Member Advisory Committee (MAC) meetings & news

Wake Electric hosted its Member Advisory Committee (MAC) Meeting on January 30, February 1 & 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Youngsville Operations Center at 228 Park Ave., Youngsville, NC. More than 150 members attended and were given an update on renewable energy, and the growth of Wake Electric. Each meeting included a catered dinner as well as several drawings for $25 credits on electric bills.  If you have questions about future MAC Meetings, please contact Darnell Alford, Business Operations Specialist, at 919-863-6312 or via e-mail at darnell.alford@wemc.com.


What are MAC meetings?

These information meetings are Wake Electric’s way of helping our members understand the trends and topics affecting their co-op and the energy industry.  These informal meetings are open to all members and feature drawings for $25 electric bill credits and a catered dinner. To learn more about the MAC community or upcoming meetings, contact Darnell Alford, business operations specialist at 919.863.6312 or 800.474.6300 or via email at darnell.alford@wemc.com.

Online MAC community

Each month, the co-op shares energy industry content to interested members about a specific topic.  We also want to provide an opportunity for feedback, just as with our in-person MAC meetings.  The MAC is not a social media or political action program, although it has elements as both.  It is a grassroots program, though not seen as a call-to-action channel.  However, if the issue warrants, we could use it for that purpose.

Past topics have included:  LED lighting, renewables, smart grid, energy efficiency, electric rates and much, much more.

Members can sign up to receive these monthly topics by emailing MAC@wemc.com.


MAC community topics: news & info. on the energy industry, renewable energy, policy, and much more as it relates to Wake Electric

2017

May – Parts Per Billion (Part 2 of the Coal Ash Series)

April – Cost of Coal Ash Removal – $5 billion?

March – New Address for Payments by Mail

February – Trump Energy Policies

January – Mailing a Payment Check to Wake Electric?

2016

December – Energy Storage Economics

November – The Benefits of Growth

October – Renewable Energy Data

The US Energy Information Administration has recently released renewable electricity generation data for 2015.  Click here for details: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1

 The data can be presented in many different ways: installed capacity, BTUs, growth rates, etc.  In this post, the data is presented as a percentage of total electric energy generated (measured in kWh).

The national renewable percentages show a consistent increase in renewable energy generation, particularly wind and solar. Overall, the U.S. gets 13% of its electric energy from renewable sources.

6.0% comes from hydro-electric generation, primarily at the older dams in the Pacific Northwest.

     Washington, Oregon, northern California, Nevada, Colorado, and New York (Niagara Falls)

4.5% comes from relatively new large wind turbines, primarily in the Great Plains.

    Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota

0.8 % comes from relatively new solar (photo-voltaic) panels, primarily in the Desert Southwest.

     Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico

 Early data indicates that North Carolina gets about 4% of its electric energy from renewable sources.  3.8% comes from older hydro-electric generation, primarily along the Roanoke and Catawba Rivers. 0.2 % comes from solar (photo-voltaic) panels. This percentage more than doubled from 2014.  Almost all NC solar generation comes from large-scale solar farms.

 In earlier posts, we have discussed Wake Electric’s compliance strategy with the NC Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires 10% of our energy resources to be renewable by 2018.  Wake Electric has signed 20 year contracts for over 100 million kWh per year of NC solar renewable energy certificates (RECs) or the equivalent of more than 15,000 residential scale rooftop installations.

 Questions about renewable energy or any other topic? Please let us know at mac@wemc.com

 

September – Growing and Growing

For 2015, the third straight year, Wake Electric was the fastest growing of the 26 electric cooperatives in North Carolina.

Founded 75 years ago as a primarily rural electric cooperative to provide electricity in the parts of seven counties where there was none, Wake Electric still serves the same area it always has.

Much of the new growth is due to the expansion of Raleigh and its suburbs. It is also focused near previously small towns like Wake Forest, Rolesville and Knightdale. As the cities and towns have expanded geographically, now more than 12,500 (more than 30 percent) of Wake Electric’s members live inside the city or town limits.

Rather than slowing down, we think that growth could accelerate in the coming years. Looking at the experience of other similar electric cooperatives across the country, those near cities like Atlanta, Dallas and Denver, it appears likely that we will keep growing and growing.

Of course, there will be challenges associated with rapid growth. Providing needed electric generation capacity and energy will require strategic investments. Long-term planning and investments will also be required for adequate backbone transmission, substation and distribution facilities.

We also know that members’ energy needs will change over time. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy storage could drive changes. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles would be a significant new challenge and opportunity.

Throughout our history, Wake Electric has always dealt with the challenges and higher costs of serving a predominately rural area. Our electric rates have always reflected those higher costs. As parts of our service area become less rural, we expect our electric rates to become closer to those of the “big city” power companies.

Questions about Wake Electric’s growth or any other topic? Please let us know at mac@wemc.com.

 

August – Wind Power for Your Electric Vehicle

In past articles, we’ve discussed Wake Electric’s compliance strategy with the NC Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires 10 percent of our energy resources be renewable by 2018.

Part of that strategy includes signing 20-year contracts for over 100 million kWh per year of NC solar renewable energy certificated (RECs) or the equivalent of more than 15,000 residential scale rooftop installations.

Wake Electric also has contracted for a smaller number of renewable energy certifcates (RECs) from wind power resources in places like west Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa. The number of wind RECs is smaller since we are limited to using out-of-state renewables for up to 25 percent of our compliance strategy.

For additional information about RECs, the following link to an EPA video provides a good explanation:

Thanks to favorable wind conditions in the West and Midwest and generous federal tax credits, wind power turbines have become relatively common in that part of the country. As a result, both the actual electric energy produced and the renewable attributes (wind RECS) for this resource have become relatively inexpensive.

Wake Electric is pleased to offer a new feature to our residential electric vehicle rate at no additional cost. (See the actual rate schedule – called “R-EV” for detail at wemc.com.)  In addition to the 2 cents discount for usage between 10 p.m and 6 a.m, Wake Electric will purchase and retire the renewable attributes (wind RECS) associated with 5,000 kWh for each year on the R-EV rate.  That amount of renewable energy should be more than enough to cover recharging your electric vehicle for the year.

Of course, the wind RECs purchased and retired for this program are in addiotn to those purchased and retired for our REPS compliance strategy. So, while you “ride like the wind” in your electic vechile, you know your rid is “wind powered” as well.

If you have questions about wind RECs or the residential electric vehicle rate, contact us at: 919.863.6300 or 800.474.6300 or information@wemc.com.

If you have questions about wind RECs or the residential electric vehicle rate, contact us at: 919.863.6300 or 800.474.6300 or information@wemc.com.  Questions about RECs or any other topic?  Please let us know at mac@wemc.com.

July – Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (Wake Electric will purchase solar RECs on members’ behalf)

In earlier news, Wake Electric has often discussed with our members the co-op’s compliance strategy with the NC Renewable Portfolio Standard. This standard requires 10 percent of Wake Electric’s energy resources to be renewable by 2018.

In implementing that strategy, Wake Electric has signed 20-year contracts for over 100 million kWh per year of NC solar renewable energy certificates (RECs) or the equivalent of more than 15,000 residential scale rooftop installations.

While Wake Electric has contracted with more than 25 large solar farms across eastern NC, none are directly connected to Wake Electric’s distribution system.

This is the same approach primarily used by companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon in meeting their sustainability goals. Of course, the difference for us in that our compliance is not optional but is required by state law.

For additional information about RECs, the following link to an EPA video provides a good explanation:

While Wake Electric has 10 percent of your energy use covered with renewables (primarily solar RECs), a number of members have asked how they might cover some or all of the other 90 percent.

Wake Electric is pleased to offer a new program where members can sign up for Wake Electric to purchase and retire additional solar RECS on their behalf. One solar REC represents the renewable attributes associated with 1,000 kWh and will be priced at $10.  That’s an extra 1 cent per kWh.

No long term commitment is required, so feel free to cancel your additional solar REC request at any time if you change your mind. To sign up for additional solar RECs, please contact customer service during regular business hours, M-F, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., at 919.863.6300 or 800.474.6300 or at information@wemc.com.

Questions about solar RECs or any other topic?  Please let us know at mac@wemc.com.

June – Time-of-Use Program:  Save up to 25% on Your Electric Rate

Would you like to save up to 25% on your electric rate?

Wake Electric’s regular residential rate is 10.944 cents per kWh. Wake Electric’s residential “time of use” off-peak rate is 8 cents per kWh, a 26.9% discount.

The off-peak rate applies for 22 hours per day (Monday-Friday) and all day on weekends and holidays. The on-peak rate period is 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. in winter and 5 pm to 7 p.m. in summer. Said another way, the off-peak rate applies to 94% of the hours in a year. See rate schedule for details and rates are always subject to change.

What’s the catch? The ”time of use” on-peak rate is really expensive at 40 cents per kWh. In order to save money, you really need to avoid using as much electricity as possible during that two hour on-peak period. Many members use a water heater timer and thermostat set-backs to do this automatically. Of course, avoid doing laundry or running the dishwasher as well.

How can we offer such a deep discount for 94% of the time? Because much of our variable cost is determined during the other 6% of the time when members usually use the most electricity and electric loads are the highest. The electric distribution system is designed and built to operate during that 6% of the time. New electric generation facilities are built to provide power during that 6% of the time. Wholesale electricity is much more expensive during that 6% of the time.

Not sure if the “time-of-use” rate will work for you? No problem. Try it out for a year at no risk. As a pilot program limited to 250 participants and for a limited time only, Wake Electric will offer a “money back guarantee”. Click here to see more details.

If you don’t save money during the first year, Wake Electric will refund the difference between what you paid under the “time of use” rate and the amount you would have paid under the regular residential rate.

Questions about “time of use rates” or any other topic? Please let us know at MAC@wemc.com.

May – Traffic Lights That Stay on During Power Outages

LED lighting technology has the potential to be a “game changer” in many ways. Some are expected as the technology matures, such as the new LED area lights that Wake Electric has installed, but some benefits are completely unexpected.

One example is that since nearly all traffic signals now use LED technology and use much less electricity to operate, it is now practical to consider installing battery back-up systems to operate traffic signals during a power outage.

While the average annual outage time for any Wake Electric service location is only about two hours per year, even a short outage affecting a traffic signal at a busy intersection can cause a serious problem.

In addition to the obvious public safety issues, inoperable traffic signals can cause traffic jams that make it difficult for Wake Electric’s service vehicles to move from place to place to restore electric service.

As a result, Wake Electric has installed battery back-up systems on all the traffic signals in our service area. These systems provide about 4 hours of normal operation.

We have also installed an extra “smart meter” to monitor the output of the battery back-up system and report any problems or if the battery power had been depleted.

While we are not aware of any other electric utility in North Carolina that provides this service, we think that it is a great opportunity that other electric utilities should consider.

Do you have a question or comment about Wake Electric providing battery back-up power to traffic signals? Suggestions for future topics? Please submit them to MAC@wemc.com.

 

April – Last Year in Review

It’s been three years since we introduced the Member Advisory Community, an on-line extension of our in-person Member Advisory Committee. Our intent was to briefly discuss a single topic each month that Wake Electric members would find interesting and relevant.

The following topics were covered last year:

25) Energy Trends – Electrification

26) Energy Trends – Energy Conservation & Energy Efficiency

27) Energy Trends – Renewables

28) Voltage Optimization – Its 120 Volts, right?

29) EPA Carbon Dioxide Rules

30) China is Booming

31) The World’s Biggest Environmental Problem

32) How to Avoid Late Fees, Service Charges, Deposits, Etc.

33) Energy Policy and Electric Rates – Wide Range Across the U.S.

34) Energy Policy and Electric Rates – Moving Away from Low Cost Coal

35) Applied Technology – Talking to Electric Meters

36) Applied Technology – Talking to Circuit Breakers

While some of these topics are somewhat controversial, we understand that Wake Electric serves a diverse membership with many diverse viewpoints. While we certainly have our own perspective as well, we try to present the topics with a balanced approach that leaves room for other opinions.

We also wanted to provide an opportunity for feedback, just as with our in-person meetings. We have received dozens of your questions and comments. We find this exchange of ideas and viewpoints very helpful in developing and refining Wake Electric’s position on these issues.

Have you found these posts to be helpful? What topics would you like to see covered in the future? Is there a better way to present these topics?

You can contact us by e-mail us at MAC@wemc.com.

 

March – Applied Technology:  Talking to Electric Meters

Several years ago, using newly available technology, nearly every meter on the Wake Electric system started talking to us.  So what kind of conversations do you have with your electric meter?

As you might expect, much of the conversation is about electricity usage.  Rather than one meter reading per month used for billing, electric meters now report hourly usage.  You can see your hourly consumption data online or with the free SmartHub app.  Looking at your hourly usage can help spot opportunities for energy conservation.  Meters tell us all kinds of things:  if it sense high or low voltage, high temperature and if there is a power outage.  Or if an outage has been restored.  Outage data is automatically displayed on Wake Electric’s online outage map.  So, if your power goes out, wait a couple of minutes and then check the outage map with your smart phone or tablet.  Individual outages show as small dots and larger outages as larger dots.  As our crews restore a larger outage, the dots get smaller and eventually disappear.

Many of our new electric meters have a remote connect/disconnect function.  For pre-pay accounts, the meter will disconnect when the balance reaches zero and reconnect when money is added to the account.  More than 1,400 members have switched to pre-pay.  No late fees, service charges or deposits.  For other accounts, such as apartments with folks frequently moving in and out, the remote control function is faster and avoids sending field personnel to the location for each connect or disconnect.

Communication with your electric meter enables several new ways for you to be more informed.  If you need help using any of these new tools, please let us know.

Do you have questions or comments about our new meter communications technology? If so, please contact us at mac@wemc.com Thanks.

February – Energy Policy and Electric Rates – Part 2

In last month’s post, we discussed the detailed information published by the US Energy Information Administration on average rates for electricity by state.  Many states that currently have some of the lowest average electric rates in the country use coal to generate most of the state’s electricity (Kentucky, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, for example).  These states boast low electric rates in spite of having rural, sparsely populated service areas with high distribution costs.  As the US considers the energy policy changes (in the context of carbon dioxide emissions limits proposed by the EPA), we think that many of these states will see very significant cost increases as they replace much of their coal-fired generation.  Some studies indicate that they may see electric rate increases of over 50 percent.  As a result, many of these states could move from the low cost end to the high cost end of the rate list.

As discussed previously, North Carolina began the transition away from coal-fired generation more than 10 years ago and should see more modest rate increases as the transition continues.  Hopefully, we will continue to see North Carolina’s electric rates at or below the national median in the coming years.

Average Price of Electricity by State – August 2015 – Cents per kWh

Washington                                         9.36
Louisiana                                             9.60
Oklahoma                                           10.11
Kentucky                                            10.29
Tennessee                                         10.29
Idaho                                                  10.29
Arkansas                                            10.39
West Virginia                                      10.63
Oregon                                               10.68
Mississippi                                         10.96
North Dakota                                     11.16
Indiana                                               11.18
Montana                                             11.31
Utah                                                    11.45
Wyoming                                             11.50
Texas                                                  11.51
North Carolina                                     11.63
Virginia                                                11.69
South Dakota                                      11.72
Florida                                                 11.77
Alabama                                             12.05
Nebraska                                            12.19
Georgia                                               12.20
Nevada                                                12.36
Missouri                                               12.38
Illinois                                                  12.41
Kansas                                                12.44
Colorado                                             12.47
South Carolina                                    12.59
Arizona                                                12.64
District of Columbia                             12.94
Minnesota                                            12.97
Ohio                                                     13.08
New Mexico                                         13.35
Delaware                                             13.55
Iowa                                                     13.92
Maryland                                              13.93
Pennsylvania                                        14.22
Wisconsin                                             14.64
Michigan                                               15.43
Maine                                                    15.49
New Jersey                                           16.65
Vermont                                                17.12
New Hampshire                                    17.15
Massachusetts                                      17.99
California                                               18.24
New York                                               18.44
Rhode Island                                         18.86
Connecticut                                           19.20
Alaska                                                    21.01
Hawaii                                                    29.87

Do you have questions or comments about state energy policies and average electric rates? If so, please contact us at mac@wemc.com Thanks.

January – Energy Policy and Electric Rates

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes detailed information on average rates for electricity by state.

The average residential rates for August 2015 by state range from a low of 9.36 cents per kWh for Washington to a high of 29.87 cents per kWh for Hawaii. The average rate for North Carolina is 11.63 cents per kWh, currently somewhat lower than the national median of 12.41 cents per kWh.

The extremes are driven by geography, from low cost hydroelectric resources in Washington, Oregon & Idaho to the high cost of oil-fired generation in Alaska and Hawaii. Many other states’ average rates are driven primarily by state energy policy. New York and California, with average electric rates above 18 cents per kWh, are examples where the state’s energy policies have resulted in higher costs and electricity rates more than 50% higher than NC.

Looking to Europe, electric rates are generally much higher. Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Italy all have average residential electric rates of more than 30 cents per kWh.

As we consider changes to energy policy both nationally and in North Carolina, we think it is helpful to compare our policy options to those already adopted by other states (and countries). For example, if we were considering energy policy revisions similar to those made by New York and California (or Europe), we think it is reasonable to expect that our state’s electric rates would increase significantly.

Average Price of Electricity by State – August 2015 – Cents per kWh

Washington                                         9.36
Louisiana                                             9.60
Oklahoma                                           10.11
Kentucky                                            10.29
Tennessee                                         10.29
Idaho                                                  10.29
Arkansas                                            10.39
West Virginia                                      10.63
Oregon                                               10.68
Mississippi                                         10.96
North Dakota                                     11.16
Indiana                                               11.18
Montana                                             11.31
Utah                                                    11.45
Wyoming                                             11.50
Texas                                                  11.51
North Carolina                                     11.63
Virginia                                                11.69
South Dakota                                      11.72
Florida                                                 11.77
Alabama                                             12.05
Nebraska                                            12.19
Georgia                                               12.20
Nevada                                                12.36
Missouri                                               12.38
Illinois                                                  12.41
Kansas                                                12.44
Colorado                                             12.47
South Carolina                                    12.59
Arizona                                                12.64
District of Columbia                             12.94
Minnesota                                            12.97
Ohio                                                     13.08
New Mexico                                         13.35
Delaware                                             13.55
Iowa                                                     13.92
Maryland                                              13.93
Pennsylvania                                        14.22
Wisconsin                                             14.64
Michigan                                               15.43
Maine                                                    15.49
New Jersey                                           16.65
Vermont                                                17.12
New Hampshire                                    17.15
Massachusetts                                      17.99
California                                               18.24
New York                                               18.44
Rhode Island                                         18.86
Connecticut                                           19.20
Alaska                                                    21.01
Hawaii                                                    29.87

Do you have questions or comments about state energy policies and average electric rates? If so, please contact us at mac@wemc.com Thanks.

December – How to Avoid Late Fees, Service Charges, Deposits, Etc.

Wake Electric members will pay over $500,000 in late fees and service charges for collections in 2015.  In a typical month, 7,000 members will incur a $5 minimum late fee and 150 members will actually be disconnected/reconnected for non-payment with associated service charges of at least $50.
In addition, Wake Electric currently holds security deposits on nearly 5,000 accounts unable to provide a good payment history or credit score sufficient to establish credit with us.  Those security deposits total more than $1.6 million.
We wish those numbers were closer to zero and they could be.  Several years ago, Wake Electric introduced a pre-pay option.  No extra cost, no transactions fees, no late fees, no service charges for collections, and no deposits.  You buy electricity the same way you buy gas for your car.  You buy it, then you use it.  When you run lower, you buy more.  If you run out, you are out until you buy more.
You can view your account balance online and we can call/email/text when your balance is low.  You can as little as $25 per transaction.  While there is no limit on the number of transactions, most members recharge their account about once each week.  You can recharge your account online, by telephone or at our office with a credit/debit card.  You can also make payments at any Walmart or CVS location.  See store requirements for payment options.
While more than 1,300 members have already signed up for pre-pay, we think that many more could save money and see significant benefits.  For additional details or to sign up for pre-pay, contact Wake Electric’s customer service office at 1.800.474.6300 or 919.863.6300.
Do you have a question or a comment about the pre-pay concept?  If so, please contact us at mac@wemc.com.

 November – The World’s Biggest Environmental Problem

Generally, we try to limit our topics in this forum to issues that affect Wake Electric members directly. Recently, we have gotten a bit further afield with a topic with global implications (EPA’s rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions) and how China, in particular, may impact our efforts to solve that puzzle. Keeping that broader perspective for one more topic, let’s think about the opportunities for rural electrification on a global scale.

According to a new study by the World Health Organization, the world’s biggest environmental problem is indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution causes the premature deaths of 4.3 million people each year, primarily in rural Africa and India.

It’s hard for us to imagine the scale of this ongoing catastrophe since premature death from indoor air pollution in the US is practically zero. It’s also hard for us to imagine that much of the world’s deadly indoor air pollution comes from cooking.

Seventy-five years ago, when electricity was just coming to the rural US, a wood-fired cook stove in the kitchen was standard equipment. As soon as electricity was available, however, the transition to the electric range came quickly. By the mid-1950s, most of the wood cook stoves had disappeared.

Bringing central station electricity to rural America was certainly beneficial to everyone but no one benefited more than the women who spent much of their day in the kitchen. Many women in rural Africa and Asia are still waiting for electricity (and dying prematurely).

Building a reliable electric generation, transmission and distribution system for rural Africa and India would be a huge undertaking but we know how to do this. With current technology, it should be easier, cheaper and cleaner than our rural electrification efforts 75 years ago.

We clearly have the ability to solve the world’s biggest environmental problem and prevent millions of premature deaths. Yet, there seems to be little interest in proceeding. Much of the world’s environmental attention and resources are focused instead on longer term issues (such as global climate change) where the potential solutions are currently far less obvious.

Do you have a question or comment about indoor air pollution? If so, please contact us at mac@wemc.com Thanks.

 

October – China is Booming

As discussed in last month’s post about carbon dioxide emissions, the developing world (particularly China) is becoming increasingly important in terms of global resources.  We are coming to realize that our decisions (such as energy and environmental policy), while still important, no longer play a dominant or leadership role globally.

The population of the U.S. is 320 million, roughly 4 percent of the world’s population of 7.3 billion.  Both China and India have populations of roughly 1.3 billion or 4 times the U.S. population.  Unlike India, China is quickly making the transition to a modern economy.  By any measure, even with the recent slowdown, China is booming.

In electric utility terms, China now has 1,250 Gigawatts of electric generation capacity.  That’s about 25 percent more than U.S. generation capacity of about 1,000 Gigawatts.

For more statistics about China’s energy sector, click here.

A few interesting facts from the report include:

  • China consumes almost half of the total coal produced in the world.
  • China is the world’s largest coal producer.  It is also the biggest coal importer.  Most of China’s coal imports come from Indonesia and Australia.
  • China produces almost half of the world’s steel.  In 2013, they produced 779 million tons of steel.  By comparison, the U.S. produced 87 million tons.

While the U.S. remains the only military superpower, China is well on its way to becoming an economic superpower.  China clearly has its own agenda and makes its own rules when it comes to energy and environmental policy.

It is within this context that we are attempting to solve the problem of global climate change by dramatically reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal. China appears to be happy to let us try.

Do you have a question or comment about the EPA’s final rule on carbon dioxide emissions? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

September – EPA Carbon Dioxide Rules

As widely reported in the news media, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its final rules for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the U.S. While much has been said about the overall national goals, the actual EPA rules are state specific, which is unprecedented.

Last year, in commenting on the proposed rules, we described some of the EPA’s subjective assumptions as “counter-productive, arbitrary and unfair”. To EPA’s credit, many of those assumptions have been replaced or corrected in the final version. However, EPA’s continued unwillingness to recognize existing nuclear power generation in calculating a state’s “carbon footprint” is still puzzling. For North Carolina, where one-third of the state’s electricity is nuclear (with zero carbon dioxide emissions), it dramatically overstates the carbon dioxide emissions from generating electricity.

The speed and scope of the new EPA rules are remarkable. Many states that primarily use coal to generate electricity are being required by the EPA to quickly replace many of the state’s power plants. While the final rules are set for 2030, interim steps require that many of the replacement power plants will need to be in operation by 2022. Regardless of the costs, which will be very significant in some states, seven years to plan and build new power plants is a very ambitious (some say impossible) timeline.

The top ten states that will see the most impact are Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and West Virginia. We think it is safe to say that these states, and possibly others including North Carolina, will use every opportunity (legal, political and public opinion) to make their case that the new EPA rules are far too aggressive and will be far too expensive.

One of the arguments they will make is that the basis for the new rules (climate change resulting from carbon dioxide emissions) is a global issue. China currently adds 40 new coal-fired power plants each year and by 2030, China alone is projected to add 10 times the amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that the new EPA rules would reduce. Some will also argue that the EPA ban on all new coal-fired power plants and the forced retirement of 100 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. will make little difference when worldwide, 59 different countries are expected to build more than 1,200 new coal-fired power plants in the next 10 years.

For North Carolina, we think the new EPA rules will probably accelerate the current transition from coal to natural gas for generating electricity. As discussed in earlier posts, N.C. electric utilities have already invested at least $7 billion in that transition. As a result, Wake Electric’s generation mix has declined from 40% coal to 20% coal since 2005.

Do you have a question or comment about the EPA’s final rule on carbon dioxide emissions? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

August – Voltage Optimization – it’s 120 volts, right?

Actually, the standard is 120 volts plus or minus 5 percent.  Or, anywhere between 114 and 126 volts.
In the past, we typically designed and operated the electric distribution system in a way to use the full voltage range so that during a peak period, the first house (one closest to a substation) on a distribution circuit would see about 126 volts and the last house would see about 114 volts.  The drop in voltage is caused by the electrical resistance in the power line conductor and reflects energy lost as heat.

As the wholesale cost of electricity has increased over the years, we have found it to be cost effective to invest capital in additional conductor capacity to reduce losses.  We have also added additional communications equipment, voltage regulators and capacitors to better control the distribution voltage.  As a result, we are no longer using the full range of standard voltage on many circuits during normal operations.

The unused voltage range gives us a new tool to use in determining the optimal voltage profile on a feeder-by-feeder and minute-by-minute basis.  During a peak load period, for example, we could reduce the first house voltage to 120 volts and, due to the increased efficiency of the larger conductor, still have at least 114 volts at the last house on the feeder.  Also, each residential meter provides an alarm function if the voltage is outside the acceptable voltage range.  That real-time optimization would allow us to reduce load during peak periods and reduce wholesale power costs without a noticeable change for the member.  Early indications are that a 5 percent voltage reduction results in a 3 to 4 percent reduction in load.

All this gets complicated since Wake Electric operates 19 substations and 3,000 miles of power lines on 100 different circuits or feeders.  Most feeders are monitored and managed individually.  Obviously, it takes highly automated systems to optimize these voltage profiles.

But it seems that it’s worth the investment and the effort.  An optimal voltage profile across the system could significantly reduce our wholesale power costs.

Do you have a question or comment about Wake Electric’s voltage optimization plan?  Suggestions for future topics? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

July – Energy Trends:  Renewables

In recent posts, we have discussed some historical trends that influence members’ perceptions on energy use including 1) “Live Better Electrically”, 2) Energy Conservation and 3) Energy Efficiency. We think the most recent trend or layer to consider is Renewables.

Starting about ten years ago, the topic of Renewable Energy became very popular. In some ways, it was similar to the Energy Conservation trend of the late 1970s in that the focus was as a solution to a national crisis. In this case, the crisis was “global warming” or “climate change” attributed to using fossil fuels (primarily coal) to generate electricity.

In North Carolina, there were two primary drivers: 1) a state mandate that required electric utilities to generate 10 percent of the electricity output using renewables by 2018 and 2) state tax credits that when combined with federal tax credits and corporate tax accounting benefits that could cover more than 80 percent of the cost of solar generation. As you might expect, that combination of mandated purchases and favorable economics has produced a large number of solar farms across North Carolina.

For Wake Electric, the combination produced an opportunity to sign long-term agreements to purchase solar renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with 75 million kWh annually from 23 large solar farms in eastern North Carolina. That is the equivalent of 10,000 typical residential rooftop solar systems and should be sufficient to meet the state renewables requirement.

For Wake Electric members directly, the renewables trend is harder to quantify. We think that lower solar panel prices and energy storage technology may make these systems more economically attractive in the future. However, some state and federal tax credits may soon expire which makes the economics worse. Also, some members think that environmental objectives associated with renewables are better achieved through conservation and/or energy efficiency.

Even with the rationale of increasing renewables to reduce the effects of “climate change” and the equivalence with energy conservation or energy efficiency, the renewables trend does not appear to significantly decrease members’ overall use of electricity from Wake Electric. It certainly introduces another layer into how members think about their electricity use.

So what’s next? A continuation of the current multi-layered approach? A new technology that pushes an older trend or layer back to the forefront? Something new? As we reflect on the 75 year history of Wake Electric and then look to the future, we assume that new trends will develop and new layers will be added to the already complicated and sometimes conflicting multi-layered approach that we see today.

Questions about energy trends?  Suggestions for future topics?  Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

June – Energy Conservation & Energy Efficiency

In last month’s post, we discussed the dramatic increases in electricity use in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s as Wake Electric members installed new electric appliances and residential air conditioning. We have labeled that trend “Live Better Electrically” after the General Electric advertising campaign. The result was that by 1978, Wake Electric members’ average electricity use had tripled to 900 kWh per month.

About the same time, however, the term “energy conservation” was in the news, as you can see in this address from then-president Jimmy Carter.

While the issue was specifically about oil and natural gas resources, overall energy conservation (including electricity) was seen as a national priority. It certainly defined the trend in perceptions of energy use in that “using less energy was better”.

For Wake Electric members, the result was a significant decline in the rate of increase of electricity use. Eight years later, by 1986, Wake Electric members’ average electricity use had continued to increase but only from 900 kWh to 1,000 kWh per month.

While the “energy conservation” trend is now seen as more of a personal or economic choice and less of a national priority, it certainly added a layer of complexity in how we think about using electricity.

While “energy conservation” is about doing less with less, “energy efficiency” is about doing the same or more with less. It’s the difference between 1) turning lights off and 2) replacing light bulbs with LEDs.

For nearly twenty years, the trend was all about energy efficiency. Between federal standards, state building codes and market pressures, many residential appliances and heat pumps/air conditioning units now used far less electricity for the same result. We would have expected to see energy use per member to decline during that period.

Surprisingly, Wake Electric members’ average electricity use continued to slowly increase during that period from about 1,000 kWh per month to about 1,200 kWh per month. We think there are a couple of reasons. First, is the potential “rebound effect” of energy efficiency improvements.

Second, we think that energy efficiency is just another layer built on earlier layers, including the “Live Better Electrically” layer. Members continue to add new uses of electricity such as more TVs, more PCs and many more mobile devices that need to be plugged in to recharge. The combined effect is a reduced rate of increase but still increasing amount of electricity use

Questions about energy trends?  Suggestions for future topics?  Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

May – Energy Trends: Electrification (Live Better Electrically)

Last month, we discussed four major trends (electrification, conservation, energy efficiency, and renewables) that have shaped members’ thinking about using electricity over Wake Electric’s 75 year history.
This month, we’ll start at the beginning, with electrification.  In 1940, the year that Wake Electric was incorporated, electricity was used primarily for lighting.  Many members initially used less than 50 kWh per month.  By 1950s, however, many electric appliances were becoming popular.  General Electric’s “Live Better Electrically” campaign was an example.

Live Better Electrically
Ronald Regan GE Theatre

For Wake Electric members, the big jump in electricity use began in the 1960s with the introduction of residential air conditioning, followed by electric heat pumps for heating and cooling.  In 1960, the average energy used per residential member was 300 kWh per month.  That amount increased to 500 kWh per month by 1968 and 700 kWh per month in 1973.  By 1978, average residential electricity use had grown to 900 kWh per month.  That was a 300 percent increase in just 18 years.

In some ways, the trend to “live better electrically” continues to be the baseline for residential energy use but the world was changing, as we’ll see in next month’s post.

Questions about energy trends?  Suggestions for future topics?  Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

April – Energy Trends – Four Major Trends in a 75-year History

1

As we celebrate Wake Electric’s 75th anniversary, we’ll try to put that history into perspective by highlighting some of the most popular energy trends from decades past.

Electrification – “Live Better Electrically” (Starting in the 1950s) – Over the years, Wake Electric has encouraged members to consider using electricity for new things. Sixty years ago, we were offering special rates and cooking classes for using your new electric stove. Our original customer service office in Wake Forest, built back in the 1950s, actually had a “demonstration” electric kitchen off the lobby. Later, we encouraged members to consider switching to electric heat pumps to heat their homes. Now, most members use electricity for many uses that were once considered novel: lighting, refrigeration, well pumps, cooking, water heating, laundry, and heating/cooling.

Conservation (Mainly since the late 1970’s) – Many members try to conserve electricity by avoiding waste, turning off lights and adjusting their heating/cooling thermostat. All residential members have on-line access (SmartHub) to hourly usage data to help identify conservation opportunities. The most effective way to conserve is to switch over the pre-pay and over 1,100 Wake Electric members have already done so. National studies indicate most folks that pre-pay for electricity use 10% less.

Energy Efficiency (New standards starting in the 1980s) – Many homes are much more energy efficient than in the past. Better construction and insulation, more efficient lighting, appliances and heating/cooling systems all contribute to improved energy efficiency. Most homes can become even more energy efficient but at some point, additional investments produce diminishing returns. We think a good general rule is that investments in energy efficiency should pay for themselves in 7 to 10 years. Again, access to hourly usage data (SmartHub & Green Button) provided free by Wake Electric can provide the data to make good decisions.

Renewables (Mostly since 2005) – Many large solar farms have been built in eastern North Carolina, due primarily to favorable federal and state tax credits. Wake Electric has helped with the financial feasibility of 23 of these large solar projects by signing long-term contracts to purchase the solar renewable energy credits associated with more than 75 million kWh annually. That’s the equivalent of more than 10,000 residential scale solar installations.Residential scale rooftop solar projects continue to have less economic benefits with the average installed cost per watt more than double that of larger projects.

From Wake Electric’s perspective, this 75 year history reflects a fairly complex multi-layered approach. All of these trends or layers play a role in how members think about their energy options. Some members concentrate on one trend while others might use a combination of all four to find an approach that feels right for them.

Questions about energy trends? Suggestions for future topics? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

March – Spotlight Solar

Over the next few days, we will install several solar arrays at Wake Electric’s new office building in downtown Wake Forest. The arrays were designed and built by Spotlight Solar in Chapel Hill and will be installed by PowerSecure Solar in Wake Forest.

We also plan to install several energy storage units using lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles. Those units will store the solar power produced during the middle of the day for use during the next peak load period, which is early morning in the winter and late afternoon in the summer.  We think this will be a good opportunity for us to learn more about how to much of seamlessly integrate small scale solar and energy storage technologies.

 Wake Electric is already purchasing solar renewable energy credits for more than 75 million kWh annually from 23 large solar farms across eastern North Carolina, the equivalent of more than 10,000 residential-scale solar installations. We look forward to using the Spotlight Solar arrays to highlight Wake Electric’s commitment to use solar power to meet the state requirement for renewable energy.

Questions about solar energy? Suggestions for future topics? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

February – Time-of-Use-Rates

Last month, we discussed the economics of using energy storage to increase the value of solar power by “time shifting” solar generation from primarily off-peak to on-peak.  A number of members had comments and questions about also “time shifting” their energy usage to take advantage of Wake Electric’s time-of-use residential rate.

Our current “time-of-use” residential rate is as follows:  the on-peak rate of 27.16 cents per kWh for 4 to 5 hours per day (five days per week) is 3.5 times the off-peak rate of 7.76 cents for the rest of the day (and all day on weekends).

The 7.76 cents “off-peak” rate per kWh is nearly a 30 percent discount from our regular rate of 10.944 cents per kWh for nearly 90 percent of the hours in a year.  Even using the same amount of energy, if you can “time shift” much of your energy use to “off peak” hours, there can be a significant savings.  Many members can do that by using a water heater timer or programmable thermostat for your heating and/or air conditioning system.

A word of caution, however:  time-of-use rates are not for everyone.  You have to pay attention when you use electricity.  If not, your electric bill could go up, not down.

Much of Wake Electric’s wholesale power costs are determined by energy use during peak periods.  A time-of-use retail rate actually reflects those costs more accurately.  Also, new power plants are bult primarily to provide energy during peak periods.  Anything we can do to avoid building new power plants saves money and avoids new environmental concerns. Questions about rates? Suggestions for future topics? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

January – Energy Storage Economics

In last month’s post, we talked about the potential for an increasing role for energy storage, particularly for solar power.  A number of members asked questions about the economics of energy storage so we thought a follow-up post might be helpful.

In order to maximize the benefits of energy storage to solar power, interested members should consider Wake Electric’s “time of use rate” residential rate.  For our current “time of use” residential rate, the on-peak rate of 27.16 cents per kWh for 4 to 5 hours per day is 3. 5 times the off-peak rate of 7.76 cents for the rest of the day.  Said another way, using energy storage to “time shift” solar power from off-peak to on-peak increases the retail value by 3.5 times or nearly 20 cents per kWh.

Of course, it costs something to store the energy, even for a few hours.  With current lithium-ion technology, a battery to store 1 kWh of energy costs about $500.  Assuming a life of 2,500 charge/discharge cycles (about a ten-year life) gives you 2,500 cycles to recoup the cost.  So, $500 divided by 2,500 one kWh cycle is 20 cents per kWh , or about the same as the increased value – essentially a break-even proposition using today’s battery costs.

Some projections of battery costs indicate the costs might be as low as $100 per kWh in the relatively near future.  If so, the battery cost per cycle drops to 4 cents.  Spending 4 cents to gain an incremental value of 20 cents per kWh would appear to be a very attractive economic option.

While energy storage economics can work with or without solar, energy storage can solve solar power’s two big limiting factors:  the mismatch between solar power’s midday peak and when folks use electricity the most (early morning in winter and late afternoon in summer) and solar intermittency on a partly-cloud day.

Even without federal and state tax credits in the future, if they are not extended, we think the declining costs of both solar power and energy storage may make the combination a compelling alternative.

Questions about energy storage economics?  Suggestions for future topics?  Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.

 

2014

December – Energy Storage – The “Missing Link” for Solar

Energy storage has been in the news recently with the recent announcement of Alevo’s new batter plant that may bring 6,000 jobs to the Charlotte area.

Research in battery technology and large scale manufacturing by companies like Alevo has the potential to greatly reduce the cost of energy storage. We think cost-effective energy storage is the “missing link” for solar power.

Energy storage could be the key to solving two big problems: the mismatch between when most solar power is produced (middle of the day) and when folks use it most (early morning in the winter and late afternoon / early evening in the summer) and intermittency on partly-cloudy days (with rapid up and down variations in the amount of solar power produced).  State and federal tax policy will also impact the deployment of these new solar/storage systems. We understand there is a good chance that the federal solar tax credit may be expanded to include solar/storage investments.

On the other hand, unless extended, the 35 percent state solar tax credit will expire in 2016 and the 30 percent federal solar tax credit drops to 10 percent in 2017.

Early next year, Wake Electric plans to install a small prototype solar / energy storage system to learn more about this technology and hopefully demonstrate its capabilities. Expect to hear more about this project in the coming months.

Questions or comments about energy storage? Suggestions for future topics? Please respond to MAC@wemc.com.