Co-op’s New Solar Garden Focuses on Low-Income Members

Yampa Valley Electric Association, with offices in Craig and Steamboat, is one of five electric co-ops that has partnered with GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office to develop a community solar array that will be 100 percent dedicated to lower income YVEA members. Members participating in this program will receive a bill offset from the energy produced by their portion of a community solar array.

GRID Alternatives Colorado is a nonprofit organization that makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to under served communities. GRID brings together community partners, volunteers and job trainees to implement solar power for lower-income households, providing energy cost savings, hands-on installation experience and a source of clean, local energy that benefits everyone.

An analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that “between 50 percent and 75 percent of households and just over 50 percent of businesses are unsuitable to host photovoltaic systems on their roofs because of shade, orientation, structural factors or ownership issues.” In community solar gardens, participants get the benefits of energy from the sun as if the solar system was on their roof, but their solar panels are located offsite away from their home in a larger, shared community array.

With the GRID project, YVEA is choosing to experiment with owning, operating and maintaining the garden, unlike the co-op’s Clean Energy Collective Array in Craig which was built and managed by the developer of the solar garden. GRID will help YVEA build the new solar garden and support it over time.

To qualify for this program, participants must pay their own electric bill to Yampa Valley Electric and their total household income must be at, or below, 80 percent of the area median income of their county.

Co-op Celebrates its First Solar Garden

White River Electric Association in Meeker held a solar garden ribbon cutting ceremony this month to officially announce that its Meeker Solar Garden is up and running. This is the cooperative’s first solar garden and all available solar panel leases are taken.

The WREA 2016 annual lease fee is $36 with an annual solar production credit of $60.This equates to a cost of $3 per month with a production credit of $5 per month. Other solar garden business models require long-term contracts with expensive upfront lease fees.

More than half of Colorado’s electric co-ops now have solar gardens, or will soon have solar gardens, to benefit their members.

Businesses, Schools Get Paid for Energy Efficient Upgrades

Bob Brooker, Ute Mountain Travel Center and Casino General Manager, receives a rebate check from Dellinger.

Bob Brooker, Ute Mountain Travel Center and Casino General Manager, receives a rebate check from Dellinger.

Empire Electric Association’s general manager, Josh Dellinger, has been busy presenting substantial rebate checks to two local businesses and a high school that recently improved their buildings’ energy efficiency.

Montezuma-Cortez High School Superintendent Alex Carter received a check for $138,400 for the ground source heat pump installation in the new high school. EEA and its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, each provided rebates of $69,200. The heat pumps are controlled by a computerized system that maintains constant classroom temperatures between 72 and 74 degrees.

The Ute Mountain Travel Center and Casino received a rebate check for $11,603 for the installation of LED parking lot lighting. The new lighting is more efficient and brighter than previous lighting and will save money each month on the casino’s electric bill.

Dellinger presents a rebate check to Eschallier.

Dellinger presents a rebate check to Eschallier.

One of the owners of Kokopelli Bike & Board of Cortez, Pete Eschallier, received a rebate check for $2,878.50 after installing LED lighting in the showroom. There are now fewer lights operating at less cost while providing brighter lighting for customers.

Towns Swap Traditional Lights for LED Streetlights

Delta-Montrose Electric Association’s LED streetlight initiative is making a tremendous energy-savings and aesthetic impact in the Delta, Montrose and surrounding areas, and the reception has been positive.

In the fall of 2015, the town of Cedaredge made the switch to LED streetlights, cutting its monthly street lighting costs in half. In addition to using less energy than traditional lights, LEDs last much longer. On average, LED lamps last 10 to 15 years as compared to 4 to 6 years for older technologies. By swapping out the town’s 92 streetlights, Cedaredge will see significant savings on its energy bill and also cut DMEA’s maintenance and material costs.

“We’re very happy with the LED lights. They are a lot brighter, and many people have commented that they just feel safer. The new LEDs provide a better quality of light. And of course, the reduced electric bill for the town of Cedaredge is a huge plus,” said Kathleen Sickles, Cedaredge town administrator.

“Credit must be given to our town governments, like Cedaredge, for recognizing the value of LEDs, both from an efficiency standpoint and a quality standpoint. I’m proud to see our small towns leading the way and making changes that haven’t even happened in some of the largest cities in the U.S.,” said Phil Zimmer, DMEA energy services supervisor.

The towns of Crawford and Cedaredge already made the transition to all LED street lighting. Montrose made the switch for its highest rated lamps, trading in 400-watt mercury vapors for 38-74 watt LEDs. Olathe and Hotchkiss are next. Both recently approved plans to move forward with LED street lighting.

“Our board of trustees is constantly working to find ways to use taxpayer money in the most efficient way possible. DMEA’s proposal to transition our streetlights to LEDs provided an opportunity to reduce our energy costs and improve the quality of lighting throughout town. With a payback period of just 3.5 years and the potential for future savings, it just made sense,” said Patty Gabriel, Olathe town administrator.

DMEA proposed plans for transitioning to the energy-saving technology to all towns and cities within the co-op’s service territory.

An “Ace” in Energy Efficiency

La Plata Electric Association continues to aid its member-owners with their energy efficiency endeavors through guidance and its rebate program.

Terry Smith, owner of Terry’s Ace Hardware in Pagosa Springs, turned to LPEA to help with the high electric bill for the expansive store. Not only did CFO Dennis Svanes work with Smith to manage his bill, Svanes planted the seed that Smith should look into energy-efficient LED lighting to reduce costs. Coincidentally, Ace Hardware corporate also launched an efficiency initiative, encouraging stores to switch to LEDs.

“We went to an Ace convention and the guys from Feit had a program that analyzed the size of our store, how many bulbs we had,” Smith said of the lightbulb manufacturer. “They plugged it in and showed us how much it would cost us, but also how much we would save.”

Unfortunately, store manager Susan Garman discovered that updating to LEDs in a large facility with multiple applications is not that simple, and she was flooded with a variety of sales sources. That’s when LPEA’s project specialist Ray Pierotti stepped in.

“A lot of people don’t realize the benefits of a cooperative,” Pierotti said. “We’re here to help people – not to make a profit.”

Pierotti helped Smith change out more than 1,600 lightbulbs. Although the total job cost was nearly $30,000, Smith received a $5,716 rebate from LPEA, will realize more than a $9,000 per year reduction on his stores electric bill and will see a return on investment in less than three years.

Another benefit is that lighting throughout the store has improved dramatically, particularly in the furniture department, according to Garman. “With the other lighting, it was dim and the colors got distorted,” she said. “Now this is a true color, which we didn’t get with the old fluorescents.”

Terry’s Ace Hardware is now a flagship for LEDs, offering a wide variety for its Pagosa neighbors.

“We did a reset on our lighting department,” Smith said. “All of us here are committed to reducing our carbon footprint. We do have customers coming in who are madder than wet hens that they can’t get their 60-watt incandescent bulbs anymore, but we are cheerleaders for the future and are here to educate. And LPEA has been a great partner.”

Co-op Members Save with Energy Efficiency Rebate Program

Energy efficiency extends the power generated by coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy by stretching the energy generated by those fuels. Simply put, energy efficiency makes the power on the grid go further and last longer while promoting the smart use of fuels and conservation of resources.

When members of Mountain View Electric Association participate in one of the electric co-op’s energy efficiency programs and make the “fifth fuel” work for them, they not only use less electricity and save on their monthly electric bill, but they are also helping to reduce the overall demand for electricity within the co-op’s territory. The decrease in demand, especially during peak hours, allows MVEA to offset the impact of increasing wholesale power costs by reducing the amount of power it needs to purchase.

MVEA, with offices in Falcon and Limon, offers members a rebate on up to 50 Energy Star certified LED lightbulbs per year (per member account) through its Co-op Cares Energy Efficiency Rebate program.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, MVEA’s power supplier, partnered with the co-op to offer an Energy Efficiency Rebate program that extends beyond LED lightbulbs. Members can offset the cost of upgrading to more modern, energy-efficient appliance models with specific rebates that include electric water heaters, central air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers and other appliances.

Energy efficiency helps us all save. It is a team effort. And it can start with something as small as a lightbulb.

Hydropower Makes its Mark on Electric Co-op

By Kevon Storie

The beauty and the challenge of renewable energy is that there is no silver-bullet resource, no one-size-fits-all portfolio, and a utility’s territory may hold more than one overlooked opportunity to add new kilowatts of clean, locally-generated power. Being alert to such opportunities is how San Miguel Power Association built a power portfolio that includes 2.3 percent locally-generated hydropower.

Right place, right time

Small hydropower development is highly dependent on location, and SMPA is lucky that its southwestern Colorado service territory is rich in the resource. “Blessed” is the word marketing and energy services manager Brad Zaporski used, who added that there is more to the utility’s success than water. “We have existing infrastructure from the historic mining industry, so the facilities can be developed with minimal environmental impact,” he said.

Silverton micro hydropower building

Silverton micro hydropower building

The 11-kilowatt Mayflower Mill Hydro in Silverton is another history-making facility, the first small hydropower project in Colorado to be permitted under the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act. Congress passed the law in 2013 to streamline the permitting process for hydropower units smaller than 5 megawatts.
In fact, commercial hydropower plants were generating electricity in the area long before the U.S. Department of Energy was created and earlier than when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act. The Ouray hydropower plant began operating December 6, 1885, making it one of the oldest in the nation. Private developer HydroWest, Inc. bought and renovated the inactive plant in 1992, and today it generates about 4 million kilowatt-hours annually for San Miguel.

Comes in all sizes
In many cases, however, the cooperative simply makes its own feasibility. At 8 MW, the Ridgway Reservoir hydropower plant doesn’t quite qualify under the streamlined hydropower act, but it is the single largest renewable energy project in San Miguel’s service territory. It generates about 24,000 megawatt-hours in an average water year — enough electricity to power 2,500 homes annually — and far more than the co-op is able to purchase on its own.

SMPA worked out an agreement with its wholesale power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and plant owner Tri-County Water. TriState buys the energy the plant produces between June and September, and SMPA consumes the power. The city of Aspen buys the facility’s output during the other eight months of the year.

The Ouray hydropower plant, which was established in 1886, is believed to be the oldest operating power plant in the United States.

The Ouray hydropower plant, which was established in 1886, is believed to be the oldest operating power plant in the United States.

Though considerably smaller at 320 kW, the generating station at the Pandora Water Treatment Facility in Telluride scores big points for maximum use. Four high lakes above the town send water through the Bridal Veil hydropower plant above town, producing about 2 million kWh annually. The next stop is the Pandora hydropower unit at the treatment facility, and from there to the homes and businesses of Telluride for consumption. The water ends its journey through the city at the Telluride wastewater plant where a large solar array produces 10 percent of the plant’s electricity needs. “And all of these things happen in just 3 miles, largely through the use of existing infrastructure from the mining era,” said Zaporski.

San Miguel also has several micro hydropower units — those that generate less than 100 kW — in its portfolio. The 90-kW Coal Creek hydropower plant just south of Ridgway was the co-op’s first micro hydropower purchase in 2009, and the 22-kW Ouray Hot Springs hydropower plant is one of three net-metered hydropower facilities on SMPA’s system.Though considerably smaller at 320 kW, the generating station at the Pandora Water Treatment Facility in Telluride scores big points for maximum use. Four high lakes above the town send water through the Bridal Veil hydropower plant above town, producing about 2 million kWh annually. The next stop is the Pandora hydropower unit at the treatment facility, and from there to the homes and businesses of Telluride for consumption. The water ends its journey through the city at the Telluride wastewater plant where a large solar array produces 10 percent of the plant’s electricity needs. “And all of these things happen in just 3 miles, largely through the use of existing infrastructure from the mining era,” said Zaporski.

Raising green for green power
Focusing on small and micro hydropower development isn’t the only creative thing about San Miguel’s approach to renewable energy, either. “We do it all on a zero-subsidy basis,” Zaporski stated proudly.

A 22-kW micro hydro project at Ouray’s hot springs powers the pool and out buildings at the city-owned facilities.

A 22-kW micro hydro project at Ouray’s hot springs powers the pool and out buildings at the city-owned facilities.

The co-op offers its members two programs that allow them to fund hydropower and other renewable projects outside of rates. Through the Green Block program, members purchase renewable energy credits from SMPA’s existing renewable generators to offset their energy consumption. These Green Blocks, as the RECs are called, represent 100 kWh of renewable energy and cost $1 per block, per month. All SMPA members may purchase as many blocks as they wish and the cost is added to the monthly bill. Local municipalities looking to offset their energy use also purchase the RECs.

The Green Cents program is another simple and easy way for members to support community renewable energy projects. Members may choose to round up their monthly bill to the nearest dollar, with the extra pennies funding new projects. Participation costs members on average around $7 annually, and they may cancel at any time.

Opportunity keeps knocking
In a news release about the Ridgway Dam project, Colorado Small Hydro Association President Kurt Johnson of Ophir said, “Only about 3 percent of the nation’s dams currently include hydropower. There is an enormous untapped opportunity to generate new clean energy using existing infrastructure.”

Zaporski agreed, noting that San Miguel has two more small hydropower projects in the works. “Partnership is really what makes these projects happen,” he declared.

Originally printed in Western Area Power Administration’s Energy Services Bulletin.

The Next Generation of Lineworkers

By Justin LaBerge

Becoming a lineman involves years of training and experience.

Becoming a lineman involves years of training and experience.

Over the next five years, America’s electric cooperatives expect to hire nearly 15,000 people to fill jobs ranging from information technology specialist to lineworker. Investor-owned utilities, municipal power systems and private power line contractors will also need thousands of skilled workers to keep our nation’s energy grid running safely and reliably.

Despite high demand, good pay, excellent benefits, opportunities to advance and a stable long-term outlook, America is facing a shortage of lineworkers.

To address this looming shortage, energy companies, including America’s electric cooperatives, teamed up to create the Center for Energy Workforce Development. Even celebrities took notice. Mike Rowe, who gained fame as host of the Discovery Channel’s series “Dirty Jobs,” created a foundation to raise awareness of the great career opportunities offered by skilled trades that are too often overlooked by guidance counselors and eager parents.

Trade groups and celebrities can raise awareness of an issue, but it takes more than awareness to keep the lights on. Training programs are the vital link to help motivated individuals become our nation’s next generation of lineworkers.

No “typical” student
In Colorado, we have some notable lineworker training programs, such as Mesa Hotline School and Western Colorado Community College, both in Grand Junction, and Rocky Mountain Lineman School in Trinidad.

Electrical LineworkerAt lineworker school, students learn about safety, underground and overhead procedures, installation, repair, operation of equipment, pole climbing and more important aspects of this skilled profession.

A common thread through these programs is that they attract students from all walks of life. Many are young people who recently graduated from high school. Others are older and have more experience.

The older students tend to be a mix of individuals looking for a better job with advancement opportunities, workers who were laid off from manufacturing jobs and veterans who recently completed their military service. No matter their background, all students in these programs must love the outdoors and have a strong work ethic.

The tuition assistance options for lineworker programs are almost as diverse as the students themselves. For apprentice lineworkers already employed by co-ops, the tuition for these programs is often paid in full by the co-op. Returning veterans can use GI Bill funds, and many states have additional programs to help veterans enter the civilian workforce. Manufacturing workers who lost their jobs to companies overseas might be eligible for job-retraining funds.

In addition to these specialized types of financial assistance, lineworker training programs typically qualify for all the traditional education funding sources, including scholarships, grants and student loans.

Even those who rely on loans and their own funds to pay for their lineworker education will benefit from the much lower costs of community colleges as compared to four-year schools and private, for-profit colleges.

Genuine opportunity
In a September 26, 2015, column published by Education and Career News, Mike Rowe wrote: “Every day, millions of people looking for work fail Electrical Lineworkerto consider a host of genuine opportunities, in part because they don’t appear on our collective list of ‘top jobs.’ Job satisfaction is important, but ultimately, vocational happiness has less to do with what you do than with who you are. In other words, character — like opportunity — won’t be found on a list.”

Few organizations value character as much as America’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives, and lineworker is just one of the many “genuine opportunities” they offer.

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

Reliable Electricity is Becoming Even More Reliable

Our electricity is on almost all the time. You know that. But you might not know the amount of time it’s on is getting better every year.

Electricity has become so reliable that the numbers for a typical American home sound crazy. For most people, the total amount of time without power because of an outage is less than two hours a year. That means their electricity is on 99.977169 percent of the time.

“You can’t have 100 percent reliability all the time on something as large as an electric distribution system,” says Tony Thomas, principal engineer at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. And although the U.S. electric service on-time number is just a decimal point from perfect, Thomas says, “Reliability has been getting much better.”

To understand the improvements in electric utility reliability, you need to be introduced to what Thomas says are known as “the three sisters”: the acronyms SAIDI, CAIDI and SAIFI.

Those stand for different ways to measure how power outages affect consumers. Here’s what they mean:

SAIDI shows how long an average customer goes without power during a year. It stands for System Average Interruption Duration Index. It’s calculated by dividing all of a utility’s power interruptions by the number of customers that utility serves. Analysts caution against citing a national SAIDI average because of the huge differences in utilities across the country and how data is collected. But a report from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers puts the typical customer as being without power 115 minutes a year.

SAIDI numbers do not include extremely long or short outages, since they could drastically skew the results among utilities and make the numbers less useful. Extremely long outages, like those caused by a major storm, can sometimes last more than a day. The short outages that are not included in SAIDI are, for example, cases like a utility circuit breaker quickly opening and closing.

SAIFI shows how often the power goes out for each customer. It stands for System Average Interruption Frequency Index. It’s calculated by dividing the number of customer interruptions by the number of customers.

CAIDI shows the average time it takes to restore power after an outage. It stands for Customer Average Interruption Duration Index. It’s calculated by dividing SAIDI by SAIFI.

All three of those reliability measures improved over the past few years, according to IEEE reports. The amount of time a utility customer was without electricity for the year (SAIDI) declined about 20 percent in the most recent four years of figures — from 143 minutes in 2011 to 115 minutes in 2014.

The number of outages per typical consumer in a year (SAIFI) went down from 1.16 to 1.07. And how long each of those outages lasted (CAIDI) declined from 117 minutes in 2011 to 104 minutes in 2014.

Thomas credits advances in utility technology for those improvements.

More and more mechanical electric meters are being replaced with automated meters that do more than just measure the bulk use of electricity coming to the meter at your house. They can also monitor whether electricity is delivered to your house at all, as well as the voltage quality of that electricity.

“With automated meters, utilities can know a consumer is out of power before the consumer knows it,” Thomas says.

Another step toward utilities spotting and solving outages faster is the more widespread adoption of high-tech monitoring systems. These SCADA systems, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, are typically set up as several computer monitors in a control room, each showing a different view of the utility’s service area, including weather maps and detailed schematics of each power line, substation and home or business served.

“Prices have dropped for SCADA systems, just like for all software in the last few years,” Thomas says. “Utility technology has gotten a lot better in the last 10 years.”

Thomas credits electric cooperatives with making special use of technology to overcome the barriers of long distances between members. Outages and other routine changes in power flow can be more quickly and easily addressed remotely, without having to make a long drive to a home or substation.

“Rural electric co-ops have done an amazing job of adopting technology and putting it to use,” Thomas says. “And all this technology just translates into better operation of the electric system.”

Colorado Rural Electric Association Executive Director Kent Singer agrees: “Co-ops have a great track record when it comes to keeping the lights on.”

But what about the future? “Co-ops will be challenged to continue this amazing level of service as more intermittent sources of electricity are integrated into the grid,” Singer said. “That will not be easy.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Solar Energy Heats Up

By Paul Wesslund

Solar energy is really heating up. Use of photovoltaic cells to make electricity grew 30 percent each of the last two years. Experts expect that pace to continue because of falling prices for solar equipment and December’s three-year extension of federal tax credits for solar energy.

As with any new and booming technology, solar brings promise and problems. On the upside, making electricity from sunlight would seem to solve the need for energy. But the sun doesn’t shine all the time we want power, the equipment can be expensive and the nation’s electricity transmission system was not designed for the widespread use of solar energy.

“We’ve seen very quick growth already,” says Andrew Cotter, program and product manager for renewable and distributed generation at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “And we’re going to see more of it.”

Electric co-ops are among the leaders in testing how community solar technology will work in the real world.

“The consumer-owned cooperative business model is promoting the growth of solar,” says Tracy Warren, senior communications manager at NRECA. “Co-ops are getting involved in solar energy because their members are asking them about it.”

The country will need more solar. U.S. energy experts say we will not be able to meet national energy goals — achieving energy independence and meeting new requirements connected to the government’s Clean Power Plan — unless we increase our solar energy capacity.

Now before you start thinking that solar power is taking over, you should know that the huge growth in solar energy starts from a small number; even with the explosion of the past few years, solar energy still generates less than 1 percent of the nation’s electricity. It will take many years of equally strong growth to even get near the portions of electricity generated nationally by wind and other non-solar renewable energy (6 percent), hydroelectric power (6 percent), nuclear (19 percent) or coal and natural gas (about 33 percent each).

The basic way that solar energy works is that when light hits certain specially-designed materials, it releases electrons from the material’s atoms, and electricity is really nothing more than flowing electrons. When these materials are manufactured into photovoltaic cells and connected, they can produce enough electricity to power a calculator, a lightbulb, a house or even several houses.

The recent growth of solar is happening in three different ways. One is utility-scale solar — large banks of photovoltaic panels that produce enough electricity for thousands of homes or businesses. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which supplies electricity to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops, buys power from the 30-megawatt Cimarron Solar Facility for its members. When it was built, it was the largest facility of its kind.

A second growth area is community solar. United Power, an electric co-op in Brighton, pioneered this concept back in 2009 when it built a solar power facility. Interested United Power members bought a share of the electricity the solar farm produced. Now 13 of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have similar community solar facilities and more co-ops will be adding them in the near future.

The third solar category goes by the fancy term “distributed generation.” That just means that the nature of solar cells can be made in lots of different sizes that can be distributed to make electricity from a lot of different places, from a little cell that powers a handheld calculator to a panel the size of a tabletop that could operate a remote water well on a cattle ranch, without the expense of building a long-distance power line.

Rooftop solar is an increasingly popular kind of distributed generation that allows homeowners to set up a bank of solar cells on their rooftops. Rooftop solar raises some of the trickiest issues for this developing source of electricity.

One of those issues comes from home solar energy owners selling excess electricity back to the utility. Designing those reverse rates can be complicated, since they need to account for a lot of factors, including the homeowner’s need for electricity all the time, not just when the solar panels are working.

Other technical issues include safety. Lineworkers repairing what they expect is a de-energized line can’t afford to be surprised by home solar panels suddenly sending electricity back through the wires.

“There is a whole new set of safety protocols and best practices that are being developed,” Cotter says. “When home solar generation becomes part of the electric grid, it is plugging into what has been called the most complex machine in the world.”

Another area of caution involves the cost and financing. The popularity of rooftop solar created an industry of vendors making a variety of claims in their sales pitches. Cotter advises people to be smart shoppers, read the fine print and get advice from your local electric co-op. He especially advises asking whether the homeowner or the vendor is getting the benefits of the renewable energy credits known as RECs.

“Electricity is a commodity; it is all the same whether it comes from a photovoltaic system or a power plant,” Cotter says.

Cotter also says some of the claims for how soon the solar project will pay for itself are based on unrealistic projections of how much electric rates will increase in the future. “Keep an eye out for any claims higher than 2 to 3 percent per year,” Cotter says. “Every utility is different, and members interested in solar energy for their home should look to their local electric co-op as the first source of trusted information.”

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