Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy Share Solar Project

CORE Electric Cooperative (formally Intermountain Rural Electric Association), headquartered in Sedalia, recently signed a 25-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to buy the electricity generated on a 13-megawatt solar site, dubbed the Victory Solar Power Project. Duke Energy acquired the site from developer juwi Inc. The Victory Solar Power Project will power approximately 2,600 homes with solar electricity and recently began operating.

“Victory is our first solar project in Colorado, where we already have an operating wind energy site,” said Rob Caldwell, president of Duke Energy Renewables and Distributed Energy Technology. “It’s the 50th solar project in our growing U.S. renewables footprint, and juwi’s high-quality site marks another milestone in expanding our solar presence in the western part of the country.”

“IREA (CORE) is pleased to have worked with juwi to bring this facility into production ahead of schedule,” said IREA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Mooney. “We look forward to Duke Energy providing clean renewable energy to IREA’s (CORE) customers for years to come.”

Leadership in a Purple State

By Kent Singer, CREA executive director

If you are in a certain age group and attempted to learn the guitar as a teenager, I bet you mastered as least one riff: the opening notes to the 1972 Deep Purple hit “Smoke on the Water.” (You know it: bump, bump, bum…bump, bump, da-dum…bump, bump, bum…bump-bum.) And while the English bandmates who formed Deep Purple probably didn’t have Colorado in mind (despite the name of their biggest hit), the band’s name aptly describes the current balance of political power in Colorado.

At both the state and federal level, we have an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats in control of our legislative and executive branches. In fact, voter registration in Colorado is split fairly evenly among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. So where some states are reliably blue (Democrat) or red (Republican), when it comes to political majorities, Colorado is reliably purple.

Purple state
Colorado has one Republican U.S. senator and one Democrat U.S. senator. In the 2016 election, Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet defeated Republican Darryl Glenn in a race that turned out much closer than the polls predicted. Even though Bennet raised and spent much more money than Glenn, his margin of victory was only 3 percentage points.

Republican incumbent Cory Gardner was elected in 2014 when he defeated the favored Democrat incumbent Mark Udall. The results of that race seemed to put on hold on what appeared to be a trend toward a Democrat-leaning electorate in Colorado.

The same purple theme applies to our congressional delegation. Of Colorado’s seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, four are Republicans and three are Democrats. The three Democrats (Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter) represent primarily Denver and the suburbs near Denver, while the four Republicans (Reps. Ken Buck, Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton) represent the rural areas of the state, as well as urban counties farther from Denver.

At the state legislative level, the purple theme continues. The state senate has a narrow (18-17) Republican majority, while the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives expanded to 37-28 after the 2016 general election. This balance of power means that only legislation that has bipartisan support will pass during the next two sessions of the Colorado General Assembly.

Since the political activities of the Colorado Rural Electric Association are focused at the state level, the composition of the General Assembly and CREA’s relationship with its members is critical to the success of CREA initiatives. CREA’s legislative team is devoted to informing and educating state legislators about the cooperative difference and how legislation can impact the consumer at the end of the line. The CREA team also works hard to share with legislators and other stakeholders the extraordinary work being done by Colorado electric co-ops to respond to the changing demands of electric consumers.

Balanced leadership
With Colorado’s term limits, the leadership in both houses of the General Assembly changes frequently. Since the individuals in leadership positions set the agenda for their respective houses, we president of the Senate.

Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Dist. 5)

For the two years of the 71st General Assembly (the 2017 and 2018 sessions), the speaker of the House will be Rep. Crisanta Duran. Rep. Duran will serve her fourth term in the legislature representing House District 5 in central Denver. Rep. Duran served as the chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee in 2014, and she served as the majority leader in the 2015 and 2016 sessions. She sponsored a variety of legislative initiatives, including efforts to spur economic development, extend unemployment benefits for Coloradans learning new workforce skills and increase the renewable energy requirements applicable to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Speaker-designate Duran has a particular interest in rural economic development: “One of my priorities has been to make sure that small businesses thrive and folks have good jobs in rural Colorado. That’s why I passed a bill to provide tax benefits to new businesses through creating ‘jump-start zones’ in rural areas of the state. I’m going to continue to make sure we don’t take anyone in Colorado for granted and leave no one behind.”

Although Rep. Duran does not have any electric co-op service territory in her legislative district, she is familiar with Colorado’s electric co-ops. She joined in support of recent legislation revising the co-op requirements under Colorado’s renewable portfolio law, as well as adjustments to the co-op election law.

During the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Duran was the prime house sponsor of S.B. 13-252, the bill that increased the renewable energy requirements for the co-ops. Since the passage of that bill, the work done by Colorado’s electric co-ops to integrate additional renewable energy into their power supply portfolios has not gone unnoticed by Rep. Duran: “I applaud efforts by local co-ops to generate more electricity from renewable sources. It’s really inspiring to see folks in Colorado taking the lead to make sure we can tap our wind, water and sun to create the energy we need and keep it in our communities.”

Sen Kevin Grantham (R-Dist. 2)

The Senate president for the 71st General Assembly will be Sen. Kevin Grantham, a two-term state senator from Cañon City. Sen. Grantham represents Senate District 2, a district that includes Fremont, Teller, Park, Clear Creek and parts of El Paso counties. Sen. Grantham was raised in a farming community in Crowley County and currently works as a real estate appraiser at Grantham Appraisal Service in Cañon City. He is also a member of the Joint Budget Committee, a position he will relinquish when he assumes his role as Senate president on January 11.

Sen. Grantham has long been a supporter of Colorado’s electric co-ops, and he was the prime Senate sponsor of several bills recently initiated by CREA. During the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Grantham sponsored a bill that allowed co-ops to use purchases from community solar gardens to comply with the requirements of Colorado’s renewable energy law. S.B. 15-046 also authorized electric co-ops to subtract their sales of electricity to industrial loads for purposes of calculating their “retail” distributed generation obligation. These changes made compliance with the renewable portfolio law more economic for co-op consumers.

In the 2016 session, Sen. Grantham sponsored CREA’s bill to make sure that all ballots are counted in co-op board elections and to reduce the costs of those elections. He also co-sponsored a bill that clarifies that sales of electricity for residential purposes are not subject to the state sales tax.

Sen. Grantham believes strongly in the idea that electric co-ops are successful because they are owned and governed by their members, and maintaining this independence is important: “Colorado’s electric co-ops have done a great job providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to rural Colorado for over 75 years. The co-op business model and local control works, and we’ll oppose any proposed interference with that local control.”

Sen. Grantham’s take on renewable energy is somewhat different than Speaker-designate Duran’s view. “Our caucus tends to believe that market forces should determine which energy sources are used by Colorado’s citizens,” he says. “Although we support all forms of energy, including renewable energy, we don’t support mandates that increase costs to rural consumers.”

Working together
So, will a Senate president- designate from rural Colorado and a House speaker-designate from Denver be able to work together to solve Colorado’s problems and move the state forward? The answer from both is a resounding “yes.” Says Rep. Duran: “I look forward to working with Sen. Grantham, and across the aisle, to move Colorado forward in areas where I know we have common ground, including education, transportation and infrastructure. We have more in common than divides us, and I know we can work together to have a productive legislative session.”

Sen. Grantham concurs: “We won’t always agree with bills passed by the House and they won’t always agree with bills passed by the Senate. But I think we can still work together to balance the budget and find ways to spur economic development in rural Colorado.”

The band Deep Purple continues to tour, with different members, decades after its founding. And it looks like Colorado’s purple politics will also share the stage for the foreseeable future… bump, bump, bum…bump, bump, da-dum…bump, bump, bum…bump-bum.

How an Electric Utility’s Transformers Work

By Tom Tate
300x250-industryIf you were asked to describe your electric cooperative’s system, you might say, “Poles, wires and those round gray things.” Round gray things? That is often the description given for transformers, the pieces of equipment crucial in converting electricity to a voltage that is safe for use in homes and businesses. So, how do they work?

First, transformers are nothing like those creations of the silver screen. They don’t transform from vehicles to incredible combat robots. Instead, they transform the voltage of the electricity that passes through them.

Here’s how they work: Electricity loses voltage as it is transmitted due to the resistance in wires and other components. As a result, higher voltages are used to offset these “line losses,” as electric utilities call them. It all starts at the power plant. There, generators produce electricity at high voltages and use transformers to step up this voltage. For example, in Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission — the power supplier for 43 not-for-profit electric cooperatives and public power districts in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming — sometimes steps electricity it generates up to 345,000 volts. Since the power plants are far away, these voltages are necessary to survive the trip over the system to where it is needed.

Transmission lines connect to substations full of transformers and other control gear. Here is where the transformers step down the voltage to safer, more manageable levels. Depending upon the distance involved to the farthest member and the amount of load served, distribution voltages can range from 7,200 to 24,900 volts. A couple more step-downs and the electricity arrives at your home at 120/240 volts. This is quite different from the original voltage.

Regardless of the shape and size of the transformer, they all work in the same manner. Transformers have two sides, a high-voltage side and a low-voltage side. In normal operation, electricity flows into the transformer on the high-voltage side where it goes into a coil of wire, usually wound around an iron core. As the electricity flows through this coil, it creates a magnetic field that “induces” a voltage in the other coil. Here is where the magic (aka physics) of transformation takes place. Each coil has a different number of turns. The greater the number of turns, the higher the voltage. The coil on the high side will have more turns than the one on the low side. As a result, the voltage induced on the low side is less. Then transformation occurs.

Transformers aren’t just limited to utility use. They can be found everywhere in our daily lives, even if not so obvious as those on your electric cooperative’s system. The best example is the charger that all cell phones and many other electrical devices come with. These small cousins of utility transformers basically perform the same function. Charging your cell phone with 120 volts will fry it instantly. So, the charger converts the voltage to a more tolerable direct current. Take a moment to look around your home and see just how many of these miniature transformers you have. You might be surprised.

It is important to note that transformers work in both directions. Electricity flowing in on the low side is stepped up to the voltage of the high side. This is why electric co-ops educate members on proper connection of home generators. A generator feeding 240 volts into a residential transformer will produce whatever voltage the transformer is rated for on the other side, creating a deadly risk for line crews and your neighbors, which is why your co-op asks you to connect your generators according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. It’s always best to be safe.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Co-ops Care About Veterans in the Workforce

By Justin LaBerge

Most military bases are located in rural areas, and the power systems at some bases are operated by electric cooperatives. A disproportionately large percentage of our nation’s troops — some estimates suggest as high as 40 percent — come from rural America. Even the organization responsible for representing electric cooperatives in Washington, D.C., the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, was once led by a retired Army general.

Last year, America’s electric cooperatives began a new chapter in their long history of support for the military with the launch of Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country, a nationwide initiative to honor and hire military veterans and their spouses.

The program was developed to help electric cooperatives address a generational turnover in their workforce. Over the next five years, NRECA estimates electric co-ops will need to hire approximately 15,000 new employees to replace retiring baby boomers.

Those new workers will fill roles in every department, from lineworkers climbing poles to member service representatives answering questions to engineering and industrial technology experts designing and managing a smarter electric grid.

In addition to the technical skills these jobs require, electric cooperative employees must be hard working, disciplined, loyal, safety conscious and team oriented — qualities that are common among military veterans.

This summer, Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country celebrated a major milestone when former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan became the first veteran officially hired through the program.

The story of how Sloan landed his new job as an electrical engineer at Craighead Electric Cooperative in Jonesboro, Arkansas, reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.

Brian Duncan, CEO of Craighead Electric in Arkansas, hired the first veteran at the nation's co-ops.

Brian Duncan, CEO of Craighead Electric in Arkansas, hired the first veteran at the nation’s co-ops.

For several months, Craighead Electric CEO Brian Duncan worked to fill the position. Duncan advertised the opening in local papers and national job sites and attracted a number of highly qualified candidates.

Sloan’s application was among those strong candidates, but he wouldn’t be available to start for six months when his Air Force service ended.

Duncan, hoping to fill the position sooner than that, made offers to two other well-qualified applicants, but was unable to come to terms with either.

Shortly after the second candidate fell through, Duncan attended a national conference for electric cooperative CEOs.

One of the sessions featured two fellow co-op CEOs, one of whom was a 25-year Air Force veteran, discussing the newly launched veteran hiring initiative.

“The whole time they’re talking I’m thinking about Jeremiah; we probably need to look at this guy. For these guys coming out of the military, what better way to say ‘thank you’ than to give them a job,” Duncan said.

Jeremiah Sloan on the job.

Jeremiah Sloan on the job.

They scheduled an interview and it didn’t take long for Duncan to realize the co-op found its next engineer in Sloan.

“He was extremely professional. It was straight down the line. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘No, sir.’ Very detailed in his answers to all of the questions. Very thoughtful in his answers. It was the perfect interview, you might say,” Duncan said.

Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position at Craighead Electric. He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.

“I grew up in northeast Arkansas,” Sloan said. “My family is a long line of farmers, and they’re actually on Craighead Electric’s lines. The whole reason my wife and I decided to separate from the Air Force was to return home and be close to family.”

Former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan is the newest engineer on the Craighead Electric Cooperative team. “Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position, " CEO Brian Duncan said." He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.”

Former Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Sloan is the newest engineer on the Craighead Electric Cooperative team. “Sloan brings more than a strong resumé and professional demeanor to his new position, ” CEO Brian Duncan said.” He also brings a love for the community and a desire to return to his roots.”

Though Sloan is the first veteran hired through the initiative, he won’t be the last; several other veterans have already been hired through the program. In addition to nationwide outreach through NRECA, approximately 50 electric cooperatives across the country already took the pledge to join the effort on the local level.

The support of veterans and reservists extends far beyond the scope of the formal Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country program into the routine operation of many electric cooperatives.

Two managers at AECI, a wholesale supplier of electric equipment owned by the electric cooperatives of Arkansas, were recently honored by the U.S. Marine Corps for their support of a Marine reservist working at the cooperative’s warehouse in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In August, Russ Dilley and Eric Creekmore were presented the Patriot Award for giving AECI truck driver Michael Henderson the workplace flexibility he needs to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country is another way America’s electric cooperatives can show concern for community while building a next generation workforce that will deliver the exceptional service co-op members expect and deserve.

To learn more about the program and career opportunities for veterans at electric cooperatives, visit www.ServeVets.coop. Cathy Cash and Denny Gainer contributed to this report.

Justin LaBerge writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Could Allam Cycle Be a Cleaner Solution for Colorado’s Electric Co-op Coal Plants?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan raised more questions than answers since the rule’s finalization in August 2015.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative that provides supplemental power to rural electric cooperatives in nine states, including Colorado, has an energy portfolio that includes coal, gas, oil, nuclear, distributed and renewable energy. With nationwide focus shifting toward renewable energy, Basin Electric’s leadership understands the cooperative must evolve to continue growing in a carbon-constrained world. One technology that is flashing economical carbon-reduction potential is the Allam Cycle.

The vision for the Allam Cycle consists of gasifying lignite coal to produce synthetic natural gas, which would then be used along with oxygen and carbon dioxide to drive a turbine generator.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-1-51-41-pm-copyThis working fluid is then cooled through a heat exchanger and water is separated from it to create a nearly-pure CO2 stream. The CO2 stream is pressurized and a majority of the flow is fed back to the combustor as the working fluid to begin the cycle again. The remaining part of the CO2 flow is collected and put into a pipeline without increasing the power plant’s cost of producing electricity.

The technology could provide Dakota Gasification Company another source of marketable CO2 to be used for enhanced oil recovery or other purposes, and provide Basin Electric a more efficient and CO2 emission-free way of generating electricity using lignite coal.

Jim Sheldon, Basin Electric senior research and design engineer, heads the cooperative’s Horizons Committee. The group is responsible for monitoring and disseminating information regarding major environmental issues and new technologies — one being the Allam Cycle.

“This cycle uses CO2 as the working fluid instead of water, which we currently use in our coal plants. The first advantage is the dramatic efficiency gain using CO2 since it stays in the vapor phase instead of changing from liquid to vapor and back,” Sheldon says.

“Secondly, the combustion products in this cycle can be sent directly to a turbine to generate electricity.”

To research further development of Allam Cycle technology and its use with lignite coal, Basin Electric; the Energy & Environmental Research Center; 8 Rivers and ALLETE, Inc., along with ALLETE subsidiaries BNI Coal and Minnesota Power, were granted $1.48 million toward the total $3.18 million one-year research project.

Basin Electric and ALLETE also committed to contributing matching funds and in-kind services supporting the work.

A first-of-a-kind plant using natural gas will start up in Texas in 2017, along with a more in-depth study using lignite to make synthetic natural gas in North Dakota. Basin Electric will monitor the technology’s development and participate in the North Dakota study.

“If the first-of-a-kind plants prove out the initial work, this technology could be an economical means of using coal in a CO2- and emissions-constrained future,” Sheldon says.

Community Solar Coming for West Slope Co-op

Delta-Montrose Electric Association, which serves Delta, Montrose and Gunnison counties, partnered with GRID Alternatives to develop a 150-kilowatt community solar array, specifically for members qualified as low-income. Once the project is complete, participants can take advantage of locally-produced solar power and experience long-term energy savings. Other benefits include energy efficiency and basic solar education, full support and paperwork assistance, and no maintenance or installation requirements for participants. On average, participants will save up to 50 percent on their bill.

Electric Co-op’s Solar Garden Creates a “Better Solution”

A crowd of employees, partners and members recently gathered for the Yampa Valley Electric Association Community Solar Farm Raising. The 145-kilowatt solar garden, made up of 558 panels, was made possible through the combined efforts of GRID Alternatives Colorado, the Colorado Energy Office and Yampa Valley Electric Association, with offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs. The three partners brought their unique resources together to create a solar garden that will provide renewable energy at a reduced cost to approximately 35 income-challenged YVEA households.

In this case, the output from the array goes to offset the electric consumption of YVEA members who are struggling financially. Those who benefit met specific qualifications and made a commitment to support the project by helping with installation or participating in some way.

After months of planning, construction and site work began August 2016. Rogue Enterprises prepared the site and contributed to reduce costs while teams from YVEA and GRID went to work on member outreach, sending letters to previously weatherized members in its territory and hosting two educational/qualifying workshops. Other teams reached out to potential corporate sponsors and volunteers.

The onsite work continued with racking and fencing and volunteers installing all components of the garden. September 9-11, GRID and YVEA hosted 45 members of the Women in Solar effort for a weekend of camping, networking, workforce development and long hours spent volunteering at the worksite.

It all came together on September 16 when YVEA employees spent the day lifting the final panels into place and installing the last of the micro-converters. YVEA hosted more than 100 people for a celebration luncheon including representatives from GRID and the Colorado Energy Office, Rep. Diane Mitch Busch, Greg Winkler, the regional manager for DOLA, along with members whose energy costs will be reduced.

“This solar project is a demonstration of what can be achieved when we believe answers to problems exist,” said YVEA President and General Manager Diane Johnson. “This project brought together people from all over the country who believed in a better solution: A solution that trains more skilled workers in the solar field. A solution that gives YVEA the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with solar by owning and maintaining a solar array, recognizing that the future holds diverse fuel choices and that it is our responsibility to understand and embrace various technologies on behalf of our members. And, a solution that helps to bridge what is sometimes a divide between solar advocates and electric utilities. Many “right” answers exist for the future of energy and we expect to embrace varied and innovative fuel choices, together.”

Solar Farm ‘Flips the Switch’ for Co-op Members

United Power, Inc., and Silicon Ranch Corporation announced that the largest co-op solar farm in the state of Colorado is now live and generating renewable energy for United Power members in northern Colorado.

The solar farm, approximately 4 miles east of Fort Lupton on Highway 52, occupies 90 acres and features a single-axis tracking system to allow 160,000 panels to follow the sun across its daily arc. The 13-megawatt project produces enough carbon-free electricity to help power more than 2,500 homes and businesses in Weld County.

The project itself is the result of an initiative by United Power to incorporate cost-effective renewable energy sources to complement its generation portfolio. United Power is the rural electric cooperative responsible for providing electric service to more than 78,000 meters representing more than 200,000 customers in Colorado’s northern Front Range. Under its agreement with Silicon Ranch, which will own and operate the facility, United Power will receive all the energy produced over a 20-year period. In July, the Smart Electric Power Alliance recognized United Power as one of the top 10 electric cooperatives in the country in all six solar categories evaluated. United Power was named as the number one co-op in annual megawatts.

“United Power is excited that this partnership with Silicon Ranch is allowing us to add clean, renewable energy to our power mix,” said Darryl Schriver, United Power CEO. “It illustrates how United Power is trying to strike a balance between traditional and renewable energy sources on our system. The project is also part of a concerted effort by the cooperative to diversify our power sources to provide more predictable power costs for our members today and into the future.”

Silicon Ranch President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Kisber said, “The leadership at United Power deserves tremendous credit for their vision and commitment to provide competitively-priced, renewable power to their membership. As long-term owners of our projects, we take great pride in being active members in the communities we serve and are excited about the economic and environmental benefits this solar farm has brought and will continue to bring to Fort Lupton and the surrounding region.”

McCarthy Building Companies was contracted by Silicon Ranch to build the facility and hired more than 100 workers, the vast majority of whom were hired locally, for the seven-month construction effort. McCarthy has an office in the Denver area and is one of the largest American-owned construction firms in the country.

“We have been fortunate to develop a number of meaningful relationships here in Colorado, not only with our partners at United Power, but also with Upstate Colorado Economic Development, the Weld County Board of County Commissioners, the Fort Lupton City Council, local city and county planning departments, and our local project partners,” Kisber said. “We celebrate the commissioning of this solar plant as a true group effort, and we are grateful for all who had a hand in making this facility possible.”

United Power and Silicon Ranch held a dedication ceremony at the solar farm on Monday, September 26. In attendance were local, regional, and state officials, representatives from the project team, and students from Fort Lupton High School, who received a special tour of the facility.

“Pioneering Power” Documentary and Co-op Month Go Hand in Hand

By Mary Peck

For cooperative businesses, October brings more than all things pumpkin and masses of Halloween paraphernalia. October is National Cooperative Month, a 50-year-old tradition and time for co-ops across the country to reflect on their principles and share the value of cooperative membership with others.

This year, it also happens to be the month that the team at Durango-based film production company Inspirit Creative is putting the final touches on “Pioneering Power,” a documentary exploring the birth of electrical power generation in the mountains of southwestern Colorado and the formidable challenges faced by the people who changed history.

Cameraman, Jay Kriss, captures lineman KJ Johnson climbing a pole the way it was done in the early years of the industry.

Cameraman, Jay Kriss, captures lineman KJ Johnson climbing a pole the way it was done in the early years of the industry.

The enthusiasm Executive Producer and Director Jay Kriss of Durango brings to the project and its story of electric power’s western roots is unmistakable. “I find it fascinating that these guys were building wood flumes to shoot water down something that [Nikola] Tesla designed,” he said. “Electricity as we know it started here. No one else can say it. We were the first.”

Immersing himself in his subject is key to the documentary-making process, Kriss explained. When the film industry veteran is seeking a documentary idea, he looks for a major event, individuals to tell about it and a strong archival source to help bring the event to life. Kriss’ award-winning 2012 documentary “Harvesting the High Plains” centers around the story of two men and how their innovative farming practices developed during the Dust Bowl ended up creating one of the nation’s largest wheat-farming operations.

“Documentary films are different; the development process takes some time,” said Kriss. “I spend a lot of time reading and looking at the social implications, particularly in the West.” After a year of planning and research in places like the Washington, D.C., National Archives, Cornell University and the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Kriss and Associate Producer and Co-Director Christina Knickerbocker launched production in August 2015.

The team traveled extensively for months, shooting more than 35 hours of footage at locations that included Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Some original structures and power lines, built mainly to serve a booming mining industry, that are still in use today made the footage and re-enactments especially compelling. “When you think about our history, it’s so new, it’s almost frightening,” Kriss said.

Alex Shelley of SMPA at the Ames Hydroelectric Plant.

Alex Shelley of SMPA at the Ames Hydroelectric Plant.

In Colorado, the film crew trekked to sites like the historic Ames Hydroelectric Plant outside Ophir, Camp Bird Mine near Ouray, Bridal Veil Falls overlooking Telluride, the wooden flumes at Cascade Creek in LaPlata County and the Tacoma Hydroelectric Plant, which is accessible only via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The 80-minute documentary will cover the work of industry heavy-hitters Thomas Alva Edison, George Westinghouse, Tesla and the Nunn brothers; the world’s first commercial alternating current, or AC, power station built in Colorado in 1891; and the monumental change that electric power generation and transmission brought to life in the West. The film’s journey culminates with the authorization of the Rural Electrification Act, which subsequently led to the formation of today’s electric cooperatives.

Not surprisingly, the cooperative spirit played a role in “Pioneering Power.” Interviews, historic photos, archival film and realistic re-enactments are key elements of the project. When Kriss called on San Miguel Power Association for help, the electric co-op, whose service territory includes Silverton, Telluride and Nucla, was quick to answer. “We’re super excited and it’s a story well-worth telling,” said Alex Shelley, communications executive at SMPA. “This can really shine a light on what happened here.”

KJ Johnson and Tom McLeod of SMPA helped create period scenes.

KJ Johnson and Tom McLeod of SMPA helped create period scenes.

Shelley and several SMPA linemen donned 1930s-era clothes to help create authentic period scenes, including one filmed at the Idarado substation perched at an elevation of 11,000 feet on the top of Red Mountain Pass in Ouray County. The substation’s decades-old wood structure, built to power the Idarado Mine, was an ideal stage. “The fun part was going to these old lines we have,” said K.J. Johnson, a journeyman lineman at SMPA. “We have stuff still in use now that was built in 1926.”

Turns out Johnson is a man of many talents. He is also a boot repairman and helped adapt the linemen’s boots to be historically accurate by putting leather soles on them. He did similar work for Quentin Tarantino’s Western movie “The Hateful Eight,” filmed near Telluride in 2015.

“It was fun working with Jay and Christina. He’s shot a lot of films and she knows a lot of the history,” Johnson said. “They were very organized and ran everything by us to make sure it was possible. I’m really excited for the premier.”

Snowshoes have always been part of a mountain lineman's necessary equipment.

Snowshoes have always been part of a mountain lineman’s necessary equipment.

Along with SMPA, the support of HiLine Utility Supply, the Colorado Rural Electric Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Xcel Energy and viewer donations made through Colorado Public Television (CPT12) helped make “Pioneering Power” a reality. In large part, it’s an investment in education.

“Documentaries can be powerful teaching tools,” Kriss said. The project includes a shorter companion film titled “Power Today,” and features discussions with linemen and information on today’s wind, coal, solar and hydroelectric power generation sources. The curriculum will accompany the film as a packet available through the Public Broadcasting Service.

“Pioneering Power” features the diverse talents of 60-75 people overall, an original music score written by composer Rob Pottorf and narration by television host Mike Rowe, best known for his work on the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs.”

It is set to premier in Durango, followed by early showings in other locations that provided assistance. Its television premier will be presented by CPT12 during prime time in upcoming months. It will ultimately be seen nationally on PBS in more than 20 million households, followed by a home DVD release through PBS and will be available later on Amazon, Netflix and other outlets.

Learn more about the project at cpt12.org/local/production-partners/pioneering-power andfacebook.com/pioneeringpower.

Mary Peck is a freelance writer with a history of working with and writing for Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Local Co-op Helps Businessman Go With LEDs

Paul Gelose’s businesses, The Palace Restaurant and the Quiet Lay Tavern in downtown Durango, are now 100 percent LED.

“I’m more ecstatic about lightbulbs than I ever have been in my life,” says Gelose, who celebrates 20 years as owner of The Palace this year. “With all the money I’ve spent in improvements over the years, it’s the new lighting I get the most joy from.”

With more than 7,000 square feet of space, including two dining rooms, the tavern, three kitchen areas, restrooms, an extensive patio and a full basement of nooks and crannies, the lighting solutions spanned the gamut. The retrofit took three years due to availability of products and bottom line costs.

“My first LEDs were the stringer (holiday) lights outside. Then I replaced all my incandescents,” Gelose says. “Next was the fluorescent lighting in my kitchen. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved not going back and forth to the store to get new bulbs – and that doesn’t even consider installation time.”

Project specialist Ray Pierotti, from La Plata Electric Association, the local electric cooperative, says that The Palace kitchen is probably one of the best lit in Durango. The new LED fluorescents already led to increased productivity, enhanced visibility for cleaning and safety, and reduction in air conditioning because LED lights emit little to no heat.

In the dining areas and tavern – which were the last rooms to completely retrofit as decorative lighting is just coming to the market – the light is now uniform, consistent and pleasing for patrons.

Gelose solved previously problematic lighting issues. For example, the stained glass skylight units that require three or four employees to remove the glass just to replace the lights now have LED strip lighting. With a much longer lifespan than incandescents, that laborious task won’t come around again for a long time.

“In 20 years, for the most part, these have never been lit up, so now all these beautiful stained glass skylights can shine at night and last for the next 20 years,” Gelose says.

“With the retrofits, Paul has reduced The Palace’s kW by 5.69,” Pierotti says. “Materials and labor were $7,509, but he received total rebates of $1,422.50, which helps the ROI (return on investment).”

LPEA projects that Gelose’s annual electric bill will be reduced by an estimated $5,000. Gelose adds, “Even if the finances were a wash, I’m happy.”

“It’s money in the bank,” Pierotti says. “It’s ambiance, it’s quality, it’s consistency. It’s great.”

Over the years, LPEA gave more than $750,000 in LED rebates – which come directly from Tri-State Generation and Transmission – to 525 commercial customers who reduced energy consumption by nearly 3 megawatts.