Colorado’s Electric Co-ops Leading the Way to Clean Energy

America’s rural cooperatives provide nearly one-third of the country’s electricity. And in many rural areas, co-ops lead the way to the transition to renewable energy. According to his article, “How Rural States are Leading the Clean Energy Revolution,” Drew Bond says we are “witnessing an unprecedented level of private capital investment in renewable energy,” which creates employment opportunities in rural areas and supports a “win-win for everyone.”

Colorado co-ops are at the forefront of this innovative, rural approach to clean energy. There are four windfarms providing power to Colorado’s co-op power supplier and at least two more in the works. There are countless solar farms providing electricity across the state. And a utility-scale battery storage system is installed and working well for United Power in north central Colorado.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are doing their part to come together to provide affordable, reliable and clean energy to the consumer-members they serve.

Mountain Parks Electric Studies Electric Water Heaters

In an innovative approach toward energy efficiency and saving consumer-members money, Granby-based electric cooperative Mountain Parks Electric is beginning a smart water heater pilot program. Homes that have electric water heaters (and Wi-Fi) have been encouraged to sign up for this study.

Here’s how it works: Mountain Parks provides an Aquanta device for free in exchange for occasional control over the water heater. The Aquanta device makes the water heater more efficient and also connects to the user’s smartphone. That way, consumers can see how much hot water is available in the tank at any given time. It also contains a sensor that automatically sends a text message alert if the water heater starts leaking. From the user’s smartphone, information about how much energy is being used to heat water at any given time is also available.

The control of the water heater would be implemented during typical peak hours from 5:30–10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. In one year, MPE will analyze the results of the pilot program and obtain the feedback of participants.

Holy Cross Energy Contributes to Grid Resilience Study

Glenwood-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy and other collaborators were selected to support an investigation of the role that solar energy can play in improving grid resilience against natural disasters or cyberattacks.

The Siemens research and development unit was selected for a $6.4 million research award from the US Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. Holy Cross Energy will share its system data and grid model with Siemens to assist in testing and validating the energy management system against various scenarios.

Electric Fuel for the Road

With the proliferation of electric vehicles, it’s becoming a priority to ensure these drivers can stay “fueled” when traveling. Range anxiety is a term used to describe the concern an EV owner has about the vehicle’s battery running out of charge before reaching a charging station. A recent AAA study showed that 57% of people are unlikely to purchase an EV because of range anxiety.

To lessen that unease, more states are offering incentives for local consumers, businesses and utilities to install EV charging stations. There are currently more than 21,000 EV charging stations in the United States, 701 in Colorado as of mid-May. Many more are in the works and Colorado’s electric cooperatives are in the mix.

This charging station in SMPA’s territory stays active.

Powering the Public

With offices in Nucla and Ridgway, San Miguel Power Association has a lot of experience with EV drivers. The first EV charging station in the cooperative’s region in southwestern Colorado was powered in 2014 at the Gondola parking garage in Mountain Village above Telluride. Since then, more public and semipublic charging stations have popped up in the area, some of which SMPA helped with financially, including the Ridgway charging station.

A new EV charger at GCEA headquarters.

In November 2015, Gunnison County Electric Association installed its first EV charging station. It currently owns and operates six stations and is looking for a location to install a DC (direct current) fast charger in its territory. GCEA Member Relations Supervisor Alliy Sahagun explained, “We see that as an opportunity to decrease range anxiety even further and give EV drivers in our area an opportunity to travel longer distances, as well as encourage visitors to bring their EVs to our area when they come to enjoy all the recreation the Gunnison Valley has to offer.”

Pueblo West-based San Isabel Electric Association partnered with Charge Ahead Colorado, the Pueblo City-County Library District, Pueblo County, Bank of the San Juans and the Pueblo West Metro District to install its first EV charging station in December 2018. The Pueblo County Energy Office received grant money through Charge Ahead Colorado and then all the organizations invested their time, energy and expertise to raise the additional funds. “This really wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the community coming together to get this done,” said SIEA Communications Manager Paris Elliot.

SIEA holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new charging station.

Conveniently located at the Pueblo West Library along the Highway 50 corridor, the new charging station has both a Level 2 and Level 3 charger. Additionally, SIEA is installing two more charging stations at its office: one for public use and the other for employee use.

La Plata Electric Association currently owns two Level 2 charging stations installed at the cooperative’s headquarters in Durango, and there are several private stations in the area to which the cooperative sells power, including at the Smiley Building, Mercy Medical Center and the city of Durango Transit Center. In January 2019, the Pagosa Springs Town Council approved installing a Level 2 charging station at Pagosa Springs’ Centennial Park. New DC fast chargers will be installed in Durango and Pagosa Springs within the next year.

A charging station is ready for EV owners in PVREA’s territory.

As more drivers switch from gas to electric, more electric co-ops are taking a “test drive” of EV charging stations of their own. Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association as well as Monte Vista-based San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative each installed a charging station at their headquarters’ parking lots to test demand.

White River Electric Association in Meeker, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association in Buena Vista and Yampa Valley Electric Association in Steamboat Springs are among recent recipients of grants awarded for EV charging station installations through Charge Ahead Colorado. SDCEA’s project went on line in April 2019; YVEA’s station will be running this July; and WREA’s is in the works. In addition, Holy Cross Energy, with offices in Glenwood Springs, Avon and Gypsum, is installing stations in Basalt, Vail and Eagle County.

Driving the Cause

In 2013, a partnership between the Regional Air Quality Council and the Colorado Energy Office formed Charge Ahead Colorado to encourage EV adoption by providing grants for EV charging stations. As of January 2018, the program awarded grants to more than 600 stations across Colorado, according to the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan.

Charge Ahead Colorado funds up to $9,000 for Level 2 chargers and $30,000, or 80% of project costs, for DC fast chargers, according to Program Manager Zachary Owens. The remaining balance is the responsibility of the applicant.

EV drivers pay a $50 annual registration fee for their road usage charge and gas tax; $20 of that fee goes to Charge Ahead Colorado to build charging infrastructure. “The idea of that is folks driving conventional vehicles are paying a gas tax,” Owens explained. “The registration fee was designed so that EV drivers are paying their fair share as well.”

Fueling the Economy?

EVs are touted as more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles and, depending on what type of charger you have and where it is located, could also have economic benefits for the community. If the charger is located near a shopping center, for example, EV drivers can spend time and money at the shops and restaurants while their vehicle charges.

The upcoming Centennial Park Level 2 charger project in LPEA’s territory is “an optimal location for those utilizing the service to shop, walk and dine in the area,” LPEA Energy Management Advisor Nancy Andrews explained. A Level 2 charger can take up to a few hours to charge an EV, which makes an area such as this desirable to EV owners as they bide their time.

While some electric co-ops do not own an EV charging station, some are helping others in their community to do so. For example, Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric’s Green Power program contributed to charger installations in its community. Also, SMPA made a donation of $2,000 for the Ridgway project; the co-op has $4,000 allocated every year for this purpose.

Several Colorado co-ops offer significant rebates for EVs and/or EV chargers, including PVREA, SIEA, SMPA and LPEA. Although Cortez-based Empire Electric Association does not own any EV charging stations, its board has approved rebate opportunities and EEA will market the program as soon as the campaign is finalized.

“Another creative idea we have is to promote our EV home charger rebate with property management companies and homeowners associations to offer EV charging as an amenity for those booking stays in the short-term rentals,” Sahagun said. “This will benefit the consumer-members by taking advantage of the rebate in their efforts to draw more people to their rentals and be a point of distinction in their offerings.”

The forecast shows that EVs are here to stay, and all of Colorado electric co-ops are taking notice and getting involved in whatever ways work best for each local co-op.

Some co-ops don’t have the population to support a charging station. In other areas the charging stations are maintained by other entities. Each co-op is learning and moving forward in a variety of ways. All of Colorado’s electric co-ops are planning for the future and working to lessen the range anxiety for their consumer-members while meeting their electricity needs.

Amy Higgins is a contract writer for Colorado Country Life magazine.

Another Colorado Co-op Receives EV Charging Grant

Meeker-based electric cooperative White River Electric Association joins other Colorado electric cooperatives as a recipient of a Charge Ahead Colorado grant from the Colorado Energy Office. The grant awarded to WREA will help fund two electric vehicle charging stations.

Both a level II and level III charger will be installed in the town of Meeker and will be the first electric car charging units in the county. The EV market is growing in the northwestern part of the state, and WREA wants to be prepared to support its local community, consumer-members and area travelers.

WREA has not decided the charging station fee schedule yet, but the two units will be have a base fee plus a per-kilowatt-hour fee. The units will be installed and operational by mid-summer 2019.

 

 

United Power Celebrates 10 Years of Community Solar

United Power commissioned the first community solar program in the country 10 years ago this month. Located on United Power’s property in Brighton, consumer-members lease the panels for a 25-year period and receive credit for all the power generated by their panel. The program is sold out.

The Colorado Governor’s Energy Office provided seed money to help United Power develop the project. The solar farm was energized on May 15, 2009, and officially launched on May 27, 2009. A second module was added in August 2010.

The innovative Sol Partners Cooperative Solar Farm made solar technology more accessible to United Power consumer-members and is a model that has been replicated among utilities across Colorado and the country.

 

Poudre Valley REA Creates A Buzz at Solar Farm

The Environmental Science Class from Resurrection Christian School spent an afternoon with Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley REA and CSU Extension to plant pollinator-friendly seeds at the Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm. Through this innovative use of solar farm land, the project will benefit nearby agriculture, contribute to the preservation efforts of pollinating species (birds, bees, etc.) and improve the beauty of the site.

Colorado Springs Co-op Works With Military

The United States Department of Defense is a large energy consumer worldwide and the single largest energy consumer in the nation. Over 80 electric cooperatives in 35 states across the nation work closely with the military, providing electricity services and partnering on innovative projects.

Limon-based Mountain View Electric Association, Inc., makes that list by providing electricity to Schriever Air Force Base in El Paso County, about 10 miles from Colorado Spring. The base includes 242 homes in the Tierra Vista community. Working with the military and its consumer-members offers MVEA opportunities to support the DoD and local communities.

Energy Savings for Schools Program

By Katie Kershman

Delivering cost-effective energy services and advancing innovative energy solutions is the mission of the Colorado Energy Office. This year, in support of its mission, CEO piloted a new approach for the Energy Savings for Schools (ESS) program. Up to four school districts will work with CEO’s program administrator, Brendle Group, to identify energy and water goals, educate staff and students on conservation and plan and implement projects that result in increased awareness and cost savings.

Through the program, districts receive:
• Free technical support, and energy and water conservation coaching
• Free customized Resource Management Plan that sets goals, identifies priorities and activities, helps gain district buy-in and creates a culture of conservation
• Free electricity monitoring equipment and coaching to track electricity use in real time on a web-based dashboard
• Free hands-on resources for engaging students, including printable educational materials and learning activities
• Free recognition opportunities and connections to peer districts

“We understand how limited resources are — especially staff time and money — for districts in Colorado, and we also know how important conservation is for the bottom line,” explains program manager Susan Bartlett. “CEO’s program aims to help each district understand its baseline, set conservation goals and make both operational and behavioral improvements that are tangible and teachable.”

Operations and maintenance costs are the second highest operating costs for K-12 schools after instructional spending, according to the Financial Transparency for Colorado Schools website. It’s estimated that more than $2 billion could be saved nationwide by improving energy efficiency in school buildings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To reduce these costs, the EES program provides districts with:
• A menu of easy-to-do efficiency projects and activities
• Improved learning and leadership opportunities for students
• Resource planning support and best practices for long-term energy, water and cost savings
• Help identifying and pursuing potential funding sources
• Tools to maintain momentum
• Improved environment for students, teachers and administrators

To date, two districts are testing the new pilot. In March and April, Gunnison Watershed School District took conservation to its classrooms to raise awareness about energy and water use. “The support for student engagement and classroom activities has been the most exciting part of the program so far. Our teachers have been very enthusiastic about engaging both their classrooms and beyond, with the goal to not just teach in their classrooms but to engage the entire district,” explains Transportation and Facilities Manager Paul Morgan. “The engagement support ESS provides is helping us build more than just a one-year curriculum. Our aim is to continue engaging future students in conservation learning and activities for years to come.”

Sheridan School District began student and staff engagement in April. As part of the program, both districts will complete a Resource Management Plan that identifies additional operational and behavioral activities they will undertake in the next school year and how they plan to share their progress with the broader school community.

There are still two spots remaining for school districts interested in participating in the pilot this school year. You can learn more about the pilot on the program website: ColoradoESS.org. If you know of a school that might benefit from the program, contact Bartlett at 970-207-0058 or ess@brendlegroup.com.

Writer Katie Kershman is with the Brendle Group, an engineering and planning firm.

YVEA Awarded EV Charging Station Grant

The Colorado Energy Office recently awarded Yampa Valley Electric Association a Charge Ahead Colorado grant to fund two electric vehicle charging stations. The charging stations will be installed at YVEA’s offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs and will be for employee and public use.

The Steamboat Springs-based electric cooperative received a total of $18,000 for the charging stations. The chargers are expected to be installed and ready for use by July. Though not the first Colorado electric cooperative to receive a Charge Ahead Colorado grant, this innovative program will bring the first publicly accessible charging station to Moffat County.

Charge Ahead Colorado’s program aims to promote EV charger installations across the state with the hopes to accelerate the more widespread adoption of EVs.