Wiener also advises choosing your partners carefully, as some organizations that initially wanted to join the promotion failed to follow through with the promised support. Pine Ranch, however, did a great job, she added. “The company was really well organized, which helped them handle the big order.”

Ultimately, Holy Cross Energy counts the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale as a win, and Wiener believes other cooperatives with livestock customers should consider doing a group purchase event. “Try something new,” she urged. “It was good for our customers and our relationship with them, and it brought attention to a great product made by a small business.”

Source: Clean Energy Economy News, 12/4/17

Irrigation workshop keeps ag customers informed, prepared

Having information available about future operating costs, supplies and regulations help business owners make sound decisions for the coming months and years. Utilities that provide such critical information form stronger relationships with their customers, which is why High West EnergyYou are leaving Western's site. hosted an irrigation workshop on Jan. 27 at its Pine Bluff, Wyoming, headquarters.

High West Energy hosts a workshop for agriculture customers every couple of years to keep the lines of communication open with their large customers. (Photo by High West Energy)
High West Energy hosts a workshop for agriculture customers every couple of years to keep the lines of communication open with their large customers. (Photo by High West Energy)

Irrigators are among the electric cooperative’s biggest consumers and High West considers it good practice to acknowledge that customer segment and keep the lines of communication open. “We like to get irrigators together every couple of years to share new technology developments and discuss changes on the horizon to help them prepare accordingly,” said High West Public Relations and Marketing Manager Lorrell Walter.

Around 25 attendees—primarily small growers but with a significant number of agribusiness producers—turned out for a look into the crystal ball. “They got a lot of tough news this year,” acknowledged Walter, “but they appreciate knowing ahead of time, so they can plan for it.”

The tough news included rate increases anticipated for the next three years, water restrictions affecting both Wyoming and Nebraska and a low futures market. “Basically, the worst possible combination,” said High West Energy Management Advisor Joy Manning, who helped organize the workshop.

Facing, tackling challenges
Some presentations clarified the situation the growers faced, while others explored assistance available to help cope with it. Speakers from the South Platte Natural Resources DistrictYou are leaving Western's site. and Wyoming State Engineer’s OfficeYou are leaving Western's site. focused on drought conditions and new state well water regulations. The outlook for grain markets in 2016 was the topic of a presentation by a representative from Platte Valley Bank.

The workshop covered not only challenges, but solutions too. Attendees learned about strategies for dealing with climate variability and integrating photovoltaics with irrigation equipment from the University of Wyoming School of EngineeringYou are leaving Western's site. and Extension. The Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program discussed loans and grants it offers for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

Utilities join conversation
Because water and energy use are intertwined, wholesale power providers had a place on the agenda, too. Tri-State Generation and Transmission AssociationYou are leaving Western's site. was on hand to update attendees on the G&T’s efforts to comply with the Clean Power Program and other activities. Tri-State Relationship Manager Gary Myers gave an overview of the 2016 Energy Efficiency Products Program.

Western Energy Services Representative Annette Meredith and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann gave a short presentation on what Western is doing to support High West and its other customers. Although Western works with utilities rather than end-users, Energy Services can play a role in consumer education, noted Meredith. “Helping our customers’ customers to understand where some of their power comes from, and how electricity and water are so closely linked in the West, can help bolster efficiency programs,” she explained.

The workshop appeared to achieve that goal, observed Manning, in spite of sobering news. “The feedback was very positive,” she said. “They particularly appreciated that the information didn’t just touch on one aspect of irrigation.”

Partnering to reach customers
Getting input from many different sources is the secret to a good workshop, Walter said. “If I was going to give other utilities one piece of advice on putting together a workshop, I would tell them, ‘Don’t try to do it on your own,’” she said. “Even though I have an agricultural background, I couldn’t keep up with the hot topics.”

As the issues get more complex, pre-event research becomes more important. High West board members are a source of topics based on the concerns they hear from customers. Tri-State, High West’s wholesale provider, has helped organize past workshops. And if you find a good speaker, Walter advises, “Invite them back! Get that information out there.”

Meredith, who joined Energy Services a little over a year ago, also pitched in this time. “She really helped pull things together,” Manning added.

“Partnerships among several stakeholders are key for successful energy efficiency efforts,” said Meredith.

If your utility would like assistance in hosting a workshop for your members or customers, contact your Energy Services Representative or the Energy Services manager.

USDA offers funding to protect, restore key water resources

Riparian easements, like this one along a creek in Story County, Iowa, enhance environmental quality and preserve wildlife habitat and open space.
Riparian easements, like this one along a creek in Story County, Iowa, preserve water quality, wildlife habitat and open space. (Photo by USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service)

Financial assistance to purchase agricultural land easements is available from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NCRS). The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is offering $350 million to support the voluntary sale of easements to maintain farms and ranchland and to protect critical water resources.

Native American tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements.

Agricultural land easements help to protect the nation’s food supply by preventing productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses. Lands protected by easements also enhance environmental quality and preserve historic sites, wildlife habitat and open space.

Wetland reserve easements improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding and recharging groundwater, all critical concerns to agricultural producers.

In announcing the funding, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that the USDA is committed to protecting the long-term viability of farming across the country, as well as restoring vital sensitive wetlands. “The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” he said.

NRCS state offices are accepting applications for partnership wetland restoration projects from eligible partners through July 31, 2015. Application deadlines vary by state.

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the any time at the local USDA Service Center.

Source: USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, 11/19/15

Irrigation workshop introduces water apps for growers

Western teamed up with Nebraska Public Power District  You are leaving (NPPD), the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Clean Energy Ambassadors You are leaving and Central Platte Natural Resource District You are leaving last November to present an irrigation workshop for agriculture energy customers of NPPD members.

REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings: From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the Project offered an overview of load management and efficiency opportunities; the REAP program, including eligible projects and application guidelines; and a case study on a solar pumping system. Participants learned about REAP success stories and utility incentives, met equipment vendors and watched NPPD Energy Consultant Ronald Rose, Kelley Messenger of the USDA and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann demonstrate pump testing methods.

Troy Ingram, of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, (UNL) introduced two new mobile apps the UNL Extension program You are leaving developed to help growers manage their irrigation systems. Utilities and their agriculture customers can benefit from these easy-to-use tools, even if they were unable to attend the workshop.

Pricing water
The IrrigateCost app You are leaving models center-pivot and gated pipe irrigation systems and the most commonly used energy sources. Using information such as acres irrigated, pumping lift, system PSI, pump and pivot life, and inches applied, the app computes total irrigation cost, along with the total cost of owning and operating a system. It also breaks down costs by irrigation well, pump, gear head, pump base, diesel engine and tank and system and calculates per-acre annual cost and per-acre-inch annual cost.

IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)
IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)

Growers make a number of management decisions based on the annualized costs of owning and operating an irrigation system, starting with whether or not to develop land for irrigation. For a system to be economically feasible, the net income from increased yields due to irrigation development must exceed the additional costs of owning and operating the system over its expected life. Once development is underway, the app can help determine design choices, including selection of energy source for pumping water, the type of distribution system, and so on. Other uses for the app include:

  • Calculating a fair crop-share rental agreement
  • Knowing what to charge for watering a portion of a neighbor’s field
  • Estimating costs to pump an acre-inch of water to help you determine how many additional bushels of a crop are needed by applying one more inch of water at the end of the irrigation season

The app is available through most phone carriers’ app stores. iPod and iPad users can get IrrigateCost from the Apple iTunes store You are leaving for $1.99. In The Google App Store You are leaving offers a version of the app for Android users, also $1.99.

Pricing efficiency
IrrigatePump You are leaving helps to calculate the efficiency of a pumping plant and to determine the potential savings from upgrading the system.

Whether a pumping plant uses diesel, electricity, gasoline, natural gas or propane, chances are it is using 25 percent more energy than expected by the Nebraska Pumping Plant Performance Criteria You are leaving (NPC). A pumping plant meeting the criteria delivers the expected amount of useful work, measured as water horsepower hours, for the amount of energy consumed. The NPC is based on field tests of pumping plants, lab tests of engines and manufacturer data on three-phase electric motors.

The user enters six numbers related to pumping lift, pressure at the discharge, acre-inches of water pumped, fuel price and total fuel used. The app then calculates a pumping plant performance rating, provides an estimated cost to bring the pumping plant up to standard and the number of years for payback on the investment at various interest rates.

Both apps provide anonymous results that users can capture and email to their own devices. The cost of IrrigatePump is $1.99 through Apple, Google or phone carriers.

Ingram noted that these apps are new and have not been through a full growing season yet, but he has used them and other agriculture apps on his own farm. Crop Water, an app UNL developed for scheduling irrigation—specifically for Nebraska soils—has been particularly helpful, he added.

Farming goes high-tech
There are now apps for almost every aspect of farming and ranching, from monitoring invasive species in your area to logging machinery maintenance, and most are free or inexpensive. Utilities might consider giving agriculture customers apps that are related to energy and water management like IrrigateCost and IrrigatePump. Apps could be great small incentives and customer relationship builders.

Just remember that not all apps are created equal. Croplife magazine You are leaving suggests doing a little homework before selecting an agriculture app. Or, better yet, contact your local university extension service to find out what they recommend or offer. Farming is a tough job, and growers will appreciate anything their utilities can do to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.

[Editor’s note: Apps aren’t the only thing you can offer your ag customers. Contact Energy Services if your utility is interested in sponsoring an irrigation efficiency workshop like the one NPPD presented in Grand Island.]

Meet Western customer Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District

[Editor’s note: Every Western customer is unique, but they also share many circumstances and characteristics. Profile stories highlight the strengths, challenges, programs and operational and planning strategies our customers use to “keep the lights on.” We encourage utilities to recognize the issues they have in common and to swap ideas and ask each other questions. If you would like to see your utility featured, contact the Energy Services Bulletin editor.]

Small but complex, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (WMIDD) is vitally important to its southwestern Arizona service territory as both a water and power provider.

Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD's service territory, and lettuce is a principle--and thirsty--crop.
Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD’s service territory, and lettuce is a principle–and thirsty–crop. (All photos by Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District)

The Arizona State Legislature created the combination reclamation project/electric utility in 1951 to repay the construction costs of the irrigation and power systems, and to operate and maintain its facilities. The Desert Southwest region customer is governed by a nine-person board of directors elected by landowners living within its boundaries.

Maintaining low rates
WMIDD serves about 3,500 customers, of which 81 percent are residential, 17 percent commercial and 2 percent agricultural. Agriculture is the region’s leading industry, with the district providing irrigation for more than 62,000 acres of cropland. That leaves little private land in WMIDD’s territory for expanding the local economy to offset losses caused by changes in the agriculture business. This scenario led to several years of a shrinking customer base and declining school enrollment, a common occurrence in many rural communities. The area has become a popular destination for retirees and “snow birds” fleeing cold winters, but the proportion of low-income customers remains high. 

It is no wonder, then, that the district’s highest priority is keeping its water and electricity rates affordable. “One of our customers’ greatest concerns is just being able to pay their utility bills,” confirmed Susan Lozier, WMIDD power procurement and marketing specialist.

Purchasing hydropower from Western helps WMIDD keep customers’ rates low. Most of the district’s generation comes from three hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River. Western also provides ancillary service support to WMIDD, coordinating supplemental power purchases, scheduling, regulating load and balancing energy delivery. “Western is instrumental in all our power dealings,” Lozier observed. “Our hydropower generation is the district’s most important power asset.”

Promoting efficiency
Load management is not a high priority for WMIDD, and resources for developing customer programs are limited.  Nevertheless, the district has found ways to encourage customers to control their energy consumption.

Air conditioning represents a big opportunity for energy savings to the summer-peaking utility. WMIDD, through its Wellton-Mohawk Co-op, stocks air conditioners with a 13 or higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, rating for resale to customers at cost, plus a small handling charge. Customers are responsible for installing the units, although some local technicians do installations. “The local contractor pool is pretty small,” Lozier explained. “There are more contractors in Yuma, but the city is 30 miles away with a mountain range in between. They aren’t going to travel that far to do one installation, unless they sell the unit also.”

Other measures WMIDD takes to save energy include replacing mercury vapor dusk-to-dawn lighting in public spaces with high-pressure sodium lamps and doing annual infrared inspections of its distribution system. The practice of leveling crop fields using laser technology reduces the need for pumping, saving both water and energy.

Simply reminding customers of tried-and-true energy-saving tips can be an effective load-management strategy and here, again, Western can help small utilities like WMIDD. Lozier has used the Energy Services Easy Ways to Save Energy bookmark as a bill stuffer. Our graphics department set up artwork with the district’s logo that could be printed and cut right in the office. This year, at Lozier’s request, we turned our cooling maintenance tip sheet into a bill stuffer to help WMIDD customers make sure their air conditioners are ready for the hot weather. 

Water in a dry land
Electricity is only half of WMIDD’s story, of course—the district has approximately 378 miles of main canals, lateral canals and return-flow channels to irrigate prime and unique farmland. The system includes three major pumping plants and four minor pump stations, 10 side delivery pumps dispersed along main and lateral canals, 90 drainage wells and about 300 observation wells. WMIDD also provides water to several small communities through public, private, municipal and domestic distribution systems. 

WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.
WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.

The area’s principal crops include alfalfa, grains, cotton, fruits and vegetables and specialty seeds. Wellton-Mohawk customers grow most of the world’s supply of registered Bermuda grass seed. The widely used grass is highly salt tolerant, and was a mainstay for local farmers from 1940 to 1952 when well water grew increasingly saline.

Water salinity is an ongoing issue WMIDD has dealt with since its inception. The district shares the waters of the Colorado River with many jurisdictions, as well as Mexico. The farther a river flows from its heading, the more saline it becomes naturally, and diverting water for other uses increases the salinity even more. The district has been a party to many international agreements and construction projects throughout the decades aimed at improving or maintaining the water quality of Mexico’s share. Working with growers and the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt best land-use and irrigation practices also helps to reduce the salinity of Wellton-Mohawk’s return flow.

Add in vegetation management and flood protection activities, and it is clear that the work of a desert-region water reclamation project located along an international boundary is never done. Western salutes this small, but hard-working, multi-tasking agency. Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District plays a critical role, not only in its community, but also in the vitality of the entire region, and knowing we support such customers gives meaning to our work.