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Posted on January 23, 2014

PG&E Identifying Energy Improvements to Help State Water Agency Meet Governor’s Mandate

By David Kligman

It’s interesting what a little investigating will reveal.

PG&E recently began partnering with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on a plan to help the state agency improve energy efficiency. During the planning, the DWR asked the utility to inventory its critical facilities. In Merced County, PG&E found that the electrical services for several emergency drainage pumps along the California Aqueduct were out of order. PG&E quickly resolved the issue.

The Department of Water Resources’ 3,000 employees manage and protect the state’s water and oversee Butte County’s Oroville Dam, one of the agency's largest reservoirs. (Photos courtesy of DWR.)

Needless to say, the agency was grateful for PG&E’s discovery. As Stuart Chan of the DWR’s water and energy efficiency office explained, the emergency pumps are needed to prevent excess water from weakening the aqueduct lining following heavy rains.

“It was a great relief for us,” Chan said. “The pumps only operate in emergency circumstances but if they’re needed it’s very important that they work.”

Last year, PG&E began the widespread audit after Felix Lopez, a corporate account manager, reached out to the DWR at a statewide sustainability meeting. He offered the utility’s assistance to help the agency save energy.

The timing couldn’t have been more ideal. DWR is working to comply with an energy efficiency mandate, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, requiring state agencies to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy by 2018.

State of California One of PG&E’s Biggest Customers

The DWR, one of the utility’s biggest customers, is just one of the many state agencies that PG&E is working with to help the State of California achieve its energy efficiency goal. Other ongoing energy efficiency audits include CalVet Homes, the Department of Public Health, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Corrections, and beginning this year, the Department of Parks and Recreation.

For an agency like the DWR, saving energy is critical. The department was created in 1956 by Gov. Goodwin Knight following severe flooding across Northern California the year before.

PG&E’s energy audit included the Department of Water Resources’ Administration Building, about 3 miles south of Oroville Dam.

Today the department’s 3,000 employees manage and protect the state’s water, including ensuring nearly 3 million acre-feet of water is pumped and flows through the California Aqueduct every year. The agency’s non-water pumping facilities use 1.4 million kilowatt hours per year and overall energy consumption averages 5.1 billion kilowatt hours a year. With such a high energy use, identifying all potential energy savings are important.

PG&E’s integrated energy audit services are tailored to the real focus of the governor’s legislation — energy used at its dozens of administrative buildings, warehouses and maintenance shops from the Sacramento Delta to San Bernardino. But the audit also included a routine billing overview, which led to the discovery of the nonworking electrical services for the emergency water pumps.

For the DWR energy analysis, PG&E audited heating, air conditioning, lighting and lighting controls. The final report — expected later this month — will not only document energy use but also will list proposed recommendations for the agency. One of the more significant DWR locations audited was all of the buildings at DWR’s Field Division Headquarters near Butte County’s Oroville Dam and Lake Oroville, DWR’s largest reservoirs with a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet of water.

“The auditor will document the savings associated with each measure so that if we were to make that change we’d know how much it would cost and how much savings we’ll get,” Chan said.

The early reception has been positive, Chan said.

“We ran some of the recommendations by our Oroville field people and they seem receptive to it,” he said. “That’s very key as far as we’re concerned because they’re the ones doing the work and it will be paid from their budget.”

PG&E’s flexibility an advantage to energy audit

There were several advantages to using PG&E for the audit, Chan said. One was the cost — the audits are free — compared with other third parties. The other was PG&E’s flexibility in allowing DWR to choose which sites to audit, and the ability to choose whether to do the upgrades with DWR staff, something that other auditors weren’t willing to do.

PG&E met weekly with the agency, then monthly, as it identified a strategy and action plan. The challenge for the water agency was that despite the governor’s mandate there is no actual legislative budget to pay for energy efficient upgrades. The utility’s on-bill financing solves that problem, said Lopez, who partners with PG&E’s government partnership program on the State of California energy audits.

“Customers often don’t invest in energy efficiency because it’s money out of their pockets or local budgets,” Lopez said. “The on-bill financing pays the cost. It’s a loan but there’s no money out of pocket. The customer pays back the loan through the energy savings. The obstacle that was once there is no longer there.”

Helping all business customers, even one as big as the State of California, is important to PG&E because saving power helps the utility meet its energy-reduction goals while avoiding the need to build more power plants.

Ultimately, Chan said, the governor’s energy efficiency mandate is good for the environment.

“As a state agency, we want to be at the forefront of being a good environmental steward, and that includes both energy and water,” he said. “The less we’re relying on fossil fuels the better it is for the environment.”

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