San Luis Valley REC Completes New Solar Site

Turret Peak, sitting 16,662 feet above sea level, has a new solar site thanks to Monte Vista-based San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative. Completed in September at Humphreys Ranch, the solar site addition was constructed to supplement a solar setup that wasn’t fully supporting the infrastructure that delivers high-speed internet to the ranch.

Challenging, to say the least, the solar site install took a lot of innovation and hard work.
Several trips were made up the mountain with horses saddled and loaded with the solar site batteries. The solar panels and cabinet to house the batteries were brought up on a sled arrangement. And SLVREC team members made the one-mile hike with the tools and framework to put the solar panels into place.

The new solar site serves three purposes: to provide phone and internet to the ranch through Ciello (a subsidiary of SLVREC); to give the co-op the ability to read meters remotely; and eventually the co-op will be able to read output information from another project in the area.

Mountain Parks Electric Dedicates New Solar Sites

The power that Mountain Parks Electric delivers to local homes and businesses is becoming greener and greener as the Granby-based electric co-op incorporates even more solar into its generation mix.

Contractors installed a large 1-MW commercial solar array near Walden — Whiskey Hill Solar— which begins production later this year. And Sifers Solar, another 1-MW project, will be dedicated and celebrated on November 7. With these new solar sites, MPE will power approximately 600 homes with locally-generated solar power.

Another solar option that Mountain Parks utilizes is purchasing power from the innovative floating solar array at the town of Walden’s drinking water treatment facility. This 208-panel array is the first of its kind in Colorado and can produce up to 75 kWh of energy.

GCEA Offers Community Solar

As of October 1, Gunnison County Electric Association and the town of Crested Butte offer a short-term community solar leasing option for GCEA’s consumer-members.

The Gunnison-based electric cooperative’s community solar garden consists of 20 250-watt solar panels and 52 290-watt panels. For a fee, consumer-members may lease up to five solar panels either on a month-to-month basis or with a longer lease through the town of Crested Butte. The generation will be metered and consumer-members’ bills will be offset with a bill credit with a portion of the total production of the panels they lease. Each panel is anticipated to produce 1.3 kilowatt-hour per day.

This initiative, along with the co-op’s prolific electric vehicle program are just two forward-thinking ways the co-op serves its consumer-members.

Ways Your Electric Co-op Helps Protect You

By Amy Higgins and Erin Campbell

While the threat of cybersecurity attacks on the electric grid gets a lot of attention these days, physical damage from storms or critters is much more likely to disrupt power. There are many physical threats to our power delivery system that Colorado’s electric cooperatives work hard to manage on a daily basis. Because weather events such as snowstorms, tornadoes and hail, as well as criminal activity, including copper theft and shooting at a substation, can occur, it takes proactive commitment to consistently deliver reliable service. Even something as small as a squirrel can damage infrastructure and cause power outages.

“We prepare for a potential threat by ensuring that all of our systems are regularly patched, by eliminating legacy and unsupported systems/equipment, by providing in-depth end user training, by staying informed of potential exploitations/vulnerabilities that are happening around the globe and by continually evaluating, hardening and securing our infrastructure,” explains Heather Romero, manager of information technology at Empire Electric Association in Cortez.

Part of the community
One of the most valuable things about being served by an electric co-op is that you also have an ownership stake in the way the cooperative operates. Electric co-ops know their communities — cooperative employees live and work in the neighborhoods and towns they serve. You know many of your co-op’s board members and employees and, in turn, board members and employees are personally acquainted with or are a part of fire departments, county supervisor boards, emergency medical technician crews and more.

“WREA believes in the cooperative business model and the important role that our members play in that ‘biz’ model. We are our members; their participation and support is key to our success,” says Trina Zagar-Brown, general counsel and manager of member services at White River Electric Association in Meeker.

Emergencies can happen at any time, and these relationships in and around the co-op’s communities are important when urgently responding to unplanned events or in preparing for more predictable events, including winter storms or summer flooding. For example, when tornadoes roared into Morgan County Rural Electric Association’s territory in the Fort Morgan area in 2018, crews from Akron-based Y-W Electric Association responded by assisting MCREA with power restoration efforts. That’s because they’re part of one large cooperative community, and cooperation among cooperatives is an essential principle of providing reliable electric service.

Planning, preparing and practicing
There is a well-known saying: “It’s not if a crisis will occur, but when it will occur.” Electric co-ops test disaster and business continuity plans regularly and take pride in being prepared at all times. Plans not only focus on how to prevent threats, but also how to respond and recover in the event of an incident.

Shane McGuinness, Systems Administrator at Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison, says guidelines and tabletop exercises are the most effective way to prepare for an array of cyber threats. “Tabletop exercises act like a practice and can highlight important factors, when preparing for threats, such as communication,” he says. “When practicing … we include many local entities to create a realistic scenario. Many of our personnel will provide training and receive training from entities around the state to help build a robust group that is ready to adapt to fight any threat.”

GCEA’s cybersecurity practices include using existing scenarios to help identify how adversaries may attack. For example, the co-op thoroughly studied Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and uses that information to help prepare for such a threat.

Electric co-ops place a high importance on partnerships with fellow cooperatives, industry partners and government agencies to mitigate the potential impacts of all types of threats to your electric cooperative. Electric cooperatives work closely with the rest of the electric industry, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on matters of critical infrastructure protection — that includes sharing necessary information about potential threats and working together to avoid disruptions to the extent possible.

MCREA utilizes the services of the National Information Solutions Cooperative for its cybersecurity protection. “We felt it pertinent to partner with a trusted resource that is able to provide a layer of protection via sophisticated software and active 24/7/365 monitoring of our computer systems,” explains MCREA Office Services Manager Robb Shaver. “Not only do they provide protection on a daily basis, [but] they also are in tune with any new/immediate threats that may arise on a moment’s notice.”

“Cooperatives frequently share knowledge and their best practices for many issues, including cybersecurity,” explains Kelli Root, IT manager at Yampa Valley Electric Association, which operates out of Steamboat Springs and Craig. “At a recently attended Colorado regional IT conference, various training options, availability security testing and protective options were discussed and have proved to be helpful. Technology is always changing and, therefore, security issues will also be changing.”

Your electric co-op is vigilant in ensuring protection from physical and cyber threats in order to power your lives. “We would like to encourage our members to always stop and think before acting,” says Drew Timmerman, IT supervisor at Durango-based La Plata Electric Association. Timmerman implores consumer-members to question any email, web browser pop-ups or phone calls with a sense of urgency to “fix” your computer or an account. “For example, we never email or call our members threatening to disconnect their electric service if they don’t immediately pay over the phone. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s likely a scam.”

“We also want our members to understand we have board policies in place to protect paper and electronic personal identifying information from unauthorized access, use, modification, disclosure or destruction,” McGuinness explains. “As the future goes on, we continue ongoing cybersecurity training to ensure the well-being of our members and power delivery system is held to its highest standard.”

Whether it is protecting consumer-members from a snowstorm-caused outage, a squirrel in a substation or a scammer, Colorado’s electric cooperatives are always evolving, staying up to date on how to best combat threats to their communities, because your electric co-op is vigilant about protecting you, its consumer-members.

Amy Higgins is a long-time freelance writer for Colorado Country Life. Erin Campbell is the Director of Communications at Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Tri-State Announces Responsible Energy Plan

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is pursuing an aggressive Responsible Energy Plan to transition to a cleaner energy portfolio, while ensuring reliability, increasing member flexibility and with a goal to lower wholesale rates.

“Our membership and board are unified in our pursuit of a cleaner, reliable and lower-cost resource portfolio,” said Rick Gordon, chairman of the cooperative’s board of directors. “We are making a strong and unequivocal commitment to transform Tri-State’s resource portfolio in a prudent and responsible manner.”

Tri-State’s Board of Directors has passed several resolutions to support the development of a plan that will guide the cooperative in its energy transition. Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan will set goals and pathways to:
• Comply with aggressive carbon reduction, renewable energy and resource planning requirements
• Ensure the reliability and affordability of Tri-State’s wholesale power system
• Strive to lower wholesale rates while maintaining Tri-State’s strong financial position

“Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan will define how wholesale cooperatives leverage disruptive technology opportunities to strengthen and empower members and the communities they serve,” said Duane Highley, Tri- State’s chief executive officer. “We will be clean, reliable, flexible and affordable, and do it all within our not-for- profit cooperative business model.”

The plan will recognize the significant accomplishments Tri-State and its members have achieved, identify goals and processes for carbon reduction and renewable energy development, and identify the external policy changes needed to fulfill the plan. Additional components of the plan include and exploring opportunities with solar and energy services providers to make community-scale solar, energy storage and electric vehicle infrastructure more available to our members at a lower cost.

Partnership with Gov. Ritter, Center for the New Energy Economy to support Responsible Energy Plan

A key part of Tri-State’s approach is an engagement with former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University to facilitate a collaborative stakeholder process for Tri-State that will contribute to and help define the Responsible Energy Plan.

Located at Colorado State University, the CNEE “educates, convenes, and inspires decision-makers to create policies that facilitate America’s equitable transition to a clean energy economy.”

“My team and I welcome the opportunity to work with Tri-State in facilitating this stakeholder process,” said former Governor Ritter. “At a time when the power sector is transitioning in a dynamic way, assisting Tri-State in developing a resource plan that reflects that transition is a true privilege.”

“As a cooperative, we understand that transformative change requires understanding and engagement with stakeholders,” said Highley. “Governor Ritter and the Center for the New Energy Economy will convene for Tri- State the best and brightest to surface ideas that will inform and advance our planning.”

Cooperative’s membership actively considering contract changes for more flexibility, local renewables

Tri-State’s membership is currently considering greater contract flexibility for members, including partial requirements contracts that would allow for more local renewable energy projects.

As a cooperative, Tri-State’s members govern the terms of the cooperative’s wholesale power contracts through the board of directors. A contract committee of the membership, including representatives from each member system, are developing recommendations to the board

“Our members are developing recommendations to make their wholesale power contracts more flexible,” said Gordon. “With partial requirements contracts, members could increase local renewables while also maintaining the value and security of being a member of Tri-State.”

New mission statement reinforces responsibility

Tri-State’s Board of Directors also voted to update the cooperative’s mission statement at their July meeting in support of the broad transition underway. Tri-State’s mission is now “to provide our member systems a reliable, affordable and responsible supply of electricity in accordance with cooperative principles.”

The statement’s change to address responsibility speaks to Tri-State’s mission as an electric cooperative to be responsible to its members and the communities they serve, as well as the cooperative’s responsibility to be resilient, compliant and a good steward of the land, air and water.

Proactive agenda will address electric industry challenges and cooperative utility needs

As part of the Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State will advance a proactive agenda to address electric utility and cooperative needs for a successful, reliable and affordable carbon reduction and renewable energy transition.

Tri-State will address key issues including developing Western regional electricity markets, assisting impacted energy-producing communities, continuing and developing new tax incentives, addressing permitting for transmission line and power plants, and reconsidering the value of hydropower to ensure the Responsible Energy Plan’s success.

“As we transition, we cannot make these changes alone,” said Highley. “Our industry requires working with a wide group of stakeholders to address the numerous challenges that are more successfully addressed with partners.”

“We recognize that Tri-State facilities, employees and communities will be affected by the changes ahead,” said Highley. “Regulatory rulemakings and significant study must be completed to understand how to comply with new laws while preserving reliability and affordability, but we know our system and operations will change.”

Tri-State actions to date support plan goals

In the past 10 years, Tri-State and its members have taken significant steps that lay the groundwork for the Responsible Energy Plan. These include:
• In early 2019, Tri-State announced it is adding an additional 100 megawatts of solar and 104 megawatts of wind to its resource portfolio, which will increase its wind and solar energy by 45 percent. Tri-State currently has more than 475 megawatts of utility-scale wind, solar and other renewable projects in its portfolio.
• In June 2019, Tri-State issued its sixth renewable request for proposals since 2007.
• In 2018, nearly a third of the energy consumed through Tri-State’s members came from renewable energy. Less than half of Tri-State’s renewable portfolio is from federal hydropower.
• Tri-State is reducing its use of coal by increasingly accessing market power when advantageous, the retirement of San Juan Generating Station capacity in New Mexico in 2017, and the retirement of Nucla Station in early 2020 and Craig Station Unit 1 by the end of 2025.
• Tri-State’s Energy Efficiency Products Program, which has been in place for decades, had record levels of funding for members in 2018.

MVEA Encourages Energy Efficiency

One of Mountain View Electric Association’s goals is to make sure consumer-members take advantage of its energy efficiency programs; and that is becoming more and more of a reality.

For the third year in a row, the Limon-based electric cooperative held a whole-home LED lighting giveaway, giving consumer-members an opportunity to win LED bulbs for their entire home. This year, the LED giveaway — valued at $500 — was awarded to six MVEA consumers; MVEA even visits the winners’ homes to install the bulbs.

This, and the co-op’s other energy efficiency programs, allows consumer-members to participate in energy efficiency efforts. These efforts help people use less electricity and reduce the overall demand for electricity in the co-op’s service territory.

Energy Innovations Featured at CREA’s Summit

Well-known speakers and interesting discussion panels are scheduled for the October 28 Energy Innovations Summit hosted by CREA, the trade association for Colorado’s electric cooperatives.

Held at the Grand Hyatt Denver Hotel at 1750 Welton St., the day-long conference will feature luncheon speaker Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress.
Other topics planned for the day include net zero carbon emissions, micro grids and energy storage such as batteries. A vendor fair introducing attendees to innovative equipment and software will also be available to participants.

You can register for the conference here. The conference is open to anyone interested in what’s ahead for the electric industry.

Making a Difference for Monarchs

By Derrill Holly, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Three to four generations of monarch butterflies migrated to their summer ranges last spring. Now, a single generation is returning to its wintering grounds only to begin the first leg of the 2020 migration early next year.

“We call them the super generation,” said Mara Koenig, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They live for about eight months, overwintering down in Mexico and waiting for the right conditions to return to their U.S. range in the spring.”

According to Koenig, communications coordinator for FWS’s Monarch Butterfly/ Pollinator Program, the largest migration of butterflies makes a 3,000-mile journey to Mexico from states south of the Great Lakes and east of the Rocky Mountains. A smaller population migrates from Arizona and the Pacific Northwest toward the California Coast. The immature insects spend the next few months roosting and eating in super colonies in a phase called diapause, when their reproductive organs are not mature.

“They develop those organs as they’re migrating north for the spring,” Koenig said. “They’ll do their first round of life cycle around Texas, Oklahoma and the southern United States and then slowly move north with each life cycle.”

Milkweed makes the difference

The FWS estimates that there are 128 million monarch butterflies left in North America, including a non-migratory population in south Florida. Support for saving the species has grown in recent years, spurred by recognition of pollinator preservation and their symbolic value to environmental stewardship.

“Everybody can play a part in monarch butterfly conservation,” Koenig said. “It takes small, simple actions such as planting milkweed in a garden or even in a pot on your balcony, to having large swaths of landscapes that are conserved for pollinator habitats.”

While various flowering plants provide the necessary nectar needed for nourishment, milkweed is crucial to the species survival because it is the only plant capable of hosting developing caterpillars.

“The monarch caterpillar requires the milkweed plant to survive and go through its life cycle process before it can then migrate back down to Mexico for the winter,” Koenig said, adding that “the plants provide the energy needed to spin cocoons.”

Butterfly backers are out to change the image of milkweed, long considered a nuisance plant because it is poisonous to cattle, horses and other livestock. Because of that and the fact that it is difficult to control, it is excluded from windbreak and right-of-way plantings. But that is changing as efforts are made to balance the monarch butterfly’s need for milkweed with protecting livestock.

“We want to plant over one billion stems of milkweed throughout the monarch’s migratory range,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director of community wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation. “It would provide enough habitat for the monarch to increase its numbers and reproduce.”

That spurred efforts to encourage gardeners to include ornamental milkweed varieties in landscapes and container gardens. Several colorful species can be cultivated and controlled to prevent them from overrunning garden space.

The NWF also partnered with the FWS and dozens of environmental and conservation groups on the promotion of monarch butterfly conservation initiatives.

Fitzgerald authored the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, which serves as a blueprint for community action, recommending 25 steps groups and individuals can take to help support butterfly and other pollinators’ conservation.

“We encourage people to look at park systems, open spaces, rights of way, schools and other public and undeveloped areas where you could possibly plant and manage areas for monarchs,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a guide online, and we have webinars to help land managers choose seed mixes and understand what decisions they can make that will help the monarchs.”

How electric co-ops help

Keeping with the seventh cooperative principle of Concern for Community, electric cooperatives across the country are embracing pollinator conservation.

Vegetation management programs, designed to help maintain the reliability of your electricity, have been adapted to help provide year-round pollinator habitats and food sources for migratory wildlife, including butterflies.

“We also need the other plants that the adult butterflies can use as a food source. They need nectar, so we need other types of plants throughout the range,” Fitzgerald said.

“All those blooming flowers that we see in the fall are a great source for them to fuel up,” Koenig said. “Making sure that those are available throughout the migratory range ensures that they have those reserves to go down to Mexico and wait out the winter, and enough reserves to start making that migration back north in the spring.”

Along utility pole lines near roadside ditches, across expanses of rural rights of way and on the grounds of electric substations, power plants and solar arrays, electric cooperatives are working with community groups to make open space even more nature friendly.

In the spring of 2019, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Fort Collins hosted a Plant Day with Colorado State University Extension where the electric co-op invited Resurrection Christian School high school students to help plant pollinator-friendly seeds at the cooperative’s Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm. This project not only makes the solar farm more attractive to passersby, but also creates an appealing place for pollinators of several varieties.

“The more habitat that’s created, the more likely there is a possibility for the monarch butterfly population to recover to a resilient population,” Koenig said, noting that the goal is to reverse a decline first identified more than 20 years ago. “We’re creating habitats for monarch butterflies and for other pollinators, including grassland songbirds. Upland game birds and even waterfowl can benefit from this.”

Officials at the NWF agree. They’re particularly optimistic about the potential of partnerships with electric co-ops, other utilities, state and local transportation departments and railroad operators.

“They manage those strips of land that we would call wildlife corridors or monarch corridors,” Fitzgerald said. “When we plant more milkweed and more native flowers in these areas, it could make a big difference.”

Always committed to the Seven Cooperative Principles, this effort among electric cooperatives throughout the United States, including Colorado, is yet another example of how co-ops are showing concern for their communities.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

United Power Earns Place on Top 10 List

Congratulations to United Power, which earned a spot on an annual Top 10 utility industry list compiled by the Smart Electric Power Alliance. The Brighton-based electric cooperative received this distinction for being one of a select group of utilities that connected the most storage capacity to the grid in 2018.

United Power currently operates two Tesla battery storage systems. In survey results, United Power ranked number 10 on the utility energy storage list for annual megawatt-hours. Its battery storage systems provided 18.2 megawatt-hours in interconnected capacity in 2018.

United Power is the only Colorado utility to make the top 10 and is one of the smaller utilities that made the list. But clearly size doesn’t matter when it comes to innovation: United Power has been a leader in cooperative battery storage innovation as well as a leader in various solar projects, both in the state and across the country. CREA is excited to see what the cooperative does next.

The 12th Annual Utility Market Survey collected figures from over 500 utilities across the country. The full Top 10 listings are available online.

Two Colorado Co-ops Unveil EV Charging Stations

This summer, two electric co-ops unveiled new electric vehicle charging stations in their service territories. These charging stations were installed and funded, in part, from Charge Ahead Colorado grants.

Meeker-based White River Electric Association celebrated its new charging station with a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 24. EV drivers can charge their vehicle at one of three spots with the use of the ChargePoint app; they are charged nominal rates per kilowatt-hour. Drivers are encouraged to walk around Meeker while their EV charges and the app will alert them when charging is complete.

Yampa Valley Electric Association also received a Charge Ahead Colorado grant from the Colorado Energy Office and presented its new charging stations on June 25. Located at YVEA’s Craig and Steamboat Springs campuses, the charging stations are for employee and public use. The station in Craig is the first publicly accessible charging station in Moffat County.