The Energy Star Logo: the Symbol that Changed Efficiency Standards

By Paul Wesslund

The little blue (and sometimes black) logo with the star inside that you see on all sorts of appliances and electronics has changed the way we view savings through more efficient products.

The Energy Star® program claims credit for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and for saving Americans $30 billion in energy costs. Analysts credit Energy Star with innovating the energy industry, as manufacturers set goals of making more energy-efficient products than their competitors.

What the Energy Star logo does is make it easy to know whether a product you’re thinking about buying is more energy efficient than other models. Essentially the program looks at the average energy use of each type of product and awards the Energy Star rating to top performers based on different criteria — a refrigerator needs to be 9% more energy efficient than the minimum efficiency standard; a computer needs to use 25% less electricity than conventional models and include a power-saving mode option when it’s not being used.

So, if the appliance or electronic device you purchase includes the Energy Star logo, you know it’s among the most energy-efficient products available. That simplicity is the secret to the success of the program that is run by the federal Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The program’s effectiveness comes from a complex process of making sure the Energy Star logo is accurate and trusted — and the numbers show it is trusted. Americans bought more than 300 million Energy Star-rated products in 2017 alone, and an Energy Star study found that three-fourths of U.S. households say the Energy Star label influences their purchases.

Today, more than 500 certified labs in 25 countries around the world test nearly than 2,000 products a year — along with surprise inspections — to manage a list of 60,000 product models. Energy Star runs seminars on how to meet its standards. Those standards require that televisions must use 3 watts or less when switched off; lightbulbs must use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs; Energy Star home furnaces must be between 4% and 15% more efficient than standard furnaces.

Energy Star tests also require quality standards in addition to energy efficiency. In general, products must have popular features, such as internet connectivity for smart televisions. Lightbulbs must last up to 15 times longer and produce 70% to 90% less heat than conventional bulbs.

In 2018, Energy Star tested 1,792 models, disqualifying 59 of them. Of the 858 different kinds of lighting and fans tested that year, 51 were disqualified. Of the 35 televisions tested, two were disqualified.

Energy Star caught on because it has something for everybody — ways for consumers to save money; ways for businesses to promote their efficient products; online calculators for those wanting deep dives into finding the ideal energy use; and for the rest of us, a simple little logo that tells us we’re buying one of the most energy-efficient products available.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Electric Cooperatives Celebrate Women’s Right to Vote

By Derrill Holly

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved by Congress on June 4, 1919, but it took more than a year for the measure granting women nationwide the right to vote to gain ratification by 36 states. This August 18, 2020, the nation marks the centennial of this human rights milestone.

Rural America was built and owes much of its success to family-run farms and businesses, operated by men and women. While dads and husbands are often celebrated for their contributions, wives and mothers have been full partners in creating thousands of communities, especially here in the West, where the right to vote came to women years before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

The Vast Billboard Campaign of the Woman’s Party put up a billboard in Denver in 1916. Photo source: Library of Congress

Wyoming, Utah, Washington and Montana territories all granted women the right to vote long before the Constitutional Amendment passed. Colorado was the first state to pass a popular vote giving women the right to vote and it was the first state to elect women to a state legislature. Western women were more than ready to put their skills to use leading their communities.

Power and partnership
“Historically, rural wives were always isolated and only had interaction with their husbands and children, but they helped run farms and ranches, and ran their homes,” said Betsy Huber, president and CEO of the National Grange.

Founded in 1867, the Grange chapters took root as fraternal community organizations committed to promoting sound agricultural concepts in the North, the South and the expanding West.

“From the very beginning, women could hold any office in the Grange,” Huber said. “We have 13 offices, including four that are only open to women.”

By the early 1900s, organizations like the Grange were providing rural women with meaningful leadership opportunities and fueling passions for full engagement in public life that included political participation.

With the rise of suffragist sentiments in the early 20th century, the Grange routinely included women in governance decisions, Huber said. “One of our national agriculture committees early in the last century had six members, including three men and three women, who reviewed and discussed the resolutions submitted by local Grange chapters that ultimately set policy for the National Grange.”

Suffragists gather outside the depot of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a banner: “We Demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Photo source: Library of Congress

Among the farm women embracing the suffragist cause was Febb Ensminger Burn, a widow from Tennessee’s McMinn County who ultimately played a decisive role in earning women the right to vote and forever changing U.S. history.

“Suffrage has interested me for years,” Burn once told a reporter.

Between running her farm and caring for her family, she followed news accounts from Nashville and was turned off by harsh opposition speeches against ratification in the summer of 1920. In August, she penned a seven-page letter to her son, Henry T. Burn, a freshman representative in the House of Representatives of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” Burn wrote to her 24-year-old son. “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help.”

With the letter from his mom in his pocket, Rep. Burn broke a 48-48 deadlock by changing his vote to pass the measure, and women nationwide were guaranteed the right to participate in all national elections.

A donkey carries a sign urging a vote in favor of the 19th Amendment. Photo source: Library of Congress

“I spend a lot of my time encouraging co-op members to contact their legislators, and mother-son influence is a great example of true grassroots activism,” said Amanda Wolfe, a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association senior political advisor, who lives in Nashville.

“Voting is so much more than just a right, it is a privilege,” Wolfe said. “The suffragettes fought for generations to finally win that privilege 100 years ago, and every time we cast a ballot, we honor their memories.”

Fueling cooperative change
When electric cooperatives were organized years later, many of the same principles honored by rural organizations, including recognition of property rights, were among the fundamental tenets included in co-op charters. Family memberships were vested in heads of households, regardless of gender, and women were among the founding members of many electric cooperatives.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, farm magazines quickly published stories about the news. Maye Shaw of Quitman, Texas, was a former teacher and regular reader who knew life on the farm would be easier with electric power.

She wrote Rep. Morgan G. Sanders for information on the new electric co-ops and persuaded her husband Virgil Shaw to look into it. By 1937, they both were riding through the surrounding countryside recruiting members and collecting $5 sign-up fees. Mr. Shaw eventually became the founding general manager of Wood County Electric Cooperative, which now serves nearly 36,000 meters and is still headquartered in Quitman. In 1939, when the Rural Electrification Administration approved its first loans for electric cooperatives in South Carolina, women were actively involved in the formation of Darlington-based Pee Dee Electric Cooperative.

Mrs. E.S.J. Evans, the home demonstration agent for the Darlington County Agricultural Extension Service Office, was an organizer, and Miss Sue Coker and Mrs. E.A. Gray were elected to the founding board.

Acting for the future
America’s electric cooperatives support Co-ops Vote, a grassroots movement designed to encourage voter registration, political engagement and participation by everyone in local, state and national affairs.

“We provide the information to co-op consumer-members to find out how, where and when to vote, and information on the issues that affect rural communities,” said Laura Vogel, an NRECA senior political advisor. “We do not tell people who to vote for, and we don’t endorse candidates.”

Co-ops want their consumer-members to vote. They want the rural voice to be heard. Voting in the upcoming election is a great way to celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment and honor those suffragettes who worked hard to win the right for women to vote.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.

Colorado Co-op Innovators Recognized

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 individuals and utilities which demonstrate this innovative thinking to advance clean energy and create replicable projects.

2020 Power Players Award finalists include Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission CEO Duane Highley and Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy.

Highley was nominated for the Individual Power Player of the Year award. This award recognizes an individual who demonstrates leadership and innovation “to significantly advance an integrative perspective of clean energy, DER, grid modernization and its value as a resource to meet the needs of their electricity consumers.” In his first year at Tri-State, Highley led the organization through transformational changes to produce cleaner energy. With its Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State has significantly expanded renewables, reduced emissions and increased flexibility for its member distribution cooperatives to develop more local renewable projects.

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. Holy Cross Energy is a 2020 finalist for this award. 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.

Co-op Assists with Solar Research

La Plata Electric Association in Durango is collaborating with Fort Lewis College, Teledyne Brown, Lockheed Martin Space and King Energy to develop a 2-megawatt solar garden at the Old Fort property south of Hesperus. This facility will generate electricity and provide students and faculty research opportunities.

This innovative use of atypical space for a solar development — a rocky and rural landscape — will lend itself to infrastructure research, according to a news release by FLC. Researchers will test various solar installations and establish new industry options for areas that aren’t flat or graded. The Old Fort’s location is in LPEA’s remote service territory, but not close to current infrastructure. This will take additional research to get the solar park’s energy connected to the grid.

Solar Leads Future Co-op Growth

Electric cooperatives will see an acceleration of growth in renewable resources over the next three years primarily led by large solar projects, according to a July business and technology advisory published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are contributing to a large portion of this national trend with many local solar and renewable projects. Recent projects include:
• A 101-kilowat solar garden at Gunnison County Electric Association headquarters in current construction
• Highline Electric Association’s 1.5-megawatt Riverview Solar project
• Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s 110-megawatt Dolores Canyon solar project, projected to be online in 2023.

Today, the co-ops’ renewable portfolio is diverse. All electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, and therefore cannot utilize federal tax credits other utilities use to keep costs lower for renewable project development, so they work with others to get the job done. Of the 10.1 GW of co-op renewable capacity, more than 8.6 GW are under power purchase agreements rather than owned.

The Battle Behind Keeping the Lights On

By Paul Wesslund

Did you know squirrels, lightning and trees have something in common? They can all knock out your electricity.

Electric cooperatives across Colorado and the country work hard to keep your lights on all the time, but “you’re going to have power outages, and that’s just the way it is,” says Tony Thomas, senior principal engineer with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

An electric utility’s basic job of keeping the power flowing 24/7 calls for maintaining a complex network of power plants, poles and wires, but it also means battling the unpredictable. Thomas cites the top three troublemakers to electric reliability as trees falling on power lines and other interferences from vegetation, lightning strikes and animals going about their daily routines, especially squirrels chewing on electrical equipment.

“Utilities do an awfully good job, but Mother Nature gets in the way sometimes,” Thomas says.

However, humans contribute to power outages as well, with vandals deliberately damaging electrical equipment and drivers accidentally crashing into utility poles.

Statistics say the lights are almost always on
Numbers collected from electric utilities show that power in the United States is incredibly reliable. According to these figures, the percentage of time that the average American has electricity at the flip of a switch is 99.97. Thomas says what’s most important to know about that number is that it doesn’t change much.

“I don’t see big swings from year to year,” Thomas says. “If things are fairly consistent, that means the utility is operating about as efficiently as it can.”

When it comes to electric reliability, the biggest challenge is maintaining and updating the massive machinery of the nation’s electric grid. More than 8,500 power plants generate electricity that is shipped through 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

But utilities still try to improve on that reliability. Among the techniques being used to foil critter catastrophes are snake barriers around substations, buzzard shields on transmission towers and mesh coverings on wood poles to protect them from woodpeckers.

For some of the other causes of outages like trees and lightning, there’s now an app for that.

Utilities operate extensive right-of-way programs to keep vegetation away from power lines, from clearing underbrush to publicity campaigns asking people not to plant trees where they can fall on power lines. These days, those efforts can be aided by digital software that forecasts the growth of trees and other plants so utilities can recognize when to prune branches before they cause a problem.

Other software tries to manage lightning by analyzing the age and wear on the utility’s equipment that minimizes the damage from lightning strikes so it can be replaced before it fails.

While Colorado’s electric co-ops fight storms and squirrels to keep the power on, by far the biggest part of reliability comes from the decades of building, maintaining and updating their part of the massive machinery of the nation’s electric grid. In Colorado, a variety of power plants generate electricity that is shipped through miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Banks of substations and transformers step-down that voltage to send it to homes and businesses through an estimated 100,000 miles of local distribution lines.

Keeping that network up and running calls for a lot of planning among utilities to anticipate how electricity will be used in the future. Part of that reliability planning has focused on protecting the electricity system from computer-based digital attacks.

The never-ending job of cybersecurity
Bridgette Bourge is among those overseeing how digital technology affects reliability for electric co-ops and their consumer-members. As director of government affairs for NRECA, she sees both the positives and the negatives to the latest internet-based, or cyber, technology.

“Cyber helps a lot on reliability because it gives us the ability to monitor and know everything right away,” she says. “But whenever you increase reliability through a technology, you do potentially open up vulnerabilities as well from the security angle.”

For any organization, including electric utilities, the benefits of the internet come infested with mischief makers. Bourge says it’s routine for a company to receive tens of thousands of attempts each day to break into its computer network. Those “knocks” at the cyber door can come from individuals, countries and organizations, or from the army of automated “bots” roaming the internet worldwide, testing for weaknesses where a hacker could enter.

For a utility, a troublemaker inside the computer network could affect electric service, and that’s why local electric cooperatives work with their national organization, NRECA, to organize a variety of cyber reliability programs.

Bourge says those cyber reliability programs aim to help protect against a range of threats, from broad attempts to shut down parts of the electric grid, to more focused efforts to corrupt pieces of software used by electric cooperatives.

Working closely with the nation’s electric co-ops, NRECA shares the techniques for protecting utility systems from internet invaders. NRECA also works closely with federal government cybersecurity groups in the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

NRECA is also part of a national program to create a cyber mutual assistance agreement. Much like how groups of lineworkers from an electric co-op travel to help restore power after a hurricane, these cyber agreements would utilize teams of information technology experts in the case of a cyber incident.

“You can’t solve cybersecurity,” Bourge says. “No matter what you do today, the bad guys are going to figure out a way around it tomorrow. You have to keep thinking about the next step.

“Electric cooperatives take cybersecurity very seriously,” Bourge adds. “It’s built into their DNA.”

Electric co-ops are well-placed to pay attention to cybersecurity. She says that as community-based, member-led businesses, electric co-ops have a unique interest in protecting the reliability of the local community’s energy supply. Co-ops are prepared to act quickly when lines are down and work hard to thwart cyberattacks as they battle to keep the lights on.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Co-ops Hit High Point of 58% Renewables

At one point in early May, electric co-op power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission supplied 58% renewable energy to its members.

It was a sunny May 4, and Tri-State averaged 46% renewable energy for its members for the day, peaking at 58%. Then again, on May 7, Tri-State averaged 47% renewable energy for its members with a peak of 55%.

The power supplier’s goal is to provide 50% renewable energy for its members year round by 2024. It is adding an additional 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar to its system to accomplish this goal.

Tesla Test Drives for Co-op Members

After being suspended for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gunnison County Electric Association’s robust electric vehicle test drive program is up and running again. Exclusively for consumer-members of the co-op, GCEA members can take the co-op’s Chevy Bolt for a week-long test drive. Or they can request a guided test drive around the Gunnison, Crested Butte and Blue Mesa areas in the co-op’s Tesla Model 3. The guided test drive shows members all the features of the vehicle, which are all controlled on the main screen on the vehicle’s dashboard.

Mountain Parks Electric is also the proud new owner of a Tesla Model 3. The Granby-based co-op is still finalizing how and under what conditions it will let consumer-members drive this new addition to its fleet. Under MPE’s Electrify Everything program, the co-op is offering financial assistance and on-bill financing for commercial EV charging stations. EV home charging rebates and wiring rebates are also available for MPE consumer-members.

New EV Chargers in Southeastern Colorado

La Junta-based electric cooperative Southeast Colorado Power Association recently installed two electric vehicle charging stations, made possible by a Charge Ahead Colorado grant through the Colorado Energy Office.

The first EV charger is located at the co-op’s headquarters parking lot, and the second one is located in the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, also in La Junta. Both stations are Level 2 chargers and can charge two EVs at once.

Assess Your Energy Situation

By Derrill Holly and Amy Higgins

Staying at home can open your eyes to the changes that can benefit your castle — changes you may or may not have taken notice of before. Perhaps you’re noticing a draft around your windows and doors. Maybe you detected a hot spot in an area of your home that was previously overlooked. And with that, it’s conceivable that your electric bill is higher than it was last summer.

Better energy efficiency at home starts with savings, not sales, and an energy assessment conducted with help from a trained energy advisor from your electric cooperative can help you get there.

Some co-ops offer general assessments of the energy situation; some provide audits; all have expertise they can share. Co-ops are always there to answer questions about energy efficiency. In the past, some offered in-home assistance with energy questions. Others offered answers over the phone or via their website. As we move into our new “normal,” each Colorado co-op is finding ways to help its consumer-members answer their energy efficiency questions.

“In my opinion the biggest benefit for a member having an energy [assessment] is knowing exactly where your energy is going — if you’re being the most efficient with your energy that you can possibly be,” said Andy Molt, director of member services at Y-W Electric Association in Akron.

Co-ops provide this information because they are trusted energy advisors that are always working to help their members save energy and control their electricity costs.

“I’m usually looking for whatever problem the member has indicated, which could be high bills, a cold and drafty house or to check the efficiency of appliances,” said Alantha Garrison, energy use advisor at Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison, who has provided 535 assessments since 2010.

Members become frantic when they see a major increase on their power bill and want almost immediate answers as to why. In conjunction with experience and the ability to refer to meter data reports, the process of identifying major power consumption problems has been simplified and resolved in many instances.

Problems, such as poor insulation or air leaks from windows and doors, can be identified rather quickly using a thermal camera. “I can actually look and see if there are voids in the insulation and walls with [a thermal camera],” Molt said. Interestingly, Molt said he not only finds insulation problems in older homes, but sometimes also finds “huge voids” in the insulation of newer homes.

Energy advisors are constantly receiving training, certifications and reading materials to hone their skills. During on-site assessments, energy experts use all their senses and teachings to find abnormalities, such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps or damaged power cords. Their close examination sometimes leads to identifying safety issues as well.

Amy Blunck, communications director at Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, shared that during one walk-through assessment, they found an old, metal surge strip that was malfunctioning. “It had burned a hole in the back of the strip, and it was arcing,” she explained. “This surge strip was in a barn sitting next to a pile of wood, and it could have burned the whole barn down if not discovered.”

Expert advice
Many of the electric co-ops that provide energy advice support professional development for energy advisors that includes exposure to building science concepts.

Training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common. Specialized training for multifamily units and manufactured housing are also common.

“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” said Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs.

Wysocki starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based on meter data. Talking with the consumer-member, she learns about household size and behavior patterns, and considers seasonal factors like heat tape used to prevent water lines from freezing during winter months.

“We have many ‘second homes’ in our service territory,” Wysocki said, adding that even when those homes are empty, energy use continues. “Fan coil blower motors, whole house humidifiers, boiler pumps, ventilation systems, driveway snowmelt pumps, pool pumps, hot tubs, garage heaters, heated toilet seats and towel bars are using energy, regardless of occupancy.”

The co-op serves Colorado’s popular ski areas around Aspen and Vail, and is currently designing a new audit form. It will stress benefits members can receive through efficiency upgrades, including comfort, said Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

While some co-ops provide assessments free of charge, especially when they are requested in response to high bill concerns, others may charge a small fee, offering rebates to members who implement some of the recommendations provided.

An energy advisor can help a member avoid ineffective upgrades or the purchase of outsized equipment that might not improve their comfort or produce savings through recoverable costs.

“For members, simply talking to us on the phone about their energy use or asking us to help them find the problem at their home or business often answers their questions, and they start to understand how much control they have over their own costs when it comes to their electric bill,” Blunck explained. “Understanding that something as simple as using a smart thermostat, where they can control the temperature so their kids aren’t constantly turning up the AC, or putting the donkey up in a corral, where he can’t get to the stock tank heater cord, can make a big difference in your electric bill.”

Offering solutions
Most energy assessments are initiated following a request tied to high bill concerns, when members are really motivated to control their energy costs.

On average, members can reduce their energy use by about 5% if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given after an assessment. Additional savings of up to 20% can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as heating and cooling replacement, adding attic insulation or major duct damage discovered during the assessment.

Improved energy efficiency not only helps the co-op control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it also provides opportunities to discuss services available to members. Those include rebates, weatherization programs and payment assistance.

So, what are the biggest benefits of having an energy review? “Finding areas to air seal; learning specific habit changes that can make a difference; learning when it’s most expensive to use power; learning how much energy different items use, so you know what to expect on your energy bill; learning about new co-op programs you might not have known about,” Garrison said, adding, “also, if you have a pet, I’ll probably take an infrared image of it to send to you, which people love.”

To learn more about energy assessments available to you, contact your local electric cooperative.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Amy Higgins has been writing for Colorado Country Life for nearly a decade focusing on the topics that make a difference in the lives of its readers.