APPA Customer Connections Conference opens facing future

Although the American Public Power Association is celebrating its 70th year in 2010, it was the future, rather than the past that speakers focused on at the opening session of the Customer Connections Conference, Oct. 24, at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim, Calif.  

After showing a video on the history of the association, APPA General Manager Mark Crisson moved on to discuss the challenges facing the utility industry. “Public power is well positioned to address these challenges,” he told more than 225 attendees.

At APPA’s recent fall meeting, the board of directors developed the list of priorities the association will focus on in the coming months.  APPA had fall meeting a couple of weeks ago.

  • Climate change and emissions regulations potentially coming from the Environmental Protection Agency topped the list. Congress is unlikely to act on any climate legislation, leaving the EPA to step into the void.  Utilities are not yet on the list of industries the EPA will be able to tell how to regulate and control emissions.  However, with almost half of the power in the United States coming from coal, the industry is experiencing a lot of uncertainty. There are series of regulations in EPA queue that will drive electric generation to gas and away from coal.
  • New infrastructure is needed for utilities to meet their mandate for reliability, demand growth and renewables integration. Already in Midwest there are places where more wind is being generated than economically can be integrated. Siting and cost allocation issues are very contentious. There is consensus in the industry that increased Federal authority is needed on siting rules. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in process to address both issues.  Most public power utilities want to own and operate their own renewable generation. APPA has made progress on getting legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate that would remove the caps on Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. Public power needs incentives that are comparable to the private sector.  Crisson said that the jury is still out on nuclear, but the low-carbon resource can help reduce emissions and provide base load to firm up renewables.

    APPA recently released a study identifying challenges of a large-scale switch from coal to gas.  The cost of changing over the entire coal-fired fleet could cost $750 billion. Even the likelier scenario of converting 25 percent is very costly. The study has initiated a dialogue with EPA about challenges of transporting and storing natural gas and retrofitting power plants for the fuel.

  • Pending financial regulation legislation creates potentially gives the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) jurisdiction over financial products in regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs). APPA is concerned that the CFTC doesn’t understand utility industry.
  • Public power utilities must now meet mandatory reliability standards.  APPA is working with the National Energy Regulatory Commission (NERC) to develop the standards.Cyber security is an issue of great concern to Congress. Crisson warned that the House Grid Act could include distribution, which would interfere with NERC-FERC process. APPA is closely involved on this since if the industry doesn’t act, Congress will.
  • Workforce development continues to be an issue but APPA members are dealing in creative ways.
  • Demand-side initiatives should be pursued and integrated into resource planning. These measures are a good way to develop customer relations, to explain why changes are important to customers as well as the power provider.  Members need a strategy for demand-side initiatives, or someone else will step in. You can work with third party providers.
  • APPA members have adapted to restructured markets, but the market bias does not work well for the public power model. Developing meaningful RTO performance metrics will help, but it is unclear how effective markets will be in providing for new demand.

Future outlook

Crisson identified several trends going forward that the industry will have to grapple with:

  • Upward pressure on energy costs. Increasingly expensive to access oil and gas.
  • Transition to low carbon economy. Public power will be impacted no matter how rules proceed.
  • Technology will play an expanded role. We will need to be smart about how we employ it. It can enhance customer service.
  • Relationship with customers is more important than ever. They need to understand why PP is doing what they are and get their support.

However, he noted several reasons why public power has the advantage over investor-owned utilities in negotiating these challenges.  As nonprofit entities, the utilities can aggressively pursue energy-efficiency strategies that are best for the customers without worrying about satisfying investors. Public power can also do 100-percent debt financing for building infrastructure.

 Equally important are the utilities’ strong customer relationships. Compared with IOUs, customers are more likely to trust that their cooperatives will do the best thing for the consumers.

The tradition of service, reliability and financial integrity is one of public power’s greatest assets. “And that is why I am confident we can meet this mission,” Crisson concluded.

Join us at the Customer Connections Conference

The American Public Power Association’s annual Customer Connections Conference happens Oct. 24 through 27, in Anaheim, Calif. This event promises lots of valuable information and insight for utilities at a time when we must create a new definition of customer service.  That’s why Breaking News will be covering Customer Connections live.

Bookmark this site and check in frequently during the conference to learn what the experts are saying about designing and implementing programs that meet your customers’ needs and help your utility meet its goals. We will be reporting from these dual track sessions (Pacific Time):

Monday, Oct. 25

  • 10:30-noon:  Customer Service Roundtable
  • 1:30-2:45p.m.:  Can You Prove the Savings for Your Energy Efficiency Program?
  • 3-4:15p.m.:  Social Media: Building the Case, Executing the Strategy, Capturing the Learnings

Tuesday, Oct. 26

  • 8:30-10 a.m.:  Top Five Smart Grid Communications Challenges
  • 10:15-11:45 a.m.:  New Age Distributed Generation: Emerging On-site Generation Options for Your Customers
  • 1:15-2:45 p.m.:  Integrated Marketing Communications: What’s the Right Mix?
  • 3:00-4:15 p.m.:  Joint Action/State/Regional Organization Roundtable

Our coverage isn’t just for those who can’t make it to Anaheim. Attendees are free to add their views in the comments section, too. Or e-mail the editor, and you just might get yourself a guest contributor spot.

Live from Aspen and Anaheim!

Western’s Energy Services Bulletin editor is going on the road to cover the Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange, Oct. 13 to 15, and the APPA Customer Connections Conference, Oct. 24 to 27. 

BUT—there is only one editor, and many sessions.

You can shape our story by telling us which sessions are most important to you. Visit the conference agendas, pick the sessions you would like us to cover and e-mail your choices to the Energy Services Bulletin editor by Oct. 8.* The sessions that get the most votes get the most coverage.

Watch Breaking News for the coverage schedule. Then check back often during the conferences to follow the action and share your views.

*UPDATE* The deadline for suggesting sessions has been extended to Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Funding available for hyper-energy-efficiency demonstrations

Members of American Public Power Association’s (APPA) Demonstration of Energy Efficient Developments (DEED) program who are eager to show their leadership in energy efficiency may be eligible for co-funding to finance hyper-energy-efficiency demonstration projects.

APPA is collaborating with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to increase the number of EPRI demonstration projects for five innovative technologies:

  1. Variable-refrigerant-flow air conditioning
  2. Efficient data centers
  3. Heat-pump water heaters
  4. Ductless, residential heat-pumps and air-conditioners
  5. Hyper-efficient residential appliances

EPRI is currently monitoring active projects involving these technologies, but would like to install the hyper-efficient systems in different locations to get more comprehensive data. Earlier this year, the DEED board expressed willingness to provide co-funding to DEED members to help finance their participation in these EPRI projects.

New demonstrations must begin operating by the close of first quarter 2011 so that EPRI can obtain a full year of data. Although the application deadline is flexible, the sooner proposals are submitted to DEED, the better.

Interested parties will have to move fast to meet the timeframe for installation; however, there are resources to help them develop their proposals. APPA is offering to arrange one-on-one conference calls with EPRI, so potential participants can get answers to their specific questions. Also, EPRI has established manufacturer contacts for the equipment, and is able to give participants “the heads-up” about operational issues identified through its current projects.

Participation in any of these demonstrations will showcase your utility as an energy-efficiency innovator at the national level. Your customers and city leaders will be proud of their electric utility’s national recognition as a leader in energy efficiency and utility R&D. Contact Michele Suddleson at 202-467-2960 if you are interested in learning more.

APPA Academy debuts this week

APPA is launching the APPA Academy, public power’s complete resource for professional education and certification. Through a variety of delivery methods—live, in-depth education courses, in-house training programs, conferences, webinars, list servers, online courses and work force development partnerships—the APPA Academy will help electric utility employees stay abreast of rapidly moving industry technologies and regulatory requirements while providing an opportunity for them to meet their yearly training goals and certification requirements in formats and price ranges that suit their needs.

In addition to providing utility employees with the knowledge they need to perform their jobs at the highest level, various education courses, in-house training, conferences, certificate programs and webinars in the APPA Academy meet the criteria for providing:

  • CEcD Hours – needed by Certified Economic Developers to maintain certification;
  • Continuing Education Units (CEUs) – required by many professions to maintain certification;
  • Continuing Legal Education credits (CLEs) – needed by lawyers to practice law within a particular jurisdiction;
  • Continuing Professional Education credits (CPEs) – required by CPAs to maintain licensure;
  • HCRI Hours – required by Human Resources professionals to maintain certification; and
  • Professional Development Hours (PDHs) – needed by engineers to maintain licensure.

Additionally, when employees participate in APPA Academy offerings, utilities earn points toward their Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) designation.

FERC extends response period for demand response survey

It’s not too late to participate in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) voluntary demand response (DR) survey.  FERC has extended its original July 31 deadline to Aug. 20 specifically to get more input from public power utilities.

The survey is collecting information on utilities’ demand response programs, including implementation of smart grid initiatives and time-of-use rates. According to Michele Suddleson of the American Public Power Association (APPA), many policy makers use the survey results to gauge how quickly various sectors of the industry are moving to implement DR. Given the strong national focus on these issues, it is important to show that the public power sector is actively pursuing demand response solutions. 

Please download the survey form (pdf) and e-mail your responses to FERC by close of business, Friday Aug. 20. FERC provides answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) from previous surveys on its website, or you can direct your questions to 1-888-585-9232 between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Help Public power show its success in the area or demand response!

Webinar highlights public utilities’ low-income programs

American Public Power Association is offering a webinar, Tuesday, July 27, on “Keeping Low Income and Payment Troubled Customers Connected in Tough Economic Times.” The webinar is scheduled from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Continued high unemployment, runaway health care costs, high wholesale energy prices and a host of other economic pressures are making it increasingly difficult for millions of consumers to stay current on monthly electric and gas utility bills. Learn how public power utilities, with their unique cash flow and capital requirements, can fund, design, target and deliver effective bill payment assistance programs that make sense for all customers. Participants will hear what customer service options make the most sense in these volatile economic times. The speakers will also discuss how large and small public power systems develop administrative efficiencies to lower the cost of delivering effective programs and customer service.

This webinar will present participants with a catalog of options for public power utilities, and include a presentation from a utility with a successful low income program. Speakers include: Roger Colton, attorney and economist; John Howat, senior energy policy analyst for the National Consumer Law Center; and Francine Artis, customer solutions manager for Tacoma Power.

Register online, or contact Heidi Lambert at 202-467-2921 for more information.

Follow American Public Power Association on Facebook.