Energy Efficiency

Association smart energy program draws strong interest

Officials from American Public Power Association member utilities recently gathered in the Association’s offices in Virginia to evaluate the first-ever applications submitted for the Association’s Smart Energy Provider (SEP) program, a new leading practices designation for public power utilities in the areas of energy efficiency, distributed generation, renewable energy, and environmental initiatives.

“The number of applications we received far and away exceeded our expectations, which is a testament to the ongoing commitment of public power utilities to hold themselves to the highest standards in a number of key areas,” said Alex Hofmann, Senior Director of Energy and Environmental Services at the Association.

Officials from Association member utilities on Monday, June 3, and Tuesday, June 4, worked with Association staff to grade the 71 applications that were received, as well as discuss the SEP policy manual items, including base criteria for selecting review panel members.

Achieving the SEP designation helps highlight utility efforts to incorporate energy efficiencies and sustainability while providing affordable electric service. In addition, SEP designation will help public power utilities benchmark and evaluate their work in various areas against a set of industry best practices.

The following public power officials participated in the two days of meetings as SEP grading meeting attendees and also participated in related activities on the SEP program:

  • John Phelan, Energy Services Senior Manager, at Colorado public power utility Fort Collins Utilities;
  • Liz Jambor, data analytics and business intelligence manager at Texas public power utility Austin Energy;
  • Jennifer Newbold, Customer Programs Administrator at Missouri public power utility Independence Power & Light (IP&L);
  • Mary Kay Villegas-Alitz, Support Services Manager at IP&L;
  • Scott Grieves, account manager at Florida public power utility Kissimmee Utility Authority;
  • Patrice Towsend, Director of Utility Services at Kansas-based public power utility Kansas City Board of Public Utilities;
  • Mary Medeiros McEnroe, Public Benefit Program Manager at California public power utility Silicon Valley Power; and
  • Chris Van Dokkumburg, Holland Board of Public Utilities

Erin Miller, Director of Energy Policy and Sustainability at American Municipal Power, participated in the meetings via phone.

“The SEP program is another way in which public power utilities can highlight all of the good work they are doing, day in and day out,” said Michael Hyland, Senior Vice President, Engineering Services, at the Association.

“Similar to other Association member programs such as the Reliable Public Power Provider Program, the SEP program offers an effective tool for public power utilities to benchmark their performance in a number of key areas against their peers in the industry,” he said.

Van Dokkumburg said in response to emailed questions that the highlight of the meeting for her was getting to know the other graders and Association staff better. “The conversations gave me a much better understanding of what other utilities are doing and the initial thought process behind creating the SEP Program. Understanding the evolution of the program will be interesting going forward,” she said.

“We are still in a pilot phase,” noted Jambor in an email. “We are getting some quality information from the participating utilities. Other questions need a bit of tweaking as they resulted in such a variety of responses that indicated a lack of shared understanding of what we were looking for.”

She said that the team working on this project, “both APPA and utility, are amazing. Their level of commitment to getting this ‘right’ and sharing quality data with the organization is wonderful. Once we have a solid foundation, we can begin a good process of analyzing the data and sharing best practices out.”

For IP&L’s Villegas-Alitz, the highlights were the opportunity to see what other utilities are doing with regards to energy efficiency programs, along with the opportunity to meet with other utilities face to face and learn about their programs and the challenges they face. “The relationships built can help in future endeavors for my utility,” she noted in an email.

With respect to the key benefits a public power utility can derive from earning recognition of a best practices designation through the SEP program, Van Dokkumburg said that “any time you can bring credibility to the work that is performed at the utility it’s a good thing.”

IP&L’s Villegas-Alitz noted that the designation can help support energy efficiency programs which are offered by the utility. During budget constraints these can get cut out of a budget for savings, she said.

For her part, Jambor said that earning recognition of a best practices designation through the SEP program shows that a utility is going beyond just providing electrons to its customers but is providing value. 

“Much of what we are assessing in the survey is a demonstration of selling less of our major commodity. What we are doing is providing a value-add and quality customer service. Utilities who receive this designation are demonstrating the value of public power in terms of long-term sustainability and protection of vital resources,” the Austin Energy official said in her email.

Meanwhile, Van Dokkumburg said that the SEP application “was quite simple to complete and shouldn’t deter even the smallest utility from submitting it.”

In many cases the application requires the submitter to simply check boxes to indicate activities/programs in which the utility participates. “The required attachments shouldn’t be too hard to gather and include,” she said.

“It was one of the easiest applications I have filled out,” said Villegas-Alitz. “The questions are very straightforward and, in my opinion, will be helpful for those utilities that cannot gain RP3 designation due to their size.” 

Jambor said that the process is easy. “It is one of the simplest applications we have,” she said.

The challenge will be for utilities who are not participating to find ways to begin participating or to launch new programs, Jambor said in the email.

The benefit of the SEP program overall is to provide support to all Association members as they take on energy efficiency, DER and sustainability practices, she said. The program will begin to illustrate best practices and the "how to" for these smart energy programs.

“By participating, utilities can assess where they are now in terms of being a Smart Energy Provider. As we gather the data, we can all become smarter energy providers.”

SEP program application asked for description of leading practices

The application asked utilities to describe the leading practices in four sections: (1) smart energy information; (2) energy efficiency and distributed energy resources (DERs); (3) Environmental and Sustainability Programs/Initiatives; and (4) communication/Education and Customer Experience.

The SEP program was rolled out earlier this year and the deadline for submitting applications for the program was May 15, 2019.

Hofmann participated in a Jan. 24 webinar hosted by the Association that offered additional details on the new program. Other webinar participants included Phelan and Ethan Epstein, Energy and Environmental Services Coordinator, at the Association. A replay of the webinar is available here.

Designation for SEP is a pass or fail system. Designation is awarded to a utility if its application received a total score of 70 points or higher out of 100. SEP designations last for two years, and utilities that want to maintain their SEP status must reapply every two years.

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

Additional information about the program is available here.