The latest Green Power Partnership update on renewable energy use by businesses, government facilities and educational institutions shows the importance of partners in meeting clean power goals. Western customers—and Western itself—figure prominently on the quarterly list released April 25.
There are now 764 Green Power Partners using renewable energy to meet 100 percent of their U.S. organizationwide electricity use. That is a lot of green kilowatt-hours (kWh)—16 billion annually—to keep the lights on and the equipment humming. The list of power providers needed to supply all that clean electricity is a long one and there are several familiar names on it.
DIY spreading As equipment and installation costs drop, many organizations are adding renewable energy systems on their own facilities. Omaha, Nebraska-based Morrissey Engineering supplements its green power purchase from OPPD with on-site generation. The city of Durango, Colorado, has partnered with LPEA on community solar gardens.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory generates 20 percent of its electricity on-site with solar panels. The remaining 80 percent comes from Western and private renewable energy companies.
Other notable achievements Western customers appeared in the ranking not just as providers but as partners. The University of Utah came in at number 86 in the overall Top 100 Green Power Partners, and was number 14 in the Top 30 colleges and universities.
Los Angeles World Airports, served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, ranked 23rd among local government green power users. Sustainability pioneer CPAU was number 28 on that list.
Long-term power contracts, for five years or longer, play an important role in growing the renewable energy market. BD, a global medical technology company, signed a 20-year purchase power agreement with Nebraska Public Power District for more than 120,000,000 kWh of wind power.
Western customers go above and beyond to provide their consumers with the products and services they need, including cleaner, greener electricity. We look forward to seeing their names become a growing presence on future Green Power Partnership lists.
E Source Announces Top Utilities in Large Business Customer Satisfaction
In a recent nationwide survey conducted by E Source utility energy efficiency research group, utility large business customers gave top marks to the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) for customer satisfaction.
Among small and midsize utilities, the Western customer ranked number three for utility satisfaction, thanks to superior marks for its account management team. This is the first time in the study’s six-year history that E Source separated utilities into two categories based on size.
For the fourth year in a row, CPAU has earned a top three ranking for customer satisfaction with a utility. CPAU’s large business customers were particularly pleased with their account representatives’ effective communication skills and customer service.
Now in its sixth year, the annual benchmark survey polls utility customers throughout the nation to gauge general satisfaction for communication, affordable rates, reliability and safety. Participants are asked to identify the top priorities for outstanding customer service among utility key accounts and measure how close their utilities come to meeting those expectations. The results are based on survey responses from more than 1,000 large business customers of 25 North American utilities.
This year’s survey respondents identified reliability as the attribute they considered most important for utilities. E Source Market Research Manager Rachel Cooper observed that customers consistently rate reliable energy, low prices and emergency communications as the most important utility services. “Having a utility that’s trustworthy is also extremely important for these customers, particularly when it comes to supplying energy-efficiency advice,” she added. “Large business customers most commonly chose their utility when asked to indicate who they most trust to provide this type of advice.”
Western congratulates CPAU on its strong showing in the survey. The Northern California municipal utility frequently earns recognition for its energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs, but the greatest honor is hearing your own customers say you are the best.
El Camino Real, a historic road that runs nearly the full length of California’s coastline, is making history again for its role in a six-month pilot project being conducted by the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU). In partnership with energy technology provider Petra Systems, CPAU recently installed a string of nine smart solar streetlights along “The Royal Road.”
The installation is testing the potential to generate renewable energy on streetlight poles. Solar photovoltaic, or PV, modules placed high on the poles capture the sun’s energy and send it to the city’s electric grid. The technology could help transform ordinary streetlights into a network of distributed solar power generating assets.
Taking community’s pulse The PV-fitted streetlights are located along a well-trafficked mile of El Camino Real. Interpretive signs in the area educate passers-by about the technology. “The pilot project area runs right by Stanford University, as well as soccer fields and parks, so residents will see what we are doing and be able to form an opinion about it,” noted CPAU Communications Manager Catherine Elvert. “We are encouraging community members to provide feedback through an online survey.”
The survey asks questions about residents’ support for CPAU increasing the use of solar power, and allows them to express concerns about aesthetics, light quality and other issues. “The customer response to these modules can help us gauge how aggressively to pursue this type of local generation,” Elvert added.
CPAU is engaged in several local solar initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to invest in clean energy resources.
Innovating through partnership Through its Program for Emerging Technologies, the municipal utility is able to “test drive” systems that may improve operations, create jobs and boost the sustainability of CPAU’s generation portfolio. Launched in 2012, the program seeks out and nurtures creative products and services that manage and better use electricity, gas, water and fiber optic services.
Partnering with high-tech companies keeps the cost of innovation down. The El Camino Solar Test project will increase Palo Alto’s renewable energy production at no cost to the city. Petra Systems offered CPAU the solar modules to evaluate their performance over the six-month pilot duration. The nine units are estimated to have a total nameplate capacity of about 2.25 kilowatts, with each solar module expected to produce 374 kilowatt-hours per year. That electricity is enough to power the equivalent of two streetlights, making the LED, or light-emitting diode, streetlights net producers of electricity.
Improving service, lowering costs Project Manager Lindsay Joye pointed out that generation is just a small part of smart solar technology performance. “The technology goes well beyond self-powering to give the city greater control of its streetlight assets,” she said.
The modules are equipped with an LED light controller that allows the city to remotely turn streetlights on or off. The brightness of individual lights or groups of lights can be adjusted to accommodate the traffic levels in different neighborhoods, as well. On a citywide scale, the dimming function can provide even deeper energy savings from the already-efficient LED lamps, Joye noted.
The system offers additional features that can streamline maintenance and enhance public safety. The controller can flicker specific lights to help direct emergency response personnel when needed, and can notify the city immediately of a malfunctioning light, including the failure type and exact location. Elvert said, “If the city decides to expand the project, high-traffic roads and expressways would be good candidates for installations. With the smart-grid and remote control capabilities, there would be less need to put our crews in harm’s way.”
Palo Alto’s municipal utility takes solar energy mainstream in drive for 100% carbon-free electric supply
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), an educational nonprofit organization that helps utilities integrate solar electric power into their energy portfolios, has named the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) as Public Power Utility of the Year. The award was announced on Oct. 21 at the Solar Power International conference in Las Vegas.
Julia Hamm, president and CEO of SEPA, praised the municipal utility for “walking the talk” of community focus, and pointed to CPAU’s customer-friendly menu of solar services and tariffs. “The agency has demonstrated innovation and pragmatism in leveraging affordable solar to meet its goal of becoming a carbon-free utility,” Hamm stated.
Founded in 2005, SEPA’s annual awards recognize organizations and individuals advancing utility innovation, industry collaboration and leadership in the solar energy sector.
Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd called the award a tremendous honor for the city. “We continually strive to be on the cutting edge of environmental sustainability,” said Mayor Shepherd. “This award recognizes how public and private partnerships, along with forward-thinking community support for renewable energy, can allow cities to successfully reduce their carbon footprint.”
Road to carbon neutrality
The 2014 award recognizes the City of Palo Alto Utilities for its leadership and innovation in demonstrating solar energy’s viability as a mainstream power source. The utility has continuously increased the size of its solar electric portfolio. A recent power purchase agreement puts the city on track to have a 100-percent carbon-free electric supply portfolio by the year 2017. The city implemented a 100-percent carbon-neutral electric policy in 2013, purchasing energy from renewable sources, as well as purchasing renewable energy certificates to offset “brown” market power resources.
Most recently, The Palo Alto City Council approved a plan to encourage local solar generation, with options for community and group buys for customers who want to support solar energy but cannot install a solar system on their own property. With the Local Solar Program strategy, the utility aims to increase the local solar installations from 5 Megawatts (MW) at the end of 2013 to 23 MW by 2023.
The utility also offers customers a full set of solar services and incentives, including residential and commercial rebate programs, expedited permit processing, green power purchase premium options, workshops, one-on-one advice and coordination with industry representatives. A feed-in-tariff CPAU established in 2012 provides third parties with the opportunity to install solar arrays on local businesses and sell the energy back to the utility.
Western congratulates the City of Palo Alto on its award, and on its progress toward a carbon-neutral power supply. Energy Services is available to help all Western customers meet their planning and sustainability goals. Contact Energy Service Manager Ron Horstman or your regional Energy Services representative for more information.
With a target of receiving 33 percent of its electric supply from renewable resources by 2015, Palo Alto has issued a request for proposals for renewable power. The California municipal utility is seeking contracts for power for terms ranging from five to 30 years from any resource that meets the California Energy Commission’s Renewable Portfolio Standard eligibility criteria (with a strong preference for proposals that would qualify as Portfolio Content Category 1).
Palo Alto is looking to contract for projects (or off-take shares of projects) yielding between 20 and 60 gigawatt-hours of electric output per year, with deliveries beginning between 2014 and 2016. Proposals are due by October 9.
In June, the city approved three 30-year power purchase agreements for a total of 80 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic power at “extremely low rates.” The flat price of about $69/megawatt-hours “was lower than any previously approved renewable energy projects over the last eight years,” Palo Alto said. The delivery of the power from the new solar facilities is scheduled to start by January 2017. Source: Public Power Daily, 9/16/13
Now you can revisit the presentations to pick up some tips for your own programs, or find out what you missed if you were unable to join us. You can also learn more about the UEF sponsors and exhibitors.
Attendees who didn’t fill out the paper survey at the forum can still complete an online survey. Your two cents worth helps the planning committee make the UEF better each year.
Boldly going where very few municipalities in the United States have gone before, the Palo Alto, Calif., city council has committed to pursue only carbon-neutral electric resources from now on. Implementing a Carbon Neutral Plan is expected to reduce 330,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013 through 2016. Beyond 2016, most of the city’s reductions of GHG emissions will come from achieving a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of about 50 percent.
Taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere won’t take money out of rate payers’ pockets, however. The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) estimates that the carbon neutrality plan will increase the average electric bill by less than $3 per year.
No time like the present
Reaching carbon neutrality was not a matter of “if,” but “when.” The city got the ball rolling in 2003, passing an RPS of 33 percent new renewable energy by 2015—five years sooner than California’s target. Creating a Climate Protection Plan in 2007 moved the ball forward, and when renewable energy prices dropped over the last two years, the goal came within reach sooner than expected. Mayor Greg Scharff commented, “When we realized we could achieve a carbon neutral electric supply right now, we were compelled to take action.”
To meet its aggressive RPS, Palo Alto issues requests for proposals (RFPs) annually. The response to the RFPs was particularly strong in 2011 and 2012, and the prices were very competitive. “Especially on solar,” noted Jane Ratchye, Palo Alto’s assistant utilities director for the Resource Management division. “We signed one large solar contract that increased our renewable portfolio by about 5 percent. We are also negotiating with three more solar developers that could increase our RPS dramatically.”
Along with wind, landfill gas-to-energy and existing hydropower from Western and other hydro plants, more than 70 percent of CPAU’s electricity supply is renewable now. Short-term renewable energy certificate (REC) purchases offset the non-renewable market power that provides the balance of the city’s needs.
Palo Alto layered on renewable energy contracts, starting with two large wind purchases that were signed in 2004 and began delivering renewable energy in 2005 and 2006. Several more long-term contracts have been signed to bring CPAU’s new renewable generation to 35 percent by 2015.” After that, we will be negotiating to reach 50 percent, as long as we can stay within the RPS annual rate impact limit of .5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh),” Ratchye said.
It’s all in the planning
Renewable acquisitions alone are not enough to turn a city carbon neutral. The Climate Protection Plan set short-, medium- and long-term goals to reduce GHG emissions citywide and identified the steps to reach them.
Resource planners will immediately recognize the strategies: Rebates for energy efficiency upgrades, a generous solar incentive (and a new feed-in tariff), a voluntary green power premium program and the RPS. These measures enabled the city to reduce emissions by 42,968 metric tons of CO2, or 10 percent below 2005 levels. Having exceeded its 2009 and 2012 goals, Palo Alto is updating its long-range emissions reduction goal of 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This would avoid 119,140 metric tons of CO2 and bring the community in line with state emission reduction goals.
Demand side management plays a critical role in freeing Palo Alto from carbon- intensive resources. The utility submits an update of its 10-year Energy Efficiency Plan to city council every three years. The 2010 update more than doubled the energy-efficiency goals of the previous report. The goals are also aimed to meet state mandates requiring efficiency resources as the first choice in evaluating utility supply options.
California continues to raise its energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and that pushes utilities to work harder and spend fractionally more to achieve energy savings. CPAU’s levelized cost of electric energy efficiency in 2010 was $.05 per kWh, compared to $.056 in 2012. Its annual report points out, however, that compared to new renewable energy purchases, the city is still getting a bargain. “The state law only allows us to claim the energy savings above the standards, but the upgrades still produce savings,” added Ratchye. “And those are significant.”
You can do it too
Admittedly, Palo Alto’s location helped its quest to become carbon neutral—being in a state with high standards for sustainability, policies to support efficiency and renewables and an abundance of alternative energy sources has its advantages. Also, as a built-out community, Palo Alto anticipates little load growth, although a new large businesses coming to the area could increase demand.
None of that should keep other cities from striving to reduce GHG emissions, though. The Carbon Neutral Plan is designed to be transparent, sustainable and repeatable by other communities. The first step, Ratchye advised, is to get the city council’s buy-in, and then agree on the definition of carbon neutral. “Once you have that definition, you can move forward,” she said.
To measure Palo Alto’s GHG emissions and verify reductions, the city council chose the outside, independent The Climate Registry (TCR) Electric Power Sector Protocol. “It was important to adopt a standard that would have meaning to other entities and that they could use as a reference,” stated Ratchye.
Under the protocol, the city will achieve carbon neutrality on an annual basis. The system allows the utility to bank RECs from one year to the next, and to calculate the emissions from renewable energy sources so that those, too, can be offset. “That’s critical, because some renewables, such as geothermal energy, may have modest amounts of emissions,” Ratchye explained. “You have to account for those if you claim to be truly carbon neutral.”
Make no mistake, the City of Palo Alto wants to be truly carbon neutral and hopes other cities will follow its lead. As Bruce Hodge, founder of Carbon Free Palo Alto, noted in the city’s press release, “By taking this first step of de-carbonizing its electricity supply, Palo Alto has established itself in the vanguard of forward-thinking communities.”
FiT programs, in which utilities buy power from small independent electricity producers, have stimulated growth in solar installations to record levels around the world. But U.S. utilities are a different breed, and may not be able to meet their local objectives by copying established programs. Join SEPA tomorrow to learn about the challenges utilities are encountering in home-grown FiT challenges and how they address them.
The webinar will focus on FIT program design and execution to meet end objectives. The material will be of particular interest to strategic planners and renewable program staff, as well as solar industry stakeholders. Presentations will cover:
Examples of key utility FIT programs and lessons learned
How to evaluate FIT programs for effectiveness
How to successfully adapt programs to meet challenges
The cost is $199 for non-members, and free to SEPA members and the media (subject to verification).
Ranked by renewable energy sales, Sacramento Municipal Utility District sold the fourth largest amount of renewable energy (kWh/year) in the nation (including investor-owned utilities). SMUD was the only public power utility to crack the top 10 in total number of customer participants in green power programs, ranking fourth in that category as well.
Using information provided by utilities, NREL developed rankings of utility green power programs for 2010 in a variety of categories. Other Western customers appearing in the Top 10 included:
NREL recently added the category of community solar programs to its ratings, giving Western customers another chance to shine. Holy Cross Energy, SMUD, St. George, Utah, and United Power placed sixth through eighth. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share.
The Green Power assessment was performed by NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC), which integrates technical and economic analyses and leads NREL’s efforts in applying clean energy technologies to both national and international markets.