The Substation of the Future

By Paul Wesslund

Solar panels, electric cars, computer hackers, vandals and thieves might not seem to have much in common, but they’re all making big changes in your electric service. Those changes have electric utilities talking about “the substation of the future.”

Could this be the substation of the future?

If everything goes according to plan, you may never even know about those changes, says Tom Lovas, a technical liaison and consultant with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“The traditional model of generation, transmission and distribution is kind of being turned on its head,” Lovas says. “In the past, power flowed to a substation and then flowed out to the consumer. … [T]he substation has now become a point of information and interconnection, and it’s coordinated in a different way.”

Before making sense of what Lovas means by a substation becoming a point of information, it helps to understand what a substation does.

HOW SUBSTATIONS WORK
That mass of wires and equipment you see behind chain-link fences as you drive along freeways or side roads basically turns high-voltage electricity into lower voltage electricity that can be used in your home. Electricity generated at a power plant gets “stepped up” to a high voltage at a substation because that’s a more efficient way for power to make the long-distance journey through transmission lines. When the current gets close to where it will be used, another substation steps the voltage down, for distribution to you and your neighbors.

But that straight-line path for electricity is changing, says an international industry group planning for how the substation of the future will fit in with the power lines and power plants that make up the electric grid.

“Rather than continually getting bigger, the grid is now increasing in intelligence,” according to a 2016 strategic plan of the Centre for Energy Advancement through Technological Innovation (CEATI International). “Customers are increasingly looking for ways to manage their own energy, customizing how they use it and serving as suppliers of energy.”

One example of customers serving as suppliers of energy is the fast-growing number of homeowners installing rooftop solar panels. Now, electricity doesn’t just flow from a power plant through a substation to a house. Instead, electricity also flows in the opposite direction, from the house, then back onto the grid as homeowners sell excess solar power back to their utility.

When power flows in both directions, running a utility gets a lot more complicated. First, there’s safety. Lineworkers need to be sure they know which wires are energized and which are not. Electricity traveling in a different direction could put new stresses on old equipment, and utilities need new ways to monitor electric current so they can keep track of new patterns of electricity use and generation.

Lovas cites an increase in electric cars as another new addition that could change electricity use as people charge their vehicles at a variety of times and places.

PREDICTING POWER OUTAGES
Electric utilities are analyzing information about where the electricity is coming from and where it’s going. This information can be used to improve operations in the utility network and can make the substation of the future an important part of “the smart grid”

Information collected at a substation could keep track of how transformers are performing so they could be replaced before they fail or even recognize power use patterns that could predict an outage.

“We collect zillions of data points of information. What we’re trying to do is make sense of what that information is telling us,” Lovas says. Figuring out how to analyze and use all that data, he says, could improve safety, reduce outages, reduce outage duration and reduce maintenance costs.

These days, we know that information can also be stolen or misused by cyber criminals, so the substation of the future needs stronger security. And not just cyber security. Lovas says that substation planning needs protection against more old-fashioned attackers like vandals and copper wire thieves. CEATI International wrote in its strategic plan on the substation of the future, “In the new environment, station facilities have to be protected from physical tampering, sabotage or theft and also from malicious threats to data and/or control systems connected to cyber networks.”

Lovas also expects the substation of the future will respond to concerns about what substations look like, with utilities looking for more remote locations or planting trees around them. Underground substations could offer better security, as well as avoid complaints about the appearance of the collection of wires and equipment.

When will we see the substation of the future? Maybe never, if it’s hidden behind a grove of trees. Or, since improvements and advancements are already being installed, maybe it’s already here. “I don’t think there’s any defined date when the substation of the future takes over,” Lovas says. “It’s just a natural progression of things.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Register Now for Director Courses

All cooperative directors have the opportunity to further their education this August through a CFC-sponsored financial workshop. Directors can also extend that workshop to include a CREA course that will target crucial conversations in the board room.

CFC Financial Workshop for Directors will include sessions on: the latest economic trends including unemployment, GDP growth and interest rates; understanding financial statements and ratios such as Times Interest Earned Ratio, and Equity to Assets; solar and renewable energy trends, including battery storage; cyber security updates, and the importance to understand cyber security risks and tradeoffs. Directors will also gain behind-the-scenes insight into how CFC plays a role in the cooperative network, how CFC is different from other financial institution and how CFC fits into the world of finance. August 29-30, 2017.

CREA’s Crucial Conversations in the Board Room is a highly-interactive one-day course that teaches directors the skills that create alignment and agreement in the boardroom. Using real-world co-op examples, directors will have the opportunity to practice speaking for clarity and purpose with the hope that they can foster open dialogue around high-stakes, emotional or risky topics on issues facing electric cooperatives today. August 28-29, 2017.

For more details and to register for these courses, please contact Jen Hight at jenhight@coloradorea.org or call 303-455-2700 ext. 700. Registration deadline is August 1, 2017.

Take Control of Your Smart Devices and Make Them Work for You

By Paul Wesslund

If you ever want to see one of the biggest changes going on in the world today, look around your home. Your smartphone, video gaming system, security camera, fitness bracelet, thermostat and even your television could be part of a vast, interconnected group of devices that goes by the clunky name of the “internet of things.”

The term refers to anything connected to the internet, which covers a lot of gadgets and will soon cover even more. Today, you can purchase lightbulbs that dim with the sound of your voice or from the press of a button on your smartphone. A 2014 report by the investment firm Goldman Sachs predicted the number of internet-connected devices could grow 10 times by 2020, to as many as 28 billion “things.”

While this growth may seem like the latest trend, it was recognized more than 30 years ago. Credit for naming it goes to Peter T. Lewis, co-founder of Cellular One. In a 1985 speech he said, “The internet of things, or IoT, is the integration of people, processes and technology with connectable devices and sensors to enable remote monitoring status, manipulation and evaluation of trends of such devices.”

Low prices versus security
In other words, the rapid rise in the number of internet-connected devices has been building for decades, says Tim Heidel, deputy chief scientist with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “The ‘internet of things’ is the latest buzzword that reflects a long-term trend,” Heidel says. “Ten years ago, you may have had six or eight or 10 devices on the wireless router in your home. Now, that number can go as high as 25 or 30 devices.”

Heidel credits lower costs for ramping up this high-tech revolution, which can make life more convenient and fun, and even increase energy efficiency with new ways to control heating, cooling, lighting and other electricity users.

“The cost of including communications in the devices has come down dramatically. Twenty years ago, you could only afford an ethernet port or Wi-Fi in a computer,” Heidel says. “Now, we’re getting to the point where it costs literally only pennies to include that capability in any device imaginable.

“So what’s changing here is the number of devices. Once you have a critical mass of all the places that are capable of communicating, they can then start communicating with each other.

All of this promises convenience and services, but in the pursuit of extremely low costs, sometimes there’s the opportunity to cut corners on security,” Heidel adds.

A stunning example of security problems with the “internet of things” happened last October when hackers crashed dozens of websites in the United States for most of a day, including well-known names like Netflix and Twitter. Incredible as it seems, that attack may have been aided by a device in your own home.

Here’s what happened Friday, October 21: Hackers already scanned the world for devices vulnerable to infection by malicious software that allowed them to take control of hundreds of thousands of home routers, baby monitors, printers and network-enabled cameras. Using that “botnet,” the hackers flooded websites with so many messages the sites shut down for several hours in what is called a “denial of service” attack.

Cyber safety tips
There are ways you can reduce your risk from hackers hijacking your internet-connected devices, says Cynthia Hsu, cyber security program manager with NRECA.

“Understand what you’re buying,” Hsu says. “If you have a choice between two vendors who are producing a product and one takes security seriously and the other doesn’t, use your money to buy a product that takes security seriously. If consumers are not willing to pay for security, the manufacturers have no incentive to build it.

“The criminal element is rapidly escalating the innovation of new ways of attack.” If you have a router for wireless internet in your home, Hsu says, “make sure you patch your router’s software whenever security updates are available so it’s protected as new vulnerabilities are discovered.”

Other security steps Hsu recommends:
• Install firewalls in your home network.
• Change the default passwords regularly in devices you purchase.
• Disconnect gadgets when they’re not being used. “Not everything needs to be plugged into the internet all the time,” she says.

Keep in mind that the electronics in your home can not be accessed from outside without you allowing it. For example, your electric utility cannot access your refrigerator’s energy usage unless it is a smart refrigerator that you allow access to and it is connected to one or more online applications.

The folks at your local electric co-op can offer expertise in managing the promise and the problems of what is called the “internet of things,” and they can answer questions about efficient energy usage. NRECA, your co-op’s national association, is researching some of the newest devices to understand how they can be used for energy efficiency.

“NRECA does a lot of research to help guide, deploy and test these devices,” says Venkat Banunarayanan, NRECA’s senior product development manager. “These projects are looking at how to use these devices in the ‘internet of things’ to bring value to the co-op and its members.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Innovative Technologies Change the Costs of Electric Power

By Justin LaBerge

Advances in technology are bringing major changes to the energy industry. We are generating a growing portion of our electricity with renewable resources, and advances in automation and communications technology are making our power grid smarter and more reliable than ever.

These advances are exciting news for American energy consumers, but they’re also changing the cost structure of the industry. Since electric cooperatives use costs to determine their rates, changing costs require corresponding changes to rates.

Not-for-profit electric cooperatives work hard to ensure their rates are fair to all members. To accomplish this mission, cooperatives design their rates so that the bill each member receives matches the cost of serving that member as closely as possible.

But just because your local electric cooperative’s rates are designed to be fair doesn’t mean they’re always easy to understand. In fact, rate structures that do the best job of fairly assigning costs are often the hardest to understand.

Here is a quick look at three of the approaches electric cooperatives are trying.

Time-of-use rates
With time-of-use rates, when you use electricity is just as important as how much you use. Rather than charging the same price for electricity at all times, time-of-use rates charge different prices based on the time of day when the energy is used. The goal of this system is to encourage consumers to reduce their energy use at the times when demand for energy is highest.

For most electric cooperatives, demand for electricity spikes in the afternoon and early evening hours as heating units and air conditioners battle outdoor temperatures and families return home from school and work and began evening routines.

When demand for energy spikes, electric cooperatives must purchase extra electricity to meet the demand. That extra power typically comes from more expensive power plants.

A time-of-use rate ensures there’s always power available when consumers need it but provides price incentives to shift certain activities — such as running the dryer or dishwasher — to times when demand for electricity is lower.

When co-op members embrace this model, they can lower their monthly bills and help the cooperative reduce its costs — which can save members even more money in the long run.

Demand charges
Perhaps the most confusing concept in energy billing is the demand charge.

Historically, most residential consumers have not paid demand charges. But as our power grid becomes smarter and our network of generation resources gets more complex, it’s likely that more electric cooperatives will incorporate demand changes into their residential rate structures.

Demand measures the highest amount of electricity you demand from the system at one moment in time. The higher the demand, the more it costs to build, operate and maintain the equipment delivering that energy to you.

To understand demand charges, imagine you’re at a party chatting with two guests and you ask them how they got to the party. Betsy tells you she drove 150 miles per hour to get to the party. David says he drove 150 miles to attend the party.

There’s a big difference between a car capable of traveling 150 miles and a car capable of traveling 150 miles per hour. Any car can take you 150 miles. But if you want to go 150 miles per hour, you’ll need an expensive car with extra horsepower.

The same thing is true with electricity. If you demand large quantities of electricity be delivered to you all at once, the electric cooperative has to build larger, more expensive equipment to accommodate that demand.

Even if you only demand that much energy every once in a while, the cooperative still has to ensure its system is capable of handling that request when it comes.

If Betsy and David use electricity the same way they use their cars, Betsy is going to be paying a lot more than David each month, even if their total energy use is the same.

As the energy sector continues to move through this unprecedented period of innovation and change, cooperatives across the U.S. are experimenting with new rate structures to figure out the best way to recover costs and pay for the electric grid in a manner that is fiscally responsible and fair to all members.

Fixed monthly charges
Most electric cooperatives charge a fixed monthly fee to be connected to the co-op’s lines. Common terms for that fee include customer charge, service availability charge or access charge.

No matter what it’s called, the goal is to recover the cost of the poles, wires, bucket trucks, computers, switches and employees that bring electricity to your home or business. Those costs are the same every month whether you use a lot of electricity or turn off everything in your house and go on a month-long vacation.

Most utilities, including electric cooperatives, have never charged the full monthly cost of service as a flat fee. Often, the fixed portion of a member’s bill is only a fraction of the actual cost to build and maintain the power lines to his or her home or business. The rest of that cost is made up with a separate delivery charge that varies based on how much energy you consume.

To understand the difference between these structures, imagine a new vehicle with a sticker price that would require a monthly car payment of $500. Now, imagine if instead of charging $500 per month, the car company structured your payment so it was $250 per month, plus an additional 25 cents for every mile driven. If you drove 1,000 miles per month, you’d end up paying the same amount. If you drove more than that, your payment would be higher, and if you drove less than 1,000 miles, your payment would be lower.

That’s how cooperatives traditionally charged for the delivery of electricity to your home. But as renewable technologies become more popular and consumers make better energy choices, the old model doesn’t fully cover the cost of maintaining the grid.

Electric cooperatives are generating a growing portion of our nation’s electricity with renewable resources, and advances in automation and communications technology are making the power grid smarter and more reliable than ever.

As not-for-profit, member-owned organizations, electric cooperatives want to help their members find the best energy solutions to meet their needs. If members want to install solar, cooperatives want to help. If members want to reduce their energy use through home improvements and efficient appliances, cooperatives are eager to give advice. But even if we all consume less energy, we still need the power grid, and it costs a lot of money to operate and maintain that grid.

By lowering the variable delivery charge and increasing the fixed charge, electric cooperatives can keep the grid running safely and reliably while allowing members to make the energy choices that work best for their lives.

This system does a better job of fairly charging each member for the actual cost of their service. The total amount of money raised by the cooperative remains unchanged, but some members end up paying a bit more, and some a bit less.

Looking toward the future
The coming years will bring many changes to the way we generate, deliver and use electricity, and advances in energy technology promise to greatly improve our quality of life. America’s electric cooperatives are working hard to ensure that whatever the future may bring, you’ll be connected to that future through a modern energy grid that is safe, reliable and fairly priced for all.

Justin LaBerge writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Batteries are Changing How You Receive Electricity

By Paul Wesslund

Batteries will soon be part of a huge change in how you will receive electricity from your electric cooperative.

Utilities are currently running into electricity supply challenges, and batteries are stepping up with solutions. Here’s what electric utilities are currently facing:

• High-tech equipment can fail during a power interruption of even a few milliseconds.

• Interest in renewable energy is increasing, but solar power won’t work when the sun doesn’t shine and wind turbines won’t spin when the wind doesn’t blow.

• Consumers want electric service to be restored more effectively after outages. Even if a storm leaves a large number of homes and businesses without power for several days, consumers want plans in place to quickly restore power to essential services, like gas stations and pharmacies.

A solution for these dilemmas lies in the emerging technology of battery storage, which could provide additional power when the demand for electricity is high. Currently, these large batteries are extremely expensive.

But the demand for better smartphones, laptop computers and electric cars fueled a frantic race for batteries that are lighter, smaller, longer lasting and less expensive. These demands are being met through research into technical improvements and by the economics of mass production.

The lithium-ion battery breakthrough
What’s behind all these developments is the 40-year-old lithium-ion battery technology, named for the lightweight metal lithium it’s made of, and ions, which are pieces of atoms that move back and forth inside the battery to produce and store electricity.

“One of the breakthroughs has been the adoption of the lithium-ion battery for vehicles as well as consumer products,” says Andrew Cotter, a program manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s business and technology strategies group. “A lot more lithium-ion batteries are being produced so there are a lot of companies able to package them much more cheaply. And that has spurred more companies to start investigating and investing in research.”

According to a 2016 report titled “Welcome to the Lithium Age” from Germany-based international financing giant Deutsche Bank, “Lithium-ion battery costs are falling rapidly as global battery producers expand manufacturing facilities, unlocking economies of scale.”

The next step for the battery industry, says Tom Lovas, a technical liaison and consultant with NRECA, is scaling up for applications in the electric utility industry.

Working through the hype curve
Right now only a handful of utilities are making significant use of batteries, but one industry research group predicts that number will grow eight times by 2020, for a market value of $2.5 billion. That kind of potential leads to some bold claims as battery companies compete for their share.

“There’s a lot of hype out there,” Lovas says, as marketers tout batteries as the linchpin of putting together the smart grid to modernize the flow of electricity.

“The technology is available, people are interested but no one knows the flaws yet,” Cotter says. “As utilities gain experience using batteries in routine operations, they will learn the imperfections and start figuring out what are the most conventional uses. Vendors, in turn, will start developing batteries for those specific applications.”

For example, one of the most likely of those applications will be to resolve the problem of intermittent power flows created by renewable energy. Since solar and wind power can be generated during times when people don’t need it, batteries could store the excess energy for future use. While beneficial in theory, in practice it is not clear whether there is a broad economic case for this. Each utility will have unique factors that will play into this decision.

Another use of batteries could be to smooth out power fluctuations from renewable energy. Solar and wind energy can come from a variety sources: independent vendors and even homeowners selling power back to the utility from their relatively small sets of solar panels or wind turbines in ways that are hard for the utility to predict. The result can affect the quality of power and even damage equipment as transmission and distribution lines are used in ways they weren’t designed for. But again, the economics of such an application are unique to each utility.

In time, utilities will become familiar with the best uses of the technology. Storage applications will become commonplace, and vendors will sell optimized products for them. Until then, NRECA’s business technology and strategies group is using cases that provide methodologies for a storage assessment.

Like all things in the energy industry, it is not all economics. Some state governments are getting into the act, passing laws requiring utilities to use batteries in their operations to encourage renewable energy and provide immediate power to essential businesses after storm outages.

This new utility world holds great promise and could start taking shape in as soon as one to three years, Cotter says. But first, he says, the utility battery industry needs to mature and show the effectiveness of the products.

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Free Energy Resources for Colorado’s Rural Schools

Outdated lighting, heating and cooling can cost rural schools, on average, 30 percent more on their energy bills, according to a recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To combat this problem, the Colorado Energy Office’s Energy Savings for Schools program is under way and able to support up to 12 more schools this year.

“The ESS program builds off many years of the CEO’s programmatic work in the K-12 area,” Michael Turner, CEO’s energy efficiency programs manager, explains. Schools across Colorado saved energy and money through a variety of offerings, and now they are part of this program to bring all available resources to bear on those schools with the greatest needs.” It’s a great opportunity for schools looking to improve their learning environment through more efficient operations.”

Through the program, schools receive:
• On-site energy and water audits from an energy engineer
• Evaluation of renewable energy opportunities
• Technical support and energy coaching
• Implementation support and help identifying existing funding and financing options for completing projects
• Recognition for a school’s efforts and opportunities to engage students
• Connections with peer schools and a platform for sharing ideas and knowledge

When a new school joins the program, the ESS team works with the school to collect and review building utility data (electricity, natural gas and water) before the site visit. “Reviewing utility data before a site visit gives us insight into how a building is performing and highlights potential areas of concern,” ESS energy efficiency engineer John Butler says. “Concerns expressed by school staff are used along with insights gained from the historic utility data to help focus the site visit and assessment on problem areas and to customize our approach for each unique facility.”

After the site visit, the energy engineer prepares a customized report with recommendations for the school. “We understand how limited resources — especially staff and financial resources — can be for these rural schools, so we prepare our reports with the aim to help each school prioritize strategies and next steps,” Butler says. “And the report is only the first step. We work closely with school staff to identify what projects make the most sense and help navigate the process of getting projects done. Many times, this means helping schools identify funding or soliciting and reviewing bids from contractors.”

To help fund recommended projects, ESS staff identify other applicable CEO programs, local utility rebates and other state and local programs for schools to leverage. “There are no direct monetary costs for a school to participate in the ESS program. The only costs are associated with staff time to interact with the ESS team and any costs to implement after all external funding sources have been exhausted,” Turner says. “The ESS program supports, and, in turn, is supported by a number of CEO and other related programs, including the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Schools loan program, Supplemental Environmental Projects, High Performing School Program, Energy Performance Contracting and the Renew Our Schools Program.”

To date, 23 schools received their energy reports and began implementing projects. The graphic to the left outlines the collective potential savings identified for these schools.

Legacy Academy, a tuition free, K-8 charter school in Elizabeth, is one of these schools. “As an administrator who is not an expert in energy savings projects, it was incredibly valuable to have the support from this team when receiving project bids,” explains Legacy Academy’s principal Kurt Naber. “The comprehensive energy audit, combined with guidance and input from the ESS team, helped me to feel confident and well-informed when presenting options to Legacy’s board of directors.”

Legacy Academy is poised to save $13,420 annually as a result of lighting upgrades, ceiling fans and water fixture upgrades installed this year.

“We have been pleased and impressed with the knowledge and assistance that the ESS program has brought to our school,” Naber says. “The representatives from ESS have been a great resource for us as we have evaluated bids and moved forward with several energy-saving projects. Their input gave us assurance that we are making well-informed decisions.”

In addition, with support from the ESS program, Legacy Academy applied for and was awarded Energy Star building certification in November as a result of its efforts to improve efficiency. Energy Star certified buildings outperform 75 percent of similar facilities across the country.

Don’t let your local school miss out on ESS resources to optimize energy performance and save money. CEO is actively recruiting schools from Colorado’s rural and low-income areas to participate in the program’s second year.

If you know a school that might benefit from the program, share this information with a school representative or contact the program manager, Susan Blythe, at SBlythe@BrendleGroup.com or 970-207-0058 ext. 310. More information is available at bit.ly/CEOenergysavings.

Leadership in a Purple State

By Kent Singer, CREA executive director

If you are in a certain age group and attempted to learn the guitar as a teenager, I bet you mastered as least one riff: the opening notes to the 1972 Deep Purple hit “Smoke on the Water.” (You know it: bump, bump, bum…bump, bump, da-dum…bump, bump, bum…bump-bum.) And while the English bandmates who formed Deep Purple probably didn’t have Colorado in mind (despite the name of their biggest hit), the band’s name aptly describes the current balance of political power in Colorado.

At both the state and federal level, we have an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats in control of our legislative and executive branches. In fact, voter registration in Colorado is split fairly evenly among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. So where some states are reliably blue (Democrat) or red (Republican), when it comes to political majorities, Colorado is reliably purple.

Purple state
Colorado has one Republican U.S. senator and one Democrat U.S. senator. In the 2016 election, Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet defeated Republican Darryl Glenn in a race that turned out much closer than the polls predicted. Even though Bennet raised and spent much more money than Glenn, his margin of victory was only 3 percentage points.

Republican incumbent Cory Gardner was elected in 2014 when he defeated the favored Democrat incumbent Mark Udall. The results of that race seemed to put on hold on what appeared to be a trend toward a Democrat-leaning electorate in Colorado.

The same purple theme applies to our congressional delegation. Of Colorado’s seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, four are Republicans and three are Democrats. The three Democrats (Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter) represent primarily Denver and the suburbs near Denver, while the four Republicans (Reps. Ken Buck, Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton) represent the rural areas of the state, as well as urban counties farther from Denver.

At the state legislative level, the purple theme continues. The state senate has a narrow (18-17) Republican majority, while the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives expanded to 37-28 after the 2016 general election. This balance of power means that only legislation that has bipartisan support will pass during the next two sessions of the Colorado General Assembly.

Since the political activities of the Colorado Rural Electric Association are focused at the state level, the composition of the General Assembly and CREA’s relationship with its members is critical to the success of CREA initiatives. CREA’s legislative team is devoted to informing and educating state legislators about the cooperative difference and how legislation can impact the consumer at the end of the line. The CREA team also works hard to share with legislators and other stakeholders the extraordinary work being done by Colorado electric co-ops to respond to the changing demands of electric consumers.

Balanced leadership
With Colorado’s term limits, the leadership in both houses of the General Assembly changes frequently. Since the individuals in leadership positions set the agenda for their respective houses, we president of the Senate.

Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Dist. 5)

For the two years of the 71st General Assembly (the 2017 and 2018 sessions), the speaker of the House will be Rep. Crisanta Duran. Rep. Duran will serve her fourth term in the legislature representing House District 5 in central Denver. Rep. Duran served as the chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee in 2014, and she served as the majority leader in the 2015 and 2016 sessions. She sponsored a variety of legislative initiatives, including efforts to spur economic development, extend unemployment benefits for Coloradans learning new workforce skills and increase the renewable energy requirements applicable to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Speaker-designate Duran has a particular interest in rural economic development: “One of my priorities has been to make sure that small businesses thrive and folks have good jobs in rural Colorado. That’s why I passed a bill to provide tax benefits to new businesses through creating ‘jump-start zones’ in rural areas of the state. I’m going to continue to make sure we don’t take anyone in Colorado for granted and leave no one behind.”

Although Rep. Duran does not have any electric co-op service territory in her legislative district, she is familiar with Colorado’s electric co-ops. She joined in support of recent legislation revising the co-op requirements under Colorado’s renewable portfolio law, as well as adjustments to the co-op election law.

During the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Duran was the prime house sponsor of S.B. 13-252, the bill that increased the renewable energy requirements for the co-ops. Since the passage of that bill, the work done by Colorado’s electric co-ops to integrate additional renewable energy into their power supply portfolios has not gone unnoticed by Rep. Duran: “I applaud efforts by local co-ops to generate more electricity from renewable sources. It’s really inspiring to see folks in Colorado taking the lead to make sure we can tap our wind, water and sun to create the energy we need and keep it in our communities.”

Sen Kevin Grantham (R-Dist. 2)

The Senate president for the 71st General Assembly will be Sen. Kevin Grantham, a two-term state senator from Cañon City. Sen. Grantham represents Senate District 2, a district that includes Fremont, Teller, Park, Clear Creek and parts of El Paso counties. Sen. Grantham was raised in a farming community in Crowley County and currently works as a real estate appraiser at Grantham Appraisal Service in Cañon City. He is also a member of the Joint Budget Committee, a position he will relinquish when he assumes his role as Senate president on January 11.

Sen. Grantham has long been a supporter of Colorado’s electric co-ops, and he was the prime Senate sponsor of several bills recently initiated by CREA. During the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Grantham sponsored a bill that allowed co-ops to use purchases from community solar gardens to comply with the requirements of Colorado’s renewable energy law. S.B. 15-046 also authorized electric co-ops to subtract their sales of electricity to industrial loads for purposes of calculating their “retail” distributed generation obligation. These changes made compliance with the renewable portfolio law more economic for co-op consumers.

In the 2016 session, Sen. Grantham sponsored CREA’s bill to make sure that all ballots are counted in co-op board elections and to reduce the costs of those elections. He also co-sponsored a bill that clarifies that sales of electricity for residential purposes are not subject to the state sales tax.

Sen. Grantham believes strongly in the idea that electric co-ops are successful because they are owned and governed by their members, and maintaining this independence is important: “Colorado’s electric co-ops have done a great job providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to rural Colorado for over 75 years. The co-op business model and local control works, and we’ll oppose any proposed interference with that local control.”

Sen. Grantham’s take on renewable energy is somewhat different than Speaker-designate Duran’s view. “Our caucus tends to believe that market forces should determine which energy sources are used by Colorado’s citizens,” he says. “Although we support all forms of energy, including renewable energy, we don’t support mandates that increase costs to rural consumers.”

Working together
So, will a Senate president- designate from rural Colorado and a House speaker-designate from Denver be able to work together to solve Colorado’s problems and move the state forward? The answer from both is a resounding “yes.” Says Rep. Duran: “I look forward to working with Sen. Grantham, and across the aisle, to move Colorado forward in areas where I know we have common ground, including education, transportation and infrastructure. We have more in common than divides us, and I know we can work together to have a productive legislative session.”

Sen. Grantham concurs: “We won’t always agree with bills passed by the House and they won’t always agree with bills passed by the Senate. But I think we can still work together to balance the budget and find ways to spur economic development in rural Colorado.”

The band Deep Purple continues to tour, with different members, decades after its founding. And it looks like Colorado’s purple politics will also share the stage for the foreseeable future… bump, bump, bum…bump, bump, da-dum…bump, bump, bum…bump-bum.

How an Electric Utility’s Transformers Work

By Tom Tate
300x250-industryIf you were asked to describe your electric cooperative’s system, you might say, “Poles, wires and those round gray things.” Round gray things? That is often the description given for transformers, the pieces of equipment crucial in converting electricity to a voltage that is safe for use in homes and businesses. So, how do they work?

First, transformers are nothing like those creations of the silver screen. They don’t transform from vehicles to incredible combat robots. Instead, they transform the voltage of the electricity that passes through them.

Here’s how they work: Electricity loses voltage as it is transmitted due to the resistance in wires and other components. As a result, higher voltages are used to offset these “line losses,” as electric utilities call them. It all starts at the power plant. There, generators produce electricity at high voltages and use transformers to step up this voltage. For example, in Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission — the power supplier for 43 not-for-profit electric cooperatives and public power districts in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming — sometimes steps electricity it generates up to 345,000 volts. Since the power plants are far away, these voltages are necessary to survive the trip over the system to where it is needed.

Transmission lines connect to substations full of transformers and other control gear. Here is where the transformers step down the voltage to safer, more manageable levels. Depending upon the distance involved to the farthest member and the amount of load served, distribution voltages can range from 7,200 to 24,900 volts. A couple more step-downs and the electricity arrives at your home at 120/240 volts. This is quite different from the original voltage.

Regardless of the shape and size of the transformer, they all work in the same manner. Transformers have two sides, a high-voltage side and a low-voltage side. In normal operation, electricity flows into the transformer on the high-voltage side where it goes into a coil of wire, usually wound around an iron core. As the electricity flows through this coil, it creates a magnetic field that “induces” a voltage in the other coil. Here is where the magic (aka physics) of transformation takes place. Each coil has a different number of turns. The greater the number of turns, the higher the voltage. The coil on the high side will have more turns than the one on the low side. As a result, the voltage induced on the low side is less. Then transformation occurs.

Transformers aren’t just limited to utility use. They can be found everywhere in our daily lives, even if not so obvious as those on your electric cooperative’s system. The best example is the charger that all cell phones and many other electrical devices come with. These small cousins of utility transformers basically perform the same function. Charging your cell phone with 120 volts will fry it instantly. So, the charger converts the voltage to a more tolerable direct current. Take a moment to look around your home and see just how many of these miniature transformers you have. You might be surprised.

It is important to note that transformers work in both directions. Electricity flowing in on the low side is stepped up to the voltage of the high side. This is why electric co-ops educate members on proper connection of home generators. A generator feeding 240 volts into a residential transformer will produce whatever voltage the transformer is rated for on the other side, creating a deadly risk for line crews and your neighbors, which is why your co-op asks you to connect your generators according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. It’s always best to be safe.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Co-ops Care About Veterans in the Workforce

By Justin LaBerge

Most military bases are located in rural areas, and the power systems at some bases are operated by electric cooperatives. A disproportionately large percentage of our nation’s troops — some estimates suggest as high as 40 percent — come from rural America. Even the organization responsible for representing electric cooperatives in Washington, D.C., the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, was once led by a retired Army general.

Last year, America’s electric cooperatives began a new chapter in their long history of support for the military with the launch of Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country, a nationwide initiative to honor and hire military veterans and their spouses.

The program was developed to help electric cooperatives address a generational turnover in their workforce. Over the next five years, NRECA estimates electric co-ops will need to hire approximately 15,000 new employees to replace retiring baby boomers.

Those new workers will fill roles in every department, from lineworkers climbing poles to member service representatives answering questions to engineering and industrial technology experts designing and managing a smarter electric grid.

In addition to the technical skills these jobs require, electric cooperative employees must be hard working, disciplined, loyal, safety conscious and team oriented — qualities that are common among military veterans.

This summer, Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country celebrated a major milestone when former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan became the first veteran officially hired through the program.

The story of how Sloan landed his new job as an electrical engineer at Craighead Electric Cooperative in Jonesboro, Arkansas, reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.

Brian Duncan, CEO of Craighead Electric in Arkansas, hired the first veteran at the nation's co-ops.

Brian Duncan, CEO of Craighead Electric in Arkansas, hired the first veteran at the nation’s co-ops.

For several months, Craighead Electric CEO Brian Duncan worked to fill the position. Duncan advertised the opening in local papers and national job sites and attracted a number of highly qualified candidates.

Sloan’s application was among those strong candidates, but he wouldn’t be available to start for six months when his Air Force service ended.

Duncan, hoping to fill the position sooner than that, made offers to two other well-qualified applicants, but was unable to come to terms with either.

Shortly after the second candidate fell through, Duncan attended a national conference for electric cooperative CEOs.

One of the sessions featured two fellow co-op CEOs, one of whom was a 25-year Air Force veteran, discussing the newly launched veteran hiring initiative.

“The whole time they’re talking I’m thinking about Jeremiah; we probably need to look at this guy. For these guys coming out of the military, what better way to say ‘thank you’ than to give them a job,” Duncan said.

Jeremiah Sloan on the job.

Jeremiah Sloan on the job.

They scheduled an interview and it didn’t take long for Duncan to realize the co-op found its next engineer in Sloan.

“He was extremely professional. It was straight down the line. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘No, sir.’ Very detailed in his answers to all of the questions. Very thoughtful in his answers. It was the perfect interview, you might say,” Duncan said.

Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position at Craighead Electric. He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.

“I grew up in northeast Arkansas,” Sloan said. “My family is a long line of farmers, and they’re actually on Craighead Electric’s lines. The whole reason my wife and I decided to separate from the Air Force was to return home and be close to family.”

Former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan is the newest engineer on the Craighead Electric Cooperative team. “Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position, " CEO Brian Duncan said." He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.”

Former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan is the newest engineer on the Craighead Electric Cooperative team. “Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position, ” CEO Brian Duncan said.” He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.”

Though Sloan is the first veteran hired through the initiative, he won’t be the last; several other veterans have already been hired through the program. In addition to nationwide outreach through NRECA, approximately 50 electric cooperatives across the country already took the pledge to join the effort on the local level.

The support of veterans and reservists extends far beyond the scope of the formal Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country program into the routine operation of many electric cooperatives.

Two managers at AECI, a wholesale supplier of electric equipment owned by the electric cooperatives of Arkansas, were recently honored by the U.S. Marine Corps for their support of a Marine reservist working at the cooperative’s warehouse in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In August, Russ Dilley and Eric Creekmore were presented the Patriot Award for giving AECI truck driver Michael Henderson the workplace flexibility he needs to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country is another way America’s electric cooperatives can show concern for community while building a next generation workforce that will deliver the exceptional service co-op members expect and deserve.

To learn more about the program and career opportunities for veterans at electric cooperatives, visit www.ServeVets.coop. Cathy Cash and Denny Gainer contributed to this report.

Justin LaBerge writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“Pioneering Power” Documentary and Co-op Month Go Hand in Hand

By Mary Peck

For cooperative businesses, October brings more than all things pumpkin and masses of Halloween paraphernalia. October is National Cooperative Month, a 50-year-old tradition and time for co-ops across the country to reflect on their principles and share the value of cooperative membership with others.

This year, it also happens to be the month that the team at Durango-based film production company Inspirit Creative is putting the final touches on “Pioneering Power,” a documentary exploring the birth of electrical power generation in the mountains of southwestern Colorado and the formidable challenges faced by the people who changed history.

Cameraman, Jay Kriss, captures lineman KJ Johnson climbing a pole the way it was done in the early years of the industry.

Cameraman, Jay Kriss, captures lineman KJ Johnson climbing a pole the way it was done in the early years of the industry.

The enthusiasm Executive Producer and Director Jay Kriss of Durango brings to the project and its story of electric power’s western roots is unmistakable. “I find it fascinating that these guys were building wood flumes to shoot water down something that [Nikola] Tesla designed,” he said. “Electricity as we know it started here. No one else can say it. We were the first.”

Immersing himself in his subject is key to the documentary-making process, Kriss explained. When the film industry veteran is seeking a documentary idea, he looks for a major event, individuals to tell about it and a strong archival source to help bring the event to life. Kriss’ award-winning 2012 documentary “Harvesting the High Plains” centers around the story of two men and how their innovative farming practices developed during the Dust Bowl ended up creating one of the nation’s largest wheat-farming operations.

“Documentary films are different; the development process takes some time,” said Kriss. “I spend a lot of time reading and looking at the social implications, particularly in the West.” After a year of planning and research in places like the Washington, D.C., National Archives, Cornell University and the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Kriss and Associate Producer and Co-Director Christina Knickerbocker launched production in August 2015.

The team traveled extensively for months, shooting more than 35 hours of footage at locations that included Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Some original structures and power lines, built mainly to serve a booming mining industry, that are still in use today made the footage and re-enactments especially compelling. “When you think about our history, it’s so new, it’s almost frightening,” Kriss said.

Alex Shelley of SMPA at the Ames Hydroelectric Plant.

Alex Shelley of SMPA at the Ames Hydroelectric Plant.

In Colorado, the film crew trekked to sites like the historic Ames Hydroelectric Plant outside Ophir, Camp Bird Mine near Ouray, Bridal Veil Falls overlooking Telluride, the wooden flumes at Cascade Creek in LaPlata County and the Tacoma Hydroelectric Plant, which is accessible only via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The 80-minute documentary will cover the work of industry heavy-hitters Thomas Alva Edison, George Westinghouse, Tesla and the Nunn brothers; the world’s first commercial alternating current, or AC, power station built in Colorado in 1891; and the monumental change that electric power generation and transmission brought to life in the West. The film’s journey culminates with the authorization of the Rural Electrification Act, which subsequently led to the formation of today’s electric cooperatives.

Not surprisingly, the cooperative spirit played a role in “Pioneering Power.” Interviews, historic photos, archival film and realistic re-enactments are key elements of the project. When Kriss called on San Miguel Power Association for help, the electric co-op, whose service territory includes Silverton, Telluride and Nucla, was quick to answer. “We’re super excited and it’s a story well-worth telling,” said Alex Shelley, communications executive at SMPA. “This can really shine a light on what happened here.”

KJ Johnson and Tom McLeod of SMPA helped create period scenes.

KJ Johnson and Tom McLeod of SMPA helped create period scenes.

Shelley and several SMPA linemen donned 1930s-era clothes to help create authentic period scenes, including one filmed at the Idarado substation perched at an elevation of 11,000 feet on the top of Red Mountain Pass in Ouray County. The substation’s decades-old wood structure, built to power the Idarado Mine, was an ideal stage. “The fun part was going to these old lines we have,” said K.J. Johnson, a journeyman lineman at SMPA. “We have stuff still in use now that was built in 1926.”

Turns out Johnson is a man of many talents. He is also a boot repairman and helped adapt the linemen’s boots to be historically accurate by putting leather soles on them. He did similar work for Quentin Tarantino’s Western movie “The Hateful Eight,” filmed near Telluride in 2015.

“It was fun working with Jay and Christina. He’s shot a lot of films and she knows a lot of the history,” Johnson said. “They were very organized and ran everything by us to make sure it was possible. I’m really excited for the premier.”

Snowshoes have always been part of a mountain lineman's necessary equipment.

Snowshoes have always been part of a mountain lineman’s necessary equipment.

Along with SMPA, the support of HiLine Utility Supply, the Colorado Rural Electric Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Xcel Energy and viewer donations made through Colorado Public Television (CPT12) helped make “Pioneering Power” a reality. In large part, it’s an investment in education.

“Documentaries can be powerful teaching tools,” Kriss said. The project includes a shorter companion film titled “Power Today,” and features discussions with linemen and information on today’s wind, coal, solar and hydroelectric power generation sources. The curriculum will accompany the film as a packet available through the Public Broadcasting Service.

“Pioneering Power” features the diverse talents of 60-75 people overall, an original music score written by composer Rob Pottorf and narration by television host Mike Rowe, best known for his work on the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs.”

It is set to premier in Durango, followed by early showings in other locations that provided assistance. Its television premier will be presented by CPT12 during prime time in upcoming months. It will ultimately be seen nationally on PBS in more than 20 million households, followed by a home DVD release through PBS and will be available later on Amazon, Netflix and other outlets.

Learn more about the project at cpt12.org/local/production-partners/pioneering-power andfacebook.com/pioneeringpower.

Mary Peck is a freelance writer with a history of working with and writing for Colorado’s electric co-ops.