utility-drones-at-electric-cop-ops

Utility Drones at Electric Co-ops

Co-ops ready for utility drones to expand their reach

By Reed Karaim and Mona Neeley

Imagine a drone flight at an electric cooperative in the not-too-distant future. Cool technologies, including utility drones at electric co-ops, are legitimately part of the conversation.

No longer limited to staying within the line of sight of its on-the-ground operator, it travels much, much farther down the power lines, using an array of visual, thermal and LIDAR sensors, which use lasers, to accomplish miles of inspection in a single flight.

Flying higher than today’s drones with an optical sensor on board, this future drone scans the sky for dangers, busily feeding data to an onboard artificial-intelligence-powered computer, which is linked to the flight computer. Sensing a private plane in its airspace, the drone automatically executes an avoidance maneuver, dropping rapidly in altitude and banking to avoid any chance of collision.

Miles away, at a control station, the co-op’s drone pilot sees the maneuver and could take control if necessary. But knowing the drone is designed to adjust its flight path more quickly than humanly possible, the pilot decides to allow the unmanned vehicle to fly itself to safety.

Danger averted, the drone resumes its mission down 50 miles of line or more, saving the cooperative untold hours of physical inspection by ground or helicopter.

“There is no question that that (beyond-line-of-sight rules) will have a huge impact on how we’re able to use and grow this technology,” said Bill Havonec, GIS lead for Sangre de Cristo Electric in Buena Vista, in an interview with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s RE Magazine.

This future is already here for a small number of electric utilities that have received Federal Aviation Administration waivers allowing beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights. But utility drones at electric co-ops is coming for more organizations as the FAA moves toward issuing regulations that could make BVLOS operations typical for those that meet the requirements.

An FAA advisory committee published recommendations establishing a roadmap to meet that goal, which could arrive within the next couple of years. The proposed changes also would give expanded right-of-way access and airspace rights to BVLOS drones that meet standards for avoidance and control capabilities.

“This is a huge deal,” said Stan McHann, senior research engineer and chief drone pilot for NRECA. “You’re going to see a massive improvement in what you can get done in a day.”
Josh Dellinger, general manager of Empire Electric Association in Cortez, agrees. The additional distance that drones will be able to fly will be especially valuable in hard-to-reach places. “We have quite a bit of that where lines go through areas adjacent to the road or forest service or BLM land,” he says.

“A trainload of data”
BVLOS is a key part of an evolution in drone capabilities that could transform inspection and maintenance for electric utilities in the coming years. McHann also foresees smaller drones strategically placed throughout a distribution system, able to respond to a SCADA event by taking to the air and quickly checking a trouble spot, sending images and other data back to operations, and giving the co-op a clearer idea of what is going on and what response is needed before sending a crew.

Expanded use of drones will help co-ops inspect power lines in hard to reach places.

As utility drones at electric co-ops become commonplace in co-op fleets, other innovative uses are likely to surface. Even with today’s limitations on flight range, drones are being used by co-ops for regular inspections, vegetation management, placing bird diverters on lines and pulling lead lines across rugged terrain to run new transmission lines.

“At SDCEA, we’re discovering a variety of uses for drone technology. It started with inspections and getting data into the GIS/ mapping and work order systems,” said Havonec.
“In addition to our routine maintenance inspections, we’re prioritizing flight plans with historical outage data and using that as a tool for system improvement,” he said. “Additionally, we’re inspecting new construction rights-of-way and vegetation management areas for inventory, monitoring and quality assurance.”

“Colorado’s co-ops each have between 1,000 and 10,000 miles of line to cover,” said Curt Graham, a job training and safety instructor with CREA who visits many of those co-ops regularly. “When you can get an uncrewed aircraft doing line inspection for you, looking at things on a schedule and reliable enough where you don’t need to have an operator actively supervising it all the time — that’s got real potential,” he said. “And it’s coming.”

Advanced sensors will provide a new level of granular detail on the condition of system hardware. Infrared sensors, for example, can look for hot or arcing connections, transformers and other components, spotting current or future problems hidden from the human eye.

Taking full advantage of these capabilities will require the ability to effectively manage the data they can provide.

“Software is key here,” McHann noted. “One flight will create a trainload of data, and it’s essential that you be able to process it and see that it’s integrated into your system in ways that get the information where you need it.”

NRECA is already working with local electric co-ops on flight management and data analysis software integration.

Training and certification
BVLOS will require a new level of training and certification for drone operators. Today, a Level 107 certification from the FAA, which entails passing a written test, is all that is necessary for basic, within-visual-line-of-sight drone operations at a co-op or other electric utility.

The FAA advisory committee’s recommendations include a new pilot certification for BVLOS flight, although physical piloting skills combined with aviation safety best practices will remain important.

The human factor
Operating today with a drone and operator out in the field, McHann said, a co-op can cover to 80 to 120 assets a day, maybe only 70 to 80 in rougher terrain. Taking advantage of the longer range, flying time and speed at which BVLOS drones can operate, a greater-than-tenfold increase becomes possible, with a drone able to cover nearly 1,400 assets in a day.

“Your SAIDI-CAIDI (outage measurement) numbers are going to come down. That’s real money,” McHann noted.

“And as the price of the cameras and sensors and other equipment come down as well, it will effectively bring everyone into this space,” said Havonec.

While the newest hardware often gets the most attention, the unmanned vehicle technology is just a piece of the program. The parts that really tie everything together will be the training and regulatory requirements necessary to fly the drone.

Meeting those standards to take full advantage of BVLOS and other advancements down the road will be essential to economically meeting the demands of maintaining the grid, according to co-op managers.

The rewards will be increased efficiency, system reliability and personnel safety through reducing hazardous tasks such as pole climbing, and these can outweigh the costs.


Reed Karaim writes on rural cooperative news for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Mona Neeley is editor of Colorado Country Life magazine.

grant for high-speed internet

Grant for High-Speed Internet

A Monte Vista-based electric cooperative was awarded a USDA Rural Development grant of nearly $2 million to deploy fiber internet to rural parts of the San Luis Valley in Colorado. San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative’s internet subsidiary, Ciello, will use the grant for high-speed internet and will connect 129 people, eight businesses, one public school and 20 farms to the essential technology. Ciello began providing high-speed fiber internet access to its rural service territory in 2014.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in recent press release, “Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America,” and is vital to its growth and prosperity.

Several Colorado electric co-ops have internet subsidiaries, including Southeast Colorado Power Association’s SECOM, Delta-Montrose Electric’s Elevate and Yampa Valley Electric’s Luminate. Mountain View Electric in Limon is currently constructing its 5,800-mile fiber-to-the-home network in partnership with Conexon Connect. Typically, in all of these instances, the fiber internet infrastructure is built using the co-op’s current electrical infrastructure.

These innovative solutions and partnerships help connect rural Colorado and will provide reliable internet access to underserved communities. This is just another example showing how Colorado’s electric co-ops are leaders in innovation and are continuously finding ways to bring critical utility services to their rural communities.

Congratulations to SLVREC and Ciello for the $1.9 million grant for high-speed internet. CREA looks forward to sharing more about how this project brings innovation to rural Colorado communities and residents.

stop for new ev technology in Julesburg

Stop for New EV Technology

Most drivers traveling to or from Denver through the northeastern plains of Colorado might approach exit 180 on Interstate 76 without much thought, but for electric vehicle drivers traveling the route, that’s about to change. Thanks to Highline Electric Association and its partnership with Tri-State Generation and Transmission and the Colorado Energy Office, the Wagon Wheel Conoco at exit 180 in Julesburg is home to the second-in-the-state single-phase DC fast charging station, making it an invaluable stop for new EV technology.

The FreeWire® Boost™ Charger 150 is located at an ideal place for EVs to hook up for a fast charge when driving along I-76 to or from Denver. The interchange is 180 miles from the Denver metro area and the placement couldn’t be more perfect, as the average range for most EVs is over 200 miles.

Highline Electric Association Manager of Member Services Tad Huser said this charger is designed for public use and this location on the interstate 76 corridor bridges the EV fast-charging gap between Fort Morgan, Colorado, and Ogallala, Nebraska.

Traditional EV fast chargers run on three-phase power, which can be a less common setup in rural areas due to the infrastructure demands and upgrades often needed to install a typical EV fast charger.

“The FreeWire Boost Charger technology enables public EV fast charging at gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants that run on single-phase power,” Huser stated.

Now for the specs: The Boost Charger 150 unit has an on-board 160-kilowatt-hour battery that can impart up to 150 kilowatts of power to a single user. If both charging heads are being used, the max power to each charging head is split and can charge at 75kW max each. Both charging heads are the CCS connector that is quickly becoming the international standard outside of Tesla’s proprietary connector.

The fees at the station are $0.25 per kWh and there is a parking/idle fee of $0.10 per minute after 30 minutes of idle (plugged-in) time to incentivize unplugging and moving along once charging is complete. The station has a credit card terminal where users can swipe to pay. Users may also scan a QR code on the unit that takes them to the EV Connect mobile app where they can pay via their phone as well. The next time you need to pull over for “fuel,” make this stop for new EV technology.

Charging Ahead in Colorado

Coaches, new funding, bring EVs, charging stations to rural areas

By Laurie E. Dickson

You may have heard the buzz about electric vehicles and charging stations in Colorado. Maybe you have seen charging stations at your corner store, the local electric co-op or your workplace. Charging stations and EVs are becoming more common, popping up all around the state.

There is an ongoing effort across Colorado to reduce emissions and provide options for clean transportation. In 2019, Colorado became the first state in the central U.S. to adopt Zero Emission Vehicle standards for cars and trucks, ensuring a reduction in harmful emissions and providing economic benefits for its citizens. Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order supporting a transition to zero emissions and accelerating the electrification of cars, buses, trucks and other vehicles with a goal of achieving 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030.

What’s being done to increase the adoption of EVs and meet the goals in Colorado? One way is through the ReCharge Colorado program, started in 2014 through the Colorado Energy Office.

The original goal was to encourage alternative and clean transportation. ReCharge Colorado has evolved to be the program that advances the adoption of EVs and installation of charging infrastructure across the state.

“The state of Colorado has set ambitious goals for EVs,” says Matt Mines, senior program manager in transportation fuels and technology at the Colorado Energy Office.

“ReCharge Colorado coaches provide a critical link to local communities to connect our EV programs with local needs,” he notes. “Direct education and outreach, such as that provided by the ReCharge coaches, are a crucial aspect to ensuring the benefits of transportation electrification are understood and materialize throughout the state.”

There are five ReCharge regions in the state, each with a ReCharge coach who provides free, impartial advice; EV education; offers community workshops and grant writing assistance; promotes EV adoption through group buys; and supports auto dealerships with education and opportunities. Every county in the state is represented by a ReCharge coach.

Coaches know their territories and can provide the best solutions for the communities where they serve. By working with Colorado communities, ReCharge coaches help create an ecosystem of broad support along with the education necessary for a successful transition to EVs.

“Working as a ReCharge coach allows me to better get to know the communities where I live and play — and to talk to local business owners, employers, and property managers about how they can provide a public benefit in the form of EV charging stations,” says Sonja Meintsma, the ReCharge coach for Denver Metro Clean Cities and the Colorado Springs region.

“As Colorado’s EV ownership grows and we work toward reaching the statewide goal of getting 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030, access to public chargers across the state, including in rural, underserved and high emission areas, will be essential. As a coach, I feel I am making a tangible impact on our state’s ability to improve local air quality, reduce climate-altering emissions, and meet the needs of EV drivers in the state,” she adds.

ReCharge coaches provide consultation for interested businesses and communities regarding the design and technical requirements needed to install charging stations. For example, is the location best suited for Level 2 charging stations or a faster DC Fast Charger? Is there electrical service available at the location and is it sufficient to power an EV charging station? It’s the job of the coaches to know the incentives, federal and state tax credits, as well as the utility member co-op rebates available in their territories that can offset costs.

Kathy Woods, director of economic development for the city of Alamosa, comments, “I’ve had several opportunities to work with our ReCharge coach. From answering questions, to assessing feasibility, to celebrating with us upon completion of projects, the coach is right by your side and very helpful. ReCharge coaches are great partners.”

There is a concerted effort across the state’s ReCharge regions to increase the charging infrastructure along all major highways and byways. Electrifying Colorado’s Scenic Byways is a goal the ReCharge coaches work to attain. There are 26 Scenic and Historic Byways in the state. Electrified Byway designation guarantees that when you drive on our mountain highways, you can make the journey without worrying about the next charging station location.

By now, we’ve all heard about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed in November 2021. The bill includes funding at the federal and state levels for EVs and the charging infrastructure needed to support EV deployment. State and local governments will benefit from $7.7 billion dedicated to the deployment of EVs and related infrastructure.

The bill also dedicated $12.7 billion to the deployment of all types of clean vehicles and fueling infrastructure, including EVs and charging infrastructure and $10.3 billion for grid and battery-related investments.

With gas prices soaring and funding support for investing in EV technology, it’s a great time to invest in the charging infrastructure that makes driving EVs everywhere in Colorado feasible. A ReCharge coach can recommend options for any local community or business and connect you to funding opportunities as you make the transition to zero emission vehicles and the new energy economy.


Laurie Dickson is the executive director of the nonprofit, 4CORE (Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency) and the ReCharge coach for southern Colorado. Visit energyoffice.colorado.gov/zeroemission-vehicles/recharge-colorado to learn more about ReCharge Colorado.

Electric Supply Co-ops Provide Supply Chain Solutions

By Derrill Holly and Kylee Coleman

Keeping essential parts flowing is getting more challenging and expensive for Colorado’s distribution cooperatives pursuing their seasonal workplans or rebuilding their systems after major outages. But logistics and supply co-ops in Colorado and across the United States are finding creative solutions to help control costs and meet demand, even as they warn that stability in the supply chain could be many months away.

A WUE employee unloads recently delivered products in the co-op’s warehouse.

“The supply chain supporting the electric utility industry has been put to the test over the past 24 months with an array of events,” Brighton-based Western United Electric Supply CEO Greg Mordini said. WUE, owned by electric cooperatives, serves co-ops in the states of Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

WUE is one of nine members of the Electric Utility Distribution Association. EUDA members are noting shortages of key items such as transformers, conductors, sectionalized three-phase cabinets used on distribution systems and meter sockets required to install new service.

Fort Morgan-based electric cooperative Morgan County Rural Electric Association has been feeling the increasing impacts of supply chain issues.

“Two of the most challenging products to get are currently meter sockets and transformers, many of which are over a year out on delivery,” MCREA Manager of Member Services Rob Baranowski said. “Also, some of the materials used to connect lines and equipment, and also secure lines to poles have become completely unavailable.”

The current transformer shortage is perpetuated by inadequate global manufacturing capacity and stalled delivery of raw materials. Mordini noted that steel used in transformer cores has limited annual production. Overhead and underground conductor producers initially had product available but were unable to ship due to shortages in wood and the reels they use to transport the supplies. “Furthermore, the February 2021 freeze and power grid failure in Texas paralyzed the plastics market and triggered a global shortage,” Mordini said.

Despite challenges, the yard at WUE in Brighton is filled with inventory for its member electric co-ops.

However, proactive measures by WUE have helped provide its member cooperatives with good equipment and supply levels during these challenging times. Beginning in early 2020, WUE made a conscious effort to increase inventory and, even with the supply chain disruptions, has grown inventory by 55% as of this past February.

Distribution co-ops planned ahead, too. MCREA’s pole yard is currently fully stocked. “Just as WUE has increased inventory over the last year and a half, MCREA has been ordering ahead and increasing inventory ever since shortages were first noticed,” Baranowski reported. “This keeps the co-op’s material inventory up and the co-op remains ready to meet any rebuilding demands.”

Across the country, other EUDA members responded similarly to the way WUE did to supply challenges by broadening their vendor bases, turning to more manufacturers and encouraging others to expand their product lines. “We are getting letters from manufacturers and their representatives about lead time extensions, price increases, shipping delays and production curtailments,” said Bret Curry, manager of sales for Little Rock-based Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.

AECI is another member of EUDA noting spot shortages of key items such as transformers, fiberglass cross arms and three-phase cabinets and meter sockets.

“You wouldn’t think that something so simple as a piece of bent metal with a socket to hold a meter would be that difficult [to locate], but there is definitely a shortage of those,” Curry said. “Challenges to this industry right now certainly give opportunities for those that are creative to get in the game.”

A WUE truck picks up a trailer filled with spools of conductor bound for a co-op.

WUE chose to curtail sales to new customers and reserve material for its historical customer base. “Many of our manufacturing partners have followed suit, working only with established clients,” Mordini said. “This has led to a normalization in our market, not due to production increases or decreased demand, but rather manufacturers and distributors being focused on their core business partners.”

Current supply chain problems across the electric industry as a whole are the worst many industry veterans have seen in their careers. They compare them to temporary disruptions from previous major weather events that produced widespread damage across multiple regions.

Despite these challenges, creative solutions and product substitutions can help electric distribution co-ops maintain, build and expand their systems, Baranowski said, “For projects where meter socket orders would create delays, crews now often install underground wire to a ground-mounted meter pedestal.” He explained that’s not the only thing the co-op has recently modified. “We have also received requests for design changes allowing co-op consumer-members to buy their own transformer.”

While EUDA members don’t think supply and delivery challenges will last forever, most agree that is for the foreseeable future, continued planning may help co-op limit disruptions to their members. “MCREA consumer-members have remained understanding during these supply-chain challenges,” Baranowski said. “Our engineering department communicates directly with members requesting new services about expected project time frames, current delays and potential material substitutions.”

“Western United’s strong partnership with manufacturers throughout the industry and our commitment to placing the highest priority on our membership ensures we are in the best position to support our cooperative members throughout this challenging period,” Mordini concluded.


Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. Kylee Coleman is the Editorial/Administrative Assistant for Colorado Country Life magazine and writes about Colorado electric co-op news for CREA.

Electric Co-op Pilot Program Benefits Time-of-Use Rates

Digital communication can often be sporadic and interrupted in Colorado’s rugged, mountainous high country. Gunnison-based electric co-op, GCEA, was concerned that interruptions in its digital communication with its advanced meters was affecting the accuracy of the readings.

Looking for solutions and verification of the data received from its advanced meters, GCEA ran an innovative pilot program last fall and winter. Called Peak Time Perks, the program tested GCEA’s Meter Data Management system. (The MDM system recognizes readings that are missing, flags them and runs estimations on the missing readings to fill in the correct data. The estimations are based on data industry-accepted validation processes established by the North American Energy Standards Board and the Edison Electric Institute.)

GCEA found that in actuality few communication outages prevented readings from reporting to co-op headquarters. And when outages did occur, the missing readings were estimated correctly by the MDM system.

All of this is important because co-op members who utilize the co-op’s time-of-use rate depend on accurate digital records as they control their usage to take advantage of lower rates at certain times. So, during the Peak Time Perks pilot program, GCEA also included a test of its time-of-use rate with members interested in seeing if the rate would provide them with actual savings on their electric bill.

The co-op and it participating members were pleased to see cost savings on the TOU rate compared to the standard residential rate.

 

United Power Focuses on Geothermal Resources

Earlier this year, United Power announced that it signed a letter of intent with Transitional Energy, a geothermal development company, to develop a dispatchable energy pilot program. This innovative program will focus on geothermal resources from oil and gas operations located in the Brighton-based electric cooperative’s service territory.

United Power provides electric service to multiple oil and gas operations in Colorado’s DJ Oil Basin, many of which use traditional electric service to power drilling rigs and other equipment. The partnership between United Power and Transitional Energy will provide a unique solution that can convert oil and gas operations using traditional electric service to facilities powered by up to 100% geothermal resources. It’s anticipated that owner-operators of wells in the United Power service territory will work directly with Transitional Energy to utilize the technology to offset their energy purchases while reducing their greenhouse gas footprint.

“United Power is excited to work on this innovative pilot project,” United Power’s Chief Energy Resources Officer Dean Hubbuck said in a press release. “Utilizing clean, economical geothermal energy to provide local power that can be dispatched when needed is a critical component of our growing energy portfolio. Geothermal energy represents a huge untapped renewable resource that can reduce our reliance on power from other traditional sources.”

 

Innovation at the Electric Meter

From turtles to AMI, electric co-ops lead the way

By Paul Wesslund and Amy Higgins

An amazing gizmo hiding in plain sight just outside your home is innovating your electric service with quicker responses to power outages and more effective use of renewable energy sources. It’s your electric meter, your digitally advanced meter.

Advanced meters make up more than half the electric meters in the country, and electric cooperatives are leading the way. A total of 73% of co-op consumer-members nationwide are using advanced meters compared to only 58% of utility customers in general. In Colorado, 100% of the state’s 22 electric distribution co-ops utilize advanced meters and have for years.

Southeast Colorado Power Association, headquartered in La Junta, has been using automated meter reading for roughly 20 years. Those first meters seem somewhat archaic when you compare them to today’s meters. Nicknamed “turtles” for their super- slow readings — 27 hours, according to SECPA CEO Kevin Brandon — turtles were still a step up for electric co-ops at the time because they limited the number of trips needed to physically obtain readings.

“When Empire Electric Association switched to AMI [advanced metering infrastructure] meters in 2018, I was surprised at the number of calls we received concerning what will happen to our meter readers,” says EEA Member Engagement Manager Andy Carter. “EEA [based in Cortez] had been using an automated meter-reading system since the late 1990s, the last time we employed people to walk/drive around and read meters by looking at the dials.”

Two features make advanced meters different. One is the ability to monitor energy use with the kind of detail that can give both the co-op and its members information to make more efficient use of electricity. The other is the ability to instantly send information back to the co-op either through low-power radio signals or through power lines.

Those two capabilities have created entirely new ways to improve your electric service:

• Outages can be detected and repaired faster. Advanced meters can let the co-op know of an interruption, pinpointing the location, without waiting for someone to report it. This is especially beneficial to electric cooperatives based in rural areas with larger swaths of land and hard-to-reach meters. “SECPA’s system collects 15-minute interval data on all meters, and you can do on-demand reads for things like kWh (kilowatt-hours), voltage, current, power factor, and other values, and have those reads within just a few seconds,” Brandon explains. “This system also allows us to remotely connect and disconnect meters, which saves on truck rolls. The meters also automatically send in many types of alarm conditions like power fail, brown out, meter tamper and over current.”

• Electricity can be used more efficiently. Advanced meters can report unusual energy use, showing appliances that might be faulty or could be replaced with a more efficient version. SmartHub has become a popular application for many electric cooperatives as it is a win-win for both the consumer and the co-op. Consumers can see their usage data, which gives them insight into information such as spike periods, so they can adjust how and when they use energy to save money.

• Alternative energy can be better integrated into the electric grid. Advanced meters can help cure one of the headaches of renewable energy when solar energy disappears at night or wind power stops in calm weather. Data from advanced meters can be instantly analyzed by computers and coordinated with power plants, rooftop solar panels and wind turbines.

• Advanced meters can save consumers money on their electric bill. Several electric cooperatives are implementing time-of-use rates, which charges for electric use based on off-peak (when electricity costs less) and on-peak hours (when electricity costs more). AMI provides detailed data so consumers can track their energy usage. “If they dig down into the hourly data, they can get a good idea of when they are using the most energy,” Carter says. “Depending on what was being used, they may be able to shift that energy use from on-peak to off-peak time and save money.”

• Consumers can get the most out of their rooftop solar. AMI shares with the consumer and the cooperative measurements such as net energy used, energy delivered to the consumer and the energy put back on the grid. “This gives the consumer a better understanding of how they use their appliances relative to their rooftop solar system’s generation,” explains Sarah McMahon, chief administrative officer with SDCEA, a Buena Vista-based electric co-op. “If the consumer is on a time-of-day rate, this capability informs the consumer on changes to their use behavior that may result in significant savings on their bill.”

• Co-op members can be involved in a more decentralized electricity system. Rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles make complicated additions to a utility network, but those can be turned into benefits by analyzing the data provided by advanced meters. For example, as EVs become more popular, electric co-ops are exploring special rates to encourage charging at times when energy use is lower.

• Co-op operations can be streamlined. Faulty equipment can be detected before it fails.

Some individual consumer-members have opted out of using these technology-based advanced meters. Concerns include health effects of their radio signals and privacy. The health concerns have been addressed by the American Cancer Society.

“The ACS suggests that because the amount of radio frequency exposure from advanced meters is much less than those from everyday devices, it is very unlikely that they could pose greater health risks,” says Tolu Omotoso, director of energy solutions for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Omotoso cites studies that show the strength of advanced meter transmissions is far below those from a cellphone. They’re even less than a TV’s remote control. Advanced meter signals also weaken with distances of even 1 foot. Omotoso says advanced meters aren’t even on all the time: “They transmit data back to the co-op only a couple times in a day, and each transmission takes milliseconds.”

Other concerns include privacy. However, electric co-ops have a long tradition of protecting the data of their members, Omotoso says.

“Load is load and we do not have the ability to differentiate,” Carter adds. “It can’t hear what you say, it doesn’t have a camera — it’s just a kWh meter that can send data and receive commands to turn itself on and off.”

Electric co-ops adopted digital meters to avoid traveling long distances through rural areas just to read an electric meter, Omotoso says. Co-ops kept up that progress, adding other devices to create a new concept of the electric utility grid from a one-way delivery of electricity to an interactive network of power and data between the co-op and its members.

“In the utility industry of the future, you’re looking at decentralized energy use and generation, digitization and decarbonization of the grid,” Omotoso says. “Advanced meters will help utilities and energy consumers transition into this new future.”


Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life and CREA.

Better Meter Info Helps Co-op Lower Usage

Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy is focused on facilitating the adoption of distributed energy resources to assist in meeting its goal of supplying its members with 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

More recently, HCE was looking for an innovative solution to gather real-time data about its members’ electricity patterns to help study grid use and impact. Advanced metering infrastructure does a decent job delivering this information to the co-op, but HCE wanted grid insight that was nearer to real-time.

The co-op turned to Boulder-based Copper Labs, which offers a utility data solution that can deliver the information the co-op was seeking. With Copper, HCE evaluated members’ energy use and used the data to see how people’s electricity usage behavior changed when they saw real-time, personalized insights on the Copper app. HCE members who used Copper were twice as likely to reduce their energy use when prompted by the Copper app — this translated to lower peak time energy use, resulting in lower service costs for the member.

Electric Co-ops Connect to Promote EVs

In an effort to coordinate program development for transportation electrification, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association started a network of electric co-ops that make up the Cooperative Approach to Vehicle Electrification. This group is for electric co-ops that implemented or are planning to implement electric transportation programs. CAVE seeks to work with federal agencies, specifically, for programs funded by the 2021 $1 trillion infrastructure act.

Cooperatives’ transportation electrification programs will vary by region, state, local communities and cooperative needs. But overall, the CAVE network has several objectives, which include:

• Building innovative solutions that focus on charging infrastructure in rural and low-income communities.

• Creating education-based programs to inform consumers, dealers and policy makers on the value of electric transportation.

• Exploring options for fleets, transit bus, school bus and medium/heavy duty truck adoption and charging solutions.

• Demonstrating unique programs and best practices that utilize technologies to improve grid reliability.

Currently, three Colorado electric cooperatives are part of CAVE: La Plata Electric Association in Durango; San Isabel Electric Association in Pueblo West; and United Power in Brighton. These three cooperatives have made a significant impact on transportation electrification in Colorado.

SIEA brought EV charging to its service territory, including low income rural areas. LPEA is developing a robust network of charging stations across southern Colorado and assisted its local school district in securing a vehicle-to-grid-capable electric school bus. United Power is expanding its network of charging stations throughout northern Colorado and added a hybrid bucket truck to its fleet.