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.