BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Voices of Los Alamos heard from Los Alamos Utilities Manager Philo Shelton at their recent meeting about the results of a recent survey to determine the level of community support or opposition to the newly-adopted environmental goals of the Board of Public Utilities.
The six questions asked were as follows:
- Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to be a carbon neutral electric provider by 2040?
76.9% – Support
11% – Oppose
- Currently Los Alamos has approximately 2 MW of local solar. Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to increase local solar (such as rooftop solar panels) to 6 MW by 2040?
87.4% – Support
7.7% – Oppose
- Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to reduce drinking water use by 12 per cent by 2030?
44.7% – Support
32.1% – Oppose
- Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to reduce today’s natural gas use by 5 percent by 2030?
68.8% – Support
21.1% – Oppose
- Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to eliminate natural gas usage by 2070 (requiring all energy to be used to be from carbon neutral electricity)?
54% – Support
33.7% – Oppose
- Do you support or oppose DPU’s goal to improve the reclaimed wastewater that’s used to irrigate county and school turf so that it is the highest quality for unrestricted urban use?
81.8% – Support
8.8% – Oppose
Every five or so years, Shelton said, DPU does an update to its energy and water conservation plan and last year a citizen subcommittee was formed that made some recommendations on what should be included in the plan.
“As a result of that a lot of information was collected and recommendations were made last July. The in October, the board in its annual strategic planning session and revised the goals and as a result, the board asked that a survey be conducted to see if the community embraced the goals” he said.
A consultant, Triton Polling and Research was hired and the survey was conducted over a few days in December, mostly by phone but it also included some 34 emails. There were 515 responses split between Los Alamos and White Rock roughly by the percentage of customers DPU has in each area. Shelton said the selection was designed to make sure that both communities were captured.
“We do see difference of utilities based upon the microclimate. At the townsite, it’s colder and shadier at times whereas in White Rock there is more heat in the summer and more demand for air conditioning but less demand for natural gas heating in the winter,” Shelton said.
Triton helped to design these questions so that they were not biased, Shelton said He noted that for the most part, the two communities track fairly close together but there are some areas where there’s a little bit of a departure between what the Los Alamos townsite and White Rock desire.
“There is really good support community-wide on the carbon neutral goal – 77 percent in support, 11 percent opposed. With the increased generation solar, 87 percent was supportive,” he said. “At the rate solar is coming online with the tax credit systems that are in play, I believe that our customers will have that capability.”
Shelton said the prior goal with the board rules would limit it to 2 megawatts which DPU is quickly approaching.
“This allows for more distributed generation within the community. Some of that may occur through building code. There’s been some discussion about offering some solar with new home construction but those are bigger discussions we’ll participate in. The board considered a one megawatt addition out at the landfill. The price we received at the time was not competitive with the market but that land is still there where one megawatt out of the six could be offered there. I think the goal’s achievable. It’s just a matter of the time by 2040. We can get there,” he said.
Reducing drinking water usage overall has support, Shelton said, but it was actually one of the weaker areas with more opposition in White Rock where more people want to have irrigated yards. He believes the 12 percent goal is achievable but it will be due to adding measures such as lower flow fixtures and rain barrels for landscaping.
Almost 70 percent supported reducing natural gas use by 5 percent.
“Eliminating natural has use is obviously a new goal and a new concept. It received support but it’s a long-term goal that I think will take some time to develop,” Shelton said.
The strongest conservation goal from the survey with nearly 82 percent in support, was for increased use of reclaimed water to irrigate the school grounds and the turf areas. Shelton said the board currently invests a lot in this program and it shows in the survey results that the community supports it.
“In summary, we are going to incorporate what we can of the citizen committee’s input into the plan. A lot of the recommendations were for educational programs many of which are done through a contract with PEEC, however there are other things we are in the throes of. Hopefully by next month we will be starting the installation of the advanced metering infrastructure which is going to create a whole new set of data that homeowners and DPU can use to analyze water usage and other opportunities to conserve,” he said.
He gave the example of leaks between meter and home that are underground causing high water usage and not reflecting what’s occurring inside the home.
Shelton said the advanced metering infrastructure is going to be on all the utilities that deliver services, so that would be gas, water and electric. Sewer is a flat rate and is not based on flow to the residences. The water meters, depending on the age and type in use, may or may not be changed out. Some may just need the reading head changed out. Water and gas usage will be read once an hour by the new system and electricity will be read every 15 minutes, providing finer detail.
“We have some 35 homes in White Rock in the test phase right now. Once that’s done, there will be an app where people can sign in and look at their usage. The system can be set so that the customer can be notified if they used a lot of water on a given day so they could use it as a customer to determine if they had a leak in their system. Or you could look in finer detail to see when you’re using electricity or water to inform what kind of conservation you want to consider. So there’s a lot of information – hopefully it will all be installed by the middle of the summer and hopefully we can roll out this application that customers can use,” Shelton said.
He noted that as far as pricing the commodities, in the summer DPU has a tiered water rate so there are different things that can be done with the bills to compare an average residential bill with others to see it’s in alignment with others in the community or the customer is using more water than most.
Shelton said DPU also pursues grant opportunities.
“The most recent one was the Volkswagen settlement funds and we’re in the process now of procuring a contractor to install electric charging stations at various points throughout Los Alamos. Sometimes the state has some conservation funds that we can apply for that we can share back with our customers as they become available,” he said.
He noted that there’s a big movement now to promote electric transportation.
“We want to be part of that since we supply the electricity. People will need to purchase these cars and use them throughout the community to make that transition. We can provide infrastructure but not necessarily make that transition to the vehicle side. We will work with that committee,” Shelton said.
On the issue of eliminating natural gas usage by 2070, Shelton said the board feels that as technology develops there will be some solutions. An example is heat pump technology that has advanced quite a bit, he said.
“The affordable housing projects on DP Road are not having natural gas in their buildings. They’re using electric heat pumps for heating and cooling. The 2070 goal would give people time as their gas furnaces wear out to convert to a heat pumps type of solution,” Shelton said. “Renewable energy comes cheap at times but it’s not available 24/7 all year. As those technologies improve we think the cost of power will drop to a level where it makes sense to heat your home by electricity.”
He noted that he likes to cook and that he likes his natural gas cooking.
“There are other ways to get around that – maybe it’s developing a supply of biogas or having a carbon offset type of program. Eliminating natural gas is going to take some time. It’s going to take some technology changes to achieve that goal. The next 10 years we’re looking to reduce our usage by five percent. What the board was looking at was trying to get to carbon free electric generating by 2040 so we need to have the electric generating sources in place that are carbon-free before we convert all the heating to carbon-free,” he said.