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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In February, Sedalia-based Intermountain Rural Electric Association announced that its new utility-scale Pioneer Solar facility began production in December 2020.
The facility, which sits on 540 acres east of Denver in Bennett, generates 80 megawatts of power that will be utilized on IREA’s system for at least the next 10 years. Pioneer Solar has more than 230,000 single-axis tracking photovoltaic panels that follow the sun’s path to increase exposure.
This is the cooperative’s second utility-scale solar facility, and more renewable projects are slated to come online by the end of 2021. The co-op will have nearly 200 megawatts of renewable energy capacity on its system by 2025.
Throughout April, Gunnison-based electric cooperative Gunnison County Electric Association contracted with UAV Recon to perform a system check of all 1,096 miles of GCEA distribution lines and power poles using drones. This is the second year of the co-op’s three-year drone inspection project.
This innovative use of drones is becoming more common among Colorado’s electric cooperatives, as drones can get to the hard-to-access regions in electric co-op service territories.
GCEA’s goals with this project are to identify maintenance issues to ensure better system reliability and to assist the co-op in fire mitigation efforts. The drone footage allows crews to be more efficient, as the data collected shows exactly where crews need to go to repair or troubleshoot.
“It also allows us to have pictures of all the pole top assemblies to assist our staking engineers,” GCEA Member Relations Supervisor Alliy Sahagun said. “With walking line inspections, [crews] can never see the pole top or the top of a cross arm where most of the decay will show. A drone shows all aspects of the structure.”
So far this inspection period, the photos collected across GCEA territory have revealed only a few issues that need to be addressed quickly, such as a few “danger trees,” (trees that could potentially fall into power lines and equipment, sparking a wildfire) and pins ready to fall out of insulators.
GCEA alerted consumer-members of the drone inspections via press releases, social media postings and ads in the local newspaper.