It’s no secret that small utilities are stretched pretty thin. It isn’t uncommon for utilities in smaller or rural communities to have a lean workforce with many staffers doing double duty across departments. If you work for a small utility, you know what I’m talking about.

Energy managers in these utilities know there are solid reasons to engage customers in special programs—such as efficiency initiatives—but their first priority is to keep the lights on.

Small utilities want to both participate in available incentive programs, and avoid adding employees to staff new programs only to let them go when the program ends.  How do small utilities find a way to tap into the benefits of specialty savings programs? Here are some steps to help you think through the best approach:

Focus on the program or service that can make the biggest impact in your community.

  • Evaluate whether you need a customized program, a pilot project, or a turnkey approach to get a program up and running.
  • Talk to your staff. Do you want to train them to manage a program, do they want contract program managers, or do they want to work with outside experts so they can learn and implement at the same time?
  • Determine what kind of technical expertise is needed to speak to your target audience. Discuss whether you can address it with your current staffing or whether you need to bring in outside experts.
  • Work with your customer support and outreach teams to find out what program management and implementation structure helps them do their job best.

Several small Northwest utilities have found a way to incorporate energy efficiency savings programs into their overall mission.

Elmhurst Mutual Power and Light, Tacoma, Washington, serves approximately 14,400 customer meters. The utility worked with us as part of Bonneville Power Administration’s commercial lighting incentives pilot program. In four years, the utility’s commercial lighting customers saved more than one million kilowatt hours, which equals approximately 58 percent of the utility’s total energy savings over the same period. There are many more success stories just like this one.

Small utilities can put energy savings to work in local communities. By thinking through how a program can best serve the needs of your customers, you can find ways to expand staff resources and assist more customers with energy efficiency programs throughout your service area.