Trends, Technology Give You More Control Over Your Electricity

By Paul Wesslund

The thermostat on your wall marks a new era in electricity. Whether it’s a dial-style older than you or a digital model installed last month, it’s become more than just a way to set the temperature in your home. That familiar gadget is now a gateway to a world where consumers have more say over their electric service. You might call it designer electricity.

New technology, new regulations and new ways of thinking are reshaping the utility industry. These days, consumers can regulate the temperature in their home more precisely. They can even generate their own electricity with rooftop solar panels and sell the excess power back to their utility.

This new world started taking shape in the 1990s, says Andrew Cotter, a program manager for the Business and Technology Strategies Group of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Cutting costs and raising reliability for sensitive electronic equipment was top of mind. Companies were willing to pay extra for electric service that wouldn’t blink for even a fraction of a second. Other companies didn’t need such high reliability and looked for ways to pay less in return for occasional power interruptions.

“This is a trend that’s been going on for a long time,” Cotter says. “It’s just starting in homes.” That little thermostat, he says, “can be the entry point for a lot of people to take advantage of smart home technology and be more energy efficient.”

A new programmable thermostat can be set to avoid heating and cooling when you’re not home, or even set separate temperatures for rooms you don’t use often.

And that’s just the beginning of ways consumers are making more of their own energy decisions. Highly efficient LED bulbs can be controlled from your smartphone. Washers and dryers sense how much water and heat needs to be used to clean and dry your clothes.

All that efficiency makes a difference. Americans used about 2 percent less electricity in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. EIA expects that trend to continue for at least the next couple of years. “Efficient technologies really make a big difference,” Cotter says.

While efficiency saves energy dollars, the story of battery storage shows the bigger picture of how consumers are putting utility decision-making into their own hands.

The story began with homeowners using portable, motorized generators to power refrigerators and other crucial appliances during extended electric outages. Then battery technology improved, driven by the demand for smaller and stronger chargers for smartphones and other electronics. Battery companies thought their new and improved product could grab part of the portable generator market. Two years ago, Tesla, the high-end electric car company, announced a battery designed to look attractive enough to hang on your wall and provide backup power. Other companies followed.

In addition to promising relief from power outages, Tesla promoted its battery to the growing renewable energy market. Homeowners installing solar panels on their roofs ran into a problem — they generated a lot of electricity in the middle of a sunny day, when no one was home to use it, and none at night, when they were home wanting to use electricity. These batteries could store the energy from the sunlight to use when the sun goes down.

More options for consumers complicate work for electric utilities. Their business model didn’t plan for consumers storing electricity, reversing the flow through power lines as they sell electricity back to the utility or for the declining sales resulting from energy efficiency.

“Utilities are navigating a lot of difficult decisions. They’re not selling as many kilowatt-hours,” Cotter says. “They’re selling technology that reduces sales, so they’re working to come up with a sustainable business model. There are no easy answers.”

Electric co-ops are well-suited to work toward those answers, Cotter says. He sees the member-owned, not-for-profit business structure as an advantage in a more consumer-centric industry. He says innovation can be tested broadly in the network made up of more than 900 electric co-ops across the country. He even sees a plus in co-op geography: Their service territories tend to be in rural areas.

“Co-ops are in a unique position, with long power lines that have to cover a much larger area,” he says. That is leading to use of energy storage technology to run pilot programs testing utility-scale batteries. “It might be really expensive to hook the last person up to the end of three or four miles of line. Co-ops might be in a more natural position to adopt batteries for use in those in remote locations.”

No single co-op has to test all the new ideas, Cotter says. The nearly 1,000 co-ops share results from small pilot programs across the country. They’re experimenting with batteries, incorporating home renewable energy projects into the electric grid and making the most effective use of energy-efficient technologies.

“Co-ops are developing a more robust understanding of how consumers want to use electricity,” Cotter says. “They are all working together so one co-op doesn’t have to do all the testing. There are no top-down solutions.”

While the march toward more choices in electric service might seem inevitable, Cotter sees it as an uphill battle because of one key question: Is it worth it?

“Do you want to spend $10,000 for a photovoltaic system on your roof and another $10,000 for a battery to avoid 45 minutes a year of power outage?” he asks.

And that’s where your old-fashioned thermostat could put you on the cutting edge of the trend toward more customer choice: You can decide you like things the way they are.

“People are generally happy with their electric service,” Cotter says. While a lot of hobbyists might want to design their own new ways to manage their electricity, a lot of others “don’t want to pay money for hardware only to save a few dollars a year.”

Cotter advises co-op members to check with their local electric co-op before making major power-use decisions. He says that in this new era of more energy options, vendors will be promoting batteries, solar panels and other gizmos.

“Talk to your co-op first because they’re the local energy expert,” he says. “Vendors have a goal of selling products. The co-op, as a not-for-profit, member-owned utility, has a different perspective that will be more in your interest.”

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

Micro Hydroelectric Projects Power Up Colorado’s Agricultural Communities

By Mary Peck

Colorado’s eastern plains are probably the last place a person would expect to find a hydroelectric project installation, but that’s exactly where Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association member Jim Park’s micro hydro generator is planted — along an irrigation ditch on his farm 8 miles east of Kersey, to be precise. The 25-kilowatt generator turns out enough power to run the center pivot on his farm’s sprinkler, which waters 100 acres of corn and alfalfa throughout the growing season.

In a state renowned for pioneering hydroelectric projects of all shapes and sizes in mountainous areas, Park’s micro hydroelectric project is unique to say the least, and the only such project in the Fort Collins-based electric cooperative’s service area. “We thought it was a really interesting project to partner with,” said Tony Francone, PVREA member relations representative and energy use advisor. “We were excited to be able to help Jim and provide the interconnection for it to come back to his metering.”

As the name implies, micro hydroelectric projects are small installations, generally up to 100 kilowatts in size, according to Sam Anderson, energy specialist and program administrator with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Growing federal and state support for renewable energy production, particularly through the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 (or Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency) grant program, is a big driver for increasing interest in agriculture hydropower across Colorado, which has some of the best incentives in the nation. “Since we started this program, Wyoming and Oregon have been working on developing similar programs, so it’s making an impact,” Anderson said.

Earlier this fall, Meeker-based White River Electric Association began operating its co-op’s first micro hydroelectric project. Like Park’s unit, the WREA Miller Creek Ditch Hydro Project utilizes irrigation ditch water to generate power. “The collaborative nature of the Miller Creek Ditch Hydro Project met all of WREA’s goals,” said Trina Zagar-Brown, WREA general counsel and member services manager. “It has been widely supported by our agricultural community and our membership as a whole.”

It was his own lifelong agricultural background and experience as a PVREA board member for more than two decades that helped foster Park’s interest and knowledge in ag-related hydroelectric generation. Through his own research and assistance from Fort Collins-based Community Hydropower Consulting, Park took advantage of grant programs through the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. All three were coordinated under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which provides a means to stack the three sources of funding as part of its mission to promote conservation activities led by local grassroots initiatives and supported by the USDA.

“Jim was one of the first to take advantage of the program,” Anderson said. He noted that, while most of the state’s agricultural hydroelectric projects are on the Western Slope, there are plenty of potential generation sites east of the Continental Divide. “It only works well with gravitational energy, but there is a surprising amount of opportunities in Weld County and the Front Range,” he said.

Park had his eye on his farm’s hydropower site for years. Placing the turbine at the bottom of a 25-foot slope in his irrigation diversion off the Lower Latham ditch made sense in terms of water efficiency improvements. “Many times I’ve watched that thing and thought that would be interesting to put a generator on it,” Park said.

Park’s quest led him to the Ossberger manufacturing company in Germany, where micro hydropower projects are relatively prevalent. Founded in 1873, the company’s patented flow turbine was developed to work with small water power resources. Park’s cross-flow turbine was manufactured specifically for his land elevation, water volume and generation needs. The unit took a six-week journey on a container ship to the United States before it was installed. A control panel with a trash collector screen was then set up as was a new net meter, and on June 26, 2017, the cross-flow turbine began generating power.

“My goal was about 40,000 kilowatt-hours. That’s about what my sprinkler uses and I think we’re going to reach that goal,” Park said. He estimates that he will generate around 80 percent of the power required to run his sprinkler. Should the unit generate more energy than is needed, a portion of the overage can be treated as savings in his PVREA account. This is likely since the ditch runs from April to November, before and after the actual time he needs to run his sprinkler. While he will eventually see a positive return on his investment, cost savings wasn’t the primary driver for Park. Still, it’s a nice benefit. “That’s one thing about a hydro turbine,” he said. “Once they’re in place there’s not a whole lot of upkeep. It’s expected to run 60 to 70 years.”

Park’s 260-acre farm was homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1888 and is designated a Colorado Centennial Farm, meaning it has been owned by the same family for more than 100 years. His father was born on the farm in 1907 and Park lived on it his entire life, so it seems fitting that a historic power source, and one that makes the most of agricultural resources, found its home on the farm, too. “I’m very pleased,” Park said.

Mary Peck is a freelance writer in northern Colorado with a background in the electric co-op industry.

To learn more about irrigation hydropower and funding opportunities, an applicant navigation guide is viewable at Get a quick view of the project at

Panel Explores Co-ops Thriving in an Evolving Industry

Co-ops face unprecedented challenges as the result of new distributed energy technologies, customer attitudes toward self-generation and state energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. At CREA’s Energy Innovations Summit October 30, the opening panel provided a coast-to-coast look at how the electric co-ops in several states are mapping a strategy for the new energy paradigm.

Kent Singer, executive director of Colorado Rural Electric Association, moderated the panel consisting of Ted Case, executive director, Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Michael Couick, president and CEO, The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina; and Mike Williams, president and CEO of Texas Electric Cooperatives.

Singer posed the question of, after 80 years in the business, how do co-ops maintain relevance? Mike Williams responded that the biggest challenge is the co-ops themselves and that for the future, co-ops need to recognize that the landscape has changed. He said co-ops need to be forward-thinking and recognize co-op members’ needs and their desire when it comes to their electricity.

Mike Couick answered that, as is true with phone technology, things have changed and member-consumers want choices. He stated that as co-ops are owned by the people they serve, they can either embrace their choices or fight them, and he chooses to “embrace innovation” and is willing to change along with the members’ choices.

“Co-ops should discuss why they exist, and always be looking toward what is the next thing,” said Ted Case. “Innovation is key,” he continued, “and we have to find a niche.” He said that co-ops have the ability to do things that other models can’t.

Further in the discussion, Kent asked if there needed to be a more centralized way that the country manages electricity. All three panelists agreed that there needs to be discussions about comprehensive energy policy. Case said it is important, though, to keep control at the local level. Couick noted that co-ops need to engage with their membership and listen. He stated that vision is key, and that co-ops can get vision from their membership.

Renewable Research Enlivens NREL Presentation

Dr. Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab, presented to a full room at CREA’s 2017 Energy Innovations Summit October 30.

NREL is all about innovation. It has made advances in generating solar, wind, bio energy, as well as in transportation and grid integration. It has received 147 U.S. patents since 2011, and has 749 active partnerships with industry, universities and local governments.

Dr. Keller noted that renewables are the new normal in the United States. The costs for using renewables are falling and will continue to fall, and yet the US is barely scratching the surface for renewable resources.

According to Dr. Keller, NREL research shows that 80 percent of the electricity the U.S. will need in 2050 can be sourced from renewable technologies. Solar research shows that the cost of solar has gone down 96 percent and grown by more than 50 percent each of the past five years. It makes up 1 percent of all U.S. power generation. NREL wind research shows that innovations have driven down the cost of wind as much as 98 percent between 2009 and 2016. Wind supplies 6.2 percent of U.S. electricity.

Dr. Keller did add that the increase in the diversity of renewables on the grid does require storage options since storage can make renewables dispatchable. And he said that in our modern energy systems, the grid can handle more renewable generation than originally thought. Electric markets were not originally designed for variable renewables, but they can be adapted, he said.

“The old system is going through a tremendous change,” he said, and the challenge is how to develop this new model. He explained his grid modernization vision, noting that the grid of the future must be reliable, resilient, secure, affordable, flexible and sustainable.

Is Energy Storage Going Mainstream?

The electric industry’s “Holy Grail” is storage technology that can reliably and affordably store energy to complement intermittent renewables. A panel of experts from NREL, the Electric Power Research Institute and Tesla came together at the closing session of CREA’s Energy Innovations Summit in October to discuss how the storage industry is progressing.

Moderator Jeff Ackermann, chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, opened the session with the statement that historically “Civilized and grounded society comes from storage.” He continued by saying that “We are on the cusp of transformable storage.”

Electric Power Research Institute’s Haresh Kamath noted that the cost of technology has plummeted over the last two years, “reaching an interesting level” so that storage technology is applicable in niche applications such as peak shaving that can lead to asset deferral. He recognized that gaps to storage implementation include performance data, and understanding the value and the organizational adaptations of these new technologies.

Bob Rudd, director of utility and microgrids with Tesla, talked about how in the storage marketplace there are technologies that help developers achieve future applications and move the industry forward. He gave several examples of operational, real-world storage technologies, such as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative project and the Neoen Hornsdale wind farm.

Ackermann closed the session by saying that storage is on the “same trajectory as other technologies.” CREA was pleased to have this panel present this cutting-edge research and development and will continue to monitor the progress of this fast-moving technology.


CREA Energy Innovations Summit Focuses on an Evolving Industry

Transmission, electric vehicles, wind power, solar power, energy storage and other electricity-related topics were part of a daylong downtown Denver conference sponsored October 30 by the Colorado Rural Electric Association.

An audience of more than 300 people, including students from Mead Energy Academy and Pagosa Springs High School, attended the eighth annual CREA Energy Innovations Summit on October 30 in Denver. The attendees listened to experts from across the country who shared the latest developments in electric cars, renewable energy, power markets and energy technologies. The attendees included Michelle Ren and Julianna O-Clair of Brush and Tate Schrock of Anton, winners of CREA-sponsored EnergyWise Awards at the 2017 Colorado Science and Engineering Fair. The students presented their science fair projects during the vendor fair at the Summit.

Following an opening panel of electric co-op experts discussing the changing industry, breakout sessions looked at the pros and cons of Colorado’s electric utilities joining a regional transmission organization and the state of electric vehicles in rural Colorado.

Leading the RTO panel were representatives from co-op power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Xcel Energy and the Southwest Power Pool RTO. They discussed how belonging to an RTO would optimize the use of the generation and transmission assets for those utilities in the group and how that could lead to improved renewable integration while reducing production costs. They also reviewed the challenges of bringing all of these different entities together and calculating a regional tariff and various possible cost shifts.

Meanwhile, a parallel breakout session explored how electric vehicles may impact the grid. It was noted that Colorado ranks 4th when it comes to EV growth. And, while much of the EV growth is in Denver, Gunnison County Electric Association CEO Mike McBride noted that drivers in GCEA’s territory have embraced the co-op’s EV and utilize the charging stations the co-ops have helped install. Brian Sloboda of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association explained the research and information that the national trade association has available for co-ops promoting EVs within their territory.

Dr. Martin Keller, Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was the featured speaker at the Summit luncheon. Dr. Keller discussed the work being done by NREL in renewable energy and the advances being made in renewable and storage technology. During the Summit’s afternoon sessions, a breakout session on distributed energy resources drew a standing-room-only crowd. The panel discussed the grid of the future and what it might look like as more electric users look to smaller power sources behind their meters to meet their needs. Utilities will need to move from just interconnecting with these customers to integrating with their power supplies, according to one panelist. New technology and new forecasting methods will be needed to make this all work.

Other breakout sessions included a look at wind generation and an update on natural gas. Both panels showcased new technology that is advancing the efficiency and benefits of these resources.

The day closed with a panel discussion on energy storage. Experts from the National Renewable Energy Lab, the Electric Power Research Institute and Tesla provided status reports on storage technology and how soon it will be reliable and affordable enough to complement renewables on the grid.

Next year’s Summit is set for Monday, October 29 at the Westin Denver Downtown hotel.


Co-op Communities Caring for Neighbors through Energy Program

Did you know that nearly one in four Colorado households can’t afford to pay their home energy bills without skimping on other basic necessities like food or prescriptions? Fortunately, many of Colorado’s electric cooperatives and other supporters make it possible for Energy Outreach Colorado to provide year-round energy bill payment assistance in all 64 Colorado counties for senior citizens, families with young children, veterans and individuals with special needs.

This year, EOC is providing nearly $7 million to help pay overdue home energy bills for low-income Coloradans. EOC distributes the funds through its statewide network of 95 community assistance partners that include senior support agencies, county human service offices, faith-based organizations and veteran support groups. These local partners accept energy assistance applications, determine eligibility and approve direct payments to utility or fuel companies to help struggling households catch up on their energy bills.

“Federally-funded programs for low-income Americans are increasingly at risk, so local nonprofits like Energy Outreach are more important than ever to support our most vulnerable neighbors and communities,” EOC Executive Director Skip Arnold said. “When we can stabilize a family by making sure they have the basic necessities of heat and light, everyone in the community benefits.”

A history of lending a hand

EOC was established in 1989 by state lawmakers who wanted to ensure that Coloradans could remain warm and safe in their homes, regardless of decreasing funding for federal programs such as the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP). Since then, EOC has worked with community organizations, energy companies, policymakers and individual supporters to deliver nationally-recognized programs to help low-income Coloradans afford home energy. To date, EOC has invested more than $255 million in affordable energy programs for low-income Coloradans.

In addition to bill payment assistance, EOC manages programs to repair and replace nonworking home heating systems; manage weatherization projects to lower costs in single-family homes and apartments, affordable housing communities and nonprofit buildings; and educate residents about smart energy usage. EOC is also an active participant at local, state and national levels in the planning and implementation of affordable and equitable energy policies.

Linda D.

One Coloradan who was helped through EOC is disabled senior Linda D., a long-time resident of Silverton in San Juan County. Because of a severe lung condition, she needs oxygen and weekly home intravenous treatments. Last winter she was diagnosed with cancer and spent several months undergoing radiation therapy and traveling to consult with doctors in Denver and Durango. She couldn’t afford to keep up with her home energy bill and was on the brink of losing her lights and heat, during which snowfall totals surpassed 200 inches. She was thankful and relieved when EOC paid the balance of her energy bill. Linda has since made a full recovery from the cancer.

“Without utilities I can’t live,” she said. “My biggest fear is that I won’t be self-sufficient anymore and I’ll have to move in with one of my kids and become a burden.”

Co-op communities keep program healthy

To continue to do this important work and help Coloradans like Linda, EOC has a monthly donor program called HEAT HEROES, which enables caring Coloradans to easily make monthly contributions on their energy bill or credit card. The HEAT HEROES are 10,000 special supporters who provide nearly $1 million each year for neighbors facing dangerous living conditions as they struggle to afford home energy. Monthly HEAT HEROES provide consistent help to keep a neighbor in need safe at home.

The 2017 Powering the Plains bicycle team.

EOC thanks Holy Cross Energy, CORE Electric Cooperative (formally Intermountain Rural Electric Association) and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association for being corporate supporters. Thanks to generous matching support from CORE and Empire Electric Association, their members’ donations to EOC are doubled to help more struggling neighbors in their own communities.

In addition, the Powering the Plains bicycle team sponsored by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives pedaled thousands of miles to ride on behalf of EOC during the past six Pedal the Plains bike tours. With continued support from rural electric association partners, Energy Outreach Colorado can help Coloradans remain warm and safe in their homes this winter.

You can become a HEAT HERO by making a warm-hearted monthly donation to EOC on your energy bill. For more information go to or call 303-226-5057. EOC has received 14 consecutive top ratings from Charity Navigator and is a Platinum-level participant of GuideStar.

For Information about energy bill payment assistance, go to or call toll-free 1-866-HEAT-HELP (1-866-432-8435).


Pot & Power Powerpoints

Click the links below to access the Powerpoints from the Pot & Power Conference:

Tom Downey, Ireland Stapleton law firm: An Overview of Legal Marijuana

Pot & Power: Impact of MJ Legalization on Electric Utilities

A Perspective on Marijuana Legalization from Washington State

Enjoy the Internet without Hackers

By Paul Wesslund

This month, electric cooperatives across the country are joining forces to raise awareness about cybersecurity. We hope you will join us in taking action and recognizing October as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

Electric co-ops protect the private information of members and ensure hackers don’t tamper with the reliability of the electric grid, but consumers have a lot at stake, too. Think about losing all the photos on your smartphone or having bank or credit card information stolen from your computer.

Cyber criminals all over the world are on the prowl through the internet and they’re getting better at what they do, according to the team of cybersecurity experts at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“The bad guys tend to be a step ahead and we’re always going to be playing catch-up, so you’re never going to be 100 percent secure,” says Barry Lawson, a senior director of regulatory affairs at NRECA. “But it’s not something to be afraid of. There are basic steps people can take to provide good layers of protection.”

Lawson, along with two other NRECA cybersecurity specialists, Cynthia Hsu, cybersecurity program manager, and Bridgette Bourge, senior principal for legislative affairs, recently discussed steps consumers can take to protect themselves and their valuable data.

They suggest thinking of cybersecurity as cyber hygiene. “Just like washing your hands will help keep you from getting bacteria,” Bourge says, “there are simple things you can do to protect yourself online.”

The first step is to make cyber hygiene a habit, Hsu says. She advises people at work and in their homes to incorporate basic security steps into their daily mindset.

Here are the top tips for protecting yourself from internet danger at work and home, as recommended by the NRECA experts:

1. CREATE A STRONG PASSWORD: If it seems difficult to keep up with all the passwords for the different software and applications you use, at least focus on the main passwords that allow the primary internet access, like the ones that open your computer, phone and wireless router. Make it complicated with a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters like “%” or “&.” Remember to change the password at least every six months.

2. KEEP SOFTWARE UPDATED: Notices of updates don’t just add flashy features to your apps, they often add security patches to protect against new security threats. Updates usually come automatically from the software company, whether it’s for the computer, mobile device operating system, one of the many functional apps, like Facebook, or a link to your favorite sports team. But take a level of caution on updates as well. You can check regularly for updates either from your device or by going to the application’s website. Be suspicious of update notices that arrive by email, especially if they claim to require urgent action. Visit the application’s website to make sure the update is legitimate.

3. DON’T CLICK ON ANY LINK OR ATTACHED FILE UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE IT WILL TAKE YOU: A lot of the computer hacking problems you hear about in the news result from people clicking on links or attached files that infect their computers or mobile devices. An email can even be disguised to look like it’s coming from your best friend, so simple diligence can be extremely beneficial. Take a moment and move your cursor over a link to reveal the full address before clicking it. You’ll see a lot of confusing symbols, but you should also be able to recognize the name of the legitimate source. If you don’t, find another way to verify the link.

4. INSTALL AND USE VIRUS PROTECTION: Buy your antivirus software from one of the major recognized companies and make it a subscription-type service that regularly sends automatic updates.

5. DON’T USE FLASH DRIVES: Those little thumb drives or jump drives you insert into your USB port may be handy ways to share lots of photos or other large documents, but as your mother might say, you don’t know where they’ve been. These portable memory devices are another common way computers get infected with damaging software. Instead, learn to use Dropbox or other software solutions for transferring large files.

6. BACK UP YOUR DEVICES: Make sure you have a current copy of everything on your computer or mobile device. Every few weeks, transfer your contents to an external storage system that you then unplug from your computer. You can buy an external hardware drive or online storage designed just for this purpose. Think of it this way: What if your computer or phone were lost or stolen? Recent computer attacks involve ransomware that locks your computer and threatens to delete or prevent access to everything on it unless you pay a ransom to the hackers. The hackers might not unlock it even after a ransom is paid. If you suffer a ransomware attack, you might need to take your computer to a professional to wipe everything off your hard drive and start over. But with a backup you will be able to restore your most valuable documents.

7. SECURE ALL YOUR INTERNET-CONNECTED DEVICES: Hackers started invading wireless printers and baby monitors that work through the internet. These devices tend to have extremely weak, preset passwords that you probably don’t even notice. Read the instructions carefully, set good passwords, keep the devices updated and make sure any wireless routers in your home are secure as well. Any internet-connected device — smart televisions, cameras, voice-activated speakers, thermostats, video games, fitness bracelets, internet-connected refrigerators and lightbulbs — is vulnerable.

8. PROTECT THE KIDS: Don’t forget that children also need to be aware and practice good cyber hygiene. They should know not to send out such information as birthdates and other ID numbers, as well as details like how long the family will be away on vacation. Learn to use parental control options on your hardware and software.

To learn more about National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and to view additional cybersecurity tips, visit

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

Q&A with Co-op Historian Ted Case

By Paul Wesslund

Ted Case spent the past several years diving deeply into unexplored parts of electric co-op history. He described how co-ops have affected national policy since the 1930s in his first book, Power Plays: The U.S. Presidency, Electric Cooperatives, and the Transformation of Rural America. His second, just-released book title describes itself: Poles, Wires and War: The Remarkable Untold Story of Rural Electrification and the Vietnam War. (***Scroll to the bottom of this page to read more about Case’s new book.***)

Case is executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He recently talked about what the history of electric co-ops means for co-op member-owners everywhere.

Q: How did you end up writing about electric co-ops in the Vietnam War?

A: It came out of my first book and the chapter on President Lyndon Johnson. In 1965, he received a letter from the general manager of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Clyde Ellis, saying that NRECA could help win the war by putting electric co-ops in Vietnam. I was intrigued by that bold claim. Since Johnson was such an early and strong supporter of rural electrification in Texas, he embraced Ellis’s proposal fully. Learning about that story led me on this quest to track down some of the men and women who had worked on it.

Q: Did NRECA start co-ops in Vietnam?

A: It was a really good effort. Just 20 men went over there in a five-year period. These were the most difficult co-ops to establish in the history of the electric co-op program. The Viet Cong soldiers that were fighting against the South Vietnamese tried to cut down the co-op lines and chop down their poles and blow up their dams, and they did all those things. The people trying to start the co-ops faced rampant corruption and an inability to get poles and other materials. They got three co-ops up and running and brought light to thousands of villagers. But the program ended and they had to leave, and the communists overtook the country.

Q: What lessons did you learn from researching the book?

A: The support the U.S. co-op workers got from the Vietnamese villagers was not unlike the support from the farmers who started electric co-ops in the United States in the 1930s. The Vietnamese villagers wanted a radio. They wanted an iron and lights to read. Toward the end of the war when the communists were rolling through the country in 1975, they came to a town that was one of the co-ops’ headquarters. The militia in the town rose up and fought against the communists in one of the most heroic battles of the war. They were fighting for their electricity. They were fighting for what they had built.

Q: Has researching these books changed your view of electric co-ops?

A: I have a greater appreciation. Our heritage is so much a part of who we are, and there’s not many people who remember when the lights came on anymore, so that’s different. But the core values of what co-ops do are the same as in 1936 when the Rural Electrification Act became law.

Q: What are those values?

A: I think of one particular co-op, about medium-sized and close to an urban area. It has several thousand people who come to the office to pay their bills. They don’t need to do that. It’s a lot easier to just toss the bill in the mail or pay online, but they go in because the co-op has this value beyond just electric service. It really is the center of everything in the town and an economic driver. That sums up how the co-op is not just a power company. It’s the center of their world.

Q: Does that kind of relationship really apply in this increasingly high-tech world in a high-tech industry?

A: As I travel the country, I’m blown away by the technical acumen and the vision and the strategic abilities of co-op leaders to see into the future. Electric co-ops are getting involved in providing broadband internet connections at a time when nobody else will do it. It’s the same innovation that brought electricity to rural areas.

Q: Can a co-op be successful providing technologies as different as electricity and broadband?

A: Co-ops will embrace new technologies when that’s what their members want. Members say they’re interested in solar energy and other utility innovations, like developing advanced batteries that could increase reliability and store renewable energy for times when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Co-ops never strayed from that business model that listens and responds to their members, their customers, their owners.

Q: Can’t some of these new ventures be risky?

A: Definitely. And that brings out another strength of member ownership: The control is local. Providing internet and other services won’t make sense for all of the more than 900 co-ops across the country. There are very difficult decisions being made in co-op boardrooms, and history shows there is tremendous wisdom that comes out of the discussions among the local co-ops and their members.

Q: How does that member-owned business model relate to the basic mission of keeping electricity reliable and affordable?

A: Co-ops continue to be very competitive, in rates, service and reliability. And there are so many other things they do for their members. It comes back to that local connection. Members know the folks who work at the co-op. They know the directors. There’s terrific customer service getting the lights back on after an outage. Electric reliability is very important, and co-ops do that as well as anyone.

Q: One characteristic of electric co-ops is their not-for-profit nature. How does that affect the co-op members?

A: A lot. Increasingly, institutions have fallen from grace because everybody believes there’s this profit motive that’s just out to milk you and there’s such a lack of trust in a lot of the large institutions. Being not-for-profit is an attractive feature that means decisions are based on the best interest of the co-op and the consumer.

Q: So what should members know about their electric co-op?

A: That they have the ability to influence their co-op more than they ever imagined. Co-op board members that I know are really interested in hearing from folks and getting feedback. One person can really make a huge difference. When somebody shows up at a co-op annual meeting and has a point to make, the boards take it seriously. The co-op’s management takes it seriously. That’s the value. It’s pretty hard to get heard these days. But at a co-op, your voice makes a difference.

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

Lighting Up a Warzone
The audacious story of electric co-ops in Vietnam
By Paul Wesslund

During one of the hardest chapters in American history, electric co-ops volunteered to win the war in Vietnam.

They didn’t win the war, but in his new book Poles, Wires and War, The Remarkable Untold Story of Rural Electrification and the Vietnam War, author Ted Case tells a riveting story of how they tried. He argues that the success electric co-ops had in the conflict that divided our nation just might have helped that Southeast Asian nation recover more quickly by demonstrating the value of bringing electricity to the countryside.

Case brings authority to the book as executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He also makes good use of his masters degree in fiction writing to tell a compelling story of an audacious offer from Clyde Ellis, the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to President Lyndon Johnson. Give the South Vietnamese electricity, Ellis said, and you’ll win their hearts and minds in the fight against communism.

What followed was a classic battle of enormous personalities, foreign and domestic political and military maneuvering, and a determined band of people who brought electricity to the American countryside, fighting the odds to bring light to a warzone halfway around the world.

Case creates a fast-paced narrative as the crews race the collapsing war to pass bylaws, organize the co-ops and tangle with corruption, bureaucracy, in-fighting and Viet Cong soldiers determined to destroy what they were creating. In the end, in less than four years, three electric co-ops were bringing electricity to more than 8,000 members.

It was a service the South Vietnamese villagers valued and owned. They even felt strong enough to literally fight for it, in a doomed battle against an assault from Viet Cong armored tanks.

Case creates a highly readable, deep and unique American history of overcoming the highest of hurdles to show people how they could bring power to themselves; first in America, and then to the world.

You can order the book online at

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