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BC Hydro to explore load reductions at Gloucester industrial park

Image of a commercial bakery in operation
Making changes to work to offset energy use may result in savings for Gloucester Business Park customers.

Utility hopes Alliance members can help build an approach that could extend across B.C.

Still very much in the planning phase, the initiative at Gloucester Industrial Park will initially target 30 larger industrial customers, and then will extend to the remaining 220 customers in the park. The idea is to use fully-funded energy studies to identify ways for businesses to not just decrease energy use, but also to shift loads away from peak periods.

As customer demand for power grows, it typically means BC Hydro has to run more wires, more poles, and expand substations and infrastructure to serve that load. An increasing number of utilities in North America are trying a new approach to address load growth – working with customers to develop what are known in the utility industry as Non-Wires Alternatives.

"What's unique about this is that we're stepping away from our traditional focus on energy efficiency to a more complete, holistic approach that covers all aspects of demand side management," says Steve Quon, industrial marketing manager for the Alliance. "It's not just about energy conservation, but also demand reduction, starting with something as simple as turning lights off in unoccupied areas. We'll even look at the viability of shifting manufacturing schedules and potential for solar panels combined with battery storage opportunities."

The trial kicks off later this month with Alliance engineering consultants sitting down with BC Hydro to discuss the project plan and look at customer energy data. Those consultants will be engaged in the first wave in the project, completing energy studies for the initially targeted 30 largest customers. Beyond the first phase, the trial will expand to include the remaining businesses in the 700-acre park that sits at a nexus of rail and road access just off Highway 1.

Alliance members are urged to check with BC Hydro to see if their customers at Gloucester are eligible for incentives and bonuses that may emerge in the initiative's second wave.

Kevin Wallace is part of a three-person BC Hydro team that will work directly with Alliance members and the 30 large customers. He says the goal is to validate that geotargeted demand side management, or "non-wires alternatives", can defer capital spending on substation and other infrastructure upgrades.

"We have a rough target in mind for Gloucester, and a budget," says Wallace, industrial business strategy manager with BC Hydro. "We need to see how we can maximize that impact with that budget, prove that it can be done, then say, 'what's that worth to [BC Hydro]?'"

Alliance members are key to getting customer buy-in at Gloucester Industrial Park

Ideally, there will eventually be enough customer buy-in to significantly trim peak loads on the Gloucester substation. Quon envisions a scenario where, on a hot August day where air conditioning loads produce a spike in energy use, a baker might shift production to the morning and ease off its energy use for an hour or two in the afternoon, and a window and door manufacturer also chooses to wind down its energy demands to instead focus on maintenance or other work.

"For us to be successful here, we have to get a high participation rate," says Quon. "One customer on their own doing their bit to reduce the load isn't going to get us there."

And that's where Alliance members come in. Beyond the five consulting engineers helping out in the first phase at Gloucester, opportunities should emerge where Alliance members are armed not just with regular product upgrade incentives (BESI) or self-serve incentives (SIP) offers, but possibly some bonus offers to win over the 230 remaining customers in the industrial park.

"The projects that these customers do aren't pilot projects – they're real projects," says Wallace. "We're not piloting the individual program offers for the most part, but we're packaging it up and targeting it, putting resources behind it to ensure we're getting a real high participation rate."

Wallace says that while Alliance members are great at identifying savings opportunities, they like nothing better than actually implementing those projects and getting them done. That's where the push, and some sweetened incentives, is designed to pay off at the Gloucester park.

Quon says the lessons learned at Gloucester should translate into more effective initiatives around other substations, and new business opportunities for Alliance members down the road.

What's in it for the customer? Cost savings and reliability

Getting the high participation rate vital to the Gloucester substation project will demand that Alliance members convince customers that efficiency and other upgrades are worth their time and investment. Given that the single feeder line out of the Gloucester substation is prone to power outages, customers may also be looking for improved reliability.

The substation is somewhat unique in that its peak loads generally occur in the summer, as opposed to the winter peaks experienced by the BC Hydro system as a whole and to most substations. Wallace says that while the focus of the initiative will be on flattening load requirements in summer, the load reductions may also pay off in greater substation reliability in the winter months.

At least one large customer at Gloucester is already considering installing battery backup to guard against costly shutdowns during winter power outages.

"A battery could help them during an outage, where they can ride through a couple hours," he says. "And that battery could also be used to flatten their load and reduce peak load in the summer."

The main pitch, however, is about energy savings. Wallace expects that Alliance members will be able to make a strong case for energy savings, with the kicker that load reductions can defer costly substation upgrades and help keep rates low.