Energy Services evolves to meet your needs

WAPA has always been committed to helping customers deal with both the routine and unexpected challenges of powering the West and keeping that assistance relevant has required constant evolution over the past 40 years.

Assessing value
Lately, WAPA has been looking at the programs and initiatives it offers to determine which bring the most value to customers and which have served their purpose. A cross-functional Assessment Team was formed in 2017 to evaluate various programs and efforts for potential efficiencies, with the goal of improving business processes and allocating resources appropriately for current and future priorities.

WAPA’s Energy Services and its Equipment Loan Program were among those chosen for in-depth evaluation. The Assessment Team reviewed investments and activities in the programs to examine the results, the cost effectiveness and whether or not they were meeting the needs of the organization. WAPA senior leaders and other stakeholders were surveyed to determine the effectiveness of these efforts in fulfilling WAPA’s mission and meeting customers’ needs.

After completing the evaluations, the team recommended that the Equipment Loan Program had served its purpose of making expensive diagnostic tools available to WAPA customers to test at their utilities. The decision to phase out the program saves WAPA about $177,000 annually.

Evolving with times
The Energy Services program will continue with some changes that will allow WAPA to reimagine the type of technical assistance that addresses the rapidly shifting business environment customers must face.

A decade ago, the Energy Services website and publications provided a one-stop clearinghouse for energy planners and managers at WAPA utilities. Today, it competes with thousands of other high-quality information sources online. The assessment team determined that integrating Energy Services communications into WAPA’s Public Affairs Office would present a more cohesive message about the mission and value of the organization.

The Energy Services Bulletin sunsets on Nov. 1. The blog will remain active as an archive, so customers can reference past stories and reach contacts for more information about policies and programs. Past issues will remain on the Energy Services website as well. Subscribers will be able to transfer their subscription to Customer Circuit. Along with features about WAPA customers, this publication is filled with news about the organization that touches every part of utility operations: transmission, markets, budget, finance, environment, legislation and more.

Customers will continue to receive support from WAPA for their resource planning activities as they have for more than 20 years. Regional Energy Services representatives will still be available to answer questions about integrated resource planning or to suggest tools and programs that can help utilities reach their load management goals.

At WAPA, customers are partners. Programs like Energy Services give us the opportunity to learn more about their operations so we can continue to build that relationship and increase our value to you. We will continue to seek customer input on the direction of the Energy Services program and on what services you value most. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Overton Power District plans to succeed

On the wide spectrum of utility policies that encourage customers to adopt renewable energy systems, Overton Power District 5 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPD) is on the ambitious end of the spectrum.

Desert Southwest Energy Services Representative Audrey Colletti pointed out the strategy in OPD’s most recent integrated resource plan (IRP). “I look for customer goals and achievements in their IRPs and alternative reports,” explained Colletti.

“For example, one customer hasn’t increased rates in over five years, while another is thinking of decreasing rates. Some offer renewable power that is less expensive than fossil generation, but it is unusual for a small customer to make such an aggressive push to add more renewables.”

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to grow the renewable energy portion of its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)
Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to increase the amount of sustainable electricity in its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

The Southern Nevada power provider is playing the long game with an eye on someday generating most of its own electricity through renewables. “But that day is a long way off,” acknowledged OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper. “Our current goal is to provide ways to help our customers.”

Keeping customers in mind
Happily, the steps OPD is taking to increase renewables in its portfolio are also good for its 15,000, mostly residential customers. Its generous net-metering policy for small renewable systems is a notable step. Customers who install renewable generators that comply with OPD policies are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500 for homeowners and up to $5,000 for large commercial industrial accounts. Since OPD implemented the policy, 49 net meters have been installed.

Increasing energy-efficiency programs is also part of OPD’s long-range plan that benefits customers in the near term. Thanks to a power contract, OPD will soon be stepping up its efforts to move customers to more efficient appliances and water and space heating systems. “We see natural gas as a reliability measure, but the savings will help to finance more customer efficiency measures, too,” Cooper explained.

Piecing together affordable sustainability
Even with the high cost of tapping gas lines, low natural gas prices are a boon to OPD—for now. “In eight to 10 years, gas prices are likely to go up,” said Cooper. “The cost of renewable resources, which are getting more competitive all the time, won’t be rising.”

The transition to a sustainable power supply is challenging for a utility that must rely on other providers for both generation and transmission, as OPD does. Cooper would like to get more WAPA hydropower, but acknowledges that ongoing drought conditions make that unlikely. OPD now has 49 rooftop solar arrays on its system, but the utility is investigating the feasibility of and support for utility-scale development. “That is where our customers will really see the benefits of alternative energy,” the general manager observed.

OPD also offers customers rebates for wind turbines and ground-source heat pumps.

Using all tools
OPD’s comprehensive long-range plan presents other opportunities—and identifies challenges—for load management as well. A scheme to install low-impedance transformers and implement power factor correction promises to increase systemwide efficiency.

With spillover growth from Las Vegas expected to add load over the next five years, OPD is working to encourage Clark County to adopt high-efficiency building standards. Programs to rebate measures such as weather stripping, relamping, heat pump systems and window replacement are being considered for existing buildings.

Another, nearly inexhaustible resource—an engaged and energy-savvy customer base—factors into OPD’s plans, too. The IRP highlights the utility’s use of social media to educate its customers about building technology, appliance energy use, efficient equipment and systems and no-cost common sense behaviors.

It will take every tool at OPD’s disposal to move its portfolio toward clean resources and self-generation. But that is what long-term planning is for, notes Cooper. “The IRP keeps our goals at the forefront where we can’t forget about them, and it reminds us every day of the issues we have to address.”

City of Banning utility appreciates value of integrated resource plan

The utility industry is going through a period of intense change—some would say upheaval—that makes planning more important than ever and well worth the time involved. Just ask Jim Steffens of the City of Banning, California, Electric Utility. You are leaving Western's site. “I like that the integrated resource plan (IRP) touches on so many areas of the utility,” said the Electric Utility Power Resources and Revenue Administrator. “The process made us think about how all the different parts, like the distribution system, play into delivering electricity.”

California’s Public Benefits Charge of 2.85 percent of retail sales make the municipal utility eligible to file a minimum investment report instead of an IRP. Yet the city opted to do the full IRP process for Banning’s 2015 report. “Historically, our five-year IRPs were very simple and didn’t change much because not much had changed since we last did a full IRP,” explained Steffens. “Then over the last few years, due to legislative and regulatory mandates, everything started changing fast and we really needed the comprehensive picture you get from an IRP.”

Times a-changin’
Banning Electric gets the majority of its electricity supply through contracts with the Southern California Public Power Authority You are leaving Western's site. for coal, nuclear and hydropower. Because California law does not permit electric utilities to invest in coal-fired power, SCPPA will be divesting its part ownership of the San Juan Unit 3 coal plant in New Mexico in 2017. “So there goes 20 megawatts (MW) of baseload power, which is a big deal for Banning,” said Steffen, adding, “Yes, we are a tiny utility.”

Some of that power will be replaced by 9.6 MW of landfill gas power from the Puente Hills facility You are leaving Western's site. built by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. A utility-scale solar farm on the border of Kern and Los Angeles counties will provide another 8 MW. In other words, Banning is looking down the road at a whole new resource mix by 2018.

Being located in a state on the cutting edge of transforming the power supply means that the city of 30,000 will have to look for ways to innovate, and that is where planning comes in. California’s carbon cap-and-trade program You are leaving Western's site. gives utilities allowances for compliance that can be auctioned. The IRP helped Steffens figure out how much of the auction proceeds Banning can bank to help cover the cost of prematurely getting rid of the San Juan plant.

Steffens also used the plan to track the city’s progress meeting the state’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard. “It showed that we may come up slightly short in one particular year, so we can start planning for that year now,” he said. “However, we are very proud of the fact that the utility power supply will be more than 70 percent renewable by 2018.”

Evolving load
Like the power supply, Banning’s load is also starting to change after decades of relative stability. Electricity demand dropped during the recession and has not yet fully recovered, but signs point in different directions.

In an economically challenged area, Banning residents have not adopted rooftop solar systems or electric vehicles (EVs) at the same rate as in other parts of the state. But both of these technologies are becoming more common and more affordable, so the city has to be ready. EVs could bring load growth, even as distributed generation reduces the utility’s load. Such uncertainties make the annual IRP progress report that much more important.

The rooftop solar array topping The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city's power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future.
The Banning police department carports are topped with a solar array. Although solar power is still a relatively small piece of the city’s power supply, Banning will be adding more in the near future. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Population growth is putting more pressure on Banning too, with two large housing developments scheduled to start construction soon after 2020. “The past 10 years have been a real lesson in how quickly things we used to take for granted can change,” observed Steffens.

Plan points way
Efficiency is also included in Banning’s plan for the future. “A good portion of our Public Benefits funding covers the low-income Banning Electric Alternative Rate, or BEAR, but we also fund rebates,” noted Steffens. “Efficiency programs are an important part of customer service.”

Residential and commercial rebates are available for Energy Star appliances, air conditioner replacements, shade trees, weatherization, low-flush toilets, new construction, renewable systems and refrigerator and freezer recycling. The utility just launched a new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, or “The BEEF, developed specifically for our small and mid-sized business community,” said Steffens.

Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts.
Banning Electric created its new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, the BEEF, specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses like Star Auto Parts. (Photo by City of Banning, California)

Most of the businesses in Banning are small mom-and-pop operations that often don’t have extra capital for upgrades but could benefit greatly from lower utility bills.

Participants receive a free walk-through energy assessment to identify potential energy-saving upgrades to lighting, heating and cooling, water heating, motors and refrigeration. The businesses can then select the retrofit that best meets their needs and the utility pays up to $2,750 for the project.

When asked what percentage of Banning customers were commercial, Steffens checked his IRP. “Twenty-seven percent,” he replied. “The great thing about the IRP is that I have the answer to questions like that right in front of me.”

Steffens pointed out that the benefits of the IRP go well beyond just getting information in one place. “When things are changing as much as they are for Banning, you need to see the big picture and dive deep into the details,” he said. “We didn’t have to do the full IRP, but it is a great exercise to show you where you are going.”

New report focuses on measuring flexibility in utility resource plans

Flexibility Inventory for Western Resource Planners, a new report from Berkeley Laboratory, shows how utilities can develop a high-level, year-to-year flexibility inventory that tracks flexibility supply and demand based on integrated resource plans (IRPs).Flexibility Inventory for Western Resource Planners, a new report from Berkeley Laboratory

Historically, utilities do not evaluate flexibility supply and demand in their planning studies. However, power systems will need to be more flexible to successfully integrate increasing amounts of variable generating resources, such as wind and solar, and to deliver the full benefits of a diversified portfolio.

Flexibility supply is the capability of generation and demand to change in response to system conditions. Flexibility demand is largely determined by the amount that the net demand changes over different timeframes and the degree to which those changes can be predicted. Berkeley researchers apply the flexibility inventory to western IRPs from the Resource Planning Portal database.

The report finds that the largest amount of flexibility supply and demand occur over long time intervals (more than 6 hours), with supply based on the ability to ramp resources fully and turn units on or off. Flexibility supply is most limited relative to flexibility demand over shorter intervals (e.g., 15 minutes) when there is less time to ramp resources.

The choice of modeling-parameters in the flexibility inventory can have a big effect on the measure of flexibility, especially during challenging shorter intervals. Researchers identified ramp rates for coal and combined-cycle gas turbine units, startup times for combustion turbines and risk tolerance of the decision maker as being among the most important parameters. The study found that resources that can ramp quickly—such as energy storage, direct load control and quick-start generators—have the greatest potential to increase flexibility supply.

You can download the report, a summary slide deck and a recording of a webinar presentation summarizing the report from Berkeley Lab publications.

Source: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, 10/27/15

Planning at heart of Energy Services

The utility business may seem dry and matter-of-fact to consumers, but those in the business know it is a rollercoaster ride. To keep the lights on and the electricity affordable, power providers must balance a host of competing demands: renewable portfolio standards, carbon regulations, state mandates, federal mandates, customer desires, environmental concerns, new technology, aging infrastructure. The only way to keep all the plates spinning is to think ahead, and that is where Energy Services comes in.

Energy Services exists to facilitate the resource planning that Western’s firm power contracts require. Firm power customers must complete a comprehensive integrated resource plan (IRP) every five years, along with annual updates. “That may sound like a lot of reports,” acknowledged Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman, “but circumstances change so quickly in this industry, a business plan can easily be out of date in 12 months or less. It was true in 1992 when congress passed EPAct, and it is doubly so today.”

More than good idea, it’s law
EPAct, the Energy Policy Act of 1992, established the IRP requirement to ensure that Western firm power customers are using their federal hydropower allocations efficiently. Also, it encourages utilities to engage in long-term planning, a process that benefits any business, regardless of size, location, regulatory environment and a host of other influential factors. “Low-cost hydropower from federal dams is crucial to keeping the nation’s electricity supply affordable, especially for small towns and rural communities,” Horstman pointed out. “Our rivers are among the nation’s greatest resources and they belong to the general public. Western has a responsibility to protect the health of those waterways and to make sure that the greatest possible number of public utilities have access to it.”

In 1995, Western adopted the Energy Planning and Management Program (EPAMP) setting out the IRP requirements and launching the Power Marketing Initiative (PMI) for marketing long-term firm hydropower. The PMI provides resource pools of power that Western can allocate to new customers.

Not only does resource planning extend the availability of federal hydropower, it helps utilities provide the services their communities want and need to stay vibrant and thrive. But any process that accomplishes so much is bound to be complicated, especially for frequently understaffed small co-ops and municipalities. To provide Western customers with the technical assistance to facilitate effective planning, EPAMP commissioned Western’s Energy Services Program.

It’s complicated
The IRP is as much an ongoing process as it is a plan, the point of which is to provide a utility’s consumers with adequate and reliable service at the lowest cost to the system. The definition of the “lowest cost” has been changing as utilities realize that they must consider factors beyond the price tag of a kilowatt. Increasingly, consumers are calling on power providers to address environmental, political, social, economic and technical concerns in their plans as well. These concerns carry their own indirect costs that a more sophisticated public expects the utility to acknowledge and mitigate.

Determining the optimum approach requires the utility to evaluate a range of different resources and strategies on both sides of the meter. The planning process might assess new generating capacity, power purchases, energy conservation and efficiency, co-generation and district heating and cooling applications and renewable energy resources, to name a few.

A certain amount of economic forecasting must be part of the process, too. A community can change a lot in five years, with the population growing or shrinking, businesses coming to the area or leaving and new energy-consuming technologies reaching the mainstream.

Ideally, the utility will reach out to its consumers throughout the planning process to discuss their expectations and share upcoming challenges. This “public participation process” is critical to crafting comprehensive solutions and getting buy-in from consumers on implementing the plan.

An assistance buffet
Since rolling all these considerations into one plan is about as easy as it sounds, our customers need all the information Energy Services can provide and that turns out to be a lot.

  • Knowledgeable staff—Our technical assistance menu begins with our people. Customers with questions about their IRPs can contact Horstman or their regional representative.
  • Robust website—The Energy Services website is the next stop in the search for guidance, inspiration and industry news. On the home page, visitors will find links to calculators for estimating energy use by air conditioning and heating systems, pool pumps and irrigation equipment. These calculators can help utility program managers make the case to consumers for equipment upgrades, or estimate potential savings from incentive programs. An interactive calendar on the home page displays upcoming workshops, conferences, webinars and other training opportunities focused on energy use.
  • Technical servicesWashington State University Energy Extension, You are leaving WAPA.gov. which created the calculators and the calendar, provides other technical services to aid with planning. Western customers can ask questions about specific technologies or programs to the Energy Experts hotline by calling 800-769-3756, or submitting their question online. Visitors might research successful energy management programs using the Energy Solutions database, or the Utility Options database. Users can also submit their own examples of innovative programs to Utility Options.
  • Equipment Loan Program—Western customers who need special equipment to implement a program can borrow it free of charge from the Equipment Loan Program. An equipment loan is a good way to test drive a tool before you buy it or to get the use of an expensive piece of equipment that is not in your utility’s budget this year. Borrow infrared cameras, power meters and more to perform audits on consumer homes and businesses or maintenance on your own system. Bring educational kits and diagnostic tools to customer meetings and schools. A quick visit to the extensive library of training resources will get you up to speed on how to use the tool.

Library on your desktop
Effective planning requires utilities to stay on top of best practices, new technologies and the changing political scene. The Energy Services Bulletin features stories on the latest industry news about reports, policies, education opportunities and—most important—our customers. Western customers are  the mother lode of ideas for load management strategies and portfolio diversification.

The blog just scratches the surface, however. Energy Services also publishes guides, fact sheets and collateral material on topics related to energy efficiency. Better yet, we can customize those publications with utility logos so our customers can use them in their consumer education programs.

Resources,” as the name implies, connects utilities with other agencies that can help them shape their own future. Visitors will find lists of carefully curated links to organizations specializing in energy and water conservation, renewable energy, project funding and incentive programs to name a few.

Putting it in writing
Armed with proven programs, a clear picture of the road ahead and a nimble strategy for navigating it, utilities must overcome one more obstacle in the planning process: Fear of Paperwork.

Yes, customers still have to produce a plan that checks off all the boxes in an arcane-seeming rule, but Energy Services has that covered too. The online IRP Compliance Training walks customers through the process step by step, with clear explanations of what they need to put into their reports. A quick refresher course in the form of IRP and alternative plan checklists comes in handy for seasoned planning pros in charge of annual updates.

More lessons from the trenches can be found in actual customer IRPs, available online. These examples offer a great opportunity to find out what worked for other utilities in your area and how they presented their plan.

There is no replacement for being prepared when you face a long journey down a twisting road of shifting priorities, disruptive and new technologies and unanticipated challenges. Each Western customer must chart its own course, but Western Energy Services is here to point the direction toward the final destination of reliable, affordable and sustainable power.

Workshop, tools help Kansas utilities discover value of IRPs

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May 2012 Energy Services Bulletin.

Integrated resource planning (IRP) is not easy, but figuring out what form the plan should take to satisfy Energy Planning and Management Program (EPAMP) requirements shouldn’t be the hardest part. Western teamed up with the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency (KMEA) recently to teach Kansas municipal utilities how to put together an IRP that meets Federal regulations and—just as important—helps them make their operations more efficient and reliable.

New experience
Rocky Mountain (RM) Regional Energy Services Representative Bob Langenberger presented a series of workshops to employees from 25 municipal utilities and cooperatives in Kansas. “Because most KMEA members got their allocation around the same time, their five-year plans were due within a six-month window,” Langenberger explained. “So the workshops were very well attended.”

Another reason for the heavy attendance is the recent retirement of a KMEA employee who provided extensive support for members’ planning processes in 2007. Many KMEA utilities found themselves developing their plans from scratch for the first time, and needed guidance. “Doing the plan entirely on our own, without the backup we’ve had from KMEA in the past, was new to us,” admitted Scott Nuzum, the power plant manager for Osborne, Kan  

Searching for an example of an IRP format, Rod Blake, who operates the Goodland power plant, came across an IRP from a neighboring town that looked like a free-form essay. “I was dreading it,” he recalled.

Langenberger noted that those improvised IRPs were a lot of work for the utilities that did them, but the plans still didn’t have all the required elements. What customers needed, he realized, was a template they could use as a starting point. “If utilities are going to get the full benefit of the planning process, they need to be able to focus on the content of their IRPs instead of worrying about the format,” noted Langenberger.

“When Western told us that templates would be available, I said, ‘Bring it!'” Blake declared.

Simplifying the process
Borrowing a summary-focused template some other Western regional offices were using, Langenberger expanded the format to capture the requirements of the five-year plan. In addition to developing a template for the IRP, he created one for the small customer plan (SCP). Customers may file this IRP alternative plan if they have a total annual sales or use of 25 gigawatt-hours or less, averaged over the previous five years. The SCP helps utilities that don’t belong to a joint action agency or get their power supply from a generation and transmission cooperative. These small, independent power providers often have limited economic and staff resources to dedicate to integrated resource planning.

Nuzum confirmed that the plan offers a valuable alternative for small utilities. After he attended the workshop, Osborne submitted its SCP, meeting all the Federal requirements. “The small customer template really helped out,” he said. “All we had to do was fill in the blanks.”

Western also has a template for the minimum investment report (MIR), another IRP alternative. Where state, tribal or Federal mandates require a utility to invest in demand-side management or renewable energy, Western accepts the MIR in lieu of an IRP. Some Western customers may use the MIR now that Colorado and Kansas have expanded their renewable energy standards to apply to certain public power providers.

In Colorado, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities serving more than 40,000 consumers are now required to get 10 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Rural electric cooperatives in Kansas must get 20 percent of their peak capacity from renewable energy by 2020. “If our customers are complying with state statutes, they are complying with IRP requirements,” said Langenberger.

“We’ve transitioned four customers to the MIR, and three more will be eligible when it’s time to file their IRPs,” he added. “The important thing is that both types of report make the utility look at the measures it can take to use its resources most efficiently.”

Taking the show on the road
Designing the templates turned out to be only half the battle. After completing the tools last fall, Langenberger and KMEA began to promote them to KMEA members. The feedback from utilities—and a couple of IRPs Western received in January—made it clear that customers needed more help to work through the process.

Beloit, Colby and Osage City agreed to host workshops in February, and invitations went out. The meeting attracted representatives from all of Western’s municipal customers in Kansas who have IRPs due this year. “If you are doing your own IRP, then you really need to go through the training,” Nuzum stated.

The workshop gave our Kansas customer the opportunity to ask a Western representative in person that most pressing question: “What do I need to have in my report to comply?”

“Now we can tell them, ‘If you’ve put something in every box in the report, it will meet the requirement,'” Langenberger said, adding that he, too, benefited from the face-to-face meeting. “It was a chance to offer suggestions and talk about issues specific to these customers,” he noted.

The attendees also enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk with a Western representative. Mike Gilliland, Osage City utility director, said Langenberger was very knowledgeable about IRPs. “You can tell the difference between someone who is giving a rehearsed talk, and someone who really understands the subject. Bob understands.”

“It was good to have Bob there to highlight some areas we didn’t think about,” Blake concurred.

The wages of training
While planning is nothing new to utilities—”Five years is a pretty short time span in this business,” Nuzum pointed out—putting their efforts down on paper seemed daunting. But now that the Kansas municipalities have a better understanding of how the IRP process works, Langanberger predicts that they will take more ownership of their plans going forward.

Blake signaled that Goodland intends to do exactly that. “We were adamant that if we were going to the trouble of doing a plan, it will have attainable goals, and we will follow it,” he said. “Let’s get some use out of it.”

Simplifying the job of submitting the plan is already benefiting both our customers’ and our own operations. “Anyone who has the job of doing our IRP in the future is going to have an easier time of it,” said Blake. He added that even though Goodland submitted its IRP before the training, the workshop was well worth his time. “I wish I had been able to take the training first,” he said.

On Western’s side, Langenberger said he is now able to review a report in an hour and respond to customers with recommendations in about two hours. “Process improvement is good for everyone,” he admitted.

Your IRP may be years away, but it never hurts to learn a little more about planning. Start by familiarizing yourself with the templates for the IRP, small customer plan or minimum investment report. Check out Western’s online IRP compliance training, a step-by-step guide through EPAMP requirements. And, as always, feel free to contact your Energy Services representative.

Workshop, tools help Kansas utilities discover value of IRPs

[Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the May 2012 issue of the Energy Services Bulletin] 

Integrated resource planning (IRP) is not easy, but figuring out what form the plan should take to satisfy Energy Planning and Management Program (EPAMP) requirements shouldn’t be the hardest part. Western teamed up with the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency (KMEA) recently to teach Kansas municipal utilities how to put together an IRP that meets Federal regulations and—just as important—helps them make their operations more efficient and reliable.

New experience

Rocky Mountain (RM) Regional Energy Services Representative Bob Langenberger presented a series of workshops to employees from 25 municipal utilities in Kansas. “Because most KMEA members received their initial allocation from the Loveland Area Projects around the same time, their five-year plans are due within a six-month window,” Langenberger explained. “So the workshops were very well attended.”

Another reason for the heavy attendance is the recent retirement of a KMEA employee who provided extensive support for members’ planning processes in 2007.  Many KMEA utilities found themselves developing their plans from scratch for the first time, and needed guidance. “Doing the plan entirely on our own, without the backup we’ve had from KMEA in the past, was new to us,” admitted Scott Nuzum, the power plant manager for Osborne, Kan  

Searching for an example of an IRP format, Rod Blake, who operates the Goodland power plant, came across an IRP from a neighboring town that looked like a free-form essay. “I was dreading it,” he recalled.

Langenberger noted that those improvised IRPs were a lot of work for the utilities that did them, but the plans still didn’t have all the required elements. What customers needed, he realized, was a template they could use as a starting point. “If utilities are going to get the full benefit of the planning process, they need to be able to focus on the content of their IRPs instead of worrying about the format,” noted Langenberger.

“When Western told us that templates would be available, I said, ‘Bring it!'” Blake declared.

Simplifying the process

Borrowing a summary-focused template some other Western regional offices were using, Langenberger expanded the format to capture the requirements of the five-year plan. In addition to developing a template for the IRP, he created one for the small customer plan (SCP). Customers may file this IRP alternative plan if they have a total annual sales or use of 25 gigawatt-hours or less, averaged over the previous five years. The SCP helps utilities that don’t belong to a joint action agency or get their power supply from a generation and transmission cooperative. These small, independent power providers often have limited economic and staff resources to dedicate to integrated resource planning.

Nuzum confirmed that the plan offers a valuable alternative for small utilities. After he attended the workshop, Osborne submitted its SCP, meeting all the Federal requirements. “The small customer template really helped out,” he said. “All we had to do was fill in the blanks.”

Western also has a template for the minimum investment report (MIR), another IRP alternative. Where state, tribal or Federal mandates require a utility to invest in demand-side management or renewable energy, Western accepts the MIR in lieu of an IRP. Some Western customers may use the MIR now that Colorado and Kansas have expanded their renewable energy standards to apply to certain public power providers.

In Colorado, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities serving more than 40,000 consumers are now required to get 10 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Rural electric cooperatives in Kansas must get 20 percent of their peak capacity from renewable energy by 2020. “If our customers are complying with state statutes, they are complying with IRP requirements,” said Langenberger.

“We’ve transitioned four customers to the MIR, and three more will be eligible when it’s time to file their next IRPs,” he added. “The important thing is that both types of report make the utility consider the measures it can take to use its resources most efficiently.”

Taking the show on the road

Designing the templates turned out to be only half the battle. After completing the tools last fall, Langenberger and KMEA began to promote them to KMEA members. The feedback from utilities—and a couple of IRPs Western received in January—made it clear that customers needed more help to work through the process.

Beloit, Colby and Osage City agreed to host workshops in January, and invitations went out. The meeting attracted representatives from all of Western’s municipal customers in Kansas who have IRPs due this year. “If you are doing your own IRP, then you really need to go through the training,” Nuzum stated.

The workshop gave our Kansas customers the opportunity to ask a Western representative in person that most pressing question: “What do I need to have in my report to comply?”

“Now we can tell them, ‘If you’ve put something in every box in the template, it will meet the requirement,'” Langenberger said, adding that he, too, benefited from the face-to-face meeting. “It was a chance to offer suggestions and talk about issues specific to these customers,” he noted.

The attendees also enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk with a Western representative. Mike Gilliland, Osage City utility director, said Langenberger was very knowledgeable about IRPs. “You can tell the difference between someone who is giving a rehearsed talk, and someone who really understands the subject. Bob understands.”

“It was good to have Bob there to highlight some areas we didn’t think about,” Blake concurred.

The wages of training

While planning is nothing new to utilities—”Five years is a pretty short time span in this business,” Nuzum pointed out—putting their efforts down on paper seemed daunting. But now that the Kansas municipalities have a better understanding of how the IRP process works, Langanberger predicts that they will take more ownership of their plans going forward.

Blake signaled that Goodland intends to do exactly that. “We were adamant that if we were going to the trouble of doing a plan, it will have attainable goals, and we will follow it,” he said. “Let’s get some use out of it.”

Simplifying the job of submitting the plan is already benefiting both our customers’ and our own operations. “Anyone who has the job of doing our IRP in the future is going to have an easier time of it,” said Blake. He added that even though Goodland submitted its IRP before the training, the workshop was well worth his time. “I wish I had been able to take the training first,” he said.

On Western’s side, Langenberger said he is now able to review a report in an hour and respond to customers with recommendations in about two hours. “Process improvement is good for everyone,” he admitted.

Your IRP may be years away, but it never hurts to learn a little more about planning. Start by familiarizing yourself with the templates for the IRP, small customer plan or minimum investment report. Check out Western’s online IRP compliance training, a step-by-step guide through EPAMP requirements. And, as always, feel free to contact your Energy Services representative.

Webinar to feature presentations by Western, Fowler, Colo.

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman and Wayne Snider, town administrator of Fowler, Colo., will be among the speakers featured in Developing an Energy Plan – Selecting Energy – Working with Utilities, a free webinar, April 7 at 10 a.m. MT.

The webinar is the second in a five-part series on “Creating a Plan for Growing Your Local Economy through Energy Savings and No or Low-cost Sustainable Energy.” The series, hosted by Energy Forefront at Challenge International, Inc., takes participants through a step-by-step process describing how a city, town or county can improve its economy, save energy and integrate sustainable energy technologies all with little or no expense.

Horstman will contribute his expertise in integrated resource planning for cities and in creating relationships with utilities. His co-presenter, Snider, will talk about his experiences taking Fowler from a small conservative town to a national example of how to create a green energy economy at low or no cost.

A second presentation will explore how Grand Rapids, Mich., became the “Most Sustainable Mid-sized City of 2010.”  Haris Alibasic, director of the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainability, will discuss lessons learned on developing an energy-efficiency plan and renewable energy business plan, and provide details on meeting energy goals and other sustainability measures.

Because municipal energy planning is such a rich and complex topic, Part II of the webinar will take place April 28. Grahame E. Maisey, P.E., with Building Services Consultants, will walk attendees through the process of developing a true energy sustainability plan at the facility level. Unlike energy reduction plans, energy sustainability plans aim to turn buildings from energy users to energy generators.

At the end of the webinars, participants will get to ask questions and share their experiences. “Utilities and local and state governments have the chance to move their economies forward by thinking outside the box about energy planning,” said Horstman. “This webinar series is a good place for those responsible for planning to get inspiration.”