Texas-based public power utility Austin Energy, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and Walter Haase, general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, are among the winners of the 2018 Smart Electric Power Alliance Power Players Awards.
Now in their tenth year, the awards recognize utilities, their industry partners, individuals and other stakeholders “working on the front lines of the U.S. energy transformation,” SEPA noted in a June 12 news release.
Austin Energy was the winner in the “Public Power Utility of the Year” category, MMWEC was the winner in the “Innovative Partner of the Year” category and Haase was the winner in the “Visionary of the Year” category.
NTUA and the New York Power Authority were finalists in the “Public Power Utility of the Year” category. (Last year, Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of NYPA, was honored as the 2017 SEPA "Power Player of the Year").
This year’s winners were chosen from a broad field of nominees and recently announced finalists. The panel of six independent judges who made the final choices represent diverse sectors and expertise in the electric power industry, SEPA said, and include Cris Eugster, Chief Operating Officer at San Antonio, Texas-based public power utility CPS Energy, who was recently elected to serve as the new chair of SEPA’s board of directors. CPS in 2017 was recognized by SEPA as Public Power Utility of the Year.
Haase wins “Visionary of the Year” award
Haase won the award for “Visionary of the Year.” SEPA said this category is for “dynamic and prominent groups or individuals that are imagining and inspiring how the electric industry envisions the future of clean energy, which may not have brought results to fruition yet.”
SEPA noted that in 2008, Haase arrived on the Navajo Nation as the general manager of NTUA, the largest multi-utility system owned and operated by an American Indian tribe.
“From the time he arrived on the Navajo Nation, his primary objective was to improve the quality of life for people living in a part of the United States where electricity still had not reached an estimated 18,000 homes,” SEPA said. “When he first arrived, his vast experience in the utility industry, coupled with his professional electrical engineering background reignited the NTUA to become fiscally sound and progressive enough to begin exploring new utility possibilities. Possibilities that required vision.”
Two years ago, the focus turned to the imminent closure of a coal-fired power plant. The announcement meant the Navajo Nation needed to prepare for considerable job loss and a significant economic impact, SEPA said. “Demonstrating clear vision, Walter Haase emphasized enhancing the clean energy initiatives of the Navajo Nation and introducing a green economy,” SEPA said.
In 2017, under Haase’s leadership, the NTUA unveiled the first large-utility scale solar farm on the Navajo Nation. The 27.3 MW Kayenta Solar Project also brought much needed construction jobs to the region, where the unemployment rate is close to 50 percent, SEPA noted. During the height of the construction there were 273 employees; 85 percent were Navajo descendants.
“Kayenta Solar is a paradigm shift,” said Haase. “The Navajo Nation has always been on the purchasing end of the energy production by having to secure energy from the outside. We have now moved to the other side of the table and have the potential to sell electricity and related attributes to other parties,” he said.
“This project has given us the opportunity to bring outside dollars in and contribute to the financial strength of the Navajo economy, including the platform create jobs,” he said. “We had a lot of help from tribal leaders, land-use (grazing) permittees, the Kayenta community, utility industry leaders, our board, and our employees. I share this honor with them for their support and encouragement.”
Haase serves as chair of the American Public Power Association’s Board of Directors.
Austin Energy wins “Public Power Utility of the Year” award
In a news release, Austin Energy said that SEPA recognized the utility for thought leadership on renewable energy and distributed energy resources, including the Austin SHINES program, which integrates solar and energy battery storage; a community solar program and the utility’s electric vehicle program.
SEPA noted that Austin Energy has worked to meet ambitious clean energy goals, add storage, support distributed generation and electric vehicles, and advance customer service offerings. The utility’s 2017 update to a resource, generation and climate protection plan included goals of 65% renewable energy, 950 MW of solar (including 200 MW local solar), and 900 MW energy efficiency and demand response by 2027, 10 MW of non-thermal storage by 2025, and 330 electric vehicles into the city fleet by 2020.
Through the Austin SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) project, Austin Energy is deploying energy storage paired with solar PV at residential, commercial and utility scales, SEPA noted.
Austin SHINES is integrating solar, energy storage, smart inverters, electric vehicles, forecasting tools, market signals and advanced communications through a utility integrated software optimization platform.
The project includes solar plus storage integrations at the grid-scale, commercial, and residential levels, and is studying value of holistic controls through distributed energy resource management systems with control algorithms that focus on market, reliability, and customer value propositions. Economic modeling methodology and models are being used to determine the differential value of DER. The effort is also comparing ownership and control methodologies – including utility-controlled, autonomous and third-party – to test and prepare for various future use cases, SEPA noted.
“Innovation is part of the foundation upon which we are built,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy General Manager. “We are always looking for creative solutions that deliver better service and make Austin a more livable city and we are proud to be recognized for that innovation.”
MMWEC winner in the “Innovative Partner of the Year” category
Meanwhile, MMWEC was the winner in the category that recognizes a non-utility partner for a unique method, project, leadership, or innovation that has aided in the expansion of or access to distributed energy resources while working with one or more utilities.
MMWEC is a non-profit, public corporation and political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that provides a wide range of power supply, financial, risk management and other services to municipal utilities.
MMWEC said it was recognized for work in partnership with its member utilities to implement services that include the procurement, installation and remote dispatch of energy storage systems in a manner that reduces costs for consumers.
MMWEC’s peak load forecasting and remote dispatch services enable the automated dispatch of batteries and other distributed energy resources during peak demand hours. This reduces peak loads, which determine a utility’s transmission and capacity costs, resulting in savings for consumers, MMWEC noted.
After a trial period with a single utility, MMWEC expanded these services as other members added DERs to their systems.
Currently, MMWEC is remotely dispatching seven distributed energy resources for six member utilities, and will add three more resources by the end of the year. MMWEC said it is able to dispatch these resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week “to further optimize their value for the utilities.”
The SEPA award also recognizes other initiatives of MMWEC’s emerging technologies team, including an electric vehicle/charging program; acquisition of grants to fund energy-efficient streetlights, energy storage and reduced-emissions bucket trucks and a unique pooled loan program that allows members to finance clean energy projects using MMWEC’s tax-exempt financing authority.
SEPA noted that MMWEC partnered with one of its member utilities, the Sterling Municipal Light Department, to develop and implement new peak load projection and remote dispatch services that have enabled the utility to achieve significant savings with its energy storage/microgrid project. “Importantly, the partnership with Sterling clearly demonstrated the value of these new services, which are being integrated with DER projects in other member utilities,” SEPA said.
“Innovation is the key to enabling municipal utilities to integrate and capture the benefits of clean energy technologies for their customers,” said MMWEC CEO Ronald DeCurzio. “MMWEC is honored to be recognized by SEPA for its emerging technology initiatives, which are helping municipal utilities keep pace with fast-moving trends in the electric industry,” he said.
Winners in the seven award categories will be honored July 10 as part of SEPA’s Grid Evolution Summit in Washington, D.C.
Additional details about the award winners, including the winners in other categories, are available here.
NYPA, Austin Energy earn grid innovation awards
Meanwhile, NYPA and Austin Energy recently earned 2018 Grid Edge Innovation Awards from Greentech Media.
NYPA was recognized for its New York Energy Manager, the Power Authority’s advanced, secure energy management center, headquartered in Albany. It provides public and private facility operators across New York State with timely data on energy use.
Austin Energy was recognized for its work in the area of integrating energy storage and solar PV. Specifically, Greentech Media highlighted Austin Energy’s activities tied to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's SHINES program.