Meet Chris Lyles, new Equipment Loan manager

It is with a heavy heart that Energy Services must bid Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann farewell as he moves into a well-deserved retirement. Hoffmann was a tireless champion of our Equipment Loan Program and we will miss his customer service skills, “interesting” theories on how the world works and his tasty vegan recipes (ok, maybe only the Energy Services Bulletin editor will miss the food). The silver lining in this loss is that we gain Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager.

Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.
Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.

Learning new business
When Lyles joined WAPA’s Desert Southwest office in 2008, it was the Energy Department veteran’s first utility industry job. He had been working on environmental cleanup on Super Fund sites but wanted a more people-oriented position. “There seemed to be a lot of job opportunities in the field and I liked the idea of working in a stable industry that provided society with an important product,” Lyles recalled.

Working as project manager in charge of transmission line and substation construction gave Lyles plenty of chance to work with people. He had to help facilitate the selection of capital projects that would best meet the needs of WAPA and its customers’ transmission needs. And since such projects affect customers’ rates, he had to explain the need for them to the customers, too. “When people who have been in the business for 40 years are asking you questions about a transmission project, you had better understand the details and have answers for them,” noted Lyles. “It was a real learning experience.”

Fortunately, Lyles is a quick study and has exceptional listening skills, which came in handy when he visited customers in the field. “That is where they really open up and share their concerns about WAPA and about the industry in general,” he said. “Those meetings really helped me to identify projects that could make a positive difference for our customers.”

Growing on job
WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel was another person who found those one-on-one meetings valuable. When he visited the DSW region, Gabriel often accompanied Lyles on his visits to small utilities. While the administrator was learning more about the specific needs of the region, he was also discovering an employee with exceptional customer service skills. When there was an opening at WAPA headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, for an acting chief of staff, Lyles was selected to fill it.

Filling the temporary position gave Lyles the chance to work with WAPA senior management and learn more about WAPA’s broader mission. One thing that impressed him was how diverse our customer base is. “Each region has different needs and each customer is facing different challenges,” he said.

Finding new ways to help
Lyles also came to appreciate the need to maintain our aging grid infrastructure, an area where he sees potential for the Equipment Loan Program to grow. “We have equipment that can be particularly useful for finding problems on distribution systems,” he pointed out. “One of my goals is to make sure our customers know all the different uses for our tools.”

The distribution system is being used differently now than it ever was before, Lyles added, and Energy Services and the Equipment Loan Program can help customers manage those changes. “For example, distributed generation causes back-feed into the system that can potentially lead to power quality issues,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from customers who see a blip on their system, and need help to track down the issue.”

Lyles is looking forward to learning what is important to customers, and one way to do it is to put equipment into the hands of customers who have not borrowed from the program before. “I would like them to get a chance to play with our tools and discover new uses for them,” he said.

That will also help with another goal Lyles has for the program: modernizing the fleet of equipment. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that WAPA understands the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” he explained.

To that end, Lyles is eager to hear suggestions from customers about tools that could be added to the program. Contact him at 720-962-7249 with your ideas.

Minnesota co-ops put USDA loans, grants to work for members

The challenge of funding maintenance and improvements on electrical infrastructure is simply a fact of life for cooperatives, but one that the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utility Service (RUS) seeks to make easier. Direct loans and loan guarantees from the RUS Electrical Program help electric utilities like Nobles Cooperative Electric You are leaving Western's site. and Federated Rural Electric Association You are leaving Western's site. in southwest Minnesota repair and modernize their grids.

The two Western customers were among the latest recipients of nearly $2.3 billion in loans to build and improve rural electric infrastructure. Nobles Cooperative Electric is receiving a loan of $10,903,000, while Federated Rural Electric will receive a $6,364,000 loan. Part of the loan is being used to acquire territory from investor-owned Alliant Energy, said Rick Burud, general manager for both utilities. “Each cooperative will gain about 1,700 new members,” he noted. “We will use the rest of the funding to repair storm damage on our existing system and improving services on the acquired territory.”

Go-to resource
Rural electric utilities have long relied on RUS loans to supplement their maintenance budgets and fund special projects, and Nobles and Federated are no exception. The co-ops apply every four years after doing a four-year construction work plan to determine their infrastructure needs. “The loans mainly fund work on our distribution system,” Burud said. “We do everything to from new line construction, purchase automatic meter reading infrastructure to funding new substations.”

The application process does take some patience, Burud acknowledged, but the co-ops are able to complete it in-house. Utilities must provide a financial forecast in addition to the four-year work plan. “The regional USDA representative does a lot of work, too, to ensure everything is in order,” he added.

To help automate the process, USDA has created an online application intake system. Users can create an application, upload attachments, sign certifications and draw service areas, to name a few features that can be accessed any time of the day or night.

Supporting economic development
A strong local economy is just as important to the health of a community as a strong, modern grid, and USDA offers funding opportunities for that type of project, too. Federated REA has built an award-winning economic development program on the tools USDA offers to rural utilities.

A big check tops off Federated’s efforts to secure AGCO’s $740,000 economic development loan. Pictured: Eric Fisher, AGCO, director of operations; Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development, state director; and Richard Burud, Federated, general manager.
A big check tops off Federated’s efforts to secure AGCO’s $740,000 economic development loan. Pictured: Eric Fisher, AGCO, director of operations; Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development, state director; and Richard Burud, Federated, general manager. (Photo by Federated Rural Electric Association)

Over the last 25 years, the utility has leveraged more than $3.6 million in USDA grants and loans, along with Federated economic development loans, to retain or create more than 1,500 jobs. Projects have ranged from expanding an insurance claim center to installing a wind turbine to building an ethanol plant. Several co-op members have applied for and received grants from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for facility improvements such as grain dryers and ground-source heat pumps. Communities can access a revolving loan fund Federated established in 2008, even for smaller investments such as purchasing a fire truck or building a meeting hall and garage.

“Applicants must be co-op members, but our program also helps members on municipal lines in our territory,” explained Marketing and Communications Manager Andrea Christoffer. “One of the criteria for a loan from the revolving fund is that the project helps the economy of our cooperative’s service area.”

AGCO Corp., You are leaving Western's site. a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment, is not on Federated’s electric system but the company’s employees and customers are. In 2011, the utility helped the company obtain a USDA revolving loan to expand its Jackson, Minnesota, facility and bring a tractor assembly line to town from overseas. The project retained 850 jobs in the area, added more than 200, increased school enrollment and stimulated the local economy. The National Rural Electric Association You are leaving Western's site. and the Rural Electricity Resource Council You are leaving Western's site. both recognized Federated with awards for community investment.

Get started with USDA
Applying for USDA funding is not that difficult, insisted Christoffer, who used to fill out grant applications for members in the early years of the economic development program.   The Federal Register Notices clearly list the required information, she pointed out. “All applicants have to do is answer the questions. And they can contact their state energy coordinator if they need help,” she said, echoing Burud.

Member services representatives and other rural co-op staff can find more assistance on the USDA Rural Development website. Most utilities are aware of programs and services for utilities, but a refresher tour can uncover new opportunities.

For economic development opportunities, check out programs and services for businesses. Several programs, such as REAP, are related to energy use, but loans and grants are available for many other types of business investments, as well. Members of rural electric cooperatives can always give their power providers a call to help them apply for the programs.

Utilities might want to familiarize themselves with programs to fund community and individual projects, too. As Nobles Cooperative and Federated REA know, what is good for the community is good for the utility that serves the community.

Source: USDA Rural Development via Energy Central You are leaving Western's site. , 10/23/15

Download the updated Cooling Tip Sheet, bill stuffer

Cooling season is once again upon us, and yours may already be shifting into high gear, so there is no time like the present to remind your consumers about the importance of maintaining their air conditioners.dog-fan

The 2015 Tip Sheet: Cooling System Maintenance, and its “Mini-me” bill stuffer are ready to be downloaded, imprinted with your logo and given to your customers before they call to complain about high summer cooling bills. Both handouts break down the simple steps that keep air conditioners humming efficiently, and offer operating tips to make sure a cooling system is not fighting an uphill battle.

The full-size sheet includes websites for those who might want to do a little more research on efficient cooling. That makes it a good handout for customer education events. The bill stuffer provides the same information, minus the online resources, in the perfect size to fit into a business envelope. Customers can post it on their refrigerators, near their cooling systems or in home workshops. You might also print up a batch of stuffers for cooling contractors and dealers to hand out to their customers.

We designed The Tip Sheet so you can set it up with your own logo, or send Energy Services an electronic version of your logo and we’ll create a template for you. Then you can print the quantity you need in-house, or take it to your local quick printer for more paper choices. Either way, The Tip Sheet and bill stuffer give you an easy, cost-effective way to talk to your customers about cooling efficiency, and to help you with summer load control.

Hidden energy wasters hurt efficiency in commercial buildings

Controlling energy consumption in large commercial buildings can yield big rewards for both the owners and their power providers. Taking the long view, efficient buildings also contribute to the health of the occupants and the economy, too. So why are buildings still wasting as much as 50 percent of the energy that flows into them?

According to the Panoramic Power blog You are leaving WAPA.gov., one of the culprits is secret energy wasters—building systems that are not maintained or used properly. The article cites studies that have shown how continuously monitoring and adjusting operations and implementing just a few energy-efficiency strategies can reduce a building’s energy use by as much as 30 percent.

Common—and often undetected—energy wasters include:

1. Lighting rooms where daylighting is sufficient: This can also cause the HVAC system to work harder, wasting more energy.

2. Systems that continue operate after business hours: It’s 7 p.m. Do you know if your lights and HVAC systems are still on?   

3. Performing unnecessary maintenance: Working on a system that doesn’t need maintenance can actually be an energy drain. Build your maintenance schedules around performance data to promote energy efficiency, reduce downtime and improve overall performance.

4. Running equipment that is not in use: If the device has a built-in power management feature that automatically induces sleep cycles when it is not being used, make sure the feature is activated. Check into “smart” monitors and power strips to control older devices that do not have built-in power management.

5. Heating against cooling: An over-cooled office may cause employees to run space heaters under their desks, causing a vicious circle of energy waste.

6. Overlighting: More is not always better when it comes to lighting. Use resources from the Illuminating Engineering Society You are leaving WAPA.gov. to determine the appropriate lighting levels for your needs.

7. Insulation is not forever: Schedule periodic inspections of all piping, ducting and equipment to look for damaged or degraded insulation and possible energy leaks.

8. Filthy filters: Clean and replace filters on HVAC equipment frequently during high-use periods. Dirty filters are an expensive mistake, and lead to poor indoor air quality, too.

9. Blocked vents: A chair or file cabinet blocking a vent can cause your ventilation system to use as much as 25 percent more energy to distribute air.

10. Overriding Building Management System settings: Everything works better if you use it as intended. When occupants override the building’s automated controls—for a weekend meeting, for example—energy waste is quick to follow.

Some of these energy wasters can be stopped with simple, low-tech solutions like opening blinds during the day and regularly replacing filters. Other systems will require more advanced monitoring, data analysis or even recommissioning to correct. Even if you have a building energy manager, a consultation with a certified technician may be worth the investment.

Key account managers should keep a checklist of best practices for stamping out energy waste close at hand to share with commercial customers. Ultimately, it is crucial to remind building owners that monitoring all the energy-consuming equipment and systems in the building is the best way to catch and stop energy waste before it shows up in a large utility bill.

Source: Panoramic Power blog, 1/17/15

Updated Cooling Tip Sheet, bill stuffer now available

Spring is here and it is time to start thinking about your cooling load—how to manage those hot weather peaks and what to tell customers when they call about their electric bills from those days. Better yet, you could talk to your customers now to prevent sticker shock later.

Energy Services has updated its popular seasonal fact sheet, The Tip Sheet: Cooling System Maintenance, and created a new bill stuffer version. Both pdfs are two-sided, four-color and allow room for you to customize with your utility’s logo. The 8.5-by-11-inch sheet makes a perfect quick and inexpensive handout for customer meetings, while the bill stuffer is designed to fit into a number nine envelope.

The Tip Sheet provides an overview of simple steps consumers can take to get the best cooling and energy performance from their air conditioners. On the front page you will find a check list of maintenance tasks, which units need that type of service, how to do it and why. The second side offers additional suggestions and websites where consumers can learn more about taking care of cooling systems.

Utilities that don’t have the time or the staff to develop outreach material can download the sheet or bill stuffer and imprint it with their logos, or contact Energy Services to set up the printer-ready artwork for you. Use your own printer to produce handouts as you need them, or take the master to a quick printer for more options.

The Tip Sheet and bill stuffer are the ultimate in flexible, convenient collateral material, and it is free to Western customers, including setup if required. If you don’t need assistance from Energy Services, we would appreciate knowing that you used The Tip Sheet. We also welcome your ideas for other single-page and bill stuffer material.

Installing, maintaining cooling systems for DSM program success

Webinar
March 20, 3:00 p.m. MDT

Join the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center  for the webinar, Quality Installation and Maintenance of Cooling Systems, on March 20.

No matter what type of cooling technology or application, proper sizing, installation and regular maintenance of a cooling system is critical to saving energy. Participants will learn about quality installation (QI) and quality maintenance (QM) and tune-ups of cooling systems from a practical installation approach, and explore the design and implementation of successful utility programs. Speakers include Kristin Heinemeier of the Western Cooling Efficiency Center-UC Davis and Ron Thingvold of Comfort Air Distributing.

Space is limited, so reserve your webinar seat today. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.