Fort Collins readies smart-grid RFP

FORT COLLINS – Interest in Northern Colorado’s clean energy sector continues to grow, spurring a recent trip to Fort Collins by a group of executives from General Electric Co.

On June 10, GE participated in a workshop of sorts with local businesses and government and utilities representatives. The company, which has a breadth of expertise in smart-grid technology, is also keenly aware of an upcoming request for proposals to deploy advanced smart meters in Fort Collins.

The RFP will be for a $31.4 million deployment of advanced smart meters to all of the city’s electric customers – 65,000 meters in total. The project was made possible by a $15.7 million U.S. Department of Energy grant awarded in October that required a matching contribution. The city matched the funds by issuing bonds sold on June 28.

“The meeting on June 10 was an initial discovery session designed to help the city determine how to build upon FortZED and the Clean Water Cluster to execute their long-term sustainability vision and support the area’s economic growth,´ said Robert VanBrackle, smart-grid global growth and strategy leader for GE’s Digital Energy business. “We spent the day identifying the city’s toughest challenges.”

Three areas were identified as critical to supporting economic growth and new jobs: water, energy and communications. VanBrackle said that the level of GE’s involvement in those areas was not discussed.

“A number of folks from GE have been interested in Fort Collins,´ said city CFO Mike Freeman, adding that there have been several meetings over the last few months. GE has a SmartCities initiative that focuses on working with municipalities to improve their energy infrastructure with smart-grid technologies. The company is working with Portland, Ore., and Miami on such projects.

The smart meter deployment is of immediate interest to GE, according to Luke Clemente, manager for metering and sensing for the company’s Digital Energy business unit. He explained that the company, especially for its SmartCities initiative, looks for multifaceted opportunities, not unlike the FortZED program designed to create a net-zero energy district and test energy technologies in downtown Fort Collins.

Project manager needed

“We’re currently in contract negotiations with a company to act as project manager,´ said Steve Catanach, operations manager for Fort Collins Utilities Light and Power.

He hopes to have those negotiations wrapped up in the next few weeks and couldn’t reveal the name of the company until the contract is finalized. He did add that the city wants to work with a firm experienced in deploying this type of project.

Once the project manager is hired, the city will release its RFP for smart meter hardware and management software. Catanach hopes to release it by the end of July or mid-August, award it by the end of the third quarter, and have installation start some time in the first quarter of 2011.

“I think we’re in a discovery stage to look at how we can work with Fort Collins to help them get the most benefit out of the government funding they received,” Clemente said. “You really have to understand that SmartCities is more than just putting a smart meter on a home.”

Catanach said that part of the smart-grid is a Web portal that will give utility customers more feedback on their energy usage.” The meters give us the ability to remotely read our meters and better understand our system,” he added.

As alternative sources of energy become more prevalent on the grid, management of the generation will be more predictable.

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