San Isabel Electric Launches Efficiency Program

This fall, Pueblo West-based electric cooperative San Isabel Electric rolled out its Empower program. This expansion of its energy-efficiency programs helps people create an energy-efficient home or business space with free energy assessments, net-metered home solar power systems, electric vehicle and charger rebates for consumer-members and products such as high-velocity, low-speed fans, electric water heaters, electric thermal storage and air source heat pumps, just to name a few. Many of these products and services can be bundled to maximize efficiency and energy savings.

According to an October press release, the San Isabel Electric Board of Directors said Empower is essential to continue the path of providing value for not only SIEA consumer-members but the entire southern Colorado region.

YVEA Receives Grant to Expand Fiber Infrastructure

In late October, Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Electric announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will award $6 million to YVEA and its fiber subsidiary, Luminate Broadband, to expand fiber internet service in northwestern Colorado.

The USDA will provide funding to YVEA/Luminate through its ReConnect program to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. This will connect 264 rural households, 27 farms and ranches, 27 businesses, and three post offices to high-speed internet. With this funding, YVEA/Luminate will construct 200 miles of middle mile fiber to connect northwest Coloradans in Routt, Moffat and Eagle counties.

Innovations in Heat Pumps

By Amy Higgins

Colorado’s electric cooperatives have a reputation of staying on top of innovation and energy efficiency, and while heat pumps aren’t new to the beneficial electricity market, their advancements are.

Cold-climate, air source heat pump (ccASHP) is one of the latest innovations in beneficial electrification. These products can reduce air pollution and energy costs by switching from direct fossil fuels, like propane or natural gas, to electric resources that emit less carbon emissions.

“Overall, [ccASHPs] emit less carbon per unit of heat than burning fossil fuels,” explains Tri-State Generation and Transmission Relationship Manager Peter Rusin. “As [Tri-State] implements its Responsible Energy Plan, over the next four years and over the next 10, that gap is only going to grow compared to propane and natural gas — that’s going to be much better for the environment.”

Unlike the heat pumps of years past, today’s heat pumps include variable speed, or inverter, technology that allows them to operate over a wider range of temperatures. “So, instead of going down to 40 or 35 degrees where that heat pump is working before you need a backup, now we’re seeing systems get down to negative 13, negative 20,” Rusin explains. He says this variable speed technology can either eliminate or reduce the need for a backup because of the unit’s ability to carry temperatures much deeper into the extremely cold range, meaning it’s possible that it can be used as a primary heat source.

Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Xergy Consulting recently conducted a pilot study of three homes in the Fraser area in which the homes were outfitted with ccASHPs. The study showed that one 2-ton ccASHP unit reduced total annual heating costs by approximately 30%. (Visit mpei.com/pilot-programs to read the complete findings.)

These ccASHPs are not only friendlier to the environment, but they are also more cost effective than a propane furnace or resistance baseboard system and safer to operate seeing as you’re essentially eliminating ignitable vapors in your home. “Any time you burn a fossil fuel, you can create carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons — all these things that really impact your indoor air quality,” says Mike Frailey, relationship manager at Tri-State. “Switching to an air source heat pump eliminates that [emission] from your propane or natural gas furnace. There’s a reduction in the CO2 emissions from an exhaust standpoint, too, such as a chimney.”

Frailey and Rusin share that they’re also seeing commercial interest in ccASHPs. For example, they’re working with a school in Wyoming that is interested in adding 55-tons of heat pump technology to replace a steam boiler system, and state rebates and educated resources could help them cut costs. Frailey adds, “In that specific application, it’s going to be a mix of split systems for some smaller rooms and then they’re doing three 8½-ton packaged rooftop units, so there are commercial applications and it seems it’s going to continue to evolve and grow.”

However, the upfront cost of a few grand or more might be a drawback for some. To relieve Colorado’s electric cooperative consumer-members of the cost burden, Tri-State offers a $450 rebate per ton for a new ccASHP and some of Colorado’s electric cooperatives offer rebates of their own. MPE, for example, offers a rebate of $500 per ton, which could mean $3,000 or more off the consumer’s bottom line when combined with Tri-State’s rebate.

Several Colorado towns are some of the coldest in the nation during the winter, but innovation in the energy sector and a commitment to provide electric co-op consumer-members the safest, most reliable service at the lowest cost possible is at the forefront of every co-op in the state. Products such as ccASHPs can keep Coloradans safe and comfortable during some of the coldest times.

To learn more about ccASHPs, contact your local cooperative. They can assist you in finding knowledgeable contractors to get the job done correctly, rebates to help your bottom line and information on how to stay comfortable in the dead of winter — they are the trusted resources.

Amy Higgins is an award-winning writer who has been writing for Colorado Country Life for nearly a decade, staying up to date on the latest innovations and changes in the electric co-op industry.

Consumer-members can test drive this Tesla electric vehicle

Electric Co-ops Share the EV Experience

As part of an ongoing discussion about electric vehicles with its member distribution cooperatives, Tri-State Generation and Transmission created the EV Experience, an innovative electric vehicle allowing co-op consumer-members to try out EVs.

Access to electric vehicles can be limited in the rural areas that Colorado’s distribution cooperatives serve; consumer-members can’t easily go to an EV dealership for a test drive. Tri-State found this was preventing consumer-members from engaging with EVs, so the power supplier decided to provide the experience through five EVs that can be loaned to Tri-State member cooperatives.

These co-ops can take one of two Tesla Model 3 EVs, a Tesla Model Y, a Chevy Bolt or an electric Pacifica Minivan for a month at a time. During that time, the co-op is encouraged to allow consumer-members and co-op staff to ride and drive the EVs, providing a first-time EV experience for many.

The program began in May, and has been “wildly successful,” according to Tri-State Beneficial Electrification Manager Matt Fitzgibbon. In the first month, 30-40 drivers got behind the wheel of an EV. Seven Colorado electric co-ops have participated so far. One co-op even had 17% of its membership participate in the EV Experience. Matt says there has been overwhelmingly positive feedback, such as, “I was interested in getting an EV, but I’m going to do it sooner” and “I though these things would be boring and not fun to drive, but I’m blown away.”

This fall, Holyoke-based Highline Electric Association took Tri-State’s Chevy Bolt and had 41 unique drivers during the month.

Highline’s Member Services Manager Tadius Huser said, “It’s an awesome program; it was good education for people.” Huser said that people were surprised at the minimal amount of maintenance EVs require. Though drivers were concerned about range, especially since it’s an “infrastructure desert” in northeastern Colorado, “Tri-State is doing good work to change that,” Huser said. Highline will install a dual-head Level 2 public EV charger at its headquarters by the end of the year with funds from a Charge Ahead grant from the Colorado Energy Office and funds from Tri-State. It is also exploring installing a DC fast charger someplace in its service territory.

“The primary goal [of the EV Experience] is to get people behind the wheel. This provides boots on the ground feedback to promote EVs and EV charging infrastructure,” Fitzgibbon said. A long-term goal is to bring EVs to member co-op annual meetings to “spark the conversation and have a well-rounded discussion about beneficial electrification.”

Tri-State has thought of everything during these unique times. Keeping safety and hygiene at the forefront, each EV Experience event has a car-specific sanitizing kit and all the materials needed to clean the EVs between drivers.

Highline’s EV Experience was well-received by its consumer-members and the co-op is gearing up to take Tri-State’s Tesla Model Y in January. The co-op is expecting even more member engagement with the all-wheel drive Tesla SUV.

Electric Co-ops Lead in Keeping the Grid Secure

An innovative and state-of-the-art cybersecurity tool being developed by the electric cooperatives was given a boost with $6 million in funding from the United States Department of Energy. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is leading the development of the tool, known as Essence.

After initially receiving funds to create Essence in 2014, the national trade association for electric co-ops built a five-layer configuration of cyber tools. Now it is moving ahead with Essence 2.0, which monitors potential cyberthreats and provides instant feedback and data to co-op network administrators and system operators to isolate the problem and defend the system. After getting baseline information and data, the cutting-edge program then constantly evaluates the system for any abnormal activity, which, when detected, sends an alert.

The DOE funds will help NRECA develop, deploy and test the technology at 55 member electric co-ops across the country over three years. Stay tuned to this newsletter from CREA to learn how Essence 2.0 will help Colorado’s electric co-ops maintain and advance grid security across distribution systems.

Indoor "Farm in a Box" growing lettuce

Co-ops Bring New Opportunity to Craig School

Growing crops indoors is the focus of an innovative collaboration between electric power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the national Electric Power Research Institute and Moffat County School District in Craig. The program offers students and faculty an opportunity to grow various crops indoors and year-round with EPRI’s “Farm in a Box.”

This cutting-edge indoor agriculture facility will be installed by Tri-State at Moffat County High School in northwestern Colorado. The facility is housed in a 40-foot long shipping container and is temperature-controlled, has efficient lighting and plumbing infrastructure to support the production of crops.

The Farm in a Box will offer educational opportunities for Moffat County High School students and research data for EPRI. EPRI staff will monitor the container for the first two years to evaluate different metrics, such as nutrient quality of the produce, community impacts, sustainability performance and electricity load profiles.

CREA Shares Innovative Discussions

CREA has sponsored several webinars on key co-op issues and on innovative topics this fall.

For those who were not able to participate and/or miss the annual CREA Energy Innovations Summit, you can view the recorded webinars On the CREA website.

A recording and the PowerPoint slides are available here. Here’s what you’ll find:

Ground Source, Air Source, and Cold Climate Heat Pumps
Path Toward Creating and RTO for Colorado
How Co-ops Will Recover from the Pandemic
X-PRIZE & CO2 Storage
Ballot Measure Review
Electric Vehicles in Colorado

Protecting Vital Electric Lines When Wildfires Blaze

By Kylee Coleman

Just as rural Colorado started to regain footing from the stressful economic and emotional impacts of COVID-19 shutdowns, wildfire season erupted with force across the central and western parts of the state in late July.

Electric co-op communities such as Glenwood Springs and rural areas of Mesa and Garfield counties, Grand County and Larimer County were impacted at once when three large fires started burning within days of each other. All attention was quickly directed at keeping people, property, livestock and electric system infrastructure safe from extreme fire situations and damage. Countless evacuations and road and area closures brought the state to a halt. Interstate 70 was shut down through Grizzly Creek Glenwood Canyon for an unprecedented two weeks in August.

Lineman Hunter Henderson services a power pole during the Pine Gulch Fire. Photo by Matt Mason, Grand Valley Power.

Hot, windy and dry weather created the perfect storm for what would become the largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history: the Pine Gulch Fire on the Western Slope, burning in Grand Valley Power’s service territory. As of early September, the Pine Gulch Fire had burned over 139,000 acres and was 81% contained. The Williams Fork Fire in the Mountain Parks Electric service area was also burning with little containment progress. The Cameron Peak fire affected both MPE and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association service territories, doubling in size over Labor Day weekend before 14 inches of snow gave firefighters a chance to try to get ahead of it.

COOPERATION AMONG AGENCIES
For every agency working on the front lines to fight fires, there are countless more supporting suppression efforts. Colorado’s electric cooperatives work tirelessly with emergency personnel to keep consumer-members safe and informed in all of these active fire situations.

PVREA’s Vice President and Chief Operations Officer John Bowerfind, said the Fort Collins-based co-op is working closely with the Cameron Peak Fire incident command. “There are daily virtual meetings on the fires to get updates, to find out where the fire moved during the last day, where it is projected to move, where they are clearing out areas and if there are any utilities they’re concerned about,” Bowerfind explained.

GVP’s connections with public agencies were essential. “GVP has great relationships with the counties involved, so we know everything that is going on. Our relationships with Mesa County and emergency management are crucial in getting timely information to members,” Communications Specialist Dana Pogar said. GVP Operations Manager Bill Barlow and Pogar attended community briefings held by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management team. “We were able to speak to the community about fires and electrical safety, and what the restoration efforts would look like once evacuations were lifted,” Pogar said.

MPE Manager of Operations Rich Trostel participated in daily cooperators meetings in Grand County for the Williams Fork Fire, which was only 10% contained in early September. Once the fire stopped being a threat to any housing developments, those meetings turned to daily email updates to give the size of the fire, forecasts, how many people are working to suppress the fire and other pertinent details.

PREVENTION STARTS EARLY
The co-ops’ focus on wildfire threats, however, started long before the first flames ignited. Co-ops work year-round on vegetation management, which removes brush and trees near power lines. This is so that if a power line snaps for some reason, that line is less likely to ignite a fire in nearby vegetation. However, not all vegetation management procedures are easy since co-ops are often dealing with rugged terrain and various rights-of-way from private and public land managers.

Trostel recalled that prior to 2006, the pine beetle epidemic killed quite a bit of forest around Grand County. “There were so many dead trees close to line, so we were in crisis mode getting rights-of-way cleared.” The Granby-based electric co-op hired several contractors and cleared all 214 miles of power lines that had trees associated with them.

In 2017, MPE tested a mowing program where it cut the right-of-way to the ground and stopped vegetation and tree growth. Although an economical way to clear rights-of-way, the mowing system had limitations in steep and rough terrain. MPE also had issues with aspen trees growing back thicker than before and, in some cases, multiplying, so the co-op’s tree contractor tried an herbicide test plot in 2018. Trostel said that the co-op went back this spring to look at the test plot.

“All broadleaf trees are dead, but the low ground cover is thriving,” he said, “and this is more economical than a crew going into remote forest areas to cut down trees.” MPE consumer-members are usually agreeable when they are asked to cut down trees or have vegetation cleared from around power lines and poles on their property because they understand the risks if they don’t.

GVP is also consistently looking at lines and their proximity to trees and vegetation as crews drive around the service area. Barlow explained that GVP crews go circuit by circuit in most cases. “The co-op has a dedicated patrolman looking at trees and lines,” he said. Consumer-members are also involved. According to Barlow, many GVP consumers request that the co-op come to assess vegetation and trees near lines, and he said GVP will coordinate outages where trees near lines need to be trimmed.

CO-OPS TAKE ACTION DURING FIRES
Once an actual fire starts, the co-op is hypervigilant. When the Cameron Peak fire broke out in Larimer County, PVREA immediately worked to protect its infrastructure and power poles that were in the path of fire and considered most in danger. The Fort Collins-based electric co-op covered poles with fire wrap material. “We wrapped the bottom 8 feet of the pole from where they go into the ground, which we believe will help if it’s a smaller brush or grass fire,” Bowerfind explained.

“We get daily maps from incident command, and we overlay that onto GIS [geographic information systems] to see where lines are in relation to the daily fire growth. Based on daily direction of growth and wind, it alerts us to if there are areas we need to be concerned about,” Bowerfind said.

We prepare, wait and respond,” he stated as the Cameron Peak Fire stabilized during the first week of September.

As Poudre Valley REA crews were able to access areas where the Cameron Peak Fire had burned, they found poles and lines totally destroyed.

During wildfires, co-ops keep the power flowing as long as it is safe to do so. But, according to Colorado Rural Electric Association’s Safety and Loss Control Director Dale Kishbaugh, “Every time [emergency crews] think they have a grip on the fires, the winds change or something else happens” that makes fire suppression efforts even more difficult and unpredictable. That’s why co-ops are on standby and in constant communication with emergency management teams, ready to de-energize power lines and equipment when called upon to do so. “Our first concern is everyone’s safety,” Trostel explained. “We will take out power if [the fire] gets too close to lines and infrastructure.”

PVREA’s Bowerfind said that the co-op only turns off power when requested to do so by incident command because the power is important to incident command. It powers their communications. “They have a strong desire to keep power up and running because it makes their communications much more effective,” he said.

When GVP turned off power during evacuations, it was due to orders from the emergency management officials, Barlow said. When co-ops de-energize lines, they are typically able to alert members by having up-to-date outage maps on the co-op website, sending text alerts, posting social media alerts and sending alerts through co-op apps. “Members in GVP’s service area were supportive of the co-op’s, outages and understanding of the situation to cut off power for the safety of the community, first responders and GVP crews,” Pogar said.

PVREA Vice President of Member and Government Relations Amy Rosier talked about a variety of methods PVREA used to communicate with its members during the fire. Although PVREA had not turned off power to any consumer-members as of the first week of September, when the fire started, the growth was rapid. “We set up a landing page on our website dedicated to the Cameron Peak Fire,” she said. Social media has also been a large part in its communications plan. But the co-op took preparations one step further. “We worked with predictions on who could possibly be impacted,” Rosier said. “If it does look like there will be outages, we could act quickly” to alert consumer-members of outages.

The Pine Gulch fire is on record as the largest wildfire in Colorado, burning over 135,000 acres. It caused extensive damage across the Western Slope. Photo by Bill Barlow, Grand Valley Power.

RECOVERY
As Pine Gulch Fire evacuations lifted in GVP’s service territory, co-op crews had to visually inspect poles and lines in those previously evacuated and burned areas. “We have to look at everything; you don’t know how intense the fire was,” Barlow explained. “If you had big flames, did it weaken a conductor? You have no idea if poles were burned in half. We went house to house to look at the facilities, to shut off breakers, to look at everything” in order to keep consumer-members and their property safe once the power was restored.

Pogar said the process in which the co-op communicated with members and the community after evacuations were lifted was systematic with safety at the forefront. “We mailed a packet explaining restoration efforts. In the packet, we included a safety information page on how members can safely restore power in homes after a wildfire.” The sheriff’s department also distributed GVP’s safety information to residents as evacuation orders were lifted. “[GVP Operations Supervisor] Mark [Shaffer] and Bill [Barlow] even went door to door in many cases to talk to members not only about their power being off, but to inspect member homes and meters that GVP is responsible for,” GVP Communications Manager Christmas Wharton said.

The physical damage to property and infrastructure was minimal for GVP during the Pine Gulch Fire. “When we were looking at the potential for damage, we were looking at losing upwards of 300 poles plus having 70 consumer-members out of power or, even worse, lose homes,” Wharton said. Early on, there were intense discussions on what to plan for. “Our geographic information systems analyst and engineering department were valuable in planning on what to expect. They laid the fire path map over GVP’s mapping system to see specifically what lines were going to be affected and to count how many poles could be destroyed,” she said. However, as of early September, GVP had lost only four poles and a little bit of wire, according to Barlow. “We have huge thanks for Mesa and Garfield counties and all agencies taking such special time and efforts to protect not just homes, but facilities, poles, equipment and oil and gas,” Barlow said.

MPE had more damage in its area, having lost about six structures. “The damage is in very remote, very hard-to-get-to areas, with no roads and trails,” Trostel said. “It’s steep and inaccessible, so all repairs will be done by helicopter work or a hike to each pole.”

At magazine deadline, PVREA was assessing the damage to its infrastructure.

Total damage and statistics from all of the fires have not been finalized by the time of publication. Kishbaugh and CREA advise electric co-ops on long-term recovery impacts, what is needed to work with state emergency management and how to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for any funds needed to repair and replace burned infrastructure. A task force Kishbaugh is included in looks at what the devastation will be after the fires. Fires affect the watershed, drinking water and the environment and can cause burn areas to be greatly affected by flooding because the forests simply won’t have the chance to recover immediately.

GVP believes its community will be stronger than ever after the Pine Gulch Fire. “Our community is awesome and supportive of each other. We’re in this together and we’re going to get through it,” Wharton said. So, too, will all of these fire-stricken areas where their local electric co-op is an integral part of the coordinated effort to protect their communities.

Kylee Coleman writes on Colorado electric co-op issues for the Colorado Rural Electric Association and Colorado Country Life.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association logo

Electric Co-op Supports Community Innovation

Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley REA is working with the community of Red Feather Lakes to create a microgrid. The small community in northern Colorado gets its electricity delivered by a single transmission line, which is vulnerable to wildfires such as the Cameron Peak Fire currently threatening the area. It is also vulnerable to high winds, winter storms and car accidents — all of which can take out the power line and cause extended outages.

A community-driven microgrid project was initiated when the Red Feather Lakes library was awarded a grant to pursue solar panels. PVREA will control and own the microgrid, which will be installed at the local fire station. It features a 140-kilowatt/448-kilowatt-hour battery with 3.2 hours of storage. And the library, across from the fire station will have a 20-kilowatt solar array.

This innovative partnership between the community and the co-op is sure to be a model for future microgrid projects both in Colorado and nationwide.

Holy Cross Energy Wins Award

Holy Cross Energy was nationally recognized and named the Electric Cooperative of the Year by the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

The Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year Award is given to an electric co-op that demonstrates leadership through innovation to significantly advance clean energy and grid modernization. In 2018, Holy Cross Energy adopted the Seventy70Thirty Plan, which established the goal for the co-op to attain 70% renewable supply by 2030. HCE is taking assertive steps to achieve this goal, including PPAs with a 100-megawatt wind project and a 30-MW solar project, both of which went online in 2019.

Grid modernization and clean energy solutions are the focus of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, providing tools and resources to electric utilities to engage in forward-thinking change. Each year SEPA awards utilities which demonstrate this innovative thinking to advance clean energy and create replicable projects.

Watch a message from SEPA President and CEO Julia Hamm and Holy Cross Energy’s President and CEO Bryan Hannegan: https://youtu.be/Nx-mJ7UnHHc