Do you have a program success story you would like to share? Did your innovative spirit take flight, producing results others should know about? Please help us make the 2019 Utility Energy Forum a success by presenting your program during the Utility Program Stand Up Challenge!
“Utility Recipes for Meeting Customer Needs” is the theme for this year’s UEF. It is being held April 24-26 at the Cambria Pines Lodge in Cambria, California.
The StandUp Challenge is a fast-paced poster session that gives speakers the opportunity to present their poster to attendees three or four times over a 45-minute window. To have your poster considered for the StandUp Challenge, submit your proposal no later than Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Posters are most likely to be chosen if they focus on program results and lessons learned, are vendor agnostic, and have a utility or government author or co-author and presenter.
Other deadlines are approaching as well. Register before Nov. 30, 2018, to receive your Early Bird Discount, and make sure you submit your application for the Jim Brands Memorial Scholarship by Jan. 11, 2019.
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 38th annual Utility Energy Forum (UEF) will begin as it has for the past several years with a Pre-Forum Workshop just for the people who keep the lights on—staff from utilities and government agencies.
The session gives power providers and government representatives their own time to candidly discuss issues that concern them, strictly from their own point of view. “The UEF attracts a lot of trade allies and representatives from related field, but it is first and foremost for utilities,” explained WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “Giving utilities a chance to ‘talk amongst themselves’ first sets the tone for the meeting. They go into the forum with a clear idea of their shared challenges and what they hope to learn.”
Join us! The UEF is a California-centric event, but don’t let that stop you from attending. You may have more common ground with West Coast utilities than you realize.
It is a great opportunity to network with energy services colleagues and learn about their customer programs related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, key account management and other customer services. This year’s theme, Preparing for the New Energy Future, asks us to challenge our traditional thinking to be ready for the rapidly changing energy utility industry.
The Double Tree Hotel in Rohnert Park, California, will host the UEF this year. The registration rate includes not only your conference registration, but your lodging and all your meals. The views of the Sonoma Wine Country are free.
Horstman will be attending the UEF and moderating the Pre-Forum Workshop along with Paul Reid of Azusa Light and Power, so attendees will get to share their thoughts and concerns about WAPA as well. Your Energy Services Bulletin editor (me) will also be on hand to hear your stories and pick your brain about services you would like us to offer. We look forward to meeting WAPA customers and learning all about your challenges—and your innovative solutions—April 25-27.
Trinity Public Utilities District (TPUD) is a small utility with a workforce consisting of only 22 employees, located in Weaverville, California. It was founded in 1981 and has recently become a valued WAPA customer.
“Prior to that, Weaverville was being served by a small investor-owned utility,” said TPUD General Manager Paul Hauser. “They wanted to sell their distribution lines and get out of Trinity County. The community came together to raise and borrow the money necessary to purchase the distribution assets themselves.”
Dick Morris was a founding member of TPUD, and is still on the board today.
“We were motivated to take over the system and partner with WAPA when the previous utility made it clear that they were contemplating the sale of this system, along with their holdings in other small communities,” said Morris. “This was an opportunity. The previous utility had been bombarded by high-bill complaints from customers. City of Redding customers were paying around $21.00 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), while in Weaverville we were paying $72.00 for the same usage. This was our chance to change that.”
Hauser says that joining WAPA saved Weaverville.
“The rates we were paying were far too high, and the local lumber mill was in serious danger of closing because of high electricity prices,” explained Hauser. “Weaverville had some of the highest rates in the state at the time. Now that we work with WAPA, we actually have some of the lowest rates, but that wasn’t the case then. It was difficult for the mill to stay afloat.”
The lumber mill is the largest private employer in the area with around 130 employees, and it’s critical to the overall well-being of both Weaverville and Trinity County. It is the only lumber mill still operating in the county, and it represents more than 10 percent of TPUD’s load.
“We pleaded with the mill owners not to scrap out the plant, but to keep it intact for two years while we sought a new owner to take it over,” said Morris. “If we were to succeed in purchasing the distribution assets and start working with WAPA allocation, we pledged to provide the new owners a substantial reduction in their cost of electricity.”
TPUD was able to find a new owner for the mill: Trinity River Lumber Company. They worked with Sierra Nevada staff members to receive a preference power allocation, a process that was completed in 1982.
“The importance of the mill to this community cannot be overstated,” said Hauser. “Had the mill failed, the economy of the entire county would have collapsed. We would have lost those jobs and it would have become uneconomical to perform the forest thinning that allows forest fires to be managed in a way that minimizes impact to the people of Trinity County. Losing the mill would have crushed us.”
Fortunately, TPUD was successful in purchasing the distribution assets and partnering with WAPA. As a result, the mill, the economy, and those 130 jobs were saved, preserving the economic health of the area.
“Thanks to the service we started getting from WAPA, the new owners were able to operate the mill more cost effectively,” Morris said. “The previous utility required the mill to pay around 10 cents per kWh. With WAPA, we were able to reduce the cost to three cents.”
Thirty-five years later the mill, once in danger of shutting down and taking its jobs with it, still operates.
“Access to WAPA’s low-cost hydropower allowed TPUD to offer rates low enough for the mill to stay in business,” Hauser said. “The benefit of partnering with WAPA was that direct.”
TPUD is now also able to offer customers increased reliability, as WAPA line crews provide assistance during major storms and outages. “That’s something we couldn’t do on our own,” said Hauser.
“I am pleased that WAPA was able to work out such a synergistic relationship with the owner- shareholders of TPUD,” said Senior Vice President and Sierra Nevada Regional Manager Subhash Paluru. “I’m also pleased that through the years WAPA and TPUD have continued to be valuable and reliable partners.”
“WAPA really is a fantastic partner,” Hauser concluded. “Its employees are very helpful to a small utility like us. We simply could not operate without the partnership that we have with WAPA.”
The UEF program committee asked utility and government representatives to weigh in on the topics they wanted to discuss in the exclusive session dedicated to those groups. Not surprisingly, the responses reflected California’s unique situation, even as they echoed the findings of the Utility Dive survey.
Energy storage The question that was No. 1 in the minds of survey respondents was, “What is the value of energy storage for customers, utilities and the grid?” It is not hard to connect the dots between energy storage and concerns about distributed energy policy and aging grid infrastructure that ranked high in the Utility Dive survey. But in California, a combination of legislative and market forces have made energy storage specifically a relevant topic.
Most people automatically think about battery systems when they hear energy storage, and six utilities in the state have already installed and are experimenting with that technology. However, thermal storage—using available renewable electricity to heat water or make ice for later use in heating or cooling—is a proven technology in use at eight California utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric has the state’s only pumped storage project, which uses renewable energy to pump water to a higher-altitude reservoir where it is released to generate hydropower when needed.
Utilities and battery manufacturers still have much to learn about storage batteries, from funding and installation to operation and maintenance to best uses for the systems. Riverside Public Utilities enlisted the University of California Riverside as a research partner to discover more about solar-plus-storage capabilities. Imperial Irrigation District installed 30 megawatts (MW) of storage last October. System operators find it valuable for balancing intermittent solar power during weekdays, but also note that it takes 220 tons of air conditioning to control battery temperatures. Maintaining constant battery temperature is crucial to extending the life of batteries. Tucson Electric Power (TEP) chose to lease 10 MW of storage from Next Era and Eon as a way of easing through the learning curve. The system supports 40 MW of solar and provides ancillary services for TEP.
So far, the business case for storage has yet to be made because utilities are still discovering the values associated with it. Also, each utility will have to learn how to maximize storage on its own system. Planning and rate design will play a critical role in unlocking the value of the technology. But utilities can’t afford to hang back, as big, energy-intensive businesses like data centers are already investigating going off-grid with their own solar-plus-storage systems. These customers may prove to be important partners for power providers seeking to meet storage mandates.
More to offer Stagnant load growth appeared in the Top 10 Utility Dive survey results, a harbinger of reduced revenues utilities can expect from distributed generation and storage technologies. California utilities seem to be ahead of the curve in this respect, interested in exploring new business models to grow services and build relationships. Many roundtable participants have begun to create programs and services that offer customers more than kilowatts.
A number of industry surveys indicate that most consumers still rely on their power providers to help them sort out claims about electrical products and services. Utilities can leverage this trust to get customers to take a holistic approach to energy use, installing weatherization and efficient appliances and systems before moving on to renewables.
The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU), for example, offers comprehensive home audits and free concierge service that customers can call with any question about energy use. The service is just starting to take off as CPAU hones its message and outreach strategy. “Ongoing customer communication is critical, and not just for specific programs,” observed CPAU Key Account Manager Bryan Ward. “The issues are complex and education is tough, but the more customers understand, the more they can make good decisions for themselves.”
When the customer is ready to install a solar array, the utility has a vested interest in making sure the job is done right. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program has been highly successful in helping its customers make educated decisions about solar installations. The “Solar Guy,” Energy Program Technician David Dominguez, has even become something of a local celebrity. Roseville is considering expanding the program to other services, like electric vehicles and energy storage. The moral of Roseville’s story is that personalizing a program can take it to a whole new level.
EVs, rate design central to discussion Of course, you can’t have a discussion about new utility services without the subject of electric vehicle charging stations coming up. Roundtable participants represented a number of different approaches to this service. Burbank Water and Power installs level 1 (standard household) charger outlets on customers’ property and offers a rebate to customers to install a level 2 (240-volt) outlet.
CPAU facilitates permitting and filing for residential and commercial charger installation and for transformer upgrades. Multifamily units, nonprofits and schools are eligible for rebates for chargers, but high-tech businesses in CPAU’s territory didn’t need an incentive to install the technology. The important thing, most agreed, was that utilities need to be involved in pushing out EV chargers, both for the new revenue stream and to ensure effective deployment and implementation.
EVs and technologies like home automation—another behind-the-meter product utilities could offer—lend themselves to load shifting, especially in residential settings. To take full advantage of such demand response strategies, utilities will have to design rates that give customers a reason to participate. The Public Utility Commission of California has called for robust time-of-use rates, which would present utilities with another customer education challenge. Power providers will also want to make sure that vendors of behind-the-meter services are giving consumers honest and accurate information and appropriate support.
Energy efficiency ain’t easy The final roundtable issue was one that is relevant across the country, but again with special significance to California: What hurdles are you encountering integrating and managing more energy efficiency in your mix?
In addition to the state getting half of its electricity from green energy by 2030, California buildings must also increase energy efficiency by 50 percent. As any utility program manager can tell you, the more successful you are at reducing your customers’ energy use, the harder it is to find new savings. The overall trend toward higher efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, along with some of the toughest building codes in the U.S., is already making it more difficult to design effective efficiency programs.
Encouraging customers to make energy-efficiency improvements is further complicated by the fact that electricity rates may continue to rise anyway. Consumers don’t generally care about the intricacies of load resource balance or system optimization, issues that resist simple messaging. To make matters worse, third-party vendors rarely bother to explain to their customers how installing a measure will actually affect their home utility bills—if they, themselves, understand.
When the subject is energy efficiency, talk always circles back to flat and falling revenues, something affecting almost everyone on the panel. Sacramento Municipal Utility District attributes a noticeable decline in sales to building codes. EV charging and electric water heating could help to make up some load, especially since most water heaters in the state are still gas units. But CPAU found few takers for a pilot program offering customers a generous rebate to install electric heat pump water heaters.
Change still only constant There is still plenty of low-hanging efficiency fruit that utilities have not yet picked, though participants acknowledged that it may be getting more expensive to reach. The “free” electricity from a solar array is a lot more appealing to customers than elusive “savings” from an energy-efficient appliance. It is enough to make utilities wonder if the best days of energy-efficiency programs and incentives are behind them.
And yet, industry research shows a strong correlation between energy efficiency and customer satisfaction. Such programs give utilities a chance to interact with customers in a way they wouldn’t get to otherwise. Board members may continue to support a traditional program that does not contribute much to financial or operational goals because they see the public relations value of it. If utilities are going to phase out traditional energy-efficiency programs, they will need to find other ways keep customers engaged and happy.
The two hours scheduled for the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable passed quickly and—spoiler alert—we did not resolve our most pressing issues. That is likely to take trial, error and perhaps an appetite for risk that is hard to square with our historic mission of reliability and affordability. But it did remind us that customer relationships must be viewed as part of the solution.
A utility that prides itself on a diverse power supply will soon be removing one particular resource from its portfolio for good. Silicon Valley Power (SVP), the municipal electric utility serving Santa Clara, California, will become coal-free after Dec. 31, 2017, when it ends electricity imports from the San Juan Generating Station.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final approval of the move on Dec. 30, 2015. Cleaner energy from renewable and natural gas resources will replace the power from the New Mexico coal-fired power plant for 53,000 Santa Clara customers. The confluence of many different policies and pressures led to this decision, observed Larry Owens, SVP manager of customer services. “But mostly, it is because our customers want us to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” he said.
Changing times, concerns The commitment to affordable, reliable electricity made coal power a sensible choice in 1980, when SVP partnered with Modesto Irrigation District and Redding Electric Utility to form the M-S-R Public Power Agency. The joint power authority purchased an interest in the San Juan Generating Station in 1983 to supplement seasonal hydroelectric generation and reduce the need to buy expensive and often cost-volatile short-term power.
Over the years, however, concerns grew about the effect of carbon emissions on the environment, and in 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (AB) 32. In keeping with its history of environmental responsibility, Santa Clara launched its own strategy to fight climate change, starting with an inventory of all community emissions. Cataloging the city’s sources of emissions gave Santa Clara a good baseline to work with and aligned with the reporting requirements that preceded the carbon cap-and-trade market AB 32 established, starting in 2013, noted Owens.
One thing the inventory revealed was that although coal-fired power provided just 10 percent of SVP’s electricity, it accounted for 50 percent of the utility’s carbon emissions. Cleaning up those emissions and complying with other new environmental regulations covering all emissions promised to increase the costs and liabilities associated with the plant.
SVP, through M-S-R Public Power Agency, began confidential negotiations in 2011 to pull Santa Clara out of the San Juan contract, and started to examine alternatives to coal-powered resources. “Replacing 10 percent of our generation to get rid of 50 percent of our emissions just made good sense,” said Owens.
Many parts to lower emissions puzzle Making the decision was the only easy part, though. SVP was still a part owner in the plant and was still paying on the bond that financed that purchase. The utility could have sold its interest to another power provider, but that would just be passing the climate-change buck, Owens explained. “When the opportunity came up to affect a true reduction in emissions by working toward the closure of two of the four units, we got behind it immediately,” he said.
Accomplishing that goal involved working with multitude of partners and interests, not only several utilities besides M-S-R, but also coal producers, the local economy, regional, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and other vested interests. “It was a lot of hard work,” Owens recalled. “All of the parties in that complicated effort deserve recognition for honoring everyone’s interest and still attaining the goal.”
Replacing 51 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the San Juan plant has proven to be as much an opportunity for SVP as a challenge. The utility became a major partner in the Lodi Energy Center (LEC), a state-of-the-art natural gas plant, and has received electricity from it since 2012. The combined-cycle LEC incorporates cutting-edge, “fast-start” technology to reach full load in 30 minutes. The ability to quickly ramp up reduces startup emissions and makes the system complementary to intermittent renewable resources.
Small hydropower plants present yet another opportunity for SVP to acquire new renewables. “We have two new facilities on deck ready to produce 32 MW,” Owens said. “Some of the hydropower we have picked up in the past few years was from expiring contracts with PG&E, but we are starting to see more projects that add capacity to existing facilities.”
Keeping customers satisfied Ending its exports of coal-generated electricity in 2018 will reduce the carbon footprint of SVP’s generation by 50 percent, two years ahead of the 2020 deadline in Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan. That won’t be the end of the utility’s efforts to maintain a sustainable and affordable power supply.
Part of the motivation is staying ahead of state and federal environmental and renewable mandates, but most of it comes from the customer. “For one thing, our service territory includes some of the world’s high-tech giants,” Owens said. “Many of those large commercial customers have advanced their own sustainability initiatives and they expect their utility to keep up.”
For Silicon Valley Power, it all comes down to meeting and exceeding its customers’ expectations. “I can’t overstate how big a part our customers’ interests played in driving toward a coal-free portfolio,” Owens stated.
To deal with the ongoing drought, California has passed mandatory restrictions on urban potable water use—a first in state history—and water utilities have their work cut out for them. This five-hour seminar from Green Technology offers an in-depth look at the code specifications and helps building, design and construction professionals successfully navigate the design, permitting and inspection process. Utilities, especially municipal water providers, will find ideas and opportunities for managing their water supply more efficiently and for helping their large key accounts.
The fee for the seminar is $265, with discounts for groups of four or more. Continuing education credits are available. Please contact Cindy Dangberg at 626-577-5700 if you have any questions.
Low-flow fixtures and other common water-saving measures cannot reduce water consumption enough to meet the required reductions. This five-hour seminar will introduce building owners and water utility employees to the non-potable water strategies that will take conservation programs to the next level.
Featured speaker Greg Mahoney has more than 25 years of experience in building code enforcement, and is currently the chief building official for the city of Davis, California. In addition to being a certified combination inspector and plans examiner, he is a certified building official, certified access specialist, Leadership Energy Efficient Design accredited professional, Building Performance Institute building analyst and certified Home Energy Rating System rater.
Get an in-depth look at the code specifications and learn how to successfully navigate the design, permitting and inspection process. Mahoney will also cover emergency water conservation regulations found in CALGreen that were approved May 29 and went into effect June 1.
Facility managers and design and construction professionals who attend can earn five continuing education units, or CEUs, from the American Institute of Architects. Sessions will also offer renewal points for Build it Green(one credit per hour) and Construction Management Association of America(one per hour).
To make it easier for busy professionals to attend the seminar, Green Technology is presenting it at five different locations in California:
The e-magazine Green Technology is compiling an online directory of sustainability, or green programs, at California school districts called Our Green School.
In an effort to save energy and cut operating costs, many schools and districts in that state—and throughout Western’s territory—have implemented programs to promote green building, recycling, energy efficiency, school gardens and more. If you are a California utility that serves one of these schools, urge your customers to add their green school program to the directory.
Those who submit complete information to the directory before Dec. 5, 2010, will qualify for a scholarship to attend concurrent sessions on Dec. 9 and 10 at the Green California Schools Summit in Pasadena, Calif.
Our Green School is an adjunct to the annual Green California Schools Summit and is being created to share information about all kinds of sustainability efforts at California schools. However, schools around the country can get ideas for reducing energy use from green school programs in the Golden State.
The results, released earlier this month, placed California in the top spot for the fourth year in a row, outpacing all other states in its investment in energy efficiency across all sectors of its economy. The state tallied 45.5 out of a possible 50 points in six categories: utility and public-benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power; state government initiatives; and appliance efficiency standards.
Of the four states making the greatest improvements, three of them were in the Southwest. Utah, tied for 12, up 11 spots from 2009, while Arizona finished at 18, up 11 spots, New Mexico came in at 22, up eight spots. Alaska rounded out the list, moving up eight spots to #37.
Western customers did their part to contribute to the progress these states made in the last year, and we congratulate them. To our customers who want to see their states rank higher next year, we suggest you contact your Energy Services representative today. We have ideas and programs that can help your customers save money and resources—and give neighboring states a little competition in the energy-efficiency sweepstakes. Everyone will be a winner!