Located along the Sacramento River, the policies of the City of Redding include energy conservation and grass-roots education. Smart Energy International found out more from Pat Keener, Group Manager, Energy Services, Redding Electric Utility.

Please start by telling us a little about yourself.
Pat Keener: I’ve been with the City of Redding for eight years. Prior to that I was with the City of Roseville in charge of their energy services division, and before then I spent ten years with MidAmerican Energy, headquartered in Iowa.

And tell us about the utility.
PK: Redding has been publicly owned since 1921, and we have grown steadily over the last few years. Peak demand is approximately 270 MW in the summer, when temperatures reach above 110 degrees. We are a self-generating utility; we own about 70 percent of the generation and the rest is out on contracts, either hydro, some solar or wind and about 1% using coal – there’s a very low reliance on fossil fuel. In the last ten years we have been taking a closer look at renewables, but these can be costly, so we try to blend our resources to remain competitive yet sustain the environment.

What are some of the key challenges your utility faces?

PK: Well, government oversight outside our city council is one. Because we’re publicly owned, our needs are rather different to those in, say, San Francisco or Sacramento, so there has to be some allowances for self governance.

Data management is also a challenge. For the last six to nine months we’ve been discussing how we are going to gather all the information from customer service, engineering, planning and development, and how to tie it all into one information stream. How will we collect the data, use the data, manage the data?

Another point is how do we blend our high reliability low cost power with renewables? We would like to see a more gradual approach to using renewables – we could do much more in this area if we were prepared to double or triple the costs, but why would you want to do that to your community?

Please give an overview of your utility’s metering operations and projects underway.
PK: We do have some AMR meters in for testing. At this time, though, we feel the technology is changing so rapidly that we would rather wait another year or two for the market to settle down. There are a lot of options out there already, but none of them meets all our needs at the moment. What we are trying to do internally is to bring people from customer service, engineering, planning, and development to the table to agree that this is the right thing to do. We are taking it tiny steps at a time; we believe we’ll start technology selection in 24 to 36 months. We do have a new CIS system in place, however.

What strategies have you implemented to strengthen relationships with customers?
PK: On the commercial side we have a team of key account managers looking after our top 250 customers. I also put out the Redding Connect newsletter that goes to all our residential customers; it includes timely information, conservation tips and other information for the community. On our website we really promote energy efficiency, conservation, energy audits. We have a strong education program with our schools, and our Turtle Bay Exploration Museum. For the last three years probably a couple hundred kids a month have gone through our education program, looking at safety, conservation, electric education, renewables, the environment and water conservation.

We also have our annual Utility Services & Energy Fair, which we started in 2001 to promote energy conservation during the Californian power crisis. We have brought in vendors and suppliers to show off their wares, and we offer double incentives or rebates on Energy Star appliances. This last May about 7,000 people attended the fair.

(More information from the 7th Annual Redding Electric Utility 2007 Services & Energy Fair can be viewed here).

What other R&D activities will be taking place in the metering area?
PK: On the pilot projects, most of the AMR meters have been installed in the homes of customers who have problems paying their bills, or where it is difficult to read their meters. Next year we are thinking about testing some special meters on some of our thermal energy storage units. Where solar power is involved, we will probably look at AMR meters to get real-time meter access and information. That’s just about where we are today.

What is your vision for the utility?
PK: I really believe that in five to ten years there will be some tremendous activity on having an architecture that is going to integrate AMR into the AMI. I’m sure we’ll see a program like this rolling out in the City of Redding.

Thank you for your input.