Electric Cooperative Gets New, Energy-Efficient Lighting

La Plata Electric Association, with offices in Pagosa Springs and Durango, works with members — both residential and commercial — to change out their lighting to new, energy efficient lamps. The cost to purchase new lighting all at once can be cost prohibitive, so the electric cooperative has been prudent with its members’ money as it too worked to change out lighting in all of its buildings.

Ray Pierotti celebrates the appearance of “daylight” in LPEA’s warehouse.

“This has been a steady process beginning in 2010,” says Ray Pierotti, LPEA’s project specialist who focuses on lighting technology. “We’ve got a number of buildings and different lighting applications, such as parking lot and exterior lights, in addition to regular office lighting. I’ve been keeping up with the technology and, as it made sense from a technology and budgeting perspective, we initiated the projects.”

LPEA’s administrative offices were steadily replaced and are now 100 percent LED. With the office light retrofits, energy-saving controls were also installed, including dimmers and motion sensors. Work lighting for office employees is greatly improved even with the energy savings.

Pierotti is perhaps most excited about the projects that replaced the lighting in the warehouses. Previously dimly lit with old technology, the warehouses now appear to be illuminated by daylight. “The difference is just amazing,” Pierotti says.

The total reduction in kilowatts with all the office space, warehouses, truck barns, exterior and other lights changed out is nearing a combined 100 kilowatts, which, according to Pierotti, saves the cooperative more than 260,000 kilowatt-hours in both locations and more than $30,000 annually going forward.

Just like all of LPEA’s commercial members who opt to change out their lighting and reduce their energy consumption, LPEA benefitted from rebates provided by its wholesale power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State benefits by encouraging members to reduce energy consumption so the company doesn’t need to build additional generation facilities.

Innovation Rampant in Co-op Territories

Want to know what Colorado electric co-ops are doing to bring more renewable energy online for member-owners? Find out by viewing the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s video on energy and innovation.

Titled “Innovations. Power. Community: Colorado’s Electric Cooperatives,” the video, which premiered at CREA’s annual Energy Innovations Summit, includes information on co-op solar gardens, a biomass plant, small hydro facilities, a methane capture project, a landfill gas plant and other renewable options.

View is at http://bit.do/CoopInnovations to view the video.

Going Green in Northern Colorado is Cost Effective

Member-owners of Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association who want to go green but can’t build a wind turbine in their backyard or don’t have enough sun exposure to buy solar panels can opt to participate in the electric cooperative’s Green Power Program.

The Green Power Program is a way for members to support the use of renewable energy resources with the help of PVREA. The Green Power Program is a subscription to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) on a monthly basis.

RECs are proofs of purchase from electricity generated by renewable energy resources. Through the Green Power Program, subscriptions buy RECs from wind or solar facilities. The program is a great way for members to help expand an existing renewable energy footprint.

Members can opt in to invest in green power in 100-kilowatt-hour blocks for 9 cents per block. For the average residential consumer that uses around 1,000 kWh a month, going 100 percent green costs less than $1 a month. PVREA has been providing this green power option to its members since 1999.

Community Solar Provides a Lasting Impact

One partnership plus 70 community solar panels adds up to average annual savings of $485 on electric bills for seven local families in Empire Electric Association’s territory. These qualified subscribers are receiving savings from EEA and GRID Alternatives Colorado because of a new solar garden as it brings the benefits of solar to the families who need it most — those who spend more than 4 percent of their income on utility bills.

Last year, EEA collaborated with GRID Alternatives and the Colorado Energy Office to build a solar garden solely dedicated to income-qualified subscribers. The partnership between GRID and CEO was formed to achieve two objectives: to lessen the energy burden for the most financially-strapped households and to assist electric utilities in achieving their renewable energy goals. The groundbreaking in Cortez marked the first of many historical projects around Colorado.

The solar garden will provide an estimated 36,749 kilowatt-hours annually and is located at Empire’s main office in Cortez. It is easily viewable by members being served by or interested in photovoltaic systems.

“As a member-owned cooperative, Empire is concerned about the best interests of our members,” EEA General Manager Josh Dellinger said. “We see this low-income community solar project as an opportunity to positively impact the communities we serve. Empire is providing a hand up rather than a handout to the subscribers — everyone benefitting contributed through sweat equity and will continue to contribute financially through a monthly energy payment.”

Qualified families agree to lease their allotted panels from EEA for five years. They are billed monthly for grid connectivity, demand charges and energy consumption while receiving a bill credit for the production of their panels. Subscribers of the solar garden can live more affordably in their homes as part of this hand up opportunity.

GRID initiated a barn-raising model for assembling the 70 solar panels and engaged members of the community to come together to install the system. It was accomplished with the help of 30 volunteers, which included trainees, EEA staff and other community members.

Eleven of the volunteers helping to install the solar array attended Navajo Technical University in New Mexico and were taking courses on photovoltaic system design and installation. They travelled 150 miles to access the invaluable field experience offered by this project.

“This is a big hands-on project for me,” said Clifford Allen, an NTU student. “In school we usually work on one or two panels, but this time we worked on 70 panels. It is definitely a good experience to actually work from the start to finish.”

Another volunteer working on behalf of her mother, an applicant subscriber, said, “I have learned so much. I think any program like this would be good for anyone, not just my mom. It helps offset some of the expenses that can be taken on when you’re older or low income, and any little bit helps.”

The project’s size allows for easy operation and maintenance. The system hosts a web-based monitoring portal that provides real-time monitoring. This information helps EEA’s staff better understand photovoltaic system performance, operation and maintenance at a location that is convenient and on a scale that is manageable.

The lasting impacts of the EEA and GRID Alternatives Solar Garden project include energy production valued at $147,545, the equivalent of 15,859 trees being planted, and 100 percent assistance for deserving families. For those directly involved, the lasting impacts include a clearer knowledge of how a photovoltaic system is assembled and how it is bringing the benefits of solar to the families who need it most.

Empire Electric is one of six electric co-ops in Colorado with a solar garden dedicated to assisting income-qualified members.

Free Energy Resources for Colorado’s Rural Schools

Outdated lighting, heating and cooling can cost rural schools, on average, 30 percent more on their energy bills, according to a recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To combat this problem, the Colorado Energy Office’s Energy Savings for Schools program is under way and able to support up to 12 more schools this year.

“The ESS program builds off many years of the CEO’s programmatic work in the K-12 area,” Michael Turner, CEO’s energy efficiency programs manager, explains. Schools across Colorado saved energy and money through a variety of offerings, and now they are part of this program to bring all available resources to bear on those schools with the greatest needs.” It’s a great opportunity for schools looking to improve their learning environment through more efficient operations.”

Through the program, schools receive:
• On-site energy and water audits from an energy engineer
• Evaluation of renewable energy opportunities
• Technical support and energy coaching
• Implementation support and help identifying existing funding and financing options for completing projects
• Recognition for a school’s efforts and opportunities to engage students
• Connections with peer schools and a platform for sharing ideas and knowledge

When a new school joins the program, the ESS team works with the school to collect and review building utility data (electricity, natural gas and water) before the site visit. “Reviewing utility data before a site visit gives us insight into how a building is performing and highlights potential areas of concern,” ESS energy efficiency engineer John Butler says. “Concerns expressed by school staff are used along with insights gained from the historic utility data to help focus the site visit and assessment on problem areas and to customize our approach for each unique facility.”

After the site visit, the energy engineer prepares a customized report with recommendations for the school. “We understand how limited resources — especially staff and financial resources — can be for these rural schools, so we prepare our reports with the aim to help each school prioritize strategies and next steps,” Butler says. “And the report is only the first step. We work closely with school staff to identify what projects make the most sense and help navigate the process of getting projects done. Many times, this means helping schools identify funding or soliciting and reviewing bids from contractors.”

To help fund recommended projects, ESS staff identify other applicable CEO programs, local utility rebates and other state and local programs for schools to leverage. “There are no direct monetary costs for a school to participate in the ESS program. The only costs are associated with staff time to interact with the ESS team and any costs to implement after all external funding sources have been exhausted,” Turner says. “The ESS program supports, and, in turn, is supported by a number of CEO and other related programs, including the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Schools loan program, Supplemental Environmental Projects, High Performing School Program, Energy Performance Contracting and the Renew Our Schools Program.”

To date, 23 schools received their energy reports and began implementing projects. The graphic to the left outlines the collective potential savings identified for these schools.

Legacy Academy, a tuition free, K-8 charter school in Elizabeth, is one of these schools. “As an administrator who is not an expert in energy savings projects, it was incredibly valuable to have the support from this team when receiving project bids,” explains Legacy Academy’s principal Kurt Naber. “The comprehensive energy audit, combined with guidance and input from the ESS team, helped me to feel confident and well-informed when presenting options to Legacy’s board of directors.”

Legacy Academy is poised to save $13,420 annually as a result of lighting upgrades, ceiling fans and water fixture upgrades installed this year.

“We have been pleased and impressed with the knowledge and assistance that the ESS program has brought to our school,” Naber says. “The representatives from ESS have been a great resource for us as we have evaluated bids and moved forward with several energy-saving projects. Their input gave us assurance that we are making well-informed decisions.”

In addition, with support from the ESS program, Legacy Academy applied for and was awarded Energy Star building certification in November as a result of its efforts to improve efficiency. Energy Star certified buildings outperform 75 percent of similar facilities across the country.

Don’t let your local school miss out on ESS resources to optimize energy performance and save money. CEO is actively recruiting schools from Colorado’s rural and low-income areas to participate in the program’s second year.

If you know a school that might benefit from the program, share this information with a school representative or contact the program manager, Susan Blythe, at SBlythe@BrendleGroup.com or 970-207-0058 ext. 310. More information is available at bit.ly/CEOenergysavings.