Energy Efficiency

Association rolls out smart energy best practices designation program

The American Public Power Association recently rolled out the Smart Energy Provider (SEP) program, a new best practices designation for public power utilities that will offer national recognition of utility efforts to incorporate energy efficiencies and sustainability while providing affordable electric service.

Moreover, achieving SEP designation will help public power utilities benchmark and evaluate their work in various areas against a set of industry best practices.

The application asks utilities to describe the leading practices in the following four sections:

  • Smart Energy Information: This section dives into how a utility structures its smart energy program, including how it establishes goals and objectives and incorporates them into operations; whether a utility engages in research and development in the areas of energy efficiency, sustainability, DERs, or other smart energy topics; and how a utility benchmarks these programs against utilities with similar attributes;
  • Energy Efficiency and Distributed Energy Resources (DERs):  This section asks utilities to describe the various methods of energy efficiency and DERs that they offer to customers. This section also asks utilities to identify any specific hard-to-reach audiences these programs target;
  • Environmental and Sustainability Programs/Initiatives: This section assesses how a utility works to reduce emissions and other adverse impacts to the environment. The application asks utilities to describe what types of programs they engage in and which stakeholders within the community they collaborate with to improve environmental performance. Utilities must also indicate whether they track and evaluate emissions and emission savings from smart energy programs;
  • Communication/Education and Customer Experience: This section asks utilities to describe how they communicate smart energy policy, procedures, and programs with customers and how they evaluate customer satisfaction with smart energy programs. This section also asks about any training a utility offers to customer service representatives to provide better customer experience in these programs.

A Jan. 24 webinar hosted by the Association offered additional details on the new program.

Webinar presenters included Alex Hofmann, Senior Director of Energy and Environmental Services, at the Association, John Phelan, Energy Services Senior Manager, at Colorado public power utility Fort Collins Utilities, and Ethan Epstein, Energy and Environmental Services Coordinator, at the Association.

“I think personally that public power has a great story to tell,” Hofmann said during the webinar, adding that the SEP program “is about trying to help utilities tell that story.”

Hofmann said that the “core of what we’re trying to do is provide both recognition and review for all of the energy efficiency, clean energy and other environmentally beneficial activities that a utility can undertake.”

He told webinar participants that “it’s not really about auditing. It’s about providing a path. It’s about giving you some feedback from your peers and some guidance on your way.” Hofmann said that “We think that being a smart energy provider is about being a utility that is facilitating customer energy choices in a way that aligns with the community energy direction.”

The Association official said that “We think that this could be useful in terms of showing utility customers what you’re doing in a coherent way in a program that’s built and designed by public power utilities, for public power utilities, and I think that’s really important.”

The SEP program “really helps utilities to have direct feedback from their peers,” Hofmann said. “We’re going to take your application, we’re going to run it by a bunch of graders who are experts from the industry and then either we’ll give you a designation or we won’t.”

For utilities that don’t receive a designation, they will receive feedback on things like what the SEP program review panel would like to see and as the Association does with its Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) program , utilities will have the opportunity to “come back through” and apply again, he said.

Designations will be unveiled at the Association Customer Connections Conference. The initial set of designations will be announced at this year’s Customer Connections Conference, which is scheduled to occur Oct. 27-29 in New Orleans.

Utilities receiving the designation would also receive a plaque “that you could hang in your hall, or in your front office, or show to your mayor, or give to your city council. There’s a lot of uses for this kind of thing,” Hofmann said.

Phelan, who was heavily involved in the development of the SEP program application, discussed some of the benefits that can flow from the program. Among other things, he said that there is “a lot to be learned from our peers in this process.”

Phelan and a number of other stakeholders were brought together to help create the SEP program. He comes from a community that is especially interested in the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy and has helped the Association create and revise the program through its infancy into pilot stage.

The deadline for submitting applications for the SEP program is May 15, 2019, and additional information about the program is available here.