Co-ops Keep Power Flowing Despite COVID-19 Virus

Colorado’s electric cooperatives, including their power suppliers, are in emergency mode, protecting critical personnel and making sure the lights stay on for consumer-members across the state during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s 22 electric cooperatives provide electricity to an estimated 1.75 million Coloradans living and working in all four corners of the state. Serving consumer-members along the edges of the Front Range population areas, as well as those who live down quiet country roads, the co-ops serve 70% of the state’s landmass. Co-op employees, including the CEOs and managers, the lineworkers and the office personnel, all understand how critical the electricity they provide is getting to everyone through the current situation.

The co-ops are doing everything they can to make sure your electricity stays on and CREA, the statewide trade association for the co-ops, is working to support the co-ops in these efforts.

Keeping personnel safe
Personnel at your electric co-op are meeting regularly to assess the situation as closures, restrictions and the status of the virus change. Protocols are in place to make sure that the staff, particularly the critical staff, including lineworkers and control room operators, are healthy and following procedures to maintain their health. Your co-op is also in contact with the other co-ops around the state and has made plans for assistance in case there is a need.

Co-op employees are the ones who will make sure the lights stay on. With that in mind, each co-op has established protocols that are appropriate for the community they serve. Some, especially those serving the ski resort communities where early cases of COVID-19 were reported, immediately closed their facilities to public access. Other co-ops quickly followed to lessen the chances of staff contracting the virus.

Co-op office lobbies have been closed to the public; employees who can are working from home. No outside travel is allowed. Meetings are conducted over the phone or internet.

However, none of that means that co-op services for consumer-members has stopped. Member services representatives are still available to answer questions and resolve problems over the phone. Drop boxes are available for member payments.

The Colorado electric co-ops that utilize upgraded digital meters also have account information online for consumer-members that is available through the SmartHub app or website link. The app allows consumers-members to view their usage and connect with auto-pay services.

Information is updated regularly on each co-op’s website and Facebook page. Some co-ops also offer information through Twitter and Instagram.

Check with your local electric cooperative about newly implemented procedures designed to keep you as a consumer-member and staff members at the co-op safe and healthy.

Sharing information
The co-ops are also benefiting from their connection to other co-ops across the country. Weekly phone calls with co-ops in other states and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association allow Colorado’s co-ops to learn from others, discuss ways to keep employees safe and share alternate ways to provide specific services to consumer-members.

Colorado’s electric cooperatives are committed to maintaining reliable electric service for all of their consumer-members during this crisis and will do everything in their power to serve their communities.

The Current Flow December 2019

The Current Flow Newsletter December 2019

The Current Flow June 2018

The Current Flow Newsletter June 2018

The Current Flow March 2018

 

Current Flow Newsletter March 2018

Telluride Solar Garden Begins Production

San Miguel Power Association added a third community solar array to its distribution grid. The 250-kilowatt facility is a subscription-based community solar project, the first of its kind in Telluride. Erdman Energy partnered with the Nucla-based electric cooperative to provide SMPA consumer-members the opportunity to subscribe to solar energy without building or maintaining a system themselves on their own property.

Subscribers to the solar garden will see a credit on their power bill equal to their portion (up to 25 kW) of the array’s energy production each month. The recent announcement of Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Responsible Energy Plan will allow the co-op to add additional community solar gardens in the future. SMPA is currently making plans to begin more solar developments this year. Keep reading the Energy Innovations Newsletter for updates on future solar projects in co-op service territory.

Mountain Parks Electric Rebates Nearly $40,000 for Local Renewables in 2019

In 2019, Granby-based electric cooperative Mountain Parks Electric rebated more than $38,000 to 19 consumer-members who installed local solar projects. The rebates were funded by voluntary contributions to MPE’s Green Power Program.

“Our local power supply keeps getting greener,” said MPE General Manager Mark Johnston. “Part of it is the generation we purchase from local solar and wind projects, which we rebate through our Green Power Program.”

More than 1,200 MPE consumer-members support the innovative Green Power program. MPE earmarks monthly contributions (as little as $1 a month) for local residential and small commercial renewable energy rebates. Since 2011, MPE has rebated more than $200,000 toward local renewable installations.

For more information about the Green Power program history and stats through the years, visit mpei.com/green-power-program-history-stats.

Southwestern Colorado Co-op Supports Renewables

Durango-based electric cooperative La Plata Electric Association recently awarded three grants to nonprofit organizations in its service territory. Money from the Renewable Generation Funds Grant program totaled $47,000 to support the nonprofits’ innovative efforts to pursue renewable energy generation.

Volunteers of America was awarded $16,000 to support a solar installation at its new senior housing facility currently under construction. The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership in Pagosa Springs was awarded $13,000 to support a solar installation to generate electricity at its site. And the Unitarian Universalists Fellowship was awarded $18,000 to support a solar installation at its facility.

These innovative projects were selected based on visibility to the local community and the potential to blend renewable technologies with educational elements and community engagement.

The grant money comes from LPEA consumer-members who choose to contribute to support the development of renewable generation projects in their communities. This is the second year of the grant program and another innovative way LPEA contributes to the communities it serves.

Co-ops Keep Power Flowing Despite Coronavirus

Colorado’s electric cooperatives, including their power suppliers, are in emergency mode, protecting critical personnel and making sure the lights stay on for consumer-members across the state during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s 22 electric cooperatives provide electricity to an estimated 1.75 million Coloradans living and working in all four corners of the state. Serving consumer-members along the edges of the Front Range populations areas, as well as those who live down quiet country roads, the co-ops serve 70% of the state’s landmass. Co-op employees, including the CEOs and managers, the lineworkers and the office personnel, all understand how critical the electricity they provide is getting to everyone through the current situation.

The co-ops are doing everything they can to make sure your electricity stays on and CREA, the statewide trade association for the co-ops, is working to support the co-ops in these efforts.

Keeping personnel safe
Personnel at your electric co-op are meeting regularly to assess the situation as closures, restrictions and the status of the virus change. Protocols are in place to make sure that the staff, particularly the critical staff, including lineworkers and control room operators, are healthy and following procedures to maintain their health. Your co-op is also in contact with the other co-ops around the state and has made plans for assistance in case there is a need.

Co-op employees are the ones who will make sure the lights stay on. With that in mind, each co-op has established protocols that are appropriate for the community they serve. Some, especially those serving the ski resort communities where early cases of COVID-19 were reported, immediately closed their facilities to public access. Other co-ops quickly followed to lessen the chances of staff contracting the virus.

Co-op office lobbies have been closed to the public; employees who can are working from home. No outside travel is allowed. Meetings are conducted over the phone or internet.

However, none of that means that co-op services for consumer-members has stopped. Member services representatives are still available to answer questions and resolve problems over the phone. Drop boxes are available for member payments.

The Colorado electric co-ops that utilize upgraded digital meters also have account information online for consumer-members that is available through the SmartHub app or website link. The app allows consumers-members to view their usage and connect with auto-pay services.

Information is updated regularly on each co-op’s website and Facebook page. Some co-ops also offer information through Twitter and Instagram.

Check with your local electric cooperative about newly implemented procedures designed to keep you as a consumer-member and staff members at the co-op safe and healthy.

Sharing information
The co-ops are also benefiting from their connection to other co-ops across the country. Weekly phone calls with co-ops in other states and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association allow Colorado’s co-ops to learn from others, discuss ways to keep employees safe and share alternate ways to provide specific services to consumer-members.

Colorado’s electric cooperatives are committed to maintaining reliable electric service for all of their consumer-members during this crisis and will do everything in their power to serve their communities.

Moving Toward More Renewables

By Amy Higgins

In July 2019, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced the development of its Responsible Energy Plan. In January 2020, Tri-State divulged its blueprint to eliminate coal emissions from its facilities in Colorado and New Mexico and announced details about its upcoming renewable energy projects.

Coal closures are coming
Tri-State plans to shut down two coal plants and one mine: Escalante Generating Station in New Mexico by the end of 2020, and Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in Colorado by 2030.

Craig Station is in Moffat County and employs 253 people. The 1,285-megawatt plant houses three units — Unit 1 will close by the end of 2025, and Units 2 and 3 will close by 2030. Nearby Colowyo Mine, in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, produces coal for Craig Station and has 219 employees. Tri-State plans to cease the mine’s production by 2030.

“With 10 years until the closure of Craig Station and Colowyo Mine, we have additional time to work with the legislature, our employees and the communities in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties to plan for and support the transition,” said Tri-State CEO Duane Highley in a recent press release. “Our work starts now to ensure we can continue to safely produce power while working with stakeholders to thoughtfully plan for the future.”

Escalante Generating Station is a 253-megawatt coal power plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, and Tri-State estimates that its closure by the end of 2020 will affect 107 of the plant’s employees. To help ease the burden, those affected “will receive a generous severance package, the opportunity to apply for vacancies at other Tri-State facilities, assistance with education and financial planning and supplemental funding for health benefits,” according to the press release.

Tri-State also announced its decision to cancel its Holcomb coal project in Kansas and not to pursue additional coal-facility projects.

A renewable future
“Today we’re unveiling the results of our Responsible Energy Plan, which will transform Tri-State as a power supplier and put us on a bold path for the future,” Highley said at a January press conference. “The plan allows us to be responsible to our employees, our members, the communities in which they live and work and our environment while still providing reliable, affordable power across the West.”

Highley highlighted what Colorado’s electric cooperatives can anticipate with Tri-State’s new plan: more than doubling its wind and solar portfolio by 2024. The new renewable projects are expected to bring more than a gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) online. When complete, Tri-State and its members will have renewable projects powering the equivalent of more than 800,000 homes, he said. The eight projects are:
• Spanish Peaks I and II Solar Projects: a total of 140 MW in San Isabel Electric Association’s territory in southern Colorado.
• Crossing Trails Solar Project: 104 MW project in K.C. Electric Association’s territory on the eastern plains.
• Niyol Wind Project: 200 MW project in Highline Electric Association’s territory in northeastern Colorado.
• Coyote Gulch Solar Project: 120 MW project in La Plata Electric Association’s territory in southwestern Colorado.
• Dolores Canyon Solar Project: 110 MW project in Empire Electric Association’s territory in southwestern Colorado.
• Axial Basin Solar Project: 145 MW project in White River Electric Association’s territory in northwestern Colorado. This project “will be built on Colowyo Mine land to restore some tax base for the loss of the resources in that county from the loss of the power plant and the mine,” Highley said.
• Escalante Solar Project: 200 MW project in New Mexico’s Continental Divide Electric Cooperative territory. This project will be built on the retired Escalante Generating Station land and will help assist the community on lost tax base.

Tri-State affirms that it wants its electric distribution cooperative and public power district members to benefit from its renewable energy goals. “But we also have a goal to increase our members’ flexibility and ability to generate their own clean energy locally in addition to these large utility-scale projects,” Highley said.

The Tri-State board of directors developed a contract committee with representatives from each of its member distribution systems that is led by San Luis Valley REC director and Tri-State vice-chair Scott Wolfe and Southeast Colorado Power Association CEO Jack Johnston. This committee is making recommendations to the Tri-State board on more flexible contract options.

In addition to the wind and solar projects, Tri-State will offer more programs that will help members with energy efficiency and beneficial electricity endeavors, and will fund two electric vehicle charging stations per member system. “This will put electric vehicle charging into rural areas that currently have no infrastructure whatsoever — we’ll extend the use of electric vehicles,” Highley said.

Highley underscored Tri-State’s obligation to all of its members’ futures, which will result in cleaner air, greater economic opportunity and a cleaner grid. “We’re energized by this even as we try to manage the challenges associated with implementation,” he said.

Concern for community
A central part of Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan is a focus on working with local community leaders and state and federal officials to gain additional support for employees and communities as Tri-State’s coal facilities are retired.

With New Mexico’s Escalante Generating Station closing by the end of the year, Tri-State will provide $5 million to support economic development and transition needs for communities affected by the transition. In Colorado, Tri-State is engaging with local officials to provide support prior to the closure of Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in the next 10 years.

“My thoughts are with those who live in the communities in and around Moffat County and across northwest Colorado,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D) said in statement following Tri-State’s announcement. “Ensuring the future livelihoods of those affected by this announcement has to be a top priority as this transition plan moves forward.

“Northwest Colorado is extraordinarily resilient and has exceptional leadership. My office stands ready to do everything we can to provide support and assistance throughout this process,” Bennet said.

“We have an obligation to our employees and their communities to ensure a reasonable and equitable and just transition for those affected employees and communities,” Highley said. “We’re committed to working with local, state and federal leaders to look for continued opportunities for retraining and reinvestment in those communities.

“The last piece of our plan involves working together for a brighter future. We’re committed to maintaining rate stability with the goal — and we think it’s an achievable goal — to actually reduce rates through this clean energy transition,” Highley said. “A pretty amazing statement to make that kind of change in our portfolio while also managing costs.”

Amy Higgins is a contract writer for Colorado Country Life. She was a longtime resident of Colorado and she has written on the electric industry previously.

PVREA Expands Solar Generation Portfolio

Fort Collins-based electric cooperative Poudre Valley REA recently announced two new solar arrays with a combined capacity of 2 megawatts are online and generating clean, renewable electricity for its service territory.

These arrays expand two of the three existing utility-scale solar projects completed by the partnership between PVREA and Silicon Ranch. The Kersey Solar Farm, located adjacent to Platte Valley High School in Kersey, and the Skylark Solar Farm near Severance together have the capacity to generate enough electricity to power over 2,100 PVREA households annually.

Silicon Ranch, one of the nation’s largest independent solar power producers, funded the construction and owns and operates the new facilities for the long term, as it does with every project it develops. The construction of these facilities supported approximately 60 jobs, many of which were filled by local labor and local subcontractors and brought roughly $2,000,000 of labor related income to the community.

In recent years, PVREA has made significant carbon-free advancements by incorporating local renewable energy into the electric grid. PVREA’s current power mix includes two hydroelectric generators, four large solar arrays, and three community-owned solar farms. With these two new arrays now operational, the co-op has brought online 11 local renewable energy projects totaling 20.5 MW of renewable energy that powers 3,650 homes and businesses in the service territory. Altogether, PVREA members receive 30% of their energy from renewable resources, which is planned to increase to 50% by 2024.