Solar panels on roof

Behind The Meter: How Does At-Home Energy Generation Impact the Grid?

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Since the inception of the Colorado electric co-op program in the 1930s, the traditional path for delivering electricity to co-op members has largely remained the same: Power is generated at a central station power plant, transmitted across high voltage transmission lines, and finally distributed over a local system to end-use customers at their homes and businesses. While the source of the “central station” power varies from state to state, the basic system of generation, transmission and distribution (G,T&D) of electricity has looked the same for decades.

This “G,T&D” model will remain the path for most of the electricity consumed by Colorado’s electric co-op members for years to come; however, more and more co-op members are opting to generate electricity at their premises. They do this by using solar panels on their rooftops or other sources of power that are “behind the meter.” And, as is the case for most renewable energy generation, it’s not always available and fluctuates depending on weather conditions. With that in mind, there are two scenarios at play for a co-op member’s on-premise system: Excess generation and inadequate generation.

If a co-op member’s residential rooftop solar system produces more electricity than they consume, Colorado’s electric co-ops have agreed to — and state law requires them to — “net meter” the energy the co-op receives from member-owned solar arrays. Net metering simply means that when excess electricity is exported to the grid, the co-op member receives kilowatt-hour credits valued at the retail rate. A member of a Colorado electric co-op can reduce the amount of electricity they purchase from the co-op since the solar panels on their rooftops are producing at least some, if not all, of the power they require for their home or business. In this scenario, the co-op member who is generating excess electricity benefits from their use of the co-op distribution system to manage and credit their excess solar energy production.

Unless they are completely off the grid and are generating all the electricity they need, co-op members with rooftop solar systems must still be connected to the co-op’s distribution infrastructure. This ensures the delivery of electricity to their home or business whenever it is required — for example, during a string of cloudy days when their solar panels don’t generate adequate electricity. Electric co-ops have a legal obligation to maintain adequate facilities in order to provide reliable electric service to their members.

It’s true that the need for a co-op to purchase power from a wholesale supplier is decreased when its members generate their own electricity. However, the co-op is still responsible for maintaining a robust distribution system that will serve all the co-op’s members.

This raises an important question for Colorado’s electric co-ops (and other electric utilities): If an electric co-op member benefits from the poles and wires to provide electricity when the rooftop solar panels aren’t sufficient, but that member no longer buys any or as much power from the co-op, should that member be required to pay for the continuing maintenance and replacement costs of those facilities?

As more and more co-op members install solar arrays, the way that co-ops compensate their members for consumer-sited generation may need to be reexamined. With the increase in residential solar systems, co-ops receive less revenue from energy sales, but they continue to have expenses related to maintaining the distribution grid. Co-ops may also need to make new infrastructure investments to enable the storage of excess solar production to help meet peak demands for electricity in the afternoon.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether any changes need to be made to the existing net metering rules from both the perspective of solar installers and electric utilities. As not-for-profit utilities, co-ops aren’t incentivized to make a profit, but they still must meet their payrolls, run their trucks, and invest in system maintenance and improvements. These costs are shared among all co-op members.

Colorado’s electric co-ops go to great lengths to treat all of their members fairly and equitably, and they will continue to do so as they integrate more behind-the-meter, customer-sited renewable energy resources.

 

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op

GCEA Breaks Ground on New Hydroelectric Project

GCEA broke ground for the development of the Taylor River Hydropower plant at the base of the Taylor Park Dam on May 31. The hydropower facility’s nameplate capacity is 500 kilowatts, placing it within the “small hydro” scale. Small hydro powers local communities and contributes to a regional grid. According to GCEA Strategy Execution Specialist Matt Feier, this project could result in the production of 3.9 million kilowatt-hours each year, which is about the same amount of energy as 2,500-kilowatt fixed-tilt solar arrays. The plant will generate enough electricity to power approximately 475 GCEA-served homes every year. GCEA has been working to diversify its supply portfolio by adding environmentally friendly, sustainable resources that are in accordance with the terms and conditions with its wholesale power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. All energy generated at this hydroelectric facility will be distributed to members of GCEA members, making this an exciting new development for the community.

GCEA partnered with the Uncompaghre Valley Water Users Association to bring this project to life, a venture that has been several years in the making. GCEA and UVWUA signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2020 to form a jointly owned entity called Taylor River Hydro LLC to develop, own, and operate the plant. The Taylor Park Dam was originally built to accommodate a hydroelectric generation facility when it was constructed in 1937, though one has never been implemented until now. The dam is owned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation and is operated by the UVWUA; maintenance and operation responsibilities will be handled by GCEA. The hydroelectric facility is expected to operate at full capacity 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year, not including occasional downtime for maintenance and repairs. The Taylor River Hydropower project was originally slated to be finished in late 2023, but now has an expected completion date of mid-February 2024.

Colorado’s electric cooperatives are committed to maintaining reliability and affordable electricity across the state. Click here for more examples of how we are maintaining reliability and affordable electricity

energy-connections-crea-june-2023-lead

Mesa Hotline School: Powering a Field of Dreams

By Amy Higgins, Photography by Joshua Scott Smith –

On May 1, lineworkers from across America gathered in Grand Junction at Mesa Hotline School to strengthen their skills and network with industry professionals.

This was the first of two weeklong training sessions at the esteemed electrical lineworker school and where its latest asset was introduced: a new 26-acre field outfitted with a legion of power poles, underground and above-ground lines, and all the necessary components to create a powerful learning experience.

The Aerial Gloving, Hot Tension Stringing and Hot Sticking II classes are taught at the new 26-acre field at Mesa Hotline School in Grand Junction.

Mesa Hotline School personnel put in countless hours amending the field design plans before coming up with a blueprint of the finished product.

“We built a complete new field between multiple companies,” said Mesa Hotline School Board Assistant Secretary/Treasurer and Holy Cross Energy Glenwood Line Operation Manager James Ray. Several businesses generously donated equipment and manpower to ready the field for the students’ arrival. Essentially, a forest of power poles readied for climbing, testing and inspecting was firmly planted as the centerpiece of this massive real estate.

“I was delighted to see so much of it completed in a short period of time after we began construction,” said Holy Cross Energy President and CEO Bryan Hannegan. “Everyone appreciated the thoughtful and realistic design of the field, which made class instruction efficient and effective.”

THE RIGHT STUFF

Founded in 1966, Mesa Hotline School is a highly accredited lineworker school led by industry experts who teach lineworkers of all aptitudes ways to sharpen their skills and learn the more difficult tasks involved their craft.

Approximately 80 top-notch linework experts from CREA, America’s electric cooperatives and other energy entities donated their time and expertise during the two weeklong programs, and without financial incentive. These partnerships personify the cooperative principle “Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” a characteristic that noticeably branches beyond the cooperative network and toward the entire linework profession.

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City of San Marco linemen AJ Longoria and Sammy Clark teach students how to change out a dead end insulator during the Hot Sticking I class.

“That’s really how our trade works,” explained David Williams, Mesa Hotline School Board President and Operations Superintendent at Mountain View Electric Association’s Limon office. “We depend on each other to bring [students] to the same level that the other guys got to; you’re getting the best of what those companies have to offer.” Students at Mesa Hotline School can register for hot sticking, aerial gloving, hot tension stringing, installations, switching and troubleshooting, or cable testing and fault locating courses. As they learn new techniques, a field safety committee ensures students are employing best practices to secure their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. The course involves two days of in-class instruction, two days in the field, and a banquet where students are lauded for their hard work.

energy-connections-crea-june-2023

Erik Dahl teaches digger derrick best practices in the classroom portion of hotline school.

“That’s the biggest thing about hotline school: the relationships that you’re able to afford,” CREA Job Training and Safety Instructor Curt Graham said. “You always meet new people and learn different ways of doing things, so the network of people and things that you can put together over there is just beyond — it’s just incomprehensible — what you can do.”

While the new field currently offers immense amenities for its students, transmission and an additional substation are in the works to enrich the site.

“I think by the time we’re done it’ll probably be, if not the best, one of the best hotline schools in the nation,” Ray said.

A CLASS OF THEIR OWN

This year, around 600 lineworkers from consumer-owned and publicly-traded utilities and their contractors attended Mesa Hotline School. They advanced their skills learning new techniques and putting those skills into action, such as handling, maneuvering and working on energized conductors; stringing and pulling in new conductor to retire old conductor; troubleshooting cables and circuits; and learning how to locate an underground fault with different types of equipment.

“Nothing is live in the training. We simulate it but we treat it and talk about it just as if it was [energized],” Williams explained.

energy-connections-crea-june-2023-4

Mesa Hotline School Board President David Williams inspects the transformer training station.

America’s electric cooperatives know it takes grit to commit to the electrical linework profession and are keenly aware of the sacrifices that come with the job. “If the weather’s ugly and there’s lightning in the air and snow blowing sideways at 50 miles an hour, we’re out there, and I think it does take a special someone to want to do that,” Williams said.

Electrical lineworkers are in demand and the compensation it provides is substantial and continues to increase as their skills grow.

Mesa Hotline School, its partner companies and various vendors offer tuition assistance for lineworker training. There are approximately 10 $1,500 student scholarships and a $3,000 Mike Dean Memorial post-graduate scholarship. People who want to enter the lineworker profession can apply for these scholarships to attend any accredited lineworker program.

Whether it’s intimidation, uncertainty or time constraints, many people miss out on these financing opportunities simply because they don’t apply. “It always surprises me how few applicants we really get,” Williams said. “I would think we would get hundreds, but we don’t.”

Colorado’s electric cooperatives understand the significance of education and desire lineworkers who commit to furthering their skills and staying on top of the latest techniques and practices throughout their career.

“To me, that is the biggest thing that hotline school is about,” Graham shared. “You can always learn something new no matter how long you’ve been in this business.”


Amy Higgins is a freelance writer who has reported on electric industry topics for more than a decade.

april-2023-energy-connections

Hello Hydropower Energy

By Kylee Coleman

Electricity generated from hydropower tells an interesting story about today’s energy trends that’s deeper than just water flowing over a dam.

It’s a story about a renewable resource that once generated nearly a third of the nation’s electricity — a share that has declined dramatically over the decades with the rise of nuclear power, natural gas, wind and solar.

Although hydropower is less a part of our energy picture than it used to be, it’s still an important part of today’s energy mix. Hydropower projects from Tri-State G&T and Western Area Power Administration, small hydro projects and even micro-hydro projects all work together to help power homes, farms, ranches and businesses in Colorado.

Hydropower works by converting falling water into energy. Historically, Colorado has seen this played out in different applications, such as Crystal Mill, which used a horizontal water turbine to power an air compressor for miners operating machinery and tools in nearby silver mines in the late 1800s. It has also come in the form of large dams built on a river both for flood control as well as to channel the water through large turbines that generate electricity.

According to the United States Department of Energy, hydropower generates roughly 7% of the nation’s electricity — and all but two states receive at least some of their electricity from hydropower.

HYDROPOWER & THE ENVIRONMENT

While flowing water might seem to be an endless energy source, hydropower has a complicated relationship with the environment.

Some question hydro’s claims as a provider of clean energy since the larger projects involve building a huge dam that floods a river valley to create a reservoir. But the Environmental Protection Agency classifies hydro as a renewable resource, and the DOE lists hydroelectricity as the source of 31% of the nation’s renewable electricity.

Recent weather patterns also seem to be redefining what renewable energy means. Hydroelectric generation fell 9% during 2021 because of drought conditions across the country and the West.

HYDRO IS COST-EFFECTIVE

Still, hydro has a lot going for it. It’s one of the cheapest forms of energy, especially after the initial investment costs. Its day-to-day operations don’t produce greenhouse gases. Utility grid operators appreciate its flexibility as a source of electricity that can be turned on and off relatively easily, especially compared with fuels like coal, nuclear, solar and wind.

Those assets have raised interest in adding new hydro projects. Nearly $8 billion has been invested over the past 15 years to add enough capacity to power 1 million homes. While many hydro dams have been around a long time and are ready to be retired, new projects are planned, including modernizing older hydro facilities. DOE reports proposed projects that could generate enough electricity to power yet another 1 million homes.

In addition to upgrading existing sites, the DOE projects that at least 200 “non-powered dams” could have generators added. Out of about 90,000 dams in the U.S., only about 2,200 generate electric power.

Those efforts will be getting a boost from the federal infrastructure law passed in 2021. That measure includes more than $2 billion in hydropower incentives for river restoration and dam rehabilitation.

SMALL HYDRO OFFERS BIG OUTCOMES

“Small hydro” is developed on a scale meant for local communities and industries and mostly contributes to a regional grid. Small hydro projects are defined by the DOE as plants that generate between 100 kilowatts and 10 megawatts.

In Colorado, small hydro can have a large effect on powering communities. Gunnison-based electric co-op GCEA has been working in partnership with the Uncompaghre Valley Water Users Association to install a 500 kW small hydro project at the base of Taylor Park Dam.

A small hydro facility at Taylor Dam is slated to operate at 500 kilowatt nameplate capacity.

Taylor River Hydro, LLC has been pursued as an opportunity to provide cost-effective, locally-generated, carbon-free electricity from an existing resource (the Taylor Park Dam) to the co-op’s consumer-members. “All energy produced at the new hydroelectric facility will be consumed by GCEA members within the co-op’s distribution system,” GCEA Strategy Execution Specialist Matt Feier said.

Taylor River Hydro is designed to operate at or near the 500kW nameplate capacity 24 hours every day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year (minus downtimes for potential repairs and maintenance). Specific fluctuations in power production will be determined by the height of the reservoir at any given time.

“The facility should generate 3,812,733 kWh of electricity per year, on average,” Feier noted. “This is enough energy to power approximately 475 average GCEA-served homes each year.”

Feier explained that the Taylor Park Dam and Taylor Park Reservoir were originally constructed in 1937 for the purposes of agricultural water storage and flood control. The Taylor Park Dam has never incorporated a hydroelectric generation facility, though the dam structure was originally designed to accommodate one.

The dam is owned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation and is operated by the Uncompaghre Valley Water Users Association. UVWUA retains first-fill water rights to water within the Taylor Park Reservoir, and GCEA maintains and operates the electric distribution system that serves the Taylor Park Dam and surrounding areas.

Taylor River Hydro has been working to see the new facility completed and commissioned by December 31, 2023. But the lead time required for a highly specialized, precision valve that needs to be individually manufactured and installed has pushed the completion date to mid-February 2024.

Drought conditions are not expected to impact the generation capacity or function of Taylor River Hydro. “It is designed as a 500 kWh facility, and the Taylor River and Taylor Park Dam/Reservoir can accommodate up to 4 MW of electricity generation during high flows. As such, the new facility is expected to operate at or near full capacity year-round, even in drought conditions,” Feier said.

Hydropower doesn’t always get the attention of flashier advancements like wind and solar technologies, but it’s been around for 2,000 years, since the Greeks used it to turn wheels that ground wheat into flour.

Only the future will tell how much of a role hydro will play, but its time-tested techniques and green energy benefits promise it will still be providing some level of power 2,000 years from now.


Kylee Coleman, editor of Colorado Country Life, writes about issues affecting Colorado’s electric cooperatives and innovations in the electric industry.

Learn about some of Colorado’s past micro hydro projects in this 2017 article.

osprey-crea-mar-2023

Safeguarding Wildlife and the Grid

By Amy Higgins
All photography provided by Rick Harness, EDM

Our nation’s bird populations have been a topic of concern since the early 1900s when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted to control market hunting. As decades passed, additional legislation was added to protect birds from modern-day human conveniences, safeguarding wildlife while also protecting the grid.

This came to the forefront when, in the late 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prosecuted Moon Lake Electric Association for violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the MBTA. Although MLEA is based in Utah, it’s notable that a large portion of their service territory is in Colorado, which is where eagles were found electrocuted.

Cognizant of bird electrocutions on their lines, electric co-ops reached out for guidance. Colorado cooperatives banded together through CREA, their trade association, and contacted utility consulting firm EDM International’s Certified Wildlife Biologist Rick Harness, who stepped in to help develop Avian Protection Plans or APPs. Today, every electric cooperative in Colorado has an Avian Protection Plan. In fact, “[Colorado] was the first state to do a holistic program,” Harness said.

Safeguarding Wildlife: APPs Take Flight

At a consulting firm in Missoula, Montana, Harness first witnessed avian electrocutions from power lines — he would stumble on a dead or injured bird under a power line. Eight years later, he came to Fort Collins to work at a consulting firm and go back to school to earn his master’s degree.

For his master’s work, Harness reached out to rural electric cooperatives, researched their services structures, identified at-risk bird species and recorded how frequently electrocutions occurred. This allowed him to assess the population impacts of power line mortality and came up with recommendations to help protect birds and strengthen the reliability of electric service.

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A golden eagle sits on an unprotected pole, which needs a conductor cover added.

It was around 1997 that the Fish and Wildlife Service decided that distribution lines caused an unacceptable level of bird mortality and that the problem wasn’t going away. Harness’s experience and knowledge earned him a role as a liaison between MLEA and the FWS, and a key role in the development of an early, precedent-setting APP.

Using his thesis work as a guideline, Harness concluded that it wasn’t necessary to retrofit every power pole in a utility’s distribution system. Instead, utilities could identify the poles and habitats that presented the greatest risks and put their dollars there.

“Moon Lake was happy because they didn’t have to do wholesale retrofitting. The Fish and Wildlife Service was happy because we were bringing science into it, and it was a third-party person that was taking responsibility for it,” Harness said.

Soon after, CREA contacted Harness and a statewide effort was proposed to develop a more streamlined process for Colorado electric cooperatives.

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A Ferruginous hawk rests on a 3-phase pole protected with a conductor cover on the center pin.

EDM started at Empire Electric Association in Cortez. Once the report was developed, it was vetted and approved by the FWS; then the rules were applied statewide. It took approximately three years for EDM to inspect all of the Colorado electric cooperatives’ systems and develop APPs.

As word got out about the APP, additional utilities followed suit and contacted EDM, including the Public Service Company of Colorado (Xcel Energy) and the Air Force Academy. “There’s excellent coverage across the state for Avian Protection Plans, and CREA was at the center of that effort,” said EDM Project Manager Duncan Eccleston.

Taking Wildlife Under Wing

To develop an APP, the utility’s current standards, structures and land are analyzed and a report of the consulting firm’s findings and recommendations is presented to the utility. Priority is given to high-risk poles and habitats where electrocutions and/or collisions are most likely to occur.

Recommendations for safeguarding wildlife may include adding insulation, creating additional spacing, if possible, or adding the proper products to existing structures so wildlife can avoid hazardous contacts.

golden-eagle-crea-mar-2023The utility’s APP also includes a reactive program so it can quickly mitigate a problem when it arises and a proactive risk assessment to determine the biggest threats to the system and the surrounding environment, including wildlife.

These recommendations are invaluable and welcomed. After an engaging lineman training visit, SDCEA in Buena Vista was prompted to ask Eccleston to make annual visits going forward.

“The co-op lineman is really the focus because they know more than anybody and they see more than anybody,” Eccleston explained. “They have a lot at stake; they really do care.”

“We know [the APP] is not going to eliminate wildlife interactions, but at least it will minimize the impact,” said Holy Cross Energy VP of Operations Cody O’Neil. The Glenwood Springs electric cooperative used its original APP until around 2008, when it began updating and amending its plan. More changes were made in December 2019 to better align with current best practices.

“We believe that our outage numbers have decreased so our system reliability has increased,” O’Neil said. “We don’t have as many — part of this could be technological advances in some other areas as well — but we don’t have as many unknown outages as we did 20 years ago.”

In 2019, Grand Junction–based Grand Valley Power worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build a nest for a pair of ospreys that claimed a pole in De Beque. Using APP guidelines, GVP linemen installed a new base for their avian members, waited, and then revisited the site to find the ospreys nesting in their new home.

APPs: More than Meets the Eye

“I think one misnomer that unfortunately a lot of folks attribute to avian protection is that it only benefits birds,” O’Neil said. “There are quite a few other critters out there that end up not getting electrocuted because we use these tactics.”

Raccoons. Squirrels. Really, any nonflying animal has added shielding with APPs. APP standards and efforts also help prevent wildfires and wildfire-caused outages while safeguarding wildlife. For example, if a squirrel climbs onto a transformer that’s not up to APP standards, it could get electrocuted, fall to the ground smoldering and cause the grass to ignite.

Eccleston explained, “The other thing that can happen is, even if they don’t fall onto the grass, they could trigger an expulsion fuse — the fuse swings open and it sends out a bunch of molten gas and sparks that could also start a fire.”

Colorado’s electric co-ops cherish wildlife and aim to protect the beautiful outdoors while also maintaining a reliable electric infrastructure for consumer-members.


Amy Higgins is a freelance writer who has reported on issues that affect electric cooperative consumer-members and their surrounding environments for more than a decade.

energy-connections-crea-feb-2023

Electric Books for Kids

By Amy Higgins

Electricity is responsible for our hot morning coffee and daily meals. It keeps us cool under the sizzling sunshine and warm in wintry weather. And in the 21st century, the advancements go several steps further: Electricity delivers news and messages to the palms of our hands, quickly charges our vehicles and tools and stores critical information. And the innovations keep coming. Who knows what the future holds with the power of electricity? Electric books for kids help demonstrate how electricity came to be and how it has grown into the powerhouse it is today.

When we explain to our younger generations how life worked without the instant access we have to electricity today, it can sound like far-fetched fiction. Yet, for some of our older population, life without electricity was indeed the narrative in their youth, particularly for those living in rural communities.

As time goes on, there will be fewer recollections of life without electricity, so recorded accounts are valuable. Colorado Country Life is bringing to light three electric books for kids that will help young readers learn some of America’s history with electricity with the added perk of amusing anecdotes.

Electric Books for Kids: Fiction

year-the-lights-came-on-crea-feb-2023THE YEAR THE LIGHTS CAME ON

By Terry Kay

The boys in the Our Side Gang are befuddled by the big-time clash between them and the Highway 17 Gang, until Colin Wynn, the narrator of the story, gets the skinny from his older brother Wesley.

It’s electricity. “Bingo!” 12-year-old Colin thinks. By golly, electricity must be the source of the social upheaval that overshadows him and his friends — all the folks of the rural Georgia town, in fact.

With their lickety-split lighting-speed, cushy kitchen appliances and fancy farm equipment, electricity brought power (literally and figuratively) and privilege to their neighbors on the other side of Highway 17, while the Our Side Gang and their rural town of Emery was left in the dark. But the Rural Electrification Administration was coming to Emery, and that will change everything. Colin is sure of it.

The Year the Lights Came On by Terry Kay takes readers along for the adventures, skirmishes and difficulties that the Our Side Gang encounters in 1947 and highlights the strength of steadfast friendships through Colin’s narrative. The Highway 17 Gang harbors ill-conceived notions that the Our Side Gang is “less than” simply because they light their homes with candles and oil lamps rather than incandescent lightbulbs and wash their clothes by hand instead of an electric washing machine.

The Year the Lights Came On is a coming-of-age tale with the REA’s arrival to the rural town of Emery thinly veiled in the storyline. Kay’s character development is compelling as he paints pictures throughout the book with great use of the five senses as well as humor. Originally published in 1976, Kay reworked the novel in 2007 to tighten it up and make it “appropriate for any age group.” With the latter in mind, readers should take note that there are terms in the book that may have been typical in the 1940s but are considered offensive in 2023.

wish-upon-a-crawdad-crea-feb-2023WISH UPON A CRAWDAD

By Curtis W. Condon

Ruby Mae Ryan is a feisty 12-year-old girl living on a farm with her family in rural Oregon. The hard-working townspeople in their community created an alliance and have been busy hoisting poles, draping wires and boring holes into the structures of homes and buildings for electrical outlets. They call this group an REA, a rural electric association, and it is owned by the entire town with one goal in mind: to bring electricity to an area where municipal power plants refuse to venture.

Ruby can’t wait. Her best friend Virginia and her friend-turned-nemesis Mary Belle have had electricity in their nearby town for a while now, so Ruby knows what she was missing: a real-life stove, lights that illuminate a whole room, and washing machines that clean clothes immaculately. Ruby has worked earnestly to save money for when the lights come on — several oddball jobs, but none as lucrative as her crawdad-catching business — to buy something particularly special, but she doesn’t want to jinx it by saying it out loud.

In Wish Upon a Crawdad, young readers will take a journey with strong-willed Ruby as she navigates friendships, friction, flubs and ferreting out crawdads — that is, if she can find them before her wish slips away from her grasp. Targeted toward middle schoolers, Wish Upon a Crawdad is a sweet tale of a red-headed spitfire who will stop at nothing to make her wish come true, with many stumbles along the way.

Electric Books for Kids: Historical Rendering

lights-on-crea-feb-2023LIGHTS ON! IKE HOOVER ELECTRIFIES THE WHITE HOUSE

By Cynthia Simmelink Becker
Illustrated by Benjamin Hummel

In 2019, CCL reviewed and wrote about Lights On! Ike Hoover Electrifies the White House, but with its delightful illustrations, elaborate research and industry-appropriate information, it bears repeating.

Lights On! takes young readers through the steps it took for Ike Hoover (not to be confused with President Herbert Hoover) to ready the White House for electric lighting. Throughout the story, Hoover navigates the impressive building though the rafters and walls to install electrical wiring, and along the way builds relationships with the White House staff, including a rapport with President Benjamin Harrison.

The late Cynthia Simmelink Becker (author and Pueblo resident) pulled out all the stops researching and writing this book for young readers. It was important to Becker that she emphasize the fashion, technology and architecture of the era.

The most challenging aspect, she said, was locating real-life representations of the electrical equipment of the late 19th century. After extensive online research and numerous phone calls, she ultimately discovered that one of Edison’s 1890s turbines was on display at the Western
Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs, an invaluable revelation and resource for her book.

Illustrator and native Coloradan Benjamin Hummel revealed the ornate details of the White House and characters with vibrant depictions, and even cleverly concealed his signature bumblebee — an homage to his last name, which translates as “bumblebee” in German — throughout the story. While written for third- to fifth-graders, older bookworms will likewise get a charge out of Lights On!

Electric Vehicles’ Impact on the Grid

By Katherine Loving

Last year saw a record increase in electric vehicle sales, and experts are predicting that many major vehicle manufacturers will only produce electric models by 2035. But what does electric vehicles’ impact on the grid look like?

A 2021 study by the Department of Energy showed that increased electrification, or replacement of direct fossil fuel use with electricity, would account for a 38% increase in electricity demand by 2050 — and EVs will play a major role in this increased electrification.

The need for more electricity will have a major impact on the nation’s grid, which means power supply and grid infrastructure must be carefully planned to accommodate the increased need for electricity.

EV charging presents new challenges in maintaining the electric grid. Fully charging an EV battery requires the same amount of electricity needed to power a home during peak energy use times. However, EV charging is a concentrated pull of energy over an extended period, which can add stress to the local power grid by increasing the amount of electricity a utility has to provide.

Additionally, the neighborhood transformer needs adequate capacity to handle the increased load. EV charging can shorten the life span of transformers by straining and overloading their capacity if they are not matched to a neighborhood’s energy needs.

Electric cooperatives are currently identifying ways to manage this new pattern of electricity use, although exact strategies will vary based on each utility’s unique needs. Analyzing energy load patterns or identifying where and when the local grid has spikes in demand can provide electric co-ops with data on where to place higher-capacity transformers. This analysis can also provide a picture of overall energy use and patterns to help forecast energy consumption for the future.

Planning system maintenance and upgrades are also part of that long-range forecasting; however, this has been recently complicated by supply chain issues for transformers with wait times that are upward of one year.

EV owners can play a role in reducing energy costs and system stress associated with charging. Some electric cooperatives offer a designated EV charging rate that you may want to consider. Typically, an EV rate incentivizes charging during the night, when electricity demand and wholesale energy rates are lower. Check with your electric cooperative to find out if it offers this incentive. Charging at night is also a great way to ease demand in your neighborhood, even without a special EV rate.

Another potential change on the horizon is a new energy peak time. EV drivers who plug in to charge as soon as they return home from work would create even more electricity demand during this busy time of day. But if EV drivers use a timer to schedule charging at night, the electricity demand could be spread over a longer period to reduce stress on the grid. This would be especially beneficial for neighborhoods with multiple EV drivers.

EVs are only expected to increase in number. Electric co-ops and EV owners both have roles to play in accommodating increased demand. If you own an EV, let your electric co-op know so it can better plan energy demand for you and your neighbors.


Katherine Loving writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Bringing Light to Guatemala

By Mona Neeley
Photography by Studio 1441

There will be lights this Christmas in the small, remote village of La Montanita de la Virgen, thanks to electric cooperatives in Colorado and Oklahoma who were tasked with bringing light to Guatemala. And, 16 lineworkers here in the United States will celebrate the holidays with a special appreciation for all they have.

An Electrifying Process

The lights came on for the first time in mid-September in La Montanita in the municipality of San Pedro Pinula. Life is slowly changing as the villagers enjoy the benefits of electricity.

Left to right: Nathaniel Pennell Mountain View Electric Association lineman, Trenton Jole Holy Cross Energy lineman, Clayton Shonk White River Electric Association lineman, Zeb Birch Grand Valley Power lineman

A team of 16 lineworkers, including four from Colorado’s electric co-ops, spent August 29 to September 16 in the rural Guatemalan mountain community building power lines to bring electricity to the area. The men installed 5 miles of primary line, 3.5 miles of secondary line and six transformers to extend the country’s power grid to the remote village. They also wired 81 homes, two churches and the elementary school as part of a project coordinated by NRECA International.

It was grueling work for the lineworkers, who worked without the benefits of their usual bucket trucks and other power tools. Instead, they climbed each pole with their spikes, used block and tackle configurations to lift transformers and heavy spools of wire, pulled that wire by hand across deep valleys and up mountainsides, and generally did their line work the way it was done years ago in the States.

“Bringing electricity to remote areas in developing countries takes electric cooperatives back to their roots,” noted CREA Executive Director Kent Singer. Being part of a project like this helps lineworkers appreciate where Colorado’s electric co-ops got their start, with neighbor helping neighbor to set those first poles and string the first wires.

That was how it was in Guatemala, too. The villagers were invested in this project and provided assistance where they could.

It Takes a Village

La Montanita is a remote mountain community of about 560 people located off a gravel road and up a dirt trail. Homes are spread throughout a large area that surrounds the school, church and dirt soccer field at the center of the community. Much more like homes spread out through Colorado’s rural co-op territories than a town with streets and nearby neighbors, the community, brought its people together to help the American lineworkers complete this project.

Lineworkers use pulleys and brute strength to unload a spool of wire.

Prior to the Colorado-Oklahoma team arriving, men in the village installed the power poles and anchors outside of homes after working together to carry the poles to each site and dig the holes. Then, when the Americans arrived, the men, young and old, took turns helping wherever they could.

They climbed trees, carried equipment and helped pull line, especially when it had to go up a mountainside. There was one long span across a deep, wide river valley, remembered project leader Damon Lester, an Oklahoma lineman. The American team expected it to take most of the day to get the line from one side to the other. It took 45 minutes, Lester noted with a wry smile.

Once the team was set on one side of the chasm and the wire was ready, villagers took off with the heavy line. They were down one side, across the small river and up the other side to the pole the team had ready on the other side, Lester explained. It took no time at all.

Villagers help the team pull wire through forested terrain.

That’s how the villagers were, said Trenton Jole, a lineman from Holy Cross Energy headquartered in Glenwood Springs. They would take turns helping the Americans in between working in their small corn fields on the sides of the mountains since it was planting time. They would hand plant a field and then show up the next day to help on the electrification project.

An Experience Worth Remembering

Grand Valley Power lineman Zeb Birch remembers an older man who was on the village council. He was there to help the team even though he didn’t have the equipment or, even any good shoes. “His shoes were completely blown open,” Birch said.

The inside of a typical village home.

Many of the younger men had backpacks to carry tools, rope and other supplies, but this older man didn’t have that either. He had an old sack that he used for carrying sand. It had been repaired and a handle rigged on it so he could carry whatever he needed — he was there to help bring electricity to his village.

Most of the homes in the village also didn’t have much. The linemen who wired the homes saw inside those homes. They saw how the kids did their homework by candlelight, how the people made do with what they had.

The homes were mostly built with adobe with tin roofs. Some had dirt floors. Some kitchens were a covered area on the side of the house. Other homes were simply a large room with sleeping hammocks at one end and the kitchen with its fire and workspace at the other end. But the people had pride in what they have. Their kids were clean, their clothes washed on stones at the river that runs through the community.

Celebrating the Gift of Light

Each of those homes received four lightbulbs, two light switches and two electrical outlets. Each homeowner chose where those were placed.

Lineworkers, government officials and villagers celebrate the lights coming on at the school in La Montanita de la Virgen, Guatemala.

It’s not much, but these people are resilient. They have built a life for themselves in a place with no running water and, up until now, no electricity.

They are grateful that electricity has now come to their community. “We thank God and the Americans for the gift of electricity,” said Roberto Ramirez Guerra, the mayor of San Pedro Pinula. He has been working with NRECA International, the philanthropic arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, since 2019 to bring electricity to this village. The pandemic stalled that progress until this year.

He led the celebration on Tuesday, September 13, when all of the villagers turned out to thank the lineworkers who brought light and electricity to their community. There was dancing, songs, poems and speeches as the villagers thanked the Americans for coming to Guatemala and working so hard for three weeks.

It was a bittersweet time for the lineworkers. They were ready to go home to their families, but they were leaving pieces of themselves behind in a community where they had established deep ties in a short amount of time.

“It was a privilege to use the line work trade to make a positive difference in the lives of the people of La Montanita. Their simplicity, joy and friendship were truly a gift,” said Clayton Shonk of White River Electric in Meeker.

“They can be so happy with so little,” added Nathaniel Pennell of Mountain View Electric, headquartered in Limon.

“We planted a seed that will be harvested for years and years. It’s not going to become a big plant by tomorrow, but it will continue to grow and bear fruit with time,” Lester said. “The elders see it as a convenience. The younger ones see it as opportunity for economic development.”

Access to electricity will enable growth in education, security, health care, economic prosperity and, overall, a better quality of life.

This Christmas, the lights will be on in the village of La Montanita de la Virgen, thanks to the Colorado and Oklahoma lineworkers who gave of themselves.

“We all believe in giving and doing what it takes,” said Birch, speaking for the entire American team, “yet, I didn’t give a tenth of what I got out of it.”

Editor Mona Neeley, traveling with the leadership team, was in La Montanita when the lights came on in the school.

supply-and-demand-ccl-nov-2022

Significance of Supply and Demand at Co-ops

By Kylee Coleman

Supply and demand. It’s not a new concept. It’s our collective way as a society of finding balance for goods and services, such as that piping hot cup of joe from your favorite java drive-thru on a subzero Colorado morning. They supply the steaming paper cup full of roasted, ground, filtered and brewed beans. And most mornings, let’s face it: we demand (and sometimes need) the caffeination.

Finding equilibrium is always a goal when it comes to supply and demand. The larger coffee chains presumably work to source just the right amount of beans to keep the coffee flowing. If they receive an abundance of beans for seasonal pumpkin spice lattes, the company’s supply gets out of whack; the beans may perish before they get used or there’s a risk of not having adequate storage space for the supply.

Through a network of landowners, growers, vendors, importers-exporters, roasters and more, coffee chains source coffee beans to fulfill their supply and meet their demand — the strategy for future needs and sales is likely on point. But if just one of these links in the supply chain breaks, it could throw off the whole operation and then the opposite happens: not enough beans. What then? You can forget that Friday date with your standing order of a grande, hot Americano with cream.

What’s assumed in this example, is that your coffee chain has the adequate resources — beans — to maintain its role in our caffeine cravings.

Supply, demand and the grid

This coffee supply-demand example is admittedly elementary. Is it that straightforward when it comes to our electricity supply and the grid of the future? Short answer: No. So what does “supply and demand” have to do with your electric cooperative?

Clearly, the electric grid and electricity distribution are much more complex and important than a fondness for a Friday cup of coffee. “At every moment, electric utilities and grid operators match the supply of power to the load demands of consumers, but there are many other dynamics to consider,” Tri-State G&T CEO Duane Highley said. “Utilities need to be flexible with generation resources so that they can reliably serve loads.”

Electricity is seemingly simple and predictable at this point, right? We flip a switch and hit a button on the remote — the lights turn on and the TV powers up. That’s the reliability we’ve come to expect and depend on.

We don’t give it much thought because, even with significant changes to the grid and technological advancements over the last 70 to 80 years, Colorado’s electric cooperatives have done a remarkable job at keeping our time in the dark at a minimum.

But there is so much more behind-the-scenes action that powers your life.

Demands of evolving energy alternatives

Colorado is in the midst of a clean energy transition. In 2019, the state legislature passed laws that set Colorado’s decarbonization goals. The state is moving away from coal-generated electricity and there is a major shift happening both in Colorado and across the country.

What may not be readily apparent to many consumers is, with these decarbonization efforts and the shift from fossil fuel energy sources, demand for electricity will grow — and continue to do so.

Consider, for example, charging your electric vehicle at home, using an air-source heat pump for home heating, or cooking on an electric induction cooktop. This surge of electricity use has led to increased consumer concern about the adequacy of electric resources to meet demand. Consumers are using more electricity, yet coal power plants are closing and being replaced with variable energy resources, such as wind and solar.

Even with these changes, outstanding reliability remains a core competency and primary goal of Colorado’s electric cooperatives and Tri-State G&T, the power supplier that serves the majority of the state’s electric cooperatives.

“The first job for Colorado’s electric co-ops is to keep power flowing to co-op consumer-members day and night, in good weather and bad,” CREA Executive Director Kent Singer wrote in a June 2022 column in Colorado Country Life magazine. “The energy transition that’s happening in Colorado adds yet another layer of complexity to the task of providing reliable, affordable electric service.”

The question your electric co-op is asking itself is: How will we maintain the reliability we are so good at providing if there’s a less-consistent supply from potentially variable generation resources such as wind and solar?

Resource adequacy explained

“Resource adequacy” is defined as the ability to provide reliable electric service at times of high demand or having enough capacity to meet customer needs under any scenario.

This means not only having sufficient supply to meet expected energy requirements, but also a reserve margin to account for potential situations that might impact the availability of resources. For example, more power might be needed when a long cold spell requires more heat for homes and businesses.

Situations like this not only affect our ability to light our kitchen, cook a meal and run the dishwasher at the end of the day, they also have the potential to impact the overall resiliency of the grid. That said, “resource adequacy” is closely tied to “grid resilience.”

“Grid resilience is not a new term for the utility industry as it’s what we strive for at Tri-State every day,” Highley stated. “But the way we approach grid resilience is changing.

“As we transition to cleaner energy,” Highley continued, “Tri-State recognizes the importance of establishing a regional transmission organization (RTO) in the West to access a larger pool of generation resources that enhances system resiliency. And we’ve been promoting timely participation in RTOs for years in order to meet the state’s and our members’ clean energy goals.”

The resource mix that utilities rely on to serve customer load includes increasing amounts of variable generation, such as wind, solar and emerging technologies. “Maintaining and enhancing the resilience of the grid requires continuous forecasting, planning, monitoring, testing and coordination,” Tri-State’s Vice President Planning and Analytics Lisa Tiffin said. “A changing resource mix, with increased renewable energy resources, adds new complexities that utilities are demonstrating can be well-managed to ensure reliability.”

With the increased use of wind and solar resources, emerging battery storage technology also has a role in resource adequacy. “When the output of renewable resources exceeds the immediate need for power, excess energy can be saved in batteries to provide power during periods of high demand or when there is decreased output from renewable resources,” Tiffin explained. “Battery storage has limitations due to efficiency, storage and charging hours and is not a single solution to resource adequacy and a resilient grid but is part of the overall solution in a transitioning grid.”

Reliability powering the clean energy transition

“Electric co-ops understand that electricity is the lifeblood of the West, and that electric system reliability is our first priority,” Highley said. “As a cooperative power supplier, Tri-State has risen to meet the challenges of resource adequacy and grid resiliency for decades, delivering reliable power to our members.

“As we move through our clean energy transition, our commitment to reliability is unwavering,” he continued. “Ensuring proper resource adequacy and grid resiliency helps ensure reliability, and we are working with our member co-ops, grid operators, stakeholders and regulators so that we can always keep the lights on.”

Just as our favorite coffee drive-thru needs the right amount of beans to keep its business booming and to keep us energized, Colorado’s electric distribution network needs the right amount and the right resources of power generation to produce the supply consumers have come to rely on and trust.

Through innovation, employing forward-thinking leaders, and setting and exceeding their own clean energy goals, Colorado’s electric co-ops are finding ways to keep resource adequacy, reliability and resiliency at the forefront of the conversation regarding Colorado’s clean energy transition. Not only that, your electric co-op is doing a remarkable job powering your way of life.

As Singer said, “Electric co-ops are confident that they can meet this challenge like they have met every other challenge for the past 80 years.”


Kylee Coleman researches and writes about topics affecting Colorado’s electric cooperatives and how your electric co-op innovatively approaches a rapidly changing industry.

For a deeper look into resource adequacy in Colorado and an analysis of potential legislation, visit crea.coop/crea-whitepapers.