Getting to “yes” with cities and neighborhoods.
Suzanne Pletcher is Director of Communications for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), where she works to share SWEEP’s marketplace analyses and support proactive public policy in the region. She is an award-winning public relations and investor relations professional and former journalist who founded the Boulder County Business Report in Colorado. Adam Bickford is a Senior Associate in the SWEEP utility program, where he specializes in demand-side management program review, participation in utility rate cases and legislative analysis. Dr. Bickford has worked as an evaluator and policy analyst for more than 20 years, most recently for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of Energy where he participated in rule making that established the structure of the Missouri Energy Efficiency Investment Act.
When Xcel Energy Colorado first asked the state's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in May of 2015 to approve an energy savings plan to replace 96,000 High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) streetlights owned by Xcel Energy with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lamps, the utility envisioned a straightforward plan: Replace the lights street by street, city by city, in a logical progression over five years.
But that's not what happened. As it turned out, everything about the plan except for the five-year time frame got tweaked before the PUC approved the final version in October 2015. Yet during the six months of mediated discussions over the terms of the plan, Xcel Energy was able to forge stronger customer relationships and develop a streetlight conversion plan that everyone approved.
Robert J. Osborn, who works as special projects manager in Xcel Energy Colorado's regulatory administration department, explains:
"We recognized that there were cities that had concerns. Even though streetlights are 1 percent of our business, these cities are all huge stakeholders who are involved in the other 99 percent, so we tried to make this work in a way that was as collaborative as possible."
The story that follows will show how Xcel Energy and its municipal customers attained their agreement. And it will offer lessons for other public utilities and communities that are planning LED streetlight conversions.