Springs Utilities adopts new programs to curtail demand on electricity generation | News | #specialneeds | #kids




As Colorado Springs Utilities migrates from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, it’s looking for ways to reduce its load while opening the door to alternative sources of power.

Toward those goals, Utilities will allow nonprofits to build and subscribe community solar gardens, expanding from residential customers and educational institutions.

Another tactic to reduce load comes in the form of an optional new tariff mechanism for time-of-day billing that strives to motivate customers to lower usage at peak times of day.

These steps are important because, for starters, “It is the right thing to do,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says via email.

“In the case of community solar gardens, it is a concept that directly benefits our customers and gives them the opportunity to participate in a sustainable and environmentally responsible form of energy. This is critically important to many of our customers,” he adds.

Time-of-day rates, he notes, “will help us better manage demand on our electric grid as electrification increases (EVs, home-based charging, electric-based appliances, heat pumps, etc.) and it also offers more flexibility to customers to manage their utility costs. Our customers continuously ask us to offer them more rate options. This is one of many ways we hope to deliver on that request.”

Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams says these two steps help avoid the need to build additional generation capacity, even as coal plants are shut down.

“If we can encourage people to run a dishwasher at night instead of early evening,” he says, “that’s less capacity we have to build or buy and, therefore, it saves the ratepayers money.” 

In 2011, Utilities became the first Colorado utility to open a community solar garden, which eventually led to five such projects.

Early on, the pilot program triggered construction of several projects by startup SunShare, launched by a Colorado College grad, Davie Amster-Olszewski.

Solar gardens are intended to enable customers to sign on to solar power and receive credits on their utility bills for power generated and sold back to Utilities; the idea is especially attractive to people whose homes aren’t conducive to rooftop solar.

Amster-Olszewski hoped to keep his headquarters here and build more projects. But Springs Utilities’ pilot program ended in 2013 when a newly seated City Council voted to discontinue it, citing the subsidies involved.



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Springs Utilities has a 20-year purchase agreement in this Duke Energy-owned array.




The change prompted SunShare to move its headquarters to Denver. It’s since built or has started constructing projects that total 150 megawatts in Colorado and other states, including one for Xcel Energy.

Community solar was allowed by Utilities after that, but at terms that weren’t as attractive as those offered through the pilot project.

“The goal in the beginning was to pilot the sustainability of the concept and how effective it could be,” Berry says. “The goal was not to open up the concept to so many individuals and entities that the pilot program became unmanageable for us and wouldn’t give it the best chance for success.”

By 2015, two additional projects were commissioned, after the pilot ended, and today solar gardens produce 4 megawatts of power for Utilities — enough energy to power the equivalent of 780 homes.

Now, Utilities will allow nonprofits to build and connect solar gardens.

(Utilities itself got into the game of solar power and since 2011 has commissioned four solar arrays from which it draws power totaling 111 megawatts.)

Says Berry, “The tariff change was necessary because we’re moving on from the now-outdated 2011 pilot program to a more inclusive community solar garden program that is available to additional rate classes. For example, the pilot program was only available to residential or educational institutions. Now, the non-pilot program will also be available to nonprofits.

“The immediate results will not be very impactful as existing community solar gardens are nearly full, at around 95 percent of capacity,” he says. “However, it does open up future opportunities for customers who want to create a new solar garden project.”

After a planned 175 megawatt solar and 25 megawatt lithium-ion battery storage project is commissioned in December 2023, the city’s stable of renewable energy sources — including solar, wind and hydro power — will comprise about 27 percent of Springs Utilities’ energy portfolio.

But for-profit enterprises’ solar gardens still aren’t welcome in the Utilities service area, and for good reason, Berry says.

“The risk with expanding the program to for-profit companies [is that it] could transform the program into a money-making endeavor (never the intent) and defeats the premise of community solar gardens as an accessible and affordable alternative to rooftop solar,” he says. 

Another tariff change coming in June will impose charges for power based on when that power is used, if customers opt in to the program.

“What that really does is, it helps reduce our overpeak demand, so when we do that, we avoid having to have the infrastructure in place to meet that peak demand,”

Utilities spokesperson Danielle Nieves tells the Indy by phone. “Peak demand might [happen during] one period of time, but you have to have the infrastructure to meet that peak demand. If we can meet that without having to build that infrastructure, we’re better off as a community.”

If customers want to save money under the new rates, they’ll need to sign up for the new rate option and shift times for when they use energy.

The changes are geared to encourage more customers to take advantage of lower rates during those periods considered off-peak.

Effective on June 1, the winter (October through May) on-peak period will shift from 4 to 10 p.m., to 4 to 8 p.m.

The summer (June through September) on-peak period will change from 3 to 7 p.m. to 4 to 8 p.m.

The new tariff also will establish on-peak and off-peak access and facilities charges for summer and winter periods, as follows:

• Access and facilities charge, $0.5641 per day

• Winter on-peak, $0.1207 per kilowatt hour

• Winter off-peak, $0.0604 per kilowatt hour

• Summer on-peak, $0.2414 per kilowatt hour

• Summer off-peak, $0.0604 per kilowatt hour

To compare, the “standard” electric rate option carries an access and facilities charge of $0.5103 per day, and an access and facilities charge per kilowatt hour of $0.0777. 

Time-of-day billing, also called time of use (TOU), isn’t unique to Colorado Springs Utilities.



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Drake Power Plant, which burned coal, has been shut down.




According to Utilitydive.com, a news website for the industry, questions that surround TOU rates include whether such rates actually save consumers money, whether customers understand the rates, and how the rates impact customers who have limited flexibility and special needs.

In a 2019 report, Utilitydive.com noted about half of investor-owned utilities nationwide offer time optional rates for residential customers, but in 10 states where programs are being tested or discussed, only 1.7 percent of customers chose to use them.

A pilot project a decade ago in Sacramento, California, showed that customers reported a high degree of satisfaction and significant load shifting, which is what TOU rates are intended to do.

Other studies have shown customers generally reduced their usage, though only a small segment of customers actually benefited from TOU rates.

Utilitydive.com also reported that customer education is imperative, and cites marketing conducted by Oklahoma Gas and Electric, which persuaded a fifth of their customers to choose TOU rates by offering savings and providing a free smart thermostat.

Still, analysis of data from two pilot programs in California in 2015 showed that converting to TOU rates would cause a less than 1 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

ChooseEnergy.com, an agency that educates consumers and connects customers to energy markets, chiefly in Texas’ deregulated energy market, said TOU could discourage people from buying electric vehicles due to concerns over the cost of on-peak charging. But there are ways to avoid this, such as the New York Power Authority’s proposal that regulators remove demand charges from public EV charging stations.

At the end of the day, however, time-of-use pricing could end up being a bridge to a whole new way of powering homes.

Dr. Travis Simpkins, with consultant muGrid Analytics, which focuses on renewable energy, energy storage and micro-grids, told ChooseEnergy that TOU helps utilities prepare for a time when consumers are their own suppliers.

“In a world where most houses have solar, batteries, and other technologies,” Simpkins said, “the utility will be more of a grid operator, rather than energy supplier.”

Springs Utilities has conducted studies on establishing micro-grids, such as in neighborhoods with houses rigged with solar panels that not only power their own homes but also feed power to Utilities’ power grid. So far, though, no micro-grids have been established. 

Utilities Board Chair Williams says it’s essential that Utilities finds ways to reduce electric demand.

That’s because even if the city didn’t add a single person to its population, he says, electric demand will increase.

Why?

“We use more appliances than we used to — dishwashers, dryers — homes now have multiple computers, TVs,” he says. “All these things use electricity. We like smart things, and most of them are electric.”

Moreover, the city is considering several annexation proposals that could bring tens of thousands of new homes inside city limits.

Williams also notes that as more electric vehicles hit the road and as residents opt for electric water heaters and furnaces, the city’s electric demand will rise.

“We want to make sure we are able to provide those electrical needs in a cost-efficient manner that also meets regulatory requirements,” Williams says.

Colorado statutes mandate that utilities reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from power generation by 80 percent by 2030 from a 2005 benchmark level.

Springs Utilities’ plan was approved last summer and called for 27 percent of its power to be generated by clean sources “to be determined,” the Associated Press reported. While state regulators ruled the plan acceptable, some environmental activists considered the road map to be too vague.

Moves to achieve the state-mandated reduction levels included the recent closure of Drake Power Plant south of Downtown Colorado Springs and a target to close Ray Nixon Power Plant, about 10 miles south of the city, by 2030. 





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