Special Programs Promote Energy Efficiency

Gunnison County Electric Association, based in Gunnison, offers several options to its member-owners to help them become more energy efficient. GCEA and the town of Crested Butte installed a community solar garden where members can lease a 250-watt solar panel. Each panel is expected to produce 1.3 kWh per day. In addition, the electric cooperative offers:
• Free home energy audits
• Rebates on LED lights
• Rebates on energy efficient appliances
• Assistance with efficient lighting in commercial buildings
• A Prepay Program

GCEA members can also go green by participating in its Green Power Program. The program gives members the choice of powering their homes with clean energy. GCEA purchases green power at a premium from its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and passes the cost of green power to participating members.

Electric Co-ops Excited to Bring More Energy Efficiency to Dairy Farmers

Electric co-ops in Colorado will be partnering with the Colorado Energy Office, which recently announced a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture award to help finance energy efficiency improvements for Colorado farmers.

The award comes through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program and is matched through a $1.3 million cash and in-kind combined contribution from CEO, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and utility and industry partners such as Colorado’s electric cooperatives. The funds will help finance energy and water saving projects identified through CEO’s Colorado Dairy and Irrigation Efficiency Program.

Over the two-year grant period, the efficiency improvements are expected to achieve more than 5,250 megawatt-hours of electricity savings and 524,000 gallons of water savings annually.

“Over the last two years the Colorado Energy Office laid the foundation and identified significant opportunities for cost-effective energy savings in Colorado’s agriculture industry. Having USDA on-board as a funding partner helps overcome the upfront investment barrier so farmers can affordably build out projects that can provide long-term savings,” said CEO Director Jeff Ackermann.

The electric co-ops were an integral part of the program when it was launched in 2015 in territory served by Morgan County Rural Electric Association and Highline Electric Association. Its purpose was to provide agricultural producers free energy audits and technical assistance designed to select and implement cost-effective improvements that will reduce energy, water and operating costs.

So far, 63 producers have participated and 2,800 MWh of potential electricity savings have been identified through the audits. The program will expand to 200 producers during the next two years and is expected to generate more than $4.5 million in potential savings in only five years.

“This grant will enable the implementation of cost-effective projects identified through Colorado’s statewide program, while meeting NRCS’s goal to integrate energy conservation into agricultural practices,” said Clint Evans, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Colorado’s agriculture industry faces direct energy expenses of more than $400 million annually that account for 7 percent of the industry’s overall expenses, according to CEO’s 2013 Agricultural Energy Market Research Report. The report identifies 90,000 MWh of potential electricity savings annually and identifies dairies and irrigators as the most energy intense sectors with the greatest opportunity for savings.

Co-ops Vote Initiative is Devoted to Rural Issues

By Justin LaBerge

In two months, Americans will go to the polls and cast votes for a president, 34 senators, 435 members of Congress, 12 governors, 5,920 state legislators and countless other local races.

While the presidential race is at the top of most voters’ minds, it is the state and local races that have a more direct and immediate impact on the “kitchen table” issues that matter most to families. For rural America, the stakes in this election are especially high.

An annual snapshot prepared by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported, “rural employment in mid-2015 was still 3.2 percent below its prerecession peak in 2007.”

That same report found that rural America continues to experience population decline driven by migration of residents to larger urban areas.

The trends underlying much of this migration — issues such as globalization, technology advances and the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-and knowledge-based economy — are largely beyond the control of any community, state or even country.

If rural America is to enjoy a prosperous future, it will be thanks to the ingenuity, self-reliance and determination of its people.

The rural electrification movement is a prime example of this.

When for-profit utilities based in urban areas declined to build electric lines in sparsely populated rural areas, the residents of those communities banded together to form cooperatives and build their own systems with the help of government loans.

Today, America’s electric cooperatives are finding new ways to support and promote the interests of the communities they serve.

One program that is particularly relevant today is the Co-ops Vote initiative. This nonpartisan, nationwide program is designed to promote civic engagement and voter participation in communities served by electric cooperatives.

Co-op members can go to vote.coop to gather information on the voter registration process in their state, dates of elections, information on the candidates running in those elections and explanations of key issues affecting rural America.

Visitors to the website can also take a pledge to be a co-op voter. By taking this pledge, they can send a message to candidates at all levels of government that electric cooperative members will be showing up at the polls in force and are paying close attention to the issues that impact the quality of life in their communities.

Mil Duncan, a noted scholar on rural economic development issues, said in a recent essay, “Far and away the biggest challenge rural development practitioners face is the need for greater human capital — for more leaders, more entrepreneurs… .”

To answer the call for more rural leaders, America’s electric cooperatives created the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour program.

Each year, approximately 1,700 high school students representing electric cooperatives from across the nation converge in Washington, D.C., for a weeklong, all-expense paid leadership development experience.

Several previous Youth Tour participants became university presidents, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and members of Congress. Many more returned home to serve in the many underappreciated leadership roles — coaches, small-business owners, church deacons, county commissioners — that form the backbone of our communities.

Members of cooperatives are empowered to explore different approaches to solving problems and figure out what solutions are best for their community. This applies to the energy sources they use to generate electricity, the technologies they use to operate the system and the policies and procedures they adopt. What works for co-op members in Colorado might not be right for co-op members in Oregon.

The same holds true for rural economic development, according to Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness.

In its list of six key steps for boosting rural economies, Harvard researchers said, “Rural economic development should focus on the unique strengths of each area rather than concentrating on ameliorating generic weaknesses.”

While many rural communities face similar challenges driven by similar factors, the best way to address those issues can vary widely from community to community.

When electric cooperatives brought electricity to rural America, the playing field leveled and small towns experienced a renaissance. A similar trend is unfolding as broadband access makes its way to more rural communities.

One recent high-profile example involves Christopher Ingraham, a data journalist at The Washington Post.

In 2015, he wrote a short article based on a data set from the USDA that ranked American communities on qualities that are often indicators of desirable places to live. The community with the lowest score in the USDA ranking was Red Lake County in Minnesota.

His story generated a lot of comments, including many from the people of Red Lake County who encouraged him to come out for a visit. He did, and was struck by the kindness of the residents and beauty of the landscape.

As a journalist who writes about data, Ingraham isn’t tied to any particular location. As long as he has a reliable high-speed internet connection, he can download the government data sets he needs to do his job and email his editor the finished stories.

In March of this year, he announced in another story that Red Lake County won him over, and he planned to move there with his wife and young children.

He can make this move because of high-speed broadband.

The shift to a knowledge-based economy might be hurting some traditional rural industries, but as more and more companies embrace “teleworking,” employees who were forced to move to large cities to work in certain industries can keep their jobs while working remotely from rural communities.

Expanding access to broadband in rural areas is one of the key issues addressed by the Co-ops Vote program, and Ingraham’s story is just one example why.

The challenges facing rural America will not be solved by one person, one idea or one action. But on November 8, we will determine which leaders we trust to enact policies that will help small communities help themselves.

Study the issues that are critical to the future of your community, look at the positions and backgrounds of every candidate running for every race from president to county road commissioner, decide which ones are best qualified to address these issues and then join millions of fellow electric cooperative members at the polls.

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

New Community Solar Project Helps Income-Qualified Households

Households in Colorado with income less than 80 percent of the area median, also known as income-qualified households, may face utility bills up to 15 percent of their net household income, depending on the season, reports show. In comparison, non income-qualified households typically pay less than 4 percent for their utility bills.

To help alleviate a portion of this utility cost burden, Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy is partnering with GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office to implement an income-qualified community solar array project.

Currently underway at the Cooley-Mesa campus in the town of Gypsum is the construction of a 145 kilowatt solar photovoltaic array. The estimated cost of the array is $450,000. However, this cost will be reduced by a $205,000 grant awarded to the project. HCE will own, operate and maintain this array. When completed, the array will produce approximately 218,000 kWh/year of clean, environmentally friendly electric energy – enough to meet the needs of 18 to 20 local homes this year.

The project is designed to help establish monthly electric bill credits for eligible income-qualified households that receive service from the electric cooperative for a two-year participation period. On an annual basis, this program is expected to provide a 50 percent reduction in the participant’s electricity bill, resulting in tangible utility savings for income-qualified households.

All eligible participants receive, with no up-front cost, a pro rata share of the generation capacity of the solar array. This percentage is applied to the actual monthly production of the array. Their calculated kilowatt-hour production is then multiplied by a preset energy rate to determine the bill credit. Though bill credit amounts may exceed the actual amount due, a minimum electric bill will be paid monthly by each participant. Any excess bill credit amount will carry forward to the next month.

A unique feature of this project, intended to manage overall costs, is the community “barn-raising” approach for installing the array. There will be several volunteer day opportunities for qualified program participants, elected officials, HCE employees and board of directors, and others to roll up their sleeves and furnish some sweat equity for the benefit of the project.

GRID will be responsible for the administration, coordination and selection of the first group of income-qualified households to participate in the project.

Electric Co-op Adds Additional Solar Farm

A 130-acre solar farm three miles east of downtown Fort Lupton is now producing power. The project began in late 2014 after Brighton-based United Power initiated an effort to incorporate cost-effective renewable energy sources to help meet renewable energy goals.

Partnering with solar developer Silicon Ranch Corporation, Silicon Ranch will own and operate the solar farm, while United Power receives all the energy produced over a 20-year period.

The 13-megawatt farm is expected to produce about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year from approximately 150,000 solar panels – enough to power 3,100 homes. The solar field is a single axis tracker, which means that the panels follow the sun throughout the day. This generates about 25 percent more energy than a traditional fixed panel system.

“Not only does this solar field significantly contribute to United Power’s overall renewable generation portfolio,” said Jerry Marizza, new energy program coordinator at United Power. “But it also makes business sense by helping United Power stabilize future rates to all its members.”

The Fort Lupton solar site, along with other renewable projects, helps United Power meet its statutory legal requirements to have 20 percent of its generation produced with renewable energy. It also generates a margin for United Power which correspondingly helps all its members by stabilizing future rate increases.

Solar Facility Under Construction in Electric Co-op Territory

Another two-megawatts of solar energy is coming to Fort Collins, increasing Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association’s energy portfolio. Through a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Silicon Ranch Corporation, over 24,000 more solar panels will be added at the existing Skylark Solar Facility in Weld County.

“With the continuation of added load to our system and the competitive pricing large-scale solar projects offer, adding another source of renewable energy to our members’ local electric grid makes sense,” PVREA CEO Jeff Wadsworth explains.

Dubbed Skylark II, construction recently started and PVREA hopes to see these panels energized by the end of 2016.

Learn more about PVREA’s renewable energy projects at http://www.pvrea.com/programs/renewables.

Group Effort Generates New Solar Garden in Southwest Colorado

Josh Dellinger (foreground) and Clint Rapier measure the framework that will hold the solar panels.

Josh Dellinger (foreground) and Clint Rapier measure the framework that will hold the solar panels.

A collaborative effort between three renewable energy supporters made Empire Electric Association’s Solar Assist Cooperative Garden a reality. The story of the partnership between the Cortez-based electric co-op and GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit from California, started when GRID reached out to EEA through the Colorado Energy Office.

By February 2016 the agreement was in place between EEA and GRID and construction began. The arrays were completed in April, thus making EEA the first system in the state of Colorado to partner with the Colorado Energy Office and GRID.

GRID received $1.2 million in grant money from the Colorado Energy Office to partner with Colorado co-ops and bring community solar to low-income families. GRID made a proposal to EEA for the installation of the 70 solar photovoltaic panels that produces 21.35 kilowatts in these arrays. In addition, GRID promised to be on site to train and lead teams of community volunteers and job trainees installing the solar structure. Through this program, five to 10 qualifying EEA members will see a reduction on their electric bills depending on how much energy the arrays generate.

EEA General Manager Josh Dellinger said, “The board feels that projects like this that benefit our community are in the best interest of our members as a whole. EEA has a long history of donating to organizations with various needs in our community and is glad to support our members.”

The volunteer solar installers included three Empire Electric employees, including Dellinger, as well as Montezuma-Cortez High School senior students, potential solar subscribers, student trainees from the Navajo Technical University in New Mexico and residents from Cortez.

The preparation for the expansion was completed and ready for the volunteers to finish the project in two days. Upon arrival, the volunteers were issued a hard hat, safety glasses, work gloves and a reflective vest. GRID divided the community volunteers into work teams headed by a GRID team leader. The volunteers got to work and eagerly helped assemble the arrays.

Dellinger volunteered on the first work day, helping install the framework for the solar panels to rest on. Dellinger said it was great to see potential subscribers contributing to the project. “It was also good to see volunteers from the high school participate,” he said. “It is nice when people come together on a project that will benefit members of our community.”

Day two included a dismal forecast of rain and snow. The job for the day was to secure and connect solar panels to the gleaming double tracks that were installed the previous day. Panel cables were attached to the inverters and the panels were secured using special fasteners. Once the cables were attached, a light flashed on the inverter, completing the connection.

Cold, wet and job complete, the volunteers pose for a group photo.

Cold, wet and job complete, the volunteers pose for a group photo.

EEA system engineer Clint Rapier volunteered at the project and was impressed by the preparation GRID Alternatives made: the preassembled tool kits, personal protective equipment, safety plan, briefing and organization. “It was apparent GRID had done this before and had refined the process,” Rapier said.

“Volunteering brings a sense of pride when working on projects for our community,” said EEA communications specialist Denise Moore, who also volunteered on the project. “Even though it was cold and we were soaking wet, everyone was there to get the job done. Working with such positive people made the job go quickly, and it was an inspiration to be involved in this uplifting community project.

The Solar Assist Cooperative Garden is located on EEA’s property in Cortez where it is maintained by the cooperative. Members can lease solar panels for a 20-year period and receive credit for the power generated by their panel.

Birds on the Wire

Facts About Electricity

Have you ever wondered why birds and squirrels don’t get zapped by electricity when they sit on electrical wires? It’s because they are not touching the ground, or in other words, they’re not grounded. It helps to understand the nature of electricity. Electricity is always trying to reach the ground and if an electrical conductor, such as a power line, provides the path, electricity will follow it.

When a bird lands on one wire, the bird’s legs and the wire are equally charged, in other words, they are at the same voltage level or “potential.” Most birds do not get electrocuted because they are at the same potential as the lines they are sitting on and therefore do not create a current flow. The same is true of squirrels when they land on the wire.

The voltage level or potential changes when a bird or squirrel touches a part of the structure going to ground. Suddenly, part of the animal will be charged and the other part won’t. In that case, a bird or squirrel would get electrocuted, just as a person would.

Lightening Safety

Lightening Safety

Before the Storm

It is important to know how to recognize when you are at risk for a lightning storm. Knowing that a storm is coming will allow you to make plans to be indoors before the storm strikes.

  • Check the internet or TV/radio stations for the forecast before leaving the house
  • Check the radar and lightning detection sections of WeatherBug.com or other websites to see if storms are approaching.
  • Storms can form overhead, so always check the sky for large cumulus clouds as these are the first sign of thunderstorms.
  • If you feel like a storm is on its way, it is imperative to stop your outdoor activities and move to a safe indoor area.
  • Lightning can strike before the rain, so be someplace safe before the threat is upon you. To know the distance of a storm, use the 30-second rule. Count how many seconds from the flash until you hear thunder. If it is greater than 30 seconds, this means you are at least 6 miles away from the storm. If less than 30 seconds, this means you are in the threat area and you should take cover immediately.

Outside During a Storm

You should never be outside during a thunderstorm. If you are outside when a storm strikes, find shelter as soon as possible. If you are not near shelter during a thunderstorm, here are a few things you can do to greatly reduce your chances of being struck:

  • Go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects. Make sure the area is not prone to flooding.
  • If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shortest trees.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately.
  • Be a very small target. Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Laying flat on the ground will actually make you a larger target.

Wait 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning was seen before it is safe to return to your activities.

Inside During a Storm

Indoors is the safest place during a storm; however, there are still hazards to watch out for.
  • Do not use corded phones. Lightning can travel through the phone lines and electrocute you.
  • Lightning can also travel through pipes. Do not take showers, baths, or wash dishes while a thunderstorm is occurring.
  • Have a flashlight and/or candles available. Power failures often occur during thunderstorms.
  • Unplug or turn off electronics. Lightning can cause damaging power surges.

Struck by Lightning

  • If you see someone get struck by lightning it is important that you help them as soon as possible.
  • A person struck by lightning carries no electrical charge and can be handled safely.
  • Call for help by dialing 911 or your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number.
  • The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned. He/she could have burns where he/she was struck and where the electricity left his/her body.
  • Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.

Weather Safety

Weather Safety

Lightning is a consistent and significant weather hazard that may affect sports teams and other groups while they’re enjoying the outdoors. In Colorado, most lightning fatalities occur in June, July and August, when more people are outdoors and thunderstorms are more prevalent. Within the U.S., the National Severe Storms Laboratory estimates that 100 fatalities and 400-500 injuries requiring medical treatment occur from lightning strikes each year. While the probability of being struck by lightning is extremely low, the odds are significantly greater when a storm is in the area and the proper safety precautions are not followed.

As someone in charge of outdoor activities or as a parent with children involved in outdoor activities, it is important to help educate yourself and others about the dangers of lightning so that injuries and fatalities can be prevented. Education begins with background information on lightning. Prevention should begin long before any outdoor activities take place. The following steps are helpful to mitigate lightning hazards.

Monitor the weather

Designate a chain of command as to who monitors threatening weather and who makes the decision to remove people from an outdoor activity. An emergency plan should include planned instructions for participants as well as spectators. Those who are monitoring the weather should obtain a weather report each day an activity is planned. Be aware of potential thunderstorms that may form during an event.
Also, be aware of National Weather Service-issued thunderstorm watches and warnings, as well as signs of thunderstorms developing nearby. A watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop. A warning means that severe weather has been reported in an area.

Know your location

Lightning often strikes tall, large objects. If you’re outside, get away from high ground and don’t stand under tall trees or poles. Make yourself as small as possible, but don’t lie flat on the ground. The best thing to do is to squat low to the ground, put your hands on your knees with your head between them.
Know where the closest safe structure or location is in relation to the field or area of the activity. Know how long it takes to get there. A safe structure or location is any building normally occupied or frequently used by people. A building with plumbing or electrical wiring that acts to electrically ground the structure is ideal. If such a building isn’t nearby, a vehicle with a hard metal roof and rolled-up windows — not a convertible or a golf cart — can provide a measure of safety. While in the vehicle, do not touch the sides of the car, which is the path that electricity would follow if it struck the vehicle.

Understand the flash-to-bang method

Be aware of how close lightning actually is. The flash-to-bang method is the easiest and most convenient way to estimate how far away lightning is occurring. Thunder always accompanies lightning, even though its audible range can be diminished due to background noise and its distance from the observer. To use the flash-to-bang method, count the seconds from the time the lightning is seen to when the clap of thunder is heard. Divide this number by five to determine how many miles away the lightning is occurring.

Follow National Severe Storms Laboratory guidelines

  • As a minimum, when a flash-to-bang count of 30 seconds (six miles) is reached, all individuals should have left the event site and reached a safe structure.
  • The existence of a blue sky or the absence of rain does not mean lightning will not strike. Lightning can, and does, strike as far as 10 miles away from where it is raining.
  • If no safe structure is nearby, find a thick grove of small trees surrounded by taller trees or find a dry ditch. Crouch down with only the balls of your feet touching the ground, wrap your arms around your knees and lower your head. Do not lie flat because lightning often enters through the ground rather than from overhead. Be sure you’re away from metal objects, individual trees, water and open fields.
  • If you feel your hair stand on end or your skin tingle, crouch down immediately, as described above.
  • Don’t use a landline telephone except in emergency situations. A cellular phone or portable phone is a better alternative if used within a safe structure.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning or sound of thunder before resuming outdoor activities.
  • If someone has been struck by lightning, he or she does not carry an electrical charge so it is safe to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Prompt, aggressive CPR has been highly effective for the survival of victims of lightning strikes.