Western Administrator keynotes Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

[Editor’s note: This story first ran in the September 2013 Energy Services Bulletin.]

Western customers who attend the seventh annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (RMUEE), in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 9-11 will have the opportunity to meet Mark Gabriel, Western’s new administrator, and hear his views on the challenges facing utilities today.

The popular conference opens Oct. 9 with keynote speaker Jeff Ackermann, director of the Colorado Energy Office (CEO). Gabriel, who was selected to head up Western in April 2013, will deliver the midpoint keynote address on Oct. 10. “We are fortunate to have two keynote speakers with diverse experience and expertise in the electric power industry,” acknowledged Stephen Casey, Member Services manager at co-host Holy Cross Energy.

Aspen Utilities Energy Efficiency manager Jeff Rice  agreed. “The RMUEE always has a good program, but I’m particularly excited about this year’s agenda,” he said. City of Aspen Utilities is once again sharing hosting duties with Holy Cross Energy.

Newcomer, returning keynotes

This is Gabriel’s first time at the RMUEE, but he brings with him more than two decades of leadership in the electric utility industry that include utility management, consulting ,  speaking, and writing on the industry.

Gabriel’s award-winning 2009 book, Visions for a Sustainable Energy Future, offered specific steps that a progressive U.S. power industry could take to meet the nation’s electricity needs in an environmentally responsible way. “Customer programs for energy efficiency and conservation are going to play an important role in that effort,” he said. “Regional conferences like this give program managers who have a lot in common the opportunity to share their experiences so they can build on their successes and avoid repeating mistakes.”

Attendees have plenty to share after seven years, noted Jeff Ackermann, a veteran of the RMUEE as well as the Colorado energy industry. “We’ve done a good job of establishing strong utility and local government programs in the state and putting innovative financial tools in place,” he said. “Colorado is now poised to move to the next level of energy efficiency in the built environment.”

Ackermann’s first-hand knowledge of those programs and tools comes from his role as director at the CEO, and as head of research with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Prior to his time with the CPUC, Ackermann was manager of the state’s low-income demand-side management (DSM) programs, as part of the staff of the (then) Governor’s Energy Office. He has provided leadership in this area twice in his career, from 2004-2007 and 1984-1995 (in the Department of Local Affairs), playing an integral role in negotiating a state-utility partnership with Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo). Those efforts yielded the Energy $aving Partners Program, which has been serving low-income households since 1993.

“The time has come,” Ackerman stated, “to expand such partnerships and assess the gaps in our programs. We need to better focus our resources to bring energy efficiency to areas and customer classes that are currently underserved,” he said. “That’s the message I’m bringing to the Utility Exchange this year.”

A little change-up

Attendees will have more time for networking and renewing contacts because the RMUEE starts in the morning this year, instead of the afternoon as it has in the past. Roundtable discussions will begin at 8:30 a.m. on topics the agenda committee will determine in advance from registrants’ surveys.

Following lunch and Ackerman’s presentation, Wednesday’s general session will focus on a subject that never ceases to challenge program managers: customer engagement. Speakers from local organizations like Fort Collins Utilities, City and County of Denver and Eagle County will share the microphone with representatives from the Shelton Group and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Thursday opens with dual session tracks in the morning, but attendees come together in the afternoon for another general session, this time on program integration. We’ll explore different aspects of program management, including demographic analysis, measurement and evaluation, finance strategies and product vendor relationships. The afternoon will wrap up with a presentation on communitywide initiatives in Northern Colorado aimed at achieving widespread deployment of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs).

Attendees will get to do more than talk about EVs on Friday morning. The planned roundtable discussion on setting up an EV integration program at your utility includes the opportunity to test drive one. Western Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman is very enthusiastic about this session. “Electric vehicle technology has huge implications for the utility industry,” he declared. “Our customers need all the information they can get about EVs to figure out how to integrate this new load.”

Efficiency finance strategies, marketing efficiency programs and the ever-popular (and perplexing) contractor workforce development are among other proposed topics for the informal sessions.

For the first time this year, attendees can also arrange to visit Aspen Utilities and other local energy program offices and facilities. Don’t miss this chance to meet the people who make the energy savings happen and see the nuts and bolts behind the success stories.

Back by popular demand

Of course, when something works as well as the RMUEE, you don’t want to mess with the formula too much. Along with the new twists, there will be plenty of familiar features.

On Thursday morning, choose your track—commercial or residential—to dig into the nuts and bolts of program management with a smaller group of like-minded professionals. The poster session is back too, and the lineup promises plenty of fodder for lively discussion.

A little incentive for newcomers has also proven successful in the past. Energy Services is once again offering $100 scholarships to first-time attendees from Western customer utilities. Contact Ron Horstman at 720-962-7419 for more information.

Attendees come to Aspen Meadows Resort expecting great talk over great food and they won’t be disappointed with the breaks, meals and receptions. Networking is, after all, a big part of why we come to the RMUEE, why we keep coming back and why the conference keeps attracting newcomers. “This is a great chance for me to meet several Western customers at once and to learn about their operations and concerns firsthand,” said Gabriel. “I’m really looking forward to the conference.