Irrigation workshop keeps ag customers informed, prepared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the web: Western’s Equipment Loan Program

AroundTheWebOne of the great things about the Internet is that, unlike hard copy resources, you can update it in minutes with a few keystrokes. Another handy feature is the ability to create a network of resources around a specific topic—that’s why they call it the web. The new training resources page in our Equipment Loan Program is an excellent example.  The latest addition to the Equipment Loan site offers videos and fact sheets to help Western customers get the best results from the tools they borrow from the program.

Pre-screened by Energy Services
As with any topic, there are hundreds of posts related to energy audits and the equipment used to do them. We combed the web to find the most relevant, informative resources so you don’t have to.

The Department of Energy, the Building Performance Institute Redirecting to a non-government site, Southface Institute Redirecting to a non-government site and Montana Weatherization Training Center Redirecting to a non-government site are among the organizations that produced the resources. Some videos came from equipment manufacturers like the Energy Conservatory and Fluke. The Energy Services team, and especially Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann, reviewed them all for accuracy and clarity. “We were looking for training resources that explained the basic operation of a piece of equipment in a way that the user doesn’t have to be an engineer to understand,” said Hoffmann.

Crash courses
The resources are organized by tool—blower doors, infrared (IR) cameras, duct testers and power meters. Under “Other resources” are links to training libraries that contain presentations covering several types of equipment.

Most of the videos are available free of charge and run from a few minutes to half an hour. These resources are for brushing up on how to set up or operate a tool, or get a quick overview of a model you may not have used before. Online training is not a replacement for auditor certification, but it can be a helpful supplement for trainees who have not had a lot of field experience.

Speaking of the field, the best thing about online training is convenience. You can access the resources from your smartphone, or pad if you have wireless network access. The resources are available any time of the day or night in your office or home, as well.

Web keeps growing
New resources pop up on the Internet every day, and we will be on the lookout for additions to the new page. It is a big web, though—worldwide, in fact—so we are counting on our customers to alert us to resources they find valuable.

Better yet, Energy Services would love to post training resources created by our own customers. Nobody understands utility needs like utilities. We are looking for concise “how-to” videos that demonstrate tool operation, or unique uses for diagnostic tools. Post them on your own website, YouTube or another sharing site, and provide us with the link. As a bonus, Energy Services Bulletin would feature a story on your utility’s foray into film (video) making.

Contact me, Kevon Storie with your suggestions for equipment training videos and links to your own efforts.