The retired utility company is helping Omaha charities reduce peak electricity charges

Louis Lester uses his knowledge of utilities and fees to help nonprofits reduce their energy bills.

A retired utility company uses their expertise to help Nebraska charities reduce their peak electricity usage and monthly energy bills.

Louis Lester, who previously headed distribution planning for the Omaha Public Power District, has been volunteering for a Nebraskans for Solar program since January to help nonprofits reduce their energy bills.

Green Watts for Good had focused on solar panel opportunities, but Lester added energy management strategies to this scope to prevent energy-intensive devices from running at the same time.

This type of load shift, e.g. For example, ensuring that chillers are turned on at staggered times can pay off thanks to the way some utilities structure their bills, with a customer’s maximum energy consumption during a billing cycle determining a significant portion of what they pay for.

“These nonprofits don’t know where to start. You look at your electricity bill and there are lots of numbers. What does that mean? You have to know what it means to know what [you] could do to change it, ”Lester said. “We’ll try to help them there.”

No More Empty Pots, which provides vocational training, education, and support to entrepreneurs in Omaha’s food industry, pays the Omaha Public Power District more than $ 500 monthly in demand fees based on its peak load. Co-founder and CEO Nancy Williams first sought help installing solar panels, but Lester encouraged her to prioritize other upgrades first.

A team from Creighton University’s energy technology program conducted a comprehensive study of the charity’s energy use. The results, Lester says, reveal a building that is “getting out of hand” and operating heating, cooling and other systems when they are not needed. Now the company plans to hire a company to install a load management system that will better synchronize appliance usage to lower the demand fee.

Green Watts for Good donated $ 13,000 to help the Heartland Hope Mission install a 5 megawatt array on their facility to provide food, clothing, personal items, and job search assistance. Lester is now analyzing the mission’s bills and looking for a way to eliminate the inquiry fee, which costs about $ 500 a month.

Chelsea Salifou, the Mission’s executive director, told Nebraskans for Solar she was confident that changes in their energy use and supplies will allow us to devote more resources to providing food and other essential needs to the working poor families in our community . ”

According to Helen Deffenbacher, a member of Nebraskans for Solar, Lester’s experience in the Omaha Public Power District and understanding of the company’s tariff structure has been a blessing. Lester has demonstrated the money and energy saving value of carefully planning the operation of the equipment. “We wouldn’t have thought of that,” she said.

The viability of such investments is related to Lester’s previous tenure at the utility company planning system upgrades to ensure that expected electricity needs can be met.

“The reason you have an inquiry fee is because of this peak value [power use] That’s what drives utility companies to build facilities, ”Lester said. “If you lower the summit, you don’t have to build new power plants, substations and everything else.”

Lester and Nebraskans for Solar see great potential for lowering the energy costs of nonprofits while reducing the utility’s peak demand, which also has environmental benefits. The peak demand causes a disproportionate share of emissions, as energy providers often have to put dirty and inefficient old power plants into operation.

The aim is to work with as many non-profit organizations as possible in the OPPD field and possibly beyond to reduce peak usage and install solar systems where financially feasible.

The group is preparing a presentation based on Lester’s work that will be presented in an upcoming virtual workshop.

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