LEDs relight Mountain Village

San Miguel Power AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. serving Colorado’s Western Slope, recently teamed up with Cooperative Business Lighting Partners You are leaving WAPA.gov. and the town of Mountain Village, Colorado, to replace 4,828 conventional light bulbs with efficient LEDs, or light-emitting diodes.

The Relight Mountain Village program provided town residents with deeply discounted LED bulbs to improve lighting efficiency in their homes or businesses. Cooperative Business Lighting Partners sold a variety of LED bulbs at a reduced rate to Mountain Village residents. San Miguel funded the discount with a generous rebate passed through from its wholesale power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. along with $20,000 from the town’s energy reduction projects budget.

Cooperative Business Lighting Partners estimates that the project will reduce the town’s overall energy use for lighting by 518,998 kilowatt-hours annually, and have a payback period of less than four months.

Learn more about this stunningly successful community program in SMPA’s December newsletter (page 2).

Source: San Miguel Power Association, 12/2/14

New marketing assistant learns utility ropes at GCEA

A utility energy-efficiency program can only help customers save money and help control operation costs if customers participate. Getting the word out is a perpetual struggle for many power providers, and one that is even harder for small rural cooperatives. Gunnison County Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (GCEA) in Colorado is meeting that challenge with new blood and a fresh perspective—and a crash course in energy-efficiency programming.

GCEA Marketing and Communications Assistant Logann Peterson received a degree in strategic marketing from Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)
GCEA Marketing and Communications Assistant Logann Peterson received a degree in strategic marketing from Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)

Logann Peterson, who graduated last year from Western State Colorado University You are leaving WAPA.gov. with a degree in strategic communication, recently made the leap from marketing intern to marketing and communications assistant. In her new career as a utility professional, Peterson faces the double challenge of engaging younger customers while learning about her new field. “I didn’t really know anything about the utility business when I accepted the internship,” she admitted. “Working at GCEA has been an eye-opening experience. A cooperative is more like a big family than a corporation.”

Lots to learn
The opportunities available at a utility also surprised Peterson. “Alantha’s job is a whole new concept for me,” she added.

“Alantha” is GCEA Energy Use Specialist Alantha Garrison, who administers GCEA’s customer energy-efficiency programs. Part of Peterson’s internship included helping to market rebates on LED lighting and Energy Star appliances, and free energy audits for residential and commercial members. GCEA also offers rebates for electric thermal storage heaters and ground-source heat pumps, as well as discounts to members on Convectair room heaters You are leaving WAPA.gov..

During an energy audit, Energy Use Specialist Alantha Garrison explains to a GCEA member about air leakage around windows. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)
During an energy audit, Energy Use Specialist Alantha Garrison explains to a GCEA member about air leakage around windows. (Photo by Gunnison County Electric Association)

To get up to speed on the topic of energy efficiency, Peterson immersed herself in literature Garrison recommended and did plenty of research on her own. She also accompanied Garrison on an energy audit. “I didn’t know there was so much equipment involved, like blower doors and infrared cameras,” she said. “It was fascinating to see how the tools show what is going on in a building.”

Peterson assists with production of the newsletters, bill inserts, web content and radio ads, while Garrison provides technical expertise and direction for stories on energy-saving measures and related co-op programs. “We don’t expect Logann to learn all the details about our incentives and energy-efficiency programs, but she is very interested in learning about the technologies,” Garrison noted. “She went to the DOE site to research LED lights for an article on lighting.”

GCEA has relied on the traditional formats to promote its programs, and having someone trained in marketing to polish the material has been helpful, Garrison observed. However, “Those avenues are not really building the customer participation we have hoped for,” she said.

Updating strategy
Garrison’s goals for the coming year include improving member feedback and increasing outreach to younger members. That dovetails nicely with Peterson’s first-year goal of establishing a social media presence for GCEA. “Social media is the number-one way businesses communicate with customers today,” Peterson pointed out. “Up to now, the co-op’s online profile has been very low.”

GCEA recently gave its website a makeover and launched a Facebook page and Twitter account, which Peterson will maintain. In addition to announcing outages, Garrison hopes Facebook and Twitter can be used to share energy-efficiency tips, get the word out about energy audits promote co-op events.

Peterson has her work cut out for her, attracting visitors to GCEA’s social media sites and establishing metrics for that outreach effort. “Right now, most of our ‘likes’ are from GCEA employees,” she admitted.

Tale of two demographics
Part of the challenge in marketing GCEA programs is finding ways to reach two distinct groups of members.

Unlike many rural areas, Gunnison attracts young people because of the college, many of whom stay after graduation to enjoy the Western Slope lifestyle. Those residents are more likely to pay attention to social media, but less likely to own their homes. “Most students are renters, and it is tough to motivate them to change their energy use habits,” Peterson observed.

Outside of town is a decidedly older, more settled demographic of ranchers and farmers, which is changing too, but more slowly. “I’d classify them as the ‘over 30’ crowd,” said Peterson. “The internet doesn’t reach into some of the more remote corners of our service area, either, so we still have to communicate with those members in the ‘old-fashioned’ way,” she added.

Low-tech bridge-building
Partnering with organizations in the community is another old-fashioned way to engage members, and one that is proving effective for GCEA. A fellowship student for a master’s program at Western State has set up a few member events and is working with the local housing authority to promote weatherization. “He going door to door to identify members who are income-qualified for the program and telling homeowners what is available to them,” Garrison said. “The personal touch may be low-tech but it works—our goal is to upgrade 12 homes this year and we are on track to meet it.”

Garrison and other GCEA employees have also taught a class on utility business and science at the university. The class not only educates younger and future members about energy use, it serves to position GCEA staff as experts on the topic, another marketing goal.

Forward to the future
Times are changing for utilities—even in rural areas like Gunnison and power providers have to keep up. Fortunately, GCEA is preparing for the future by investing in young employees who are up to the challenge.

Crafting a modern marketing strategy to reach members with the programs that will keep the lights on and the economy strong is going to take a certain amount of trial and error, as Garrison and Peterson readily acknowledge. Energy Services Bulletin wishes Logann Peterson good luck in her new job. We look forward to covering GCEA’s marketing and energy-efficiency successes as they work out the formula.

Report: Utility-contractor partnerships affect success of energy-efficiency programs

Fast Water Heater CompanyRedirecting to a non-government site has released a white paper suggesting that utility energy-efficiency programs built around strong cooperation between contractors and the power provider are likely to get more customer participation.

Approaches on Utility-Contractor Partnerships compared the experiences of two utilities marketing very similar rebates for an almost identical product over a similar time period. The major difference between the programs was the level of contractor engagement and accountability—and the results. A large utility serving 5 million customers used a conventional, partner-neutral business model with minimal contractor evaluation. The second utility, with 700,000 customers, actively collaborated with approved contractors on program promotion and follow-through.

The results, summarized in an article in Intelligent UtilityRedirecting to a non-government site, were strikingly different. The utility using the partnership model achieved a 63-percent penetration rate, in contrast to the 8-percent penetration rate of the program relying on the traditional approach.

The effect that the difference in the size of the utilities might have had on the results does not get much attention in the article, but may be explored in more depth in the report. Also, the report doesn’t state whether the utilities are investor-owned or public power, which might reflect on the pre-existing relationships with their customers. Even so, the correlation between the partnership model and program success is worth noting.

The author, who is the CEO of Fast Water Heater subsidiary Demand Management Installation Services, addresses some of the reasons utilities prefer contractor neutrality, offering credible arguments for a more hands-on approach to energy-efficiency programs.

Studies like Approaches on Utility-Contractor Partnerships will be the focus of the Smart Cities conferenceRedirecting to a non-government site, Nov. 3-5, in San Diego, California. Innovative utilities and industry leaders will be presenting case studies and hosting discussions on the future of the energy and water efficiency as well as municipal-level sustainability programs.

Learn how new climate regulations to effect energy programs

Monday July 22
12 p.m. CDT

Join Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA) for a free webinar, What the New EPA Climate Regs Mean for Energy Efficiency and Renewables in Your CommunityRedirecting to a non-government site, on July 22 at noon Central Time.

This webinar is too timely to pass up! Speaker David Wooley of Keyes, Fox & Weidman, LLP, is a long-time friend of CEA who is now working nationally to facilitate win-win strategies for utilities and the communities they serve. He will share an inside look at the new EPA climate regs, focusing on how energy efficiency and renewables may offer cost-effective solutions. You have a lot of questions on this topic, so the event will include an extended Q&A session.

Register today to reserve your place.

Education of an energy-efficiency program manager

[Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Energy Services Bulletin.]

 Holy Cross Energy recently chose Mary Wiener, a former energy advisor with Boulder County EnergySmart, to head up its energy-efficiency program. Throughout the year, Energy Services Bulletin will follow Wiener in her first utility job, as she develops programs to reduce members’ energy use and reach Holy Cross’s ambitious goals.

Reinventing savings
Utilities with established energy-efficiency programs must perform a balancing act. On one hand, offerings and strategies must be updated to reflect changes in technology, fuel prices and load and market conditions. On the other, few consumers have the time or inclination to follow an ever-changing menu of rebates and incentives.

Holy Cross’s carbon reduction program has successfully walked the tightrope since the Glenwood Springs, Colo.-based cooperative introduced it eight years ago. In the fall of 2012, Wiener joined the utility as its first energy-efficiency program administrator to take the program through its next evolution. “People are familiar with WE CARE, but the rebates are changing,” she explained. “We’re relaunching the program Jan. 2 with a new marketing plan and logo specifically to communicate those changes to our customers.”

The biggest change in Holy Cross’s program is its focus on the commercial sector. The utility’s plan to save 33,039 megawatt-hours (MWh) over five years is committing 60 percent of the WE CARE funding to an energy efficiency portfolio, and two-thirds of the portfolio funding to commercial programs.

Holy Cross will continue to offer incentives to help residential customers make their homes more comfortable and efficient, but the commercial sector uses far more energy. “Recreation and tourism are the biggest industries in the Roaring Fork and Vail valleys, and ski resorts are Holy Cross’s biggest customers,” Wiener pointed out. “If we are going to reach our goal of 6,600 megawatts of incremental savings annually, we have to reduce the biggest load.”

Opportunities in every business
The program takes aim at those customers with rebates for refrigeration, motor and lighting upgrades. “Lighting is a great place for businesses to reduce energy use, and it opens doors to talk about other improvements because it’s everywhere,” notes Wiener. “Ski resorts, hotels and restaurants may call about lighting upgrades, but learn that upgrading to more efficient motors or refrigeration systems offers even more savings.”

Motor loads may not be as obvious to a hospitality business as lighting, but they are just as important to saving energy. Improving motor efficiency in water treatment systems, air handlers, agricultural pumps and even cooling equipment could give Holy Cross a big push toward its goal. Coming from Colorado’s Front Range, and EnergySmart’s generous rebate for rooftop cooling units, Wiener learned that air conditioning in the mountains in the summer is a bigger load than most people realize.

One issue that is the same on either side of the Continental Divide is that commercial lighting has plenty of room for improvement. Wiener recalled that about 90 percent of the rebates EnergySmart paid out were for efficient lighting upgrades. Lighting became her specialty, and she has applied that expertise to developing more sophisticated incentives for Holy Cross. “Customers can still get rebates for LEDs and controls, but the rebates are for watts saved, rather than one-for-one lamp replacement,” she explained.

Wiener added that her experience is also helpful when dealing with contractors. “I can look at quotes and suggest different solutions,” she said. “Sometimes, contractors need a little push to think outside the box; for example, using low-wattage 28-watt T8s instead of 32-watt units.”

Unique residential challenge
Wiener admits to being less familiar with residential efficiency, but is learning fast from Holy Cross Energy Auditor Eileen Wysocki. Holy Cross offers residential customers complimentary walk-through audits with an infrared camera, and she has joined Wysocki on several occasions. The audits will continue to be part of Holy Cross’s residential efficiency program.

Even if she had more residential experience, Wiener would be encountering a different challenge in Holy Cross’s territory—the large, second-home property. Unlike primary residences on the Front Range, these homes sit unoccupied for long periods. With multiple refrigerators and freezers, entertainment systems, heating and cooling systems, spas, incandescent lighting, heat tape and snowmelt systems, these homes can use more energy than a small business. “It takes more than an understanding of building science to reduce the energy use in big vacation homes,” Wiener acknowledged. “We are actively working with property managers and homeowners to help minimize energy use in these homes when they are unoccupied.”

Ropes to learn
Wiener has set some other goals for the next year, both personally and professionally. Because she is new to the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as to the utility industry, she plans to get acquainted with as many businesses as possible. “Holy Cross has a reputation as a utility that cares about its customers, and I’m going to build on that,” she said.

Another priority is to make it as easy as possible for customers to submit rebate paperwork for prescriptive measures, or to design their own custom efficiency packages. “We’re in the market to buy ‘negawatts’— or more simply, we are paying for energy savings,” she said. “If they are already making the effort to reduce their energy load, they should be rewarded for their efforts.”

The biggest hurdle for Wiener, however, is just getting the word out and hitting Holy Cross’s goal. Western wishes Mary Wiener and Holy Cross good luck with the new energy-efficiency program and looks forward to following their progress.

Get ready for appliance replacement boom

According to Research Analyst Jim Lyza at sustainability marketers The Shelton Group Redirecting to a non-government site, the United States is poised to see a boom in appliance replacement over the next few years.

Housing starts exploded in the mid and late ’90s, and all of those new homes needed refrigerators, washing machines, clothes washers and dryers, ranges and HVAC systems. The lifespan of most appliances is around 13 years, while heating and cooling systems last about 15 to 20 years.

That adds up to a great opportunity to get consumers to upgrade to more efficient appliances—if utilities have a marketing plan. A major challenge to getting energy-efficient products into the home is that consumers buy when the appliance breaks down, instead of planning ahead. And if the contractor doesn’t know about a rebate, or a manufacturer doesn’t have the more efficient model in stock, the consumer is likely to go with the most affordable, most available choice.

Utilities should start working with contractors, manufacturers and retailers NOW to build a plan for the coming boom. Make sure your rebate offerings are as streamlined as possible for both DIY and contractor installs, and encourage retailers to carry the rebated products to reduce initial out-of-pocket costs. Also, keep in mind that the more integrated incentive programs are, the more likely consumers will be to make multiple, pro-active improvements. Source: The Shelton Group, 10/10/12

Lunchtime webinar series focuses on farm efficiency

Free webinar
Nov. 15, noon Central Time

Much of Western’s territory is largely rural, and includes customers who are struggling to continue living and working with the land. Saving Energy on Farms and Ranches, the Clean Energy Ambassadors’ webinar for November, covers programs and resources utilities can use to help them help their agricultural customers. 

Energy costs can make or break a farm or ranch, and the economic health of rural communities often depends on these operations. Fortunately, some innovative power providers have created exciting programs that are helping ranchers and growers reach their energy-efficiency goals and stay in business. Register for this free webinar Nov. 15 to explore examples of utility programs for agriculture that work!

CEA Webinars take place from noon to 1 pm Central time (11 a.m. to noon Mountain) on the third Tuesday of each month. Because they are focused on needs of consumer-owned utilities, the discussion can be specific, candid, and informal. Visit the Clean Energy Ambassadors  to register for this free webinar and to see the full line-up of CEA services and events. If you have any questions please contact Stevie Moe at 406-969-1040.

“Hassle-Free Help for Small Business” webinar March 15

Webinar Series Will Help Utilities Save Money & Better Serve Their Customers

The Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA) Lunchtime Webinar Series continues with a free webinar Tuesday, March 15, noon Central time. As a special offer, early registrants will receive a free copy of the American Public Power Association guide for small business energy savings, Energy Matters for Small Business.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and this webinar will show community utilities how to help their small business customers control energy costs. “The challenge for utilities is two-fold: first, how to reach small businesses, and second, what to tell them,” said Jill Cliburn, a public-power utility veteran who leads the Clean Energy Ambassadors program.

Speaker Christine Geltz, will address the first part of that challenge. As president of Geltz Communications, Inc., a nationally-recognized energy consulting firm, Geltz has specialized in developing utility programs for small businesses. Her presentation will draw on some of her best case studies and tips for ways to generate powerful word-of-mouth publicity. Participants will discover how to build program participation by working with local business groups and matching the marketing message to a particular target audience’s business culture.

This webinar also will include a discussion of how to use handout material, including the APPA small business energy saving guide, Energy Matters for Small Business. CEA has 50 guides available for early registrants to the webinar.

 CEA Webinars are held from noon-1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m.–noon MST) on the third Tuesday of each month. Next month’s topic is: 

Schools – A Top Choice for Energy Savings and Outreach – April 19, 2011

Register today, and receive materials in advance.

Proving the savings of energy-efficiency programs

This session focused on creating plans to evaluate, measure and verify energy efficiency programs.

David Reynolds of Energy & Resource Solutions presented a case study on a collaborative effort by California public power utilities to evaluate their programs. The motivation was two state bills that required investor-owned utilities to verify savings from energy-efficiency programs.

As a first step, the utilities worked together to develop an energy efficiency database and reporting tool.  A contractor was hired to train the staff, but the training went both ways, since the contractor had never worked with public power providers.  The collaborative developed its implementation plan, implemented the plan at their individual utilities and shared lessons learned.

What they discovered was that there is a lot of room for improvement in data collection and tracking systems. Even so, feedback is valuable for program design—it shows what measures work and helps utilities to improve program effectiveness.

Economies of scale can reduce the cost of operating programs. Leverage the information that is out there. Prioritized the program elements to be evaluated and spread the effort across several years.

Evaluation is a quality assurance tool driven by documentation, and it is your best chance of keeping program costs down.  It’s just good program management by showing you are in charge. It instills a level of confidence in the program, and proves your efforts align with state or national policies.

For the process to work, you must be clear why you are doing evaluation in the first place. Don’t try to evaluate too many aspects if the program.  If you can write a clear concise question, you can set your goal. Don’t try to answer too much. Design evaluation to answer a singular question.

If you are working with a third party provider—or even if you are conducting your own evaluation—get your documentation together. That includes a resource portfolio structure, program description, rationale, customer markets, forms agreements, rules and rebates. Assess your data management system and existing quality assurance procedures up front. Include the evaluation in your program budget.

The plan is the heart of your evaluation framework. It should include program summary, tracking and reporting, overall priorities, secondary objectives, overall approach, accounting principles and preferred methodology.

The budget will define and limit your evaluation effort.  California utilities were spending 1 percent of their operating in the early ’00s. The national average now hovers between 3 and 5 percent, Some evaluation consultants suggest between 4 and 16 percent.  There will be some additional costs for new programs. Focus on an in-depth effort if your funds are limited.

Tracking and reporting is expensive. Have a least-cost preference for how you are going to collect data.  Do data collection in house as much as possible.  Move it onto customer where you can. Lowers cost. Move from utility to third party to customer.

 Data should be easy to share. Archive applications so you don’t lose data when the staff turns over. Analysis is all difficult so make it simple where you can.

The report is a technical document, so you need to communicate the good news. Be your own advocate. Frame the discussion, so other entities don’t do it.

Read reports on the Northern California Power Agency, California Measurement Advisory Council and California Public Utilities Commission website for more information.

Program measurement in Florida

Gainsville Regional Utilities had 22 energy-efficiency programs in 2009 and chose four to evaluate: refrigerator recycling, air conditioner upgrades, attic insulation and duct sealing and repair.  The choice may be based on program expense or popularity, or political considerations.

Programs that are unaffected by externalities are easier to evaluate. “Measures in, savings out,” programs such as the refrigerator buyback and recycle program or light bulb giveaways fall into this category.

More complex programs are those where the savings are impacted by environmental factors. Attic insulation, duct sealing and air conditioner upgrades will require more statistical analysis to evaluate. You will have to look at what is driving savings and how market noise impacts customers.

It will be necessary to establish a control group and develop a model of normalized annual consumption, with estimated energy impacts based on statistical adjusted engineering models. Obviously, engaging a third party consultant may be worth every penny.

Gainsville discovered that estimated savings equaled out across the program suite, though adding in cost variables improved the payback. But the point is to be able to identify programs that are not performing well and either fix or eliminate them.

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.