Retired utility engineer helps Omaha charities reduce peak electricity costs

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Louis Lester applies his knowledge of utility rates and charges to help nonprofits lower their energy bills.

A retired utility engineer uses his expertise to help Nebraska charities reduce their peak electricity use and monthly energy bills.

Louis Lester, who previously managed distribution planning for the Omaha Public Electric District, has been volunteering since January as part of a Nebraskans for Solar program to help nonprofits lower their electricity bills. energy.

Green Watts for Good had focused on the opportunities around solar panels, but Lester broadened that scope to include power management strategies to keep power-hungry devices from running at the same time.

This type of load transfer, like making sure chillers start at staggered times, can be very cost effective thanks to the way some utilities structure their bills, the maximum energy consumption of a customer over the course of time. a billing cycle determining a significant portion of what he pays. .

“These nonprofits don’t know where to start. You look at your electric bill, and there are a lot of numbers on it. What does it mean? You have to know what it means to know what [you] could do to change it, ”Lester said. “This is where we try to help them.

No More Empty Pots, which provides job training, education and support for entrepreneurs in the Omaha food industry, pays Omaha’s public power district over $ 500 per month in application fees based on its load. peak. Co-founder and CEO Nancy Williams initially asked for help installing solar panels, but Lester encouraged her to prioritize other upgrades first.

A team from the Energy Technology Program at Creighton University conducted an in-depth study of the charity’s energy use. The results, Lester said, reveal a building “out of whack”, running heating, cooling and other systems at times when they are not needed. Now, the organization plans to hire a company to install a load management system that will better synchronize the use of its devices to reduce application fees.

Green Watts for Good provided $ 13,000 to help the Heartland Hope Mission install a 5 megawatt generator on top of its facility that provides food, clothing, personal items and job search assistance. Lester is now analyzing mission invoices, looking for a way to eliminate application fees that cost around $ 500 per month.

Chelsea Salifou, chief executive of the mission, told Nebraskans for Solar that she hopes changes in their energy consumption and supply “will allow us to devote more of our resources to providing food and other supplies. basic needs of working poor families in our community. “

Lester’s experience in the Omaha Public Power District and his understanding of the company’s pricing structure has been a boon, said Helen Deffenbacher, member of Nebraskans for Solar. Lester demonstrated the money and energy saving value of careful planning of equipment operation, “something we wouldn’t have thought of,” she said.

The economics of such investments are tied to Lester’s previous employment in the utility, which involved planning for system upgrades to ensure it could meet anticipated electricity needs.

“The reason you have an application fee is this spike [power use] is what drives utilities to build facilities, ”Lester said. “If you lower the peak, you don’t need to build new power plants, substations and everything. “

Lester and Nebraskans for Solar see great potential for reducing energy bills for nonprofits, and at the same time reducing peak utility demand, which also has environmental benefits. Peak demand represents a disproportionate amount of emissions, as it often forces utilities to fire up old, dirty and inefficient power plants.

The aim is to work with as many nonprofits as possible within the OPPD territory and possibly beyond to help them reduce peak usage and also install solar power when it is. financially possible.

The group is preparing a presentation based on Lester’s work that they plan to present in an upcoming virtual workshop.

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