Electric Co-ops Seek Fairness Among All Utilities

By Erin Kelly

Electric cooperatives are not-for-profit entities and therefore do not pay federal income taxes. Usually that is a good thing. It means co-op electric rates are set to only cover co-op costs. There is no incentive to charge more than is needed; any profit (known as a margin in the co-op business model) is returned to consumers as credits.

But when it comes to government incentives to transition to newer, cleaner fuel sources, not paying taxes is a problem. Other utilities have long received federal tax breaks for providing power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Co-ops cannot tap into those programs because they are exempt from those taxes.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is working to change that. It is urging congressional leaders to provide electric co-ops with direct payments to develop clean energy projects. These would provide incentives comparable to the tax breaks granted to investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy.

In a letter to top congressional leaders, NRECA, the American Public Power Association and the Large Public Power Council asked for direct payments to member-owned and community-owned utilities to help employ technologies such as battery storage, carbon capture and electric vehicle charging networks.

“Allowing public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives to receive these tax credits in the form of direct payments for building clean energy infrastructure would ensure that all utilities serving all Americans would have equal access to these federal resources,” said the May 14 letter, which was signed by NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, APPA President/CEO Joy Ditto and LPPC President John Di Stasio.

“The direct payments would be used to help offset project costs — increasing the incentive for further investments — and would enable public power utilities and electric cooperatives to own these facilities directly. It would also mean more local projects, with local jobs, under local control,” the letter stated.

The issue is one of NRECA’s top legislative priorities for this session of Congress.

The letter points out that co-ops and community-owned electric utilities together serve nearly 30% of all retail electric customers.

“The president and Congress have ambitious climate goals that cannot be met by leaving nearly 30% of the nation’s electric utility customers without access to incentives and support,” the three association leaders wrote.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030 to help slow climate change. Matheson and the other association leaders called that “a daunting challenge” with a hefty price tag that will be borne in part by co-op consumer-members and public power customers.

“As such, we cannot afford inefficient or ineffective policies,” they wrote.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

United Power Announces New EV Charging Station

Brighton-based electric co-op United Power recently announced its second electric vehicle charging station is now open and available for public use. Located at the Market Street Mart in Keenesburg, the 63.5 kW DC fast charger fills a gap for rural electric vehicle owner and drivers between Brighton and Fort Morgan. This EV charging station was installed with help from a grant from Charge Ahead Colorado, a program from the Colorado Energy Office.

Co-op Brings Fiber to Eastern Plains

Earlier this month, Limon-based electric cooperative Mountain View Electric Association announced an exciting partnership with Conexon Connect to bring a fiber-to-the-home network to its rural communities. Eventually able to serve all of its members in Arapahoe, Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln, Pueblo and Washington counties, MVEA’s broadband project will bring nearly 5,800 miles of fiber, gigabit-speed internet to more than 135,000 Coloradans.

MVEA recognized a need for high speed internet in its rural communities and this project will “close the digital divide” between those who have access to advanced technology and those who don’t. This division was especially highlighted these past 14 months in the time of the pandemic when our world turned to virtual solutions for education, telehealth and work-from-home situations.

The co-op says customers should begin being able to subscribe to broadband services beginning in the second quarter of 2022 with a five- to six-year total build timeline.

New Website Promotes Beneficial Electrification

These days there are more efficient and cleaner electric technologies and appliances available for heating our homes, providing hot water and cooking our food. Electric technologies improve comfort, cooking performance, health and safety, and, in many cases, can reduce energy costs. They are also are a major part of the solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and impacts on climate change.

The Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado launched a new website in June to promote these efficient electric technologies to Colorado homeowners. The new “Love Electric” website (loveelectric.org) helps educate consumers on electric heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and induction cooktops. The website also provides a list of rebates from utilities and local governments. It is a resource for finding qualified heat pump and heat pump water heater installers, which can aid homeowners in getting bids on their next heating or cooling and water heater system upgrades.

But what is “beneficial electrification?” Switching from a non-electric energy source to an efficient electric energy source is beneficial because the electrical grid is increasingly powered by renewable energy. According to loveelectric.org, this means the electrification of certain home appliances and systems can:

  • Reducecustomer costs,
  • Lowergreenhouse gas emissions,
  • Improveindoor air quality, and
  • Utilizegrid resources more efficiently and flexibly.

BEL-CO is a coalition of utility, government, environmental and energy efficiency organizations, including the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, the Colorado Energy Office, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Colorado Rural Electric Association.

Visit loveelectric.org today to find out how you can electrify and energize your home systems and be part of this movement of beneficial electrification.

Transmission Project Crosses the Canyon

By Jonah Martin, Manager, MNC Project Management Office

Even by the standards of other major utility construction projects across the nation, the numbers behind Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s recently completed, 230-kilovolt Montrose-Nucla-Cahone (MNC) transmission project are staggering. Throw in a worldwide pandemic during the construction phase and we have a real story to tell.

Two Tri-State Generation and Transmission staff view the process of the Montrose-Nucla-Cahone transmission project. The project cost nearly $105 million and 65,000 labor hours of construction.

The basic facts are impressive for a project built in remote areas of the Rocky Mountain West. The project began in May 2013 and required the approval of nearly a dozen local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

MNC traversed more than 80 miles of often challenging terrain, and the associated severe weather, through portions of Dolores, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties in Colorado, at times reaching elevations of more than 11,000 feet above sea level.

Substation expansions
The MNC included a substation expansion in Montrose, completed in May 2017; the new Maverick substation, which Tri-State energized in April 2020; and improvements at the Cahone substation.

The Maverick substation was to initially operate at 115 kV, while accommodating a future need for 69 kV of service. The decision last year to decommission Tri-State’s Nucla Station power plant and the associated Nucla substation earlier than planned required the Maverick substation build to take place earlier as part of the initial construction phase.

Transmission lines and fiber optics
The transmission line project also included more than 300 miles of access improvements and significant vegetation management along nearly 60 miles of federal land. In total, MNC required 435 wood structures and 131 steel structures; 1.37 million feet of conductor; and nearly 475,000 feet of optical ground wire. The optical ground wire is part of the regional fiber optic communications backbone between Grand Junction and Albuquerque. Even these figures do not begin to tell the whole story.

The crowning achievement of this challenging project included the crossing of the historic Dolores Canyon just east of Dove Creek. The Dolores Canyon, characterized by red Wingate Sandstone, old-growth ponderosa trees and the winding Dolores River, begins in the southern San Juan Mountains and meanders toward the Utah border. The Juan Rivera expedition viewed the Dolores Canyon in 1765 while exploring trade routes in Ute country.

Dolores Canyon a significant crossing
For Tri-State, the crossing of Dolores Canyon presented several unparalleled challenges in the U.S. transmission industry, with the exception of the smaller, original (and still existing) 115 kV wood-frame crossing of the canyon completed in 1958. Even if the Gateway Arch in St. Louis were placed in the 1,100-foot canyon, it would not be visible, except to someone standing on the rim of the canyon.

Tri-State Transmission and Generation uses air support to complete the Montrose-Nucla-Cahone transmission project. This project includes crossing the Dolores Canyon, which spans nearly 6,600 feet between two 85-foot-tall lattice towers, one each on the north and south rims of the canyon.

The Tri-State crossing effort required a span of nearly 6,600 feet between two 85-foot-tall lattice towers on the north and south rim of the canyon. When counting distances from the “dead ends,” which hold the weight of each of the five 20,000 pounds of conductor and optical ground wire tensions, the distance was 8,000 feet. The line dropped some 400 feet between the lattice towers into the canyon.

Tri-State made five crossings of the canyon: three with conductor and two with optical ground wire. A helicopter first pulled a 5/16-inch rope from the south to the north end of the canyon, and then winch equipment pulled back a 3/4-inch rope back to the south. At that point, the rope then pulled the conductor and optical ground wire back from the south to the north rim. This work started during the week of September 28 and was completed by October 10.

To put some of this in perspective, the transmission line over the Dolores Canyon spans about 1.25 miles between lattice towers and more than 1.5 miles between the dead ends. Only three other spans worldwide are known to be longer, although on much larger towers: an 8,714-foot span between the Jintang and Cezi islands in China; the crossing of the Norwegian Sognefjord at 15,082 feet; and the Ameralik Span in Greenland at 17,638 feet.

In fact, the Dolores Canyon segment wasn’t the only significant crossing.

Workers previously crossed Glade Canyon, 2.5 miles north of Dolores Canyon, which was a 2,800-foot crossing, or just over half a mile, and would have been a significant effort for any other transmission line project but now the second largest on MNC.

The Montrose-Nucla-Cahone transmission line project benefits
The MNC transmission line was energized in October and was complete — aside from reclamation work — by the end of 2020. The project cost nearly $105 million and required 65,000 labor hours for construction.

Completion of this project brings a number of immediate benefits to Tri-State and the bulk electric system. Greater reliability and lower maintenance needs, greater operational capacity and flexibility, and the ability to accommodate load growth in the area are just a few of the immediate impacts. MNC also paves the way for future benefits, including the ability to support Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan and the growing interest in generation interconnection projects throughout western Colorado.

Numerous departments and dozens of employees throughout Tri-State left their marks on this once-in-a-career project. Without the hard work and dedication of the MNC project team, none of the amazing numbers, accomplishments and benefits could have been achieved.

Jonah Martin is the manager of the Montrose-Nucla-Cahone project management office and an employee of Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State is a wholesale power supply cooperative, operating on a not-for-profit basis, with 45 members, including 42 utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power district members in four states that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State, visit tristate.coop.

SMPA Receives Grant for Two EV Charging Stations

San Miguel Power Association announced that it received a Charge Ahead Colorado grant from the Colorado Energy Office The grant money will go toward the installation of two Level II Dual Port charging stations: one at SMPA’s office in Ridgway, and another one at its office in Nucla.

“We’re excited to be able to offer this service to our communities,” SMPA CEO Brad Zaporski said in a recent press release. “As folks begin to save money by replacing their gas automobiles with electric, they’re also contributing to a much larger effort to reduce carbon emissions as the electric grid that powers them gets cleaner every day.”

SMPA also offers beneficial electrification rebates to its consumer-members to help cover the costs of electric vehicles or all-electric homes, and lawn mowers and other outdoor power equipment. There are also rebates for private and public EV charging stations installed within the co-op’s service territory.

Co-ops Lead the Way in Grid Defense

The country’s electric co-ops have been instrumental in providing a market-ready early warning system that detects cyberattacks on utilities. Essence 2.0 was developed through work by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the co-ops’ national trade association, as part of its efforts to defend the nation’s energy supply from unknown, emerging threats.

The system provides “black box” sensing technology that measures the ongoing behavior of operations. Many cyberattacks lay dormant on a system for months before they are identified and mitigated. Essence 2.0 acts as a monitoring tool that accelerates the detection of any anomalies on the system that could indicate a breach.

Developed by NRECA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, BlackByte Cyber Security, LLC, and Referentia Systems, the program was initiated in 2014. Essence 2.0 was introduced in 2020 and third-party evaluation has confirmed that the program does continuously assess the electric power grid for anything out of the ordinary, using a set of algorithms. When something unusual is detected, the technology provides immediate, real-time indicators.

“Being able to identify emerging threats in real time is the most important element of this approach so that electric cooperatives and other users can adapt quickly — not weeks later — to protect their systems,” said Emma Stewart, chief scientist at NRECA.

Agreements Accelerate Holy Cross Energy’s 100×30 Plan

Two new projects will help Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy meet its 100% renewable energy goal by 2030. The co-op recently signed agreements with AES Corporation for a solar project and a battery storage project. Combined, the “solar-plus-storage” projects move HCE toward its renewable energy goals outlined in its 100X30 plan announced in December 2020.

AES will develop the projects that will add a total of 20 megawatts of renewable energy capacity and 40 megawatt-hours of battery storage in two Colorado towns. High Mesa Solar in the Town of Parachute, and Peace Bear Ranch Solar in the Town of Silt, will each provide 10 MW of solar energy and 20 MWh of battery storage. HCE will buy the electricity and storage capacity from both projects.

“Projects like these will allow HCE to attain our 100X30 clean energy goals while keeping power supply costs low,” HCE VP, Power Supply & Programs Steve Beuning said in an April press release from HCE. “We are pleased to be partnering together with AES to develop reliable and resilient energy resources locally that will benefit all HCE members.”

The battery storage will allow HCE to shift electricity production from the solar panels into evening hours when customer demand is often highest. The development of the Peace Bear Ranch Solar project is contingent on the results of engineering studies currently being performed by Xcel Energy to assess grid impacts. Construction is planned to begin later this year, and the projects are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2022, subject to county land use permitting approvals.

Future editions of CREA’s Energy Innovations newsletter will keep you informed about the progress and completion of these projects throughout the remainder of the year.

Co-ops Support Future Leaders

Electric co-ops fund college scholarships, youth programs

By Sarah Smith

Colorado’s electric cooperatives have awarded more than $2,209,250 in scholarships to 1,637 students over the past five years*. That means hundreds of students have been able to attend college and/or trade school, thanks to the support of their local electric cooperative.

Each of the state’s 22 distribution co-ops provide this support to students in its own way. Some offer a unique set of scholarships, including scholarships provided by power suppliers Basin Electric Power Cooperative and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as scholarships in honor of previous managers and board members. Vocational and technical school scholarships are offered, including opportunities for electric lineworkers. The overall goal is to give students in their co-op territory, regardless of background or finances, a chance at continuing their education after high school.

Each co-op funds its scholarships a little differently, although none of the funding comes from electric rates paid by consumer-members. Most of the funds come from unclaimed capital credits, which must be turned over to the state if they are not used by the co-op for specific purposes. In some cases, co-op board members contribute their own money to fund the co-op’s scholarships. The Basin Electric and Tri-State scholarships are provided by those power suppliers.

Each scholarship recipient through the years have been deserving of the recognition and support. A few students have a lasting impression on their local electric co-op with their stories. These individuals were not only qualified but also led as examples for their peers and future applicants.

Dean VanWinkle of Fruita was the winner of the 2017 Grand Valley Power scholarship.

Dean VanWinkle of Fruita eats, sleeps and breathes cattle ranching. It’s in his blood, passed down from five generations before him. The treatment of the livestock his family raises, while also sustaining the land to provide a nutritional product, is top-of-mind. With that responsibility also comes the importance of higher education to gain more knowledge and understanding about every facet of running and operating his family’s business — which is also their livelihood.

Grand Valley Power Association awarded VanWinkle the GVP scholarship in 2017. He stood out to the scholarship selection committee, which is made up of a group of educators appointed by the board of directors, for his deep passion for cattle ranching and agriculture business and his vast leadership roles.

Notably, he was the 4-H district president and on the state officer team, where he mentored 4-H members to become the next generation of leaders. From a young age, VanWinkle learned the importance of raising and caring for animals and gained a great sense of leadership and responsibility. As a multigenerational rancher in the Grand Valley area, his drive and his dedication to the Western Slope hit home with GVP’s committee.

After graduating from high school, VanWinkle attended Fort Scott Community College and then transferred to Kansas State University. After college, he plans to return to the family ranch to work alongside his parents, Howard and Janie. He is also committed to staying involved with local organizations and associations.

“It is very important to support the communities that have helped me along the way,” VanWinkle said. “The scholarship from GVP allowed me to attend college and focus on gaining new knowledge while seeing different operations and strategies of operation. These scholarship programs are vital and sometimes underappreciated. I was extremely fortunate to receive several scholarships from the community and I am extremely thankful for the organizations that make them available.”

San Miguel Power Association is another cooperative to have remarkable scholarship recipients who encompass the overall goal of the program while expressing individuality and leadership in new ways.

Elizabeth “Beth” Williams was awarded the 2018 San Miguel Power Association Ouray High School scholarship

Former recipient Elizabeth “Beth” Williams was awarded the 2018 SMPA Ouray High School scholarship. Following the recognition, Williams attended a summer internship at the Rodham Institute and George Washington School of Medicine, where she worked with underprivileged patients and assisted the doctors as a Spanish translator. Her internship was designed to focus on health care and social change.

During her six-week program, Williams also gained a unique perspective about the health care system. This opportunity broadened her horizons and opened the possibility to study in other parts of the country.

Kyra Maxfield received the 2020 Silverton High School vocational scholarship for her education toward veterinary school.

Alex Shelley, SMPA’s communications executive, also reflected on a scholarship recipient from last year: Kyra Maxfield. Maxfield received the 2020 Silverton High School vocational scholarship for her strong drive to work in the veterinary field. SMPA’s scholarship helped place her in a college that could advance her goals and provide the support she needed on an individual basis.

“Our youth engagement programs are very important to us,” Shelley said. “These young people are future members, and their goals and attitudes give us a glimpse at what the future of our business and industry will hold. Plus, their enthusiasm is catchy!”

Scholarships are an important way that Colorado’s electric cooperatives support the community.

Another significant way co-ops strengthen and build up young people is through educational programs.

Support for the Washington D.C. Youth Tour, Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp, the Colorado State Fair Junior Livestock Sale, local county fairs and safety programs are other ways that co-ops educate and provide opportunities for students. Unfortunately, gathering and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 postponed some of these beneficial programs, but CREA and its electric cooperatives are hopeful to resume all of them by 2022.

The future of Colorado’s communities shines through in its youth and it is crucial that tools and resources for higher education are provided to students. By working together as one unified voice, CREA’s member co-ops are committed to enhancing and advancing the interests of their consumer-members, including the youngest members the co-ops serve. One day these young people will become the co-ops’ greatest assets and their strongest leaders.

For more information on Youth Tour, camp and other youth programs, visit crea.coop.

*Statistics based on a survey sent out to all 22 Colorado electric cooperatives; 19 out of 22 participated in the survey and are represented in the data listed.

Sarah Smith is a freelance writer with a fondness for Colorado’s electric co-ops and the rural areas they serve.

MVEA Launches EV Pilot Study

Limon-based Mountain View Electric Association launched a pilot program for a select number of its consumer-members who own electric vehicles.

The 12-month SmartCharge MVEA program in partnership with FleetCarma is aimed at helping the electric distribution co-op plan for future and increased adoption of EVs among consumer-members in the co-op’s service territory. The co-op wants more data on how, when and where EV owners charge their vehicles so it can plan for the impact on its electric system.

Here’s how it works: Participants with a compatible EVs are given a small device to plug into their EV onboard diagnostic port that tracks and pinpoints charging consumption on the grid. In addition to sending this data to MVEA, the device also provides analytics to the EV owner about the vehicle and use. Participants can track things such as their EV’s trip data, auxiliary load, battery health and the breakdown of charging from different charger levels.

The charging data collected over the 12-month study period will help MVEA plan and manage the grid to ensure EV charging remains reliable for everyone.