Co-ops Support Future Leaders

Electric co-ops fund college scholarships, youth programs

By Sarah Smith

Colorado’s electric cooperatives have awarded more than $2,209,250 in scholarships to 1,637 students over the past five years*. That means hundreds of students have been able to attend college and/or trade school, thanks to the support of their local electric cooperative.

Each of the state’s 22 distribution co-ops provide this support to students in its own way. Some offer a unique set of scholarships, including scholarships provided by power suppliers Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as scholarships in honor of previous managers and board members. Vocational and technical school scholarships are offered, including opportunities for electric lineworkers. The overall goal is to give students in their co-op territory, regardless of background or finances, a chance at continuing their education after high school.

Each co-op funds its scholarships a little differently, although none of the funding comes from electric rates paid by consumer-members. Most of the funds come from unclaimed capital credits, which must be turned over to the state if they are not used by the co-op for specific purposes. In some cases, co-op board members contribute their own money to fund the co-op’s scholarships. The Basin Electric and Tri-State scholarships are provided by those power suppliers.

Each scholarship recipient through the years have been deserving of the recognition and support. A few students have a lasting impression on their local electric co-op with their stories. These individuals were not only qualified but also led as examples for their peers and future applicants.

Dean VanWinkle of Fruita was the winner of the 2017 Grand Valley Power scholarship.

Dean VanWinkle of Fruita eats, sleeps and breathes cattle ranching. It’s in his blood, passed down from five generations before him. The treatment of the livestock his family raises, while also sustaining the land to provide a nutritional product, is top-of-mind. With that responsibility also comes the importance of higher education to gain more knowledge and understanding about every facet of running and operating his family’s business — which is also their livelihood.

Grand Valley Power Association awarded VanWinkle the GVP scholarship in 2017. He stood out to the scholarship selection committee, which is made up of a group of educators appointed by the board of directors, for his deep passion for cattle ranching and agriculture business and his vast leadership roles.

Notably, he was the 4-H district president and on the state officer team, where he mentored 4-H members to become the next generation of leaders. From a young age, VanWinkle learned the importance of raising and caring for animals and gained a great sense of leadership and responsibility. As a multigenerational rancher in the Grand Valley area, his drive and his dedication to the Western Slope hit home with GVP’s committee.

After graduating from high school, VanWinkle attended Fort Scott Community College and then transferred to Kansas State University. After college, he plans to return to the family ranch to work alongside his parents, Howard and Janie. He is also committed to staying involved with local organizations and associations.

“It is very important to support the communities that have helped me along the way,” VanWinkle said. “The scholarship from GVP allowed me to attend college and focus on gaining new knowledge while seeing different operations and strategies of operation. These scholarship programs are vital and sometimes underappreciated. I was extremely fortunate to receive several scholarships from the community and I am extremely thankful for the organizations that make them available.”

San Miguel Power Association is another cooperative to have remarkable scholarship recipients who encompass the overall goal of the program while expressing individuality and leadership in new ways.

Elizabeth “Beth” Williams was awarded the 2018 San Miguel Power Association Ouray High School scholarship

Former recipient Elizabeth “Beth” Williams was awarded the 2018 SMPA Ouray High School scholarship. Following the recognition, Williams attended a summer internship at the Rodham Institute and George Washington School of Medicine, where she worked with underprivileged patients and assisted the doctors as a Spanish translator. Her internship was designed to focus on health care and social change.

During her six-week program, Williams also gained a unique perspective about the health care system. This opportunity broadened her horizons and opened the possibility to study in other parts of the country.

Kyra Maxfield received the 2020 Silverton High School vocational scholarship for her education toward veterinary school.

Alex Shelley, SMPA’s communications executive, also reflected on a scholarship recipient from last year: Kyra Maxfield. Maxfield received the 2020 Silverton High School vocational scholarship for her strong drive to work in the veterinary field. SMPA’s scholarship helped place her in a college that could advance her goals and provide the support she needed on an individual basis.

“Our youth engagement programs are very important to us,” Shelley said. “These young people are future members, and their goals and attitudes give us a glimpse at what the future of our business and industry will hold. Plus, their enthusiasm is catchy!”

Scholarships are an important way that Colorado’s electric cooperatives support the community.

Another significant way co-ops strengthen and build up young people is through educational programs.

Support for the Washington D.C. Youth Tour, Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp, the Colorado State Fair Junior Livestock Sale, local county fairs and safety programs are other ways that co-ops educate and provide opportunities for students. Unfortunately, gathering and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 postponed some of these beneficial programs, but CREA and its electric cooperatives are hopeful to resume all of them by 2022.

The future of Colorado’s communities shines through in its youth and it is crucial that tools and resources for higher education are provided to students. By working together as one unified voice, CREA’s member co-ops are committed to enhancing and advancing the interests of their consumer-members, including the youngest members the co-ops serve. One day these young people will become the co-ops’ greatest assets and their strongest leaders.

For more information on Youth Tour, camp and other youth programs, visit crea.coop.

*Statistics based on a survey sent out to all 22 Colorado electric cooperatives; 19 out of 22 participated in the survey and are represented in the data listed.

Sarah Smith is a freelance writer with a fondness for Colorado’s electric co-ops and the rural areas they serve.

MVEA Launches EV Pilot Study

Limon-based Mountain View Electric Association launched a pilot program for a select number of its consumer-members who own electric vehicles.

The 12-month SmartCharge MVEA program in partnership with FleetCarma is aimed at helping the electric distribution co-op plan for future and increased adoption of EVs among consumer-members in the co-op’s service territory. The co-op wants more data on how, when and where EV owners charge their vehicles so it can plan for the impact on its electric system.

Here’s how it works: Participants with a compatible EVs are given a small device to plug into their EV onboard diagnostic port that tracks and pinpoints charging consumption on the grid. In addition to sending this data to MVEA, the device also provides analytics to the EV owner about the vehicle and use. Participants can track things such as their EV’s trip data, auxiliary load, battery health and the breakdown of charging from different charger levels.

The charging data collected over the 12-month study period will help MVEA plan and manage the grid to ensure EV charging remains reliable for everyone.

IREA’s Pioneer Solar Begins Production

In February, Sedalia-based Intermountain Rural Electric Association announced that its new utility-scale Pioneer Solar facility began production in December 2020.

The facility, which sits on 540 acres east of Denver in Bennett, generates 80 megawatts of power that will be utilized on IREA’s system for at least the next 10 years. Pioneer Solar has more than 230,000 single-axis tracking photovoltaic panels that follow the sun’s path to increase exposure.

This is the cooperative’s second utility-scale solar facility, and more renewable projects are slated to come online by the end of 2021. The co-op will have nearly 200 megawatts of renewable energy capacity on its system by 2025.

Drone Line Inspections Look for Potential Problems

Throughout April, Gunnison-based electric cooperative Gunnison County Electric Association contracted with UAV Recon to perform a system check of all 1,096 miles of GCEA distribution lines and power poles using drones. This is the second year of the co-op’s three-year drone inspection project.

This innovative use of drones is becoming more common among Colorado’s electric cooperatives, as drones can get to the hard-to-access regions in electric co-op service territories.

GCEA’s goals with this project are to identify maintenance issues to ensure better system reliability and to assist the co-op in fire mitigation efforts. The drone footage allows crews to be more efficient, as the data collected shows exactly where crews need to go to repair or troubleshoot.

“It also allows us to have pictures of all the pole top assemblies to assist our staking engineers,” GCEA Member Relations Supervisor Alliy Sahagun said. “With walking line inspections, [crews] can never see the pole top or the top of a cross arm where most of the decay will show. A drone shows all aspects of the structure.”

So far this inspection period, the photos collected across GCEA territory have revealed only a few issues that need to be addressed quickly, such as a few “danger trees,” (trees that could potentially fall into power lines and equipment, sparking a wildfire) and pins ready to fall out of insulators.

GCEA alerted consumer-members of the drone inspections via press releases, social media postings and ads in the local newspaper.

The Super Grid: The Path to Wealth on Renewables?

By Reed Karaim

Holy Cross Energy has an ambitious goal: 100% renewable energy sources by 2030. It’s a tall order, complicated by the central Colorado co-op’s mountainous service territory, which isn’t well-suited to wind or solar power generation.

But just 100 miles or so to the east of the co-op’s Glenwood Springs headquarters, the Front Range and eastern plains offer ample wind resources. And the states to its south are among the nation’s solar power leaders.

It’s the lack of transmission that keeps the region’s renewable power from reaching the Western Slope, says Bryan Hannegan, Holy Cross Energy president and CEO.

“Our transmission access is our biggest worry” for meeting the 100% goal, he says.

Hannegan, who served as associate director at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory before joining Holy Cross, sees a solution in the creation of a “super grid.”

The concept, also known as the macro grid, entails uniting the nation’s regional transmission systems with high-voltage, direct current (DC) interties. In particular, it would bridge the seam that runs along the eastern borders of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico between the western and eastern grids and would also tie ERCOT, the wind-rich Texas grid, into a national system.

While at NREL, Hannegan oversaw a study that found a super grid could help reduce costs for consumers by allowing a “balancing of power supply over much larger regions,” he says, “allowing us to harness the resource diversity we have in this country.”

In particular, it would enable greater use of wind and solar power, says Tracy Warren, director of the Macro Grid Initiative at the American Council on Renewable Energy.

“Much of our vast renewable resources are located in remote regions far away from where the power is needed in population-dense areas,” she says.

Being able to move solar and wind power to those areas could increase the utility of renewable generation. One scenario outlined in a study showed a hypothetical heat wave in August causing air conditioners to drive up demand. As the sun moved across the United States, solar plants in the West sent power eastward, limiting the need for expensive peak-load, fossil fuel generation. As the sun moved west and began to set, midwestern wind farms — today in the eastern grid — sent power westward to relieve pressure on the coast’s coal- and gas-fired generation.

Worth the cost?
The price tag for building the DC transmission necessary to create a coast-to-coast super grid would be eye-popping: The NREL study estimated it could cost at least $80 billion, but it could return economic benefits of twice that amount.

“By every measure, a more interconnected grid delivered better outcomes — lower carbon emissions, lower cost to consumers, better reliability,” says Hannegan, along with job creation and other economic benefits in the parts of the country where more renewable energy generation would be built.

But a super grid would also face significant challenges.

“Any transmission beyond a local, minimal addition to an existing line is going to be met with huge amounts of opposition,” says National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Chief Engineer Paul McCurley. “Not just technical, geographic, economic and environmental challenges but many not-in-my-backyard battles.”

Patti Metro, senior grid operations and reliability director at NRECA, says DC interties and converter stations for the three alternating current (AC) grids, which are not synchronous, would be complicated and expensive but would not require new technology.

Much of the recent focus in the industry has been on reducing, not expanding, the distance power travels, turning to more localized, distributed generation that integrates renewables sources like solar and tends to reduce the need for new transmission facilities, Metro says.

Another issue is the allocation of costs. Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a co-op power supplier based in North Dakota, operates coal, gas and wind generation to serve 140 member systems, including Colorado’s Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which serves 17 of the state’s 22 electric co-ops. As the demand for power grows, “new transmission development is probably going to be essential, and if there’s a transition to more renewable energy, that’s only going to add to the demand,” says Tom Christensen, Basin’s senior vice president for transmission.

But, he adds, the construction cost of a super grid raises concerns, even if it eventually saves money.

“Regardless of who funds it — banks, utilities, whoever — the point would be that, ultimately, some set of retail customers will have to pay. It will show up in customer bills,” he says.

Rural, sparsely populated areas like the Great Plains, where wind generation is expanding, should not be asked to bear costs that exceed the benefits to their region if the transmission is largely carrying the power elsewhere, Christensen says.

He notes the super grid would require unprecedented coordination on a national scale to make sure the connections were cost effective, a task that’s generally handled by regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

“In general, when it’s transmission planned by an RTO, you really get a cost-effective solution, and you hopefully get an equitable distribution of cost to consumers,” he says, but a macro grid would cross RTOs, complicating planning.

He could see starting a buildout of regional grid interties on a smaller scale: “a more measured approach, going through the RTOs, trying to be very careful determining what’s economically justified.”

Warren acknowledges the macro grid will require large-scale planning but reiterates that transmission investments will pay dividends. She points to a study that shows increased transmission development at the “seams” between regions could save consumers up to $47 billion annually and return more than $2.50 for every dollar invested.

She sees the macro grid working in concert with more localized generation to help the country reach the ambitious clean energy goals states are setting and the Biden administration has promised at the national level.

To meet goals like those, “it’s all hands on deck,” Warren says. “It’s a large-scale challenge that demands a large-scale solution.”

This article was reprinted with permission from the April issue of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s RE Magazine.