NE Colorado Has EV Charger, Thanks to Electric Co-op

Highline Electric Association announced recently that its new Level 2 EV charging station is ready for public use at its headquarters in Holyoke. This is the first public charging station for electric vehicles the co-op owns and the first within the Phillips/Sedgwick/Chase/Washington county area of northeastern Colorado.

The Enel X JuicePedestal 40 dual head station was purchased by the co-op after it applied for a Charge Ahead Colorado grant last year through the Colorado Energy Office. In addition to receiving the grant, the northeastern Colorado co-op’s power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, offers a rebate program to its member co-ops to help offset the costs of new EV infrastructure.

Rates for the station are $0.50 per charging session plus $0.08 per kilowatt-hour usage. Highline Electric Association Manager of Member Services Tad Huser says, “My Nissan Leaf takes about 12 kWh to charge back to 100% from my 40-mile commute from home to the HEA office. My charge costs the $0.50 session charge plus $0.96 for the 12 kWhs used for a total of $1.46.”

Highline Electric is excited for this EV charging station addition to its headquarters and region.

Community Solar Garden Begins Production

Gunnison County Electric Association recently announced that the new community solar garden at its Gunnison headquarters is officially producing energy. This is the co-op’s second community solar garden. 

The new array is 101 kilowatts, which is five times the size of GCEA’s solar garden in Crested Butte. It’s clear that the community solar garden is a popular option for GCEA’s consumer-members to participate in clean, renewable energy; the short-term, month-to-month lease option is currently sold out. The co-op also offers a 20-year lease option. 

How does community solar work? Consumer-members may lease up to 5 panels per month at $4.71 per month, per share. Consumers then receive a bill credit for the monthly production of their solar shares. 

GCEA is working with other entities to develop additional community solar arrays and plans to have at least one additional project completed in 2021.

The solar garden is an easy and affordable way for GCEA consumer-members to support local renewable energy.

Cool Technologies Keep Lineworkers Well-Connected

By Tom Tate
When electric cooperatives were formed in the 1930s, their technology was primitive by any standard — digging holes for the utility poles by hand, walking the poles up into those holes, using ladders to reach equipment needing service. And if you had to get in touch with the line crew, face-to-face communication was the only option.

Today, the lineworker rivals any other worker when it comes to having the necessary tech to get the job done safely, quickly and more accurately. Let’s take a look at a few of the devices behind this evolution, starting with the tablet.

Many electric co-ops send their crews into the field with ruggedized tablets. What are those? They are tablets (and smartphones) with special cases and screen protectors built to tough specifications that will allow a lineworker’s devices to survive bouncing along in a line truck, being exposed to all kinds of weather and being dropped into a bucket or toolbox.

Depending on the electric co-op, the data and other content on these ruggedized devices varies. Often work orders detailing the day’s project are found on these devices. These can include construction drawings for how the job is to be built, the bill of materials so the crew knows what to pull from inventory before hitting the road, and system maps so lineworkers know exactly where to go. Gone are the reams of paper and cumbersome map books of the past.

Not quite as new, but equally important, are global positioning system, or GPS, coordinates. This functionality might be built into the lineworker’s tablet, a ruggedized smartphone or a handheld unit. As more co-ops map their systems using GPS coordinates, the GPS capability gets the crews where they need to be in an efficient manner. Some GPS units are designed specifically for heavy trucks, and plot routes that avoid bridges with weight limits or roads with height restrictions.

Close up of an infrared camera

Infrared cameras help lineworkers scan power lines and other equipment and find hot spots that could mean equipment that could fail.

Another popular tool is the forward-looking infrared camera, also known as FLIR. Many people are familiar with this technology from the many ghost hunter programs currently on television. With a FLIR camera, crews can rapidly scan power lines, transformers and other equipment when searching for hot spots. A piece of distribution equipment about to fail will often get hot. While not visible to the naked eye, it shows up clearly on a FLIR display. Scanning the system with a FLIR camera is a fast and accurate means of spotting a problem before it becomes an outage.

And today, many lineworkers have eyes in the sky in the form of drones. Colorado’s electric cooperatives cover territory that is often difficult to access when they need to survey the system for necessary repairs or to locate a new power line route. Instead of tackling the job on foot or on four-wheelers, the co-op crews might be able to send in a drone. Flying above the area provides a great view of the situation and allows the crew to make an assessment of what to do next without having to be there in person. This is especially useful after a major storm when roads can still be blocked.

Cooperatives are laser focused on providing the best reliability possible at the lowest possible price. A major aspect of reliability is getting the lights back on as quickly as is safely possible after an outage. Key in this is the outage management system, or OMS. This system builds on “geo-tagged” system maps (each pole has its GPS location mapped), sophisticated engineering models of the distribution system and, for maximum accuracy, an advanced metering system.

When an outage occurs, the system uses models and databases to determine the exact location of the fault and the extent of the outage. Crews can then be sent to the right spot to correct the problem. Part of this restoration effort might be a vehicle tracking system that tells operations staff the exact location of each line truck. The crews closest to the outage are sent to restore power — and essential information can be accessed on the tablets, depending upon the situation.

Sometimes all the technology in the world is not enough and a good old-fashioned visual inspection is required. During daylight hours, it can be easier to see the cause of a problem. But at night, lineworkers need a reliable source of light. Today, that comes from LED flashlights and truck-mounted lights. These powerhouses are a fraction of the size of regular flashlights, and they make an older incandescent model look like a candle by comparison. In the hands of a lineman, they provide an amazing view of the lines during the darkest of nights.

Technology is permeating every aspect of cooperative operations, allowing your electric co-op to constantly improve your service. The well-connected lineworker is at the forefront of that technical evolution.

Tom Tate of writes on the electric industry for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Tri-State logo

Tri-State Committed to Reduce Statewide Emissions

During recent proceedings, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission accepted Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s voluntarily-announced retirement dates for its coal power plants Craig Station Units 2 and 3. This is after the AQCC was considering enforcing early closures.

According to a Tri-State press release, the plan meets or exceeds federal requirements to improve visibility in Colorado’s national parks and wilderness areas, according to Tri-State CEO Duane Highley. The cooperative power supplier’s Craig Station Unit 1 will retire by December 31, 2025; Craig Station Unit 2 by September 30, 2028; and Craig Station Unit 3 by December 31, 2029.

And separate from the AQCC proceedings, Tri-State and Gov. Jared Polis announced Tri-State’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado by 80% by 2030. This is part of Tri-State’s innovative Responsible Energy Plan. Tri-State filed its Electric Resource Plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on December 1. The ERP includes a preferred scenario to reach emissions reductions by retiring Craig station, adding 1,850 megawatts of renewable resources and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that support state goals.

EV Charger Added, Thanks to Co-op

The town of Fraser took advantage of Mountain Parks Electric’s Electrify Everything program and installed a Level 3 electric vehicle charger. With a grant from the Granby-based electric cooperative and the Colorado Energy Office, this is the first fast-charging station in Grand County. It is located at Lions Ponds, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in late November.

 

 

Poudre Valley REA logo

Co-op CEO Wins Award

Poudre Valley REA CEO Jeff Wadsworth was named Fortnightly Foremost Innovator in Microgrids for 2020. The recognition was awarded by Public Unity Fortnightly, a utility organization that supports innovation. The yearly Fortnightly Top Innovators awards select the most outstanding individuals in 10 categories of innovation.

Wadsworth was honored for PVREA’s work installing a microgrid for Red Feather Lakes, a community which is served by one transmission line prone to damage from weather, natural disasters and human accidents. The cutting-edge microgrid technology will provide backup for the electric grid for the area. It is one of the first in the state. PVREA’s goal is to have the microgrid operational by spring.

Holy Cross logo

Co-op Commits to Go Carbon Free

Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs announced a new, ambitious 100X30 goal to provide 100% carbon-free electricity to its consumer-members by 2030. The announcement was made in a press conference December 14 with Gov. Jared Polis offering his congratulations to the co-op. The 100X30 plan follows the co-op’s Seventy70Thirty plan announced in 2018 in which the co-op pledged to provide 70% of its power from clean and renewable resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% from 2014 levels by 2030. That plan is ahead of schedule and the co-op rewrote its goal to create the 100×30 goal.

Helping Hands from Outage Restoration Teams

By Mona Neeley, CCL Editor

Being part of a large network is never more important than when a natural disaster hits an electric cooperative. Take, for example, when the monstrous and destructive East Troublesome Fire swept through Grand County and Mountain Parks Electric’s service territory in October. The 60 employees of the area’s local electric cooperative were not on their own.

MPE is a small, local, independent organization that serves Grand and Jackson counties as well as parts of Larimer, Routt and Summit counties in the central mountains of Colorado. But the co-op is not totally on its own when disaster strikes. It is part of a network of electric co-ops that all adhere to the sixth cooperative principle: cooperation among cooperatives.

With a call to the Colorado Rural Electric Association, the electric co-ops’ statewide trade association, the word was out that MPE needed assistance. Just a couple days later utility trucks from electric co-ops across the state rolled in to Granby. Crews of lineworkers were there to assist MPE in getting the backbone of its system back on line so that the local crews and hired contractors could then methodically replace and repair individual services and infrastructure.

Crews from neighboring electric co-ops assist in getting power lines restored after a summer storm on the eastern plains.

The same thing happened back in June when the derecho made meteorological news as it ripped across Colorado with its thunderstorms and extreme wind gusts. Tens of thousands of Colorado electric co-op consumer-members were without power in territories served by Highline Electric Association in Holyoke, K.C. Electric Association in Hugo, Morgan County Rural Electric Association in Fort Morgan, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Fort Collins, Southeast Colorado Power Association in Lamar, United Power in Brighton, Y-W Electric Association in Akron and Yampa Valley Electric Association in Steamboat Springs.

But as soon as the windstorm was over, electric co-ops across Colorado and western Nebraska that had not been affected by the storm stepped up to assist in safely getting the lights back on for these co-ops. Neighboring co-ops that could spare a crew, sent it to help. Contractors, who supplement co-op crews on projects throughout the year, made their crews available.

That quick response from other co-ops comes from a combination of a centuries-old co-op tradition and agreements among electric cooperatives.

Lineworkers prepare to get the poles and lines back up in a neighborhood affected by the East Troublesome Fire.

This help is needed, especially by smaller co-ops, because these large natural disasters (such as wildfires, derechos, ice storms, blizzards and tornadoes) that cause devastation is more than many local electric co-ops can quickly repair on their own. When multiple areas in a co-op’s service territory are without electricity and there are only four or five crews available to restore the system, electric co-ops depend on other co-ops in their state and national network for assistance.

The residents of Grand County saw crews from Highline Electric, Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison, Southeast Colorado Power Association, United Power and White River Electric Association in Meeker arrive October 26. They came from all corners of the state as part of a plan called a “mutual aid agreement.” And San Miguel Power Association in Nucla arrived a couple days later, once it was determined that more help was needed.

“It is a natural extension of who we are,” says Kent Singer, executive director of CREA. “Helping each other is something we do naturally as part of our co-op family and our culture.”

An agreement is one thing, but success means carrying it out effectively. To that end, electric co-ops rely on planning and shared experiences, says Dale Kishbaugh, CREA director of safety and loss control. Colorado’s electric co-ops spend time planning for disasters, talking through the what-ifs of problems and sharing experiences with each other as they meet regularly to keep procedures updated.

The response to the East Troublesome Fire came together relatively quickly after that fire took a turn and developed a speed no one expected. Once it burned through the system and MPE knew where it lost its lines, the response was quick but planned, with the idea that when mutual aid crews arrived the work could begin and materials would be available.

With other natural disasters, even with other wildfires, that planning can often start before the disaster actually strikes. For example, weather predictions can give a co-op notice of a possible blizzard or ice storm. Then materials can be readied and preliminary assistance can be arranged.

Another example is the Cameron Peak Fire, the largest fire in Colorado history, which ignited in August and was still only 92% contained at magazine deadline. While dangerous and, at times, unpredictable, it burned at a slower pace than the East Troublesome Fire. This gave Poudre Valley REA crews opportunities to prepare for where the fire might burn through its system.

Before the fire arrived, PVREA lineworkers wrapped poles in high-risk areas with fire protection materials. They met regularly with incident command to determine where the electric system might be affected and where the co-op might need to de-energize lines. Once the fire burned through an area and it was deemed safe to enter that area, PVREA crews and contractors got right to work replacing burned poles and restringing power lines. They were prepared and, this time, PVREA did not have to rely on the mutual aid agreement. But that agreement was there and could be used if needed.

No electric co-op has to go it alone. Each independent, local co-op is part of the electric co-op family, part of a statewide and nationwide network of electric co-ops, all ready to lend a hand to get the lights back on safely wherever they go out.

Mona Neeley is the publisher and editor of Colorado Country Life magazine.

Co-ops Back High-Speed Internet for Mancos

Families are still facing the challenges of remote learning, but the town of Mancos is helping to reduce some of the burden for people who don’t have reliable internet access.

It was found that 20% of families in the Mancos school district were without reliable internet access at home. So the town of Mancos teamed up with FastTrack Communications to deliver free, high-speed internet from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at a local park. FastTrack will provide a 100 mpbs dedicated internet connection available to families and students who otherwise won’t have a connection to participate in remote learning.

FastTrack is an internet subsidiary of southwestern Colorado electric cooperatives La Plata Electric of Durango and Empire Electric Association of Cortez.

San Isabel Electric Launches Efficiency Program

This fall, Pueblo West-based electric cooperative San Isabel Electric rolled out its Empower program. This expansion of its energy-efficiency programs helps people create an energy-efficient home or business space with free energy assessments, net-metered home solar power systems, electric vehicle and charger rebates for consumer-members and products such as high-velocity, low-speed fans, electric water heaters, electric thermal storage and air source heat pumps, just to name a few. Many of these products and services can be bundled to maximize efficiency and energy savings.

According to an October press release, the San Isabel Electric Board of Directors said Empower is essential to continue the path of providing value for not only SIEA consumer-members but the entire southern Colorado region.