Western customers show up in DOE Top 10 Utility Green Power Programs

Public power utilities, including several Western customers, scored well in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Top 10” rankings of utility green power programs for 2010.

Ranked by renewable energy sales, Sacramento Municipal Utility District sold the fourth largest amount of renewable energy (kWh/year) in the nation (including investor-owned utilities). SMUD was the only public power utility to crack the top 10 in total number of customer participants in green power programs, ranking fourth in that category as well.

Using information provided by utilities, NREL developed rankings of utility green power programs for 2010 in a variety of categories. Other Western customers appearing in the Top 10 included:

NREL recently added the category of community solar programs to its ratings, giving Western customers another chance to shine. Holy Cross Energy, SMUD, St. George, Utah, and United Power placed sixth through eighth. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share.

The Green Power assessment was performed by NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC), which integrates technical and economic analyses and leads NREL’s efforts in applying clean energy technologies to both national and international markets.

You’ve Won a New Home… Sort of: Six Years of Home Energy Makeover Contests

Ed Thomas, EGIA

The Home Energy Makeover contest is not about the winners—it’s all about showing the homeowners who don’t win what can be done to lower energy bills.

The program started in Montrose, Colo., and has spread across the country. This spring, Sacramento Municipal Utility District will hold its first contest. In Atlanta, Ga., a contest is being funded with Recovery dollars. In November, a contest in Pennsylvania will show what can be done to improve the performance of a house less than 2 years old.

Pick a typical home and family so that other consumers can relate. The makeover is based on building science, so the recommendations are not random. Expect to take about six to eight months to plan, recruit sponsors, promote the contest and screen entrants. Allow another three to four months to make improvements and publicize results—educating consumers is an ongoing task before, during and after the contest.

At the beginning of the contest, the website should answer the question, “How do I enter?” Then, the contest site needs to evolve to answer “How do I do that in my home?” Post the case studies of completed projects, along with links to drive the visitors to the contractors who worked on them.

The costs of mounting a Home Energy Makeover contest are fixed around administration, technical oversight and promotion. The variable costs are determined by the number of makeover winners, the value of homes and the cost of processing paper entries.

Community projects highlighted on Day 2 of forum

Presentations focused on improving energy efficiency at the community level, as the Utility Energy Forum moved into its second day.

Streetlighting project
The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) is conducting a pilot program to evaluate the potential energy savings and lighting quality of LED and induction streetlights. Project Manager Christine Tam explained that the municipal utility operates and maintains 6,300 high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps ranging from 70 to 250 watts. The city streetlights are on a five-year replacement plan.

LED and induction technologies both have life spans of 100,000 hours compared to 24,000 hours for HPS, reducing their operation costs. A further advantage LED has over the other lamps is that it contains no mercury.

The city installed alternative lighting in three test areas—one with 20 LED lamps, a second with 30 LEDs and a third area with induction lights. As part of the evaluation, residents and city workers offered feedback on their opinion about the light quality. In Palo Alto and other cities that have installed LEDs, some residents complain about bright white light. City workers, however, often prefer it to dimmer HPS lights. Installing dimmers on LED streetlights can mitigate complaints, but adds to the cost.

The results of the pilot program indicate that for Palo Alto, LEDs are marginally cost-effective, especially where the lights are new installs. Tam points out that the city is calculating the savings based on its own avoided cost of $.08 per kWh. A city that pays a utility for electricity will probably have greater savings. CPAU expects to release a full report on the lighting pilot this summer.

Working with ARRA funding
The challenges of using funding from the American Recover and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was the subject of a presentation by Tara Vogel, renewable energy analyst for Nevada State Energy Office.

As exciting as it is for energy agencies to have access to funding, meeting Federal regulations in addition to state and internal provisions can slow implementation. Many rules are still under review for exceptions, and vendors may resist buying materials until procurement requirements are settled.

Even the so-called “shovel-ready” projects may hit stumbling blocks. The State Energy Office had worked on many retrofit projects on schools with NV Energy. When some districts realized that Federal money was available, they asked to change their proposals to stretch the dollars further. “They had no idea of the paperwork that was involved in changing the project specifications,” said Vogel. 

Nevertheless, Nevada is charging forward on ARRA projects—ahead of schedule, in some cases. Panel moderator Janis Erickson of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) observed that the ARRA era is new territory for energy-efficiency programs, and utilities and municipalities must be flexible and ready to learn.

Partner with your local community college
That sentiment was echoed by Sandy Kirschenmann, Vice Chancellor, Los Rios Community College District in the Sacramento area. Los Rios has a long-standing partnership with SMUD, most recently focusing on developing curriculums around the skills needed to install smart grid and renewable technologies.

Kirschenmann urged utilities to reach out to local community colleges to supply the training component necessary for many ARRA grants. “Community colleges, like ARRA, are all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said.

Contacting the president or chancellor of the college is the most important step a utility can take. “The presidents are very in tune with the needs of their communities, and they are always looking for ways to keep their curriculums current and relevant,” Kirschenmann said. “The president will take your call.”

 She also advised finding an advocate on the teaching staff who is developing the training programs. Sometimes, the utility representative becomes that person. Scott Terrell of Truckee Donner Public Utility District told the audience that, after 25 years of developing water and energy conservation programs for utilities, he had started teaching classes at the new community college in Truckee.

After establishing contact with the community college, utilities can bring economic development agencies, workforce investment entities and advisory boards into the partnership.

Above all, Kirschenmann concluded, be tolerant of ambiguity. “ARRA money rolled out very fast and things change from day to day,” she said. “The utilities that can respond to those changes will emerge as the real leaders.”