When developing a plan for how to meet future electricity needs, Colorado Springs Utilities sought input from stakeholders through public meetings, advisory groups, and one-on- one interviews. Comments from the public influenced the content of the final plan, which includes a capacity addition at a turn-of-the-century small hydro plant, as well as development of a new 850-kW hydro facility.
By Gail A. Conners
As a wholesale power customer of the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), Colorado Springs Utilities is required to submit an electric integrated resource plan to the administration every five years. This plan is designed to help a producer determine the best ways to fill any gaps between current generating capacity and anticipated customer demand.
In July 2003, Colorado Springs Utilities set out to update its plan. The utility had to take several unique factors into account during this work. Among these were changing demand forecasts (revised to growth of 31 percent over the next ten years, compared with a 2002 forecast calling for growth of 43 percent), an unexpected potential energy resource in the form of a grant awarded to develop a 150-MW low-emission coal-fired (clean coal) power plant, and a questioning public that wanted to ensure the best resource options were developed.
To involve the public in its new plan, Colorado Springs Utilities needed to develop a process that ensured major concerns and issues were integrated. In addition, the utility wanted the process to inform and educate the public, while dispelling any misinformation surrounding Colorado Springs Utilities’ development plans. Updating its plan involved a year-long effort, taking place in 2004, that focused on significant public participation to ensure all voices were heard with respect to resource options.
Results from the public input showed a preference for renewable energy. Consequently, the utility included development of new small hydro as part of the plan.
Involving the public in the new plan
Public involvement in the electric integrated resource plan, known as an EIRP, was geared toward engaging stakeholders in an open decision-making process. The goal was to develop a resource plan that reflected new information, customer preferences, and available resource options. To complete the EIRP, Colorado Springs Utilities focused its efforts on building informed consent, gathering feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders, and obtaining input on final scenarios or alternatives for the plan.
Wayne Vanderscheure, project manager for developing the new plan, says any project of this magnitude takes longer than expected because new issues and ideas always emerge. “The challenge is in reaching the silent majority of customers for their perspective. Many individuals that participated in public meetings either represented a small minority or had a specific agenda,” he says. “If the water and electricity are on and the prices aren’t out of control, our customers really don’t want to hear from us, because that’s our job. They generally trust us to make the right decisions. But, to really get a handle on what they’re thinking, we have to go to our customers.”
The goals of public involvement and participation included:
– Identify all potentially affected interest groups. Primary stakeholders include customers, business users, environmental stewards, and WAPA. Secondary stakeholders include military, affiliate government agencies, citizen groups, service organizations, and the Pikes Peak Coalition of Chambers. This coalition is a partnership of chambers of commerce, including the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Colorado Springs, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, and the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
– Identify all potential issues, concerns, and values, such as keeping rates low and being environmental stewards.
– Educate and inform the public about the processes and issues.
– Build trust and accountability with stakeholders by empowering them to have input in the planning processes, both to quickly and efficiently resolve issues and to minimize project delays or costs.
Avenues for stakeholder involvement
To capture input from all stakeholders, Colorado Springs Utilities’ public participation plan focused on a variety of activities to obtain the greatest input possible within the confines of budget and time. These include:
Based on public feedback indicating preference for renewable energy, Colorado Springs Utilities undertook a construction project to add 543 kW of capacity at its 5-MW Manitou hydro plant.
– Public meetings. Four were held throughout the planning process, each with a specific focus. The first was designed to introduce the topic to stakeholders. The second focused on breaking down the resources under consideration, including traditional generation, renewable generation, and demand side management. The third meeting focused on the midway point in the process. And the fourth meeting focused on the alternatives.
– Content advisory group. This representative cross section of the Colorado Springs community helped guide public processes in alignment with the technical analysis required for the long-range plan. The advisory group was comprised of ten citizen-owners/ratepayers from the Colorado Springs community. Each member, chosen through a review of applicants, represented a specific segment of the community: special populations, businesses, customers (residential, large, and small), education, environmental, and legislative. This group was a forum for bringing the public’s ideas, issues, and concerns into the planning process.
Public meetings held during development of its 2004 electric integrated resource plan allowed Colorado Springs Utilities to gather feedback from stakeholders and ensure all potential issues were addressed.
– Technical advisory group. This group provided technical input on individual renewable energy and demand-side management technologies (programs, plans), as well as reviewed broader renewable energy and demand-side management strategies. Eleven experts volunteered to advise and offer input to the reports.
– One-on-one stakeholder interviews. Colorado Springs Utilities conducted 17 one-on-one interviews with a cross-section of the community, which included representatives from large, medium, and small businesses; a voter’s advocacy group; environmental groups; community/service agencies; a parent-teacher group; the builder/developer community; government; military; media; economic development; and chambers of commerce.
– Ambassadors outreach. Colorado Springs Utilities’ ambassador program, which has been in existence for five years, encourages employees to volunteer for membership in local civic and community groups, to be the “ears and voice” of Colorado Springs Utilities. Ambassadors participate in local organizations – such as Executive Women International and Pikes Peak Philharmonic – helping to communicate key messages, gather feedback, and build one-on-one relationships with citizen owners. In February 2004, the ambassadors received a presentation and materials packet related to the resource plan. They were asked to hand out a fact sheet and a list of three citizen-value-oriented questions at their meetings, then collect and return the surveys to the project team. The team received more than 500 responses within two months.
– Community groups outreach. Beginning in February 2004, Colorado Springs Utilities sent a letter detailing the resource plan to 566 community groups, service organizations, and homeowner groups. The goal was to generate interest in the EIRP presentations, of which 26 were made to various groups between February and May. In addition to a presentation and general questions and answers, the groups also responded to the three-question value survey.
– Random sample customer surveys. Colorado Springs Utilities launched three customer surveys during the process of developing the new resource plan. The first three-question survey, mentioned above, was designed to understand citizen values. The second survey focused on citizen-owner knowledge of renewable energy and demand-side management programs. The third survey focused on determining the price associated with those programs and customers’ sensitivity to paying for them. Colorado Springs Utilities collected surveys from a variety of sources: by phone with outbound customers, through ambassadors, volunteer customer surveys at meetings, on the Internet, and from employees.
– Discussion groups. Colorado Springs Utilities conducted three special discussion groups from March through May 2004. The target groups for these discussions were those least likely to attend the public meetings but also directly affected by the outcome of the EIRP. To encourage attendance at these meetings, utility staff set them up at places and times that were convenient for these target groups. Focus groups consisted of: senior citizens; low-income/affordable housing recipients; and commercial accounts.
– Utility bill newsletter articles. These articles highlighted public outreach efforts and opportunities for involvement in development of the resource plan, as well as the necessity for the EIRP.
– A link on the Colorado Springs Utilities website. The link offered background information, data on upcoming meetings, and summaries from all meetings.
– Updates to the Utilities Board (13 monitoring reports and ten presentations) and Utilities Public Advisory Committee (four presentations) from 2003 to 2005.
Results of the public participation
Holding public meetings alone does not constitute good public participation. That is why Colorado Springs Utilities focused on a variety of methods (one-on-one interviews, discussion groups, surveys, and community presentations) to encourage adequate participation. The best way to encourage participation is to go to the people who are affected by the issue.
Nearly all participants in our discussions valued demand-side management programs and their related conservation measures and rebates. Customers identified price as their top priority, and cost was a deciding factor in overall acceptance of renewable energy and demand-side management programs. The public also expressed a desire to continue being educated about the resource plan.
Regarding specific sources of new generation, customers indicated they felt Colorado Springs Utilities must be weaned away from coal and gas because of finite resources and the increasing cost of gas. Overall, they supported renewable and demand-side management programs.
Forming a plan based on public input
Based on feedback from the project team established to formulate the resource plan and analysis by consulting firm R.W. Beck Inc. in Seattle, Colorado Springs Utilities determined that no substantial new electric generation was needed until 2015. This was because of the significant drop in electric demand forecasts conducted by Colorado Springs Utilities.
However, the analysis evaluated 20 different scenarios that combined various levels of demand-side management and renewable energy options. The project team determined that the preferred scenario for adding generation was a combination of moderate demand-side management and medium (10 to 15 MW) renewable energy levels, including hydro. This combination would keep costs low and respond to customer preferences. Hydro-related recommendations incorporated into the 2004 EIRP included:
– Add 3 MW of hydro in 2006; and
– Add 13 MW of hydro in 2011.
To begin the process of adding new hydro to its system, the utility’s engineering department conducted several studies to determine the most feasible locations. One option selected was to increase capacity at the 100-year-old 5-MW Manitou plant. By January 2006, Colorado Springs Utilities had increased capacity at the plant by 543 kW. (See “Industry News,” March 2006.)
Also selected was development of the new 850-kW Cascade facility 10 miles from downtown Colorado Springs. This hydro project will replace the existing water pressure regulator valve on a water supply pipeline, east of Cascade, Colo. This site was chosen because it has easy access and does not require construction of a dam, pipeline, or reservoir. Work on the project – which includes construction of a small powerhouse, installation of a turbine-generator unit, and installation of a transformer and transmission line – is scheduled to begin in March 2007 should be completed within six months. Estimated total cost of the project is $2.6 million.
The author may be reached at Colorado Springs Utilities, P.O. Box 1103, Mail Code 950, Colorado Springs, CO 80947-0950; (1) 719-668-8012; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gail Conners is an issues manager with Colorado Springs Utilities. She was the lead public participation coordinator during development of the utility’s electric integrated resource plan.