Regional utilities gather in Colorado to talk energy efficiency

More than 100 electric utilities and industry representatives attended the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10 to12.

Ron Ebenkamp, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, invites Robin O'Day, San Isabel Electric; Ray Pierotti, La Plata Electric; Gary Myers, Poudre Valley; and Craig Tate, Holy Cross Energy, to discuss the major role lighting programs continue to play in utility energy-efficiency portfolios at the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10. The networking event lasted three days and allowed local water and energy utilities to share best practices in efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management programs.

Ron Ebenkamp, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, invites Robin O'Day, San Isabel Electric; Ray Pierotti, La Plata Electric; Gary Myers, Poudre Valley; and Craig Tate, Holy Cross Energy, to discuss the major role lighting programs continue to play in utility energy-efficiency portfolios at the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange in Aspen, Colo., Oct. 10.

Co-sponsored by Western’s Energy Services office, the networking event provided energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states an open forum to learn and teach how to implement efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management programs with their peers.

“This event helps bring to light emerging technologies; boots-on-the-ground experiences; creative and innovative solutions; lessons learned; and other valuable programmatic thoughts and ideas,” said Stephen Casey, member services manager at co-host Holy Cross Energy. “If we discover a good idea that’s proven to reduce Holy Cross’s environmental impact or help our members manage their energy use, there’s a strong likelihood we may use it. That helps us to avoid re-inventing the wheel.”

Energy Services provided seven partial scholarships this year to first-time attendees from Western customer utilities. “Each year, we’ve seen customers leave the conference inspired, and then return the next year to give presentations on the programs they created,” said Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. 

This year’s exchange, titled “How Well Are Your Energy Efficiency Programs Working?” allowed several regional utilities to present best practices and lessons learned from their energy or water program portfolios to attendees. “It brings so many industry professionals together in an environment that makes it easy to talk,” said Utilities Energy Efficiency Manager Jeff Rice of co-host City of Aspen Utilities. “Say you have a program that isn’t working, you’ll be able to find someone who’s had a similar experience and figure it out.”

Rice added that the RMUE Exchange has introduced him to people and organizations that he might not have encountered or collaborated with otherwise. “Joining the executive council for ReCharge Colorado and getting to know people at Western and [the Department of Energy] has given us access to the state and Federal perspective on energy efficiency,” he said. “All of these resources have played a role in improving Aspen’s programs.”  

Many presentations focused on different challenges of motivating consumers to make energy-efficiency improvements in their homes and businesses. Program managers are discovering that safety, health, comfort and more personal control can be just as effective in driving consumer behavior as the promise of cost savings. 

New technologies for efficiency also featured highly in the discussion. LEDs are playing a bigger role in well-established lighting programs. Several utilities are exploring opportunities for deeper energy savings from whole-building control systems. 

“It’s been very rewarding to watch the RMUE Exchange grow and evolve,” Horstman commented. “Return attendees have gotten comfortable with the ‘share, not stare’ format, so the sessions are much more interactive than they were at the beginning. First-timers were picking up on that and jumping in with their own experiences.”

He added that participants are now able to point to results from programs and partnerships that were just starting five years ago. “We are able to show Western customers the benefits of collaboration, and it is attracting more attendees to the event. This was the biggest year for the exchange yet, and we believe it will continue to grow,” said Horstman.

3 Comments

  • By www.DuPageBlog.com, October 19, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    If only we could get the same response and interest from our county’s utility providers… We can’t even get them to respond to our inquiries via email!

  • By John Schultz, March 22, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Energy efficiency may well be better incented by things like the energy tax credits and deductions provided by EPACT 2005. Its great that utility companies are talking about energy efficiency, but what is their incentive for us to use less energy? Seems like a photo opp, more than a real purpose driven event.

  • By Kevon Storie, March 27, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    John, utilities have a number of reasons to encourage customers to become more efficient. Many utilities today are capacity constrained, and looking for the lowest-cost, clean resource to meet their demand. The integrated resource planning process usually identifies the megawatt you don’t use—the negawatt—to be the cheapest, cleanest megawatt. So demand-side management programs that include efficiency and conservation compare favorably to the alternatives.

    Building new fossil-fueled plants or buying peak power on the open market both drive up the cost of electricity to the utility and the consumer. Further, new plant construction takes time and saddles the utility with long-term financial commitments. Factor in regulatory issues and growing concern about climate change, and energy efficiency looks more and more like the resource of first choice, and not a “photo opp” at all.

    Public power utilities in particular have an obligation to the communities that they serve, and Western customers have seen their DSM programs have a positive effect on local economies. Programs that promote energy-efficiency upgrades to EPAct 2005 and more current standards can also stimulate job creation and workforce development within the community.

    Finally, consider that energy is a product and no business succeeds by throwing away its product. It is simply good business sense for utilities to make sure every kilowatt is used wisely. Perhaps you can join us at the next RMUEE to learn more about how energy efficiency benefits electricity producers and consumers.

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