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 Energy hosted an irrigation workshop on Jan. 27 at its Pine Bluff, Wyoming, headquarters.
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 District and Wyoming State Engineer’s Office 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 Engineering 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 Association 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.