Read Colorado Country Life magazine Energy Connections stories. Explore more of the magazine, visit www.coloradocountrylife.coop.

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.

energy-connections-crea-october-2022

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

Working together ensures phones are always answered
By Sarah Smith

Your local electric cooperative may be a relatively small utility, but its services are those you would expect from a much larger company. That is only possible because your co-op works with other small cooperatives to provide much more than it could by itself. We call it cooperation among cooperatives.

National Cooperative Month

October, which is National Cooperative Month, is a great time to look at how standing together and pooling resources can help local co-ops do their job better, more efficiently and more cost-effectively. It’s a time to celebrate cooperation among cooperatives (one of all co-ops’ seven guiding principles).

Handling after-hours outage calls and storm calls is one area where Colorado’s electric co-ops work together to make sure their consumer-members always have someone answering the phone. Many of the co-ops work with cooperative organizations such as Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Security and Response Services (SRS) and the Cooperative Response Center (CRC) to meet this need.

SRS is offered by Basin Electric, a generation and transmission cooperative, and provides 24/7 dispatchers who add that local touch, answering calls with the specific cooperative’s name. Consumers are pleasantly surprised to hear a friendly voice when they call — even late at night or on weekends.

“It is extremely important for customers to experience the same satisfaction and care while using the after-hours line that they receive during the day,” said Jolene Johnson, SRS dispatch manager for Basin Electric. “We currently provide services for 86 co-ops in 12 different states. However, our main goal and primary focus is the safety of our lineman. Our customer service is a very high second, but SRS is here to ensure that the lineman is safe, from the time an outage is reported until the lineman is back home with their family.”

Co-ops Utilizing SRS Service

Currently, SRS provides service to seven of CREA’s electric cooperatives: San Isabel Electric in Pueblo West, Southeast Colorado Power in La Junta, SDCEA in Buena Vista, K.C. Electric in Hugo, Y-W Electric in Akron, White River Electric in Meeker, and Mountain Parks Electric in Granby.

basin-electric-srs-october-2022

Basin Electric SRS dispatcher Taylor Fideldy.

This year, SIEA experienced big storms, causing after-hours outages. SRS eased the impact on SIEA’s member services, linemen and dispatch teams during those critical times for the co-op and its consumer-members.

“SRS is really great to work with in every capacity,” said Candace Alfonso, a dispatcher at SIEA. “They are always willing to meet my needs and consistently value all feedback. Over the last six to12 months, we have experienced some major storms that caused outages overnight or landed on the weekend when I was not available, and SRS rarely needed my assistance. I appreciate all their hard work and dedication. They don’t have all the resources that I have, but they do the best they can with what they do have.

“All their dispatchers are very friendly and provide great customer service to SIEA’s members. They are supposed to represent us as much as possible, and I think they do an excellent job. Not only do they do exemplary work with outages, but they also answer all outage calls and take a ton of hazard calls. We are a great team and I love working with them,” Alfonso added.

Co-ops Utilizing CRC Service

CRC is another service-based organization that is an important tool for a handful of CREA’s electric cooperatives. Among the co-ops that use CRC services are Empire Electric in Cortez, Morgan County Rural Electric in Fort Morgan, Poudre Valley Rural Electric in Fort Collins, San Luis Valley Rural Electric in Monte Vista, and Yampa Valley Electric in Steamboat Springs.

basin-electric-dispatch-october-2022

Basin Electric’s Jolene Johnson, dispatch manager, and Seth Neer, lead service dispatcher.

CRC offers customer contact, a dispatch center and a central station alarm-monitoring service for electric utilities, which ensures their members’ need for reliable service is met, any time of day or night.

MCREA uses the after-hours call service center offered by CRC and appreciates that a co-op of its size has its phone lines answered 24/7. Occasionally, MCREA also leverages CRC’s services during normal business hours if a larger outage occurs. This frees the phone lines for employees who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the onslaught of call volume because of the outages.

“CRC is very quick to get in touch with our operations department when an issue on our system is reported by a community member. They text our on-call employees with after-hours outage information very quickly, allowing them to mobilize without delay. In addition, CRC conducts text message safety checks on MCREA’s employees when they are in the field performing after-hours restoration work,” said Rob Baranowski, MCREA’s manager of member services

“And CRC’s help doesn’t stop at outage calls. For example, we asked them to provide a dial-back number for this year’s annual meeting, which was held by phone. That way, any members who noticed a missed call from MCREA during our initial evening callout were given the live callback number by a CRC operator when they returned MCREA’s missed call,” Baranowski said.

Ken Tarr of EEA in Cortez agrees. “CRC is a blessing to our system operators during outage situations — especially large-scale ones — when they handle all the incoming calls. Our system operators are able to focus on getting power restored as well as the safety of our linemen in the field,” he said.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives in Action

Grand Valley Power in Grand Junction and Delta-Montrose Electric in Montrose also demonstrate cooperation among cooperatives on a smaller, but just as significant, scale. GVP and DMEA are close in proximity, with just about 60 miles between the two cooperatives; both serve the far western side of the state. GVP utilizes DMEA’s after-hours line, and occasionally, if all GVP’s employees are out at a training, they can also forward calls to DMEA’s call service.

Whether it’s at 10 p.m. during an unexpected power outage or on a Sunday afternoon when a blizzard hits, electric cooperatives rest easy knowing their members are still getting the immediate help they need when they call, whether it’s from SRS, CRC or even a neighboring co-op.

Cooperation among cooperatives is an integral component to running a successful organization, where its customers feel valued, heard and, most importantly, safe.


Sarah Smith, a former CREA employee, writes freelance articles on Colorado’s electric industry.

utility-drones-at-electric-cop-ops

Utility Drones at Electric Co-ops

Co-ops ready for utility drones to expand their reach

By Reed Karaim and Mona Neeley

Imagine a drone flight at an electric cooperative in the not-too-distant future. Cool technologies, including utility drones at electric co-ops, are legitimately part of the conversation.

No longer limited to staying within the line of sight of its on-the-ground operator, it travels much, much farther down the power lines, using an array of visual, thermal and LIDAR sensors, which use lasers, to accomplish miles of inspection in a single flight.

Flying higher than today’s drones with an optical sensor on board, this future drone scans the sky for dangers, busily feeding data to an onboard artificial-intelligence-powered computer, which is linked to the flight computer. Sensing a private plane in its airspace, the drone automatically executes an avoidance maneuver, dropping rapidly in altitude and banking to avoid any chance of collision.

Miles away, at a control station, the co-op’s drone pilot sees the maneuver and could take control if necessary. But knowing the drone is designed to adjust its flight path more quickly than humanly possible, the pilot decides to allow the unmanned vehicle to fly itself to safety.

Danger averted, the drone resumes its mission down 50 miles of line or more, saving the cooperative untold hours of physical inspection by ground or helicopter.

“There is no question that that (beyond-line-of-sight rules) will have a huge impact on how we’re able to use and grow this technology,” said Bill Havonec, GIS lead for Sangre de Cristo Electric in Buena Vista, in an interview with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s RE Magazine.

This future is already here for a small number of electric utilities that have received Federal Aviation Administration waivers allowing beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights. But utility drones at electric co-ops is coming for more organizations as the FAA moves toward issuing regulations that could make BVLOS operations typical for those that meet the requirements.

An FAA advisory committee published recommendations establishing a roadmap to meet that goal, which could arrive within the next couple of years. The proposed changes also would give expanded right-of-way access and airspace rights to BVLOS drones that meet standards for avoidance and control capabilities.

“This is a huge deal,” said Stan McHann, senior research engineer and chief drone pilot for NRECA. “You’re going to see a massive improvement in what you can get done in a day.”
Josh Dellinger, general manager of Empire Electric Association in Cortez, agrees. The additional distance that drones will be able to fly will be especially valuable in hard-to-reach places. “We have quite a bit of that where lines go through areas adjacent to the road or forest service or BLM land,” he says.

“A trainload of data”
BVLOS is a key part of an evolution in drone capabilities that could transform inspection and maintenance for electric utilities in the coming years. McHann also foresees smaller drones strategically placed throughout a distribution system, able to respond to a SCADA event by taking to the air and quickly checking a trouble spot, sending images and other data back to operations, and giving the co-op a clearer idea of what is going on and what response is needed before sending a crew.

Expanded use of drones will help co-ops inspect power lines in hard to reach places.

As utility drones at electric co-ops become commonplace in co-op fleets, other innovative uses are likely to surface. Even with today’s limitations on flight range, drones are being used by co-ops for regular inspections, vegetation management, placing bird diverters on lines and pulling lead lines across rugged terrain to run new transmission lines.

“At SDCEA, we’re discovering a variety of uses for drone technology. It started with inspections and getting data into the GIS/ mapping and work order systems,” said Havonec.
“In addition to our routine maintenance inspections, we’re prioritizing flight plans with historical outage data and using that as a tool for system improvement,” he said. “Additionally, we’re inspecting new construction rights-of-way and vegetation management areas for inventory, monitoring and quality assurance.”

“Colorado’s co-ops each have between 1,000 and 10,000 miles of line to cover,” said Curt Graham, a job training and safety instructor with CREA who visits many of those co-ops regularly. “When you can get an uncrewed aircraft doing line inspection for you, looking at things on a schedule and reliable enough where you don’t need to have an operator actively supervising it all the time — that’s got real potential,” he said. “And it’s coming.”

Advanced sensors will provide a new level of granular detail on the condition of system hardware. Infrared sensors, for example, can look for hot or arcing connections, transformers and other components, spotting current or future problems hidden from the human eye.

Taking full advantage of these capabilities will require the ability to effectively manage the data they can provide.

“Software is key here,” McHann noted. “One flight will create a trainload of data, and it’s essential that you be able to process it and see that it’s integrated into your system in ways that get the information where you need it.”

NRECA is already working with local electric co-ops on flight management and data analysis software integration.

Training and certification
BVLOS will require a new level of training and certification for drone operators. Today, a Level 107 certification from the FAA, which entails passing a written test, is all that is necessary for basic, within-visual-line-of-sight drone operations at a co-op or other electric utility.

The FAA advisory committee’s recommendations include a new pilot certification for BVLOS flight, although physical piloting skills combined with aviation safety best practices will remain important.

The human factor
Operating today with a drone and operator out in the field, McHann said, a co-op can cover to 80 to 120 assets a day, maybe only 70 to 80 in rougher terrain. Taking advantage of the longer range, flying time and speed at which BVLOS drones can operate, a greater-than-tenfold increase becomes possible, with a drone able to cover nearly 1,400 assets in a day.

“Your SAIDI-CAIDI (outage measurement) numbers are going to come down. That’s real money,” McHann noted.

“And as the price of the cameras and sensors and other equipment come down as well, it will effectively bring everyone into this space,” said Havonec.

While the newest hardware often gets the most attention, the unmanned vehicle technology is just a piece of the program. The parts that really tie everything together will be the training and regulatory requirements necessary to fly the drone.

Meeting those standards to take full advantage of BVLOS and other advancements down the road will be essential to economically meeting the demands of maintaining the grid, according to co-op managers.

The rewards will be increased efficiency, system reliability and personnel safety through reducing hazardous tasks such as pole climbing, and these can outweigh the costs.


Reed Karaim writes on rural cooperative news for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Mona Neeley is editor of Colorado Country Life magazine.

Charging Ahead in Colorado

Coaches, new funding, bring EVs, charging stations to rural areas

By Laurie E. Dickson

You may have heard the buzz about electric vehicles and charging stations in Colorado. Maybe you have seen charging stations at your corner store, the local electric co-op or your workplace. Charging stations and EVs are becoming more common, popping up all around the state.

There is an ongoing effort across Colorado to reduce emissions and provide options for clean transportation. In 2019, Colorado became the first state in the central U.S. to adopt Zero Emission Vehicle standards for cars and trucks, ensuring a reduction in harmful emissions and providing economic benefits for its citizens. Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order supporting a transition to zero emissions and accelerating the electrification of cars, buses, trucks and other vehicles with a goal of achieving 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030.

What’s being done to increase the adoption of EVs and meet the goals in Colorado? One way is through the ReCharge Colorado program, started in 2014 through the Colorado Energy Office.

The original goal was to encourage alternative and clean transportation. ReCharge Colorado has evolved to be the program that advances the adoption of EVs and installation of charging infrastructure across the state.

“The state of Colorado has set ambitious goals for EVs,” says Matt Mines, senior program manager in transportation fuels and technology at the Colorado Energy Office.

“ReCharge Colorado coaches provide a critical link to local communities to connect our EV programs with local needs,” he notes. “Direct education and outreach, such as that provided by the ReCharge coaches, are a crucial aspect to ensuring the benefits of transportation electrification are understood and materialize throughout the state.”

There are five ReCharge regions in the state, each with a ReCharge coach who provides free, impartial advice; EV education; offers community workshops and grant writing assistance; promotes EV adoption through group buys; and supports auto dealerships with education and opportunities. Every county in the state is represented by a ReCharge coach.

Coaches know their territories and can provide the best solutions for the communities where they serve. By working with Colorado communities, ReCharge coaches help create an ecosystem of broad support along with the education necessary for a successful transition to EVs.

“Working as a ReCharge coach allows me to better get to know the communities where I live and play — and to talk to local business owners, employers, and property managers about how they can provide a public benefit in the form of EV charging stations,” says Sonja Meintsma, the ReCharge coach for Denver Metro Clean Cities and the Colorado Springs region.

“As Colorado’s EV ownership grows and we work toward reaching the statewide goal of getting 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030, access to public chargers across the state, including in rural, underserved and high emission areas, will be essential. As a coach, I feel I am making a tangible impact on our state’s ability to improve local air quality, reduce climate-altering emissions, and meet the needs of EV drivers in the state,” she adds.

ReCharge coaches provide consultation for interested businesses and communities regarding the design and technical requirements needed to install charging stations. For example, is the location best suited for Level 2 charging stations or a faster DC Fast Charger? Is there electrical service available at the location and is it sufficient to power an EV charging station? It’s the job of the coaches to know the incentives, federal and state tax credits, as well as the utility member co-op rebates available in their territories that can offset costs.

Kathy Woods, director of economic development for the city of Alamosa, comments, “I’ve had several opportunities to work with our ReCharge coach. From answering questions, to assessing feasibility, to celebrating with us upon completion of projects, the coach is right by your side and very helpful. ReCharge coaches are great partners.”

There is a concerted effort across the state’s ReCharge regions to increase the charging infrastructure along all major highways and byways. Electrifying Colorado’s Scenic Byways is a goal the ReCharge coaches work to attain. There are 26 Scenic and Historic Byways in the state. Electrified Byway designation guarantees that when you drive on our mountain highways, you can make the journey without worrying about the next charging station location.

By now, we’ve all heard about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed in November 2021. The bill includes funding at the federal and state levels for EVs and the charging infrastructure needed to support EV deployment. State and local governments will benefit from $7.7 billion dedicated to the deployment of EVs and related infrastructure.

The bill also dedicated $12.7 billion to the deployment of all types of clean vehicles and fueling infrastructure, including EVs and charging infrastructure and $10.3 billion for grid and battery-related investments.

With gas prices soaring and funding support for investing in EV technology, it’s a great time to invest in the charging infrastructure that makes driving EVs everywhere in Colorado feasible. A ReCharge coach can recommend options for any local community or business and connect you to funding opportunities as you make the transition to zero emission vehicles and the new energy economy.


Laurie Dickson is the executive director of the nonprofit, 4CORE (Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency) and the ReCharge coach for southern Colorado. Visit energyoffice.colorado.gov/zeroemission-vehicles/recharge-colorado to learn more about ReCharge Colorado.

Electric Supply Co-ops Provide Supply Chain Solutions

By Derrill Holly and Kylee Coleman

Keeping essential parts flowing is getting more challenging and expensive for Colorado’s distribution cooperatives pursuing their seasonal workplans or rebuilding their systems after major outages. But logistics and supply co-ops in Colorado and across the United States are finding creative solutions to help control costs and meet demand, even as they warn that stability in the supply chain could be many months away.

A WUE employee unloads recently delivered products in the co-op’s warehouse.

“The supply chain supporting the electric utility industry has been put to the test over the past 24 months with an array of events,” Brighton-based Western United Electric Supply CEO Greg Mordini said. WUE, owned by electric cooperatives, serves co-ops in the states of Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

WUE is one of nine members of the Electric Utility Distribution Association. EUDA members are noting shortages of key items such as transformers, conductors, sectionalized three-phase cabinets used on distribution systems and meter sockets required to install new service.

Fort Morgan-based electric cooperative Morgan County Rural Electric Association has been feeling the increasing impacts of supply chain issues.

“Two of the most challenging products to get are currently meter sockets and transformers, many of which are over a year out on delivery,” MCREA Manager of Member Services Rob Baranowski said. “Also, some of the materials used to connect lines and equipment, and also secure lines to poles have become completely unavailable.”

The current transformer shortage is perpetuated by inadequate global manufacturing capacity and stalled delivery of raw materials. Mordini noted that steel used in transformer cores has limited annual production. Overhead and underground conductor producers initially had product available but were unable to ship due to shortages in wood and the reels they use to transport the supplies. “Furthermore, the February 2021 freeze and power grid failure in Texas paralyzed the plastics market and triggered a global shortage,” Mordini said.

Despite challenges, the yard at WUE in Brighton is filled with inventory for its member electric co-ops.

However, proactive measures by WUE have helped provide its member cooperatives with good equipment and supply levels during these challenging times. Beginning in early 2020, WUE made a conscious effort to increase inventory and, even with the supply chain disruptions, has grown inventory by 55% as of this past February.

Distribution co-ops planned ahead, too. MCREA’s pole yard is currently fully stocked. “Just as WUE has increased inventory over the last year and a half, MCREA has been ordering ahead and increasing inventory ever since shortages were first noticed,” Baranowski reported. “This keeps the co-op’s material inventory up and the co-op remains ready to meet any rebuilding demands.”

Across the country, other EUDA members responded similarly to the way WUE did to supply challenges by broadening their vendor bases, turning to more manufacturers and encouraging others to expand their product lines. “We are getting letters from manufacturers and their representatives about lead time extensions, price increases, shipping delays and production curtailments,” said Bret Curry, manager of sales for Little Rock-based Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.

AECI is another member of EUDA noting spot shortages of key items such as transformers, fiberglass cross arms and three-phase cabinets and meter sockets.

“You wouldn’t think that something so simple as a piece of bent metal with a socket to hold a meter would be that difficult [to locate], but there is definitely a shortage of those,” Curry said. “Challenges to this industry right now certainly give opportunities for those that are creative to get in the game.”

A WUE truck picks up a trailer filled with spools of conductor bound for a co-op.

WUE chose to curtail sales to new customers and reserve material for its historical customer base. “Many of our manufacturing partners have followed suit, working only with established clients,” Mordini said. “This has led to a normalization in our market, not due to production increases or decreased demand, but rather manufacturers and distributors being focused on their core business partners.”

Current supply chain problems across the electric industry as a whole are the worst many industry veterans have seen in their careers. They compare them to temporary disruptions from previous major weather events that produced widespread damage across multiple regions.

Despite these challenges, creative solutions and product substitutions can help electric distribution co-ops maintain, build and expand their systems, Baranowski said, “For projects where meter socket orders would create delays, crews now often install underground wire to a ground-mounted meter pedestal.” He explained that’s not the only thing the co-op has recently modified. “We have also received requests for design changes allowing co-op consumer-members to buy their own transformer.”

While EUDA members don’t think supply and delivery challenges will last forever, most agree that is for the foreseeable future, continued planning may help co-op limit disruptions to their members. “MCREA consumer-members have remained understanding during these supply-chain challenges,” Baranowski said. “Our engineering department communicates directly with members requesting new services about expected project time frames, current delays and potential material substitutions.”

“Western United’s strong partnership with manufacturers throughout the industry and our commitment to placing the highest priority on our membership ensures we are in the best position to support our cooperative members throughout this challenging period,” Mordini concluded.


Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. Kylee Coleman is the Editorial/Administrative Assistant for Colorado Country Life magazine and writes about Colorado electric co-op news for CREA.

Innovation at the Electric Meter

From turtles to AMI, electric co-ops lead the way

By Paul Wesslund and Amy Higgins

An amazing gizmo hiding in plain sight just outside your home is innovating your electric service with quicker responses to power outages and more effective use of renewable energy sources. It’s your electric meter, your digitally advanced meter.

Advanced meters make up more than half the electric meters in the country, and electric cooperatives are leading the way. A total of 73% of co-op consumer-members nationwide are using advanced meters compared to only 58% of utility customers in general. In Colorado, 100% of the state’s 22 electric distribution co-ops utilize advanced meters and have for years.

Southeast Colorado Power Association, headquartered in La Junta, has been using automated meter reading for roughly 20 years. Those first meters seem somewhat archaic when you compare them to today’s meters. Nicknamed “turtles” for their super- slow readings — 27 hours, according to SECPA CEO Kevin Brandon — turtles were still a step up for electric co-ops at the time because they limited the number of trips needed to physically obtain readings.

“When Empire Electric Association switched to AMI [advanced metering infrastructure] meters in 2018, I was surprised at the number of calls we received concerning what will happen to our meter readers,” says EEA Member Engagement Manager Andy Carter. “EEA [based in Cortez] had been using an automated meter-reading system since the late 1990s, the last time we employed people to walk/drive around and read meters by looking at the dials.”

Two features make advanced meters different. One is the ability to monitor energy use with the kind of detail that can give both the co-op and its members information to make more efficient use of electricity. The other is the ability to instantly send information back to the co-op either through low-power radio signals or through power lines.

Those two capabilities have created entirely new ways to improve your electric service:

• Outages can be detected and repaired faster. Advanced meters can let the co-op know of an interruption, pinpointing the location, without waiting for someone to report it. This is especially beneficial to electric cooperatives based in rural areas with larger swaths of land and hard-to-reach meters. “SECPA’s system collects 15-minute interval data on all meters, and you can do on-demand reads for things like kWh (kilowatt-hours), voltage, current, power factor, and other values, and have those reads within just a few seconds,” Brandon explains. “This system also allows us to remotely connect and disconnect meters, which saves on truck rolls. The meters also automatically send in many types of alarm conditions like power fail, brown out, meter tamper and over current.”

• Electricity can be used more efficiently. Advanced meters can report unusual energy use, showing appliances that might be faulty or could be replaced with a more efficient version. SmartHub has become a popular application for many electric cooperatives as it is a win-win for both the consumer and the co-op. Consumers can see their usage data, which gives them insight into information such as spike periods, so they can adjust how and when they use energy to save money.

• Alternative energy can be better integrated into the electric grid. Advanced meters can help cure one of the headaches of renewable energy when solar energy disappears at night or wind power stops in calm weather. Data from advanced meters can be instantly analyzed by computers and coordinated with power plants, rooftop solar panels and wind turbines.

• Advanced meters can save consumers money on their electric bill. Several electric cooperatives are implementing time-of-use rates, which charges for electric use based on off-peak (when electricity costs less) and on-peak hours (when electricity costs more). AMI provides detailed data so consumers can track their energy usage. “If they dig down into the hourly data, they can get a good idea of when they are using the most energy,” Carter says. “Depending on what was being used, they may be able to shift that energy use from on-peak to off-peak time and save money.”

• Consumers can get the most out of their rooftop solar. AMI shares with the consumer and the cooperative measurements such as net energy used, energy delivered to the consumer and the energy put back on the grid. “This gives the consumer a better understanding of how they use their appliances relative to their rooftop solar system’s generation,” explains Sarah McMahon, chief administrative officer with SDCEA, a Buena Vista-based electric co-op. “If the consumer is on a time-of-day rate, this capability informs the consumer on changes to their use behavior that may result in significant savings on their bill.”

• Co-op members can be involved in a more decentralized electricity system. Rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles make complicated additions to a utility network, but those can be turned into benefits by analyzing the data provided by advanced meters. For example, as EVs become more popular, electric co-ops are exploring special rates to encourage charging at times when energy use is lower.

• Co-op operations can be streamlined. Faulty equipment can be detected before it fails.

Some individual consumer-members have opted out of using these technology-based advanced meters. Concerns include health effects of their radio signals and privacy. The health concerns have been addressed by the American Cancer Society.

“The ACS suggests that because the amount of radio frequency exposure from advanced meters is much less than those from everyday devices, it is very unlikely that they could pose greater health risks,” says Tolu Omotoso, director of energy solutions for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Omotoso cites studies that show the strength of advanced meter transmissions is far below those from a cellphone. They’re even less than a TV’s remote control. Advanced meter signals also weaken with distances of even 1 foot. Omotoso says advanced meters aren’t even on all the time: “They transmit data back to the co-op only a couple times in a day, and each transmission takes milliseconds.”

Other concerns include privacy. However, electric co-ops have a long tradition of protecting the data of their members, Omotoso says.

“Load is load and we do not have the ability to differentiate,” Carter adds. “It can’t hear what you say, it doesn’t have a camera — it’s just a kWh meter that can send data and receive commands to turn itself on and off.”

Electric co-ops adopted digital meters to avoid traveling long distances through rural areas just to read an electric meter, Omotoso says. Co-ops kept up that progress, adding other devices to create a new concept of the electric utility grid from a one-way delivery of electricity to an interactive network of power and data between the co-op and its members.

“In the utility industry of the future, you’re looking at decentralized energy use and generation, digitization and decarbonization of the grid,” Omotoso says. “Advanced meters will help utilities and energy consumers transition into this new future.”


Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life and CREA.

Batteries are Booming

From EVs to solar energy, innovations in energy storage are changing the game

By Paul Wesslund and Amy Higgins

If your smartphone battery has become a large share of your daily thoughts, just wait — the battery market is booming.

Innovators are now developing washable and bendable batteries to heat your gloves or be sewn into athletic wear to help track your exercise routine.

Electric utilities are using batteries for slightly more practical reasons — to make electricity more reliable and more compatible with renewable energy sources. Also, the booming electric vehicle market is made possible by dramatic advancements in battery technology.

Analysts estimate the world battery market value at more than $100 billion and project it will grow more than 10% annually over the next five years. People need batteries for their phones, laptops, power tools, watches, EVs and more, and they want them to last longer. They want them smaller. They want them cheaper. And researchers and entrepreneurs are busy meeting those demands.

EVs Elevated
EVs, which run on large, rechargeable batteries, are a leading example of the trend. Ten years ago there were hardly any EVs on the road, but in 2020 EV sales hit 3 million and now there are 10 million on the road worldwide. That growth is expected to continue.

Manufacturers around the world plan to spend more than half a trillion dollars on electric vehicles and batteries in the next eight years. The Kansas City Assembly Plant shown here is Ford’s first U.S. plant to assemble both batteries and EVs. Photo Source: Ford

Six of this year’s February Super Bowl ads featured EVs, and manufacturers around the world plan to spend more than half a trillion dollars on EVs and batteries in the next eight years. In the U.S. alone, 13 EV battery manufacturing plants are expected to open in the next five years.

The battery bandwagon brings strong incentives for investments to make batteries even stronger so EVs can go farther and phones can hold more apps and feature fancier cameras. This cycle of innovation is cutting battery costs, too. The price of the most popular type of rechargeable battery is down more than 90% from what it was 10 years ago.

Taking EVs to a new level is La Plata Electric Association in Durango, which revealed Colorado’s first vehicle-to-grid EV school bus in December 2021. The electric-powered bus houses a battery that can travel up to 200 miles on a full charge, but the battery can also store energy that in turn can be used for LPEA to draw power from during peak energy hours.

“When fully charged, the bus stores enough electricity to power 30 average single-family homes, or 100 energy-efficient homes, for a few hours,” according to an LPEA press release.

Batteries Aid Renewable Energy Use
Utility use of large batteries is adding efficiency and reliability to the nation’s electric grid. In 2019, the number of large-scale battery systems in the U.S. increased 28%.

Utility use of large battery systems, such as the Tesla Megapack shown here, is adding efficiency and reliability to the nation’s electric grid. Photo Source: Tesla

For Colorado’s electric cooperatives, large-scale batteries started in 2018. With peak shaving and innovation in mind, Brighton-based United Power went live with its Tesla battery storage facility, which, the co-op touts, can store enough energy to power up to 700 homes simultaneously.

Utilities, including electric cooperatives, use these batteries in several ways. They can smooth out voltage and frequency differences that damage equipment and affect power quality. Batteries can also make better use of the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. By storing excess solar energy produced during the day when electric demand is low, batteries can make that sun power available for use at night when electric demand is high.

Utility-scale battery capacity tripled in the past five years, including 35% in 2020 alone. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports electric utilities will have 10 times the battery capacity in 2023 that they had in 2019.

Much of that increase, the EIA says, comes from battery systems located near large solar projects, making it easier to store electricity produced by solar panels.

One especially innovative use of batteries came in 2020 when a heat wave strained California’s electric supply. The state’s energy manager asked businesses and homeowners with batteries to supply emergency power. More than 30,000 responded, including backup power owners and EV charging providers.

With the assistance of its 140-kilowatt, 446-kilowatt-hour Tesla Powerpack battery, Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association’s Red Feather Lakes microgrid can provide electricity to its consumer-members for up to 8 hours during power interruptions.

Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs is working on a solar and battery energy storage project with Ameresco, an organization that specializes in energy efficiency and renewable energy, to install 4.5 megawatts of solar power and 15 megawatt-hours of battery energy storage. This clean technology will be housed at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Campus leased by Ameresco, which will then sell the power generated to HCE, assisting HCE with its goal of 100% renewable energy resources by 2030.

Homeowners can even supplement their electric service with their own backup batteries. Tesla and other companies make suitcase-sized batteries designed to hang on a wall for reserve power in case of a storm or to pair with rooftop solar panels to store sun power for later use. United Power offers this service to its consumer-members, allowing them to connect their personal battery storage system to the electric co-op’s distribution system.

Innovators are also working on new types of batteries for everyday use. Low-cost, flexible power sources could be part of clothing or wristbands. Wearable electronics are a hot market, and innovators and investors see the potential.

Whether used for making electricity more reliable or to create some fun new gadget, battery technology will continue to boom.


Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Amy Higgins writes electric co-op news for CREA.

Capturing Carbon

By Katherine Loving

Providing reliable, affordable electricity is the top priority for Colorado’s electric cooperatives. Co-ops and other electric utilities continue to incorporate additional energy generated from renewable sources, but until these technologies fully mature, fossil fuels remain a part of our overall generation mix to ensure power reliability.

As the U.S. moves forward with carbon reduction goals, electric cooperatives are also looking for ways to provide clean energy and offset the carbon that’s generated during power production. Capturing carbon emissions at their creation source is one of those approaches.

The federal government is making carbon capture a funding priority in 2022. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 provides $927 million for large, commercial-scale pilot projects as well as $3.5 billion for six demonstration projects at coal and natural gas plants.

Carbon capture involves a series of steps to remove carbon dioxide from its original source to prevent it from reaching the Earth’s atmosphere. During the capture step, CO2 is removed either before or after combustion.

Post-combustion capture is the most common method used at existing power plants. After electricity is generated, the CO2 is removed from the gas mixture found in a plant’s flue.

In pre-combustion capture, the fuel sources are heated with pure oxygen (or steam and oxygen) to release CO2.

Once captured, the CO2 is transported to its next destination. Typically, CO2 moves as compressed gas in pipelines but can also be transported by tanker trucks or ships.

Captured CO2 can be injected into geological formations or recycled for other uses.

One appeal of carbon capture is the abundance of underground natural storage locations, such as deep aquifers, porous rock and unproductive coal mines. The U.S. Geological Service estimates the U.S. has the potential to store 3,000 metric gigatons of CO2, the equivalent of centuries worth of emissions.

Research on how to recycle CO2 is ongoing, but established practices include using the gas in enhanced oil recovery, growing fish food from lab-grown bacteria that feed on CO2 and creating carbon-negative concrete or other carbon-based materials.

As promising as carbon capture sounds, the costs and risks limit the technology’s ability to be implemented on a larger scale. Post-combustion capture often requires expensive retrofitting of power plants. Pre-combustion capture, while more effective than post-combustion, has been limited due to high costs of equipment and pure oxygen.

In addition to these costs, the processes require a large amount of energy. Transportation of the gas increases in cost for longer distances between the source and destination, making plants located far away from sequestration locations less feasible. Sequestration also carries the concern of CO2 leaks, which would negate the effort to remove it from the atmosphere.

Despite these hurdles, carbon capture is seen as an important technology in reducing emissions.

In 2015, XPRIZE, a technological development competition, kicked off with the goal of awarding $20 million to develop new and emerging technologies that utilize CO2. The competition was based on how much CO2 was converted and the economic feasibility of the project.

XPRIZE concluded in 2021, and the winning project was a carbon-negative concrete created by a team of UCLA researchers called CarbonBuilt. The research team conducted tests at Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Integrated Test Center in Wyoming to turn flue gases and fly ash into carbon-negative concrete. The process reduces the carbon emissions of concrete production and traps additional carbon long-term within the final product.

There will be more emphasis from the federal government in 2022 on carbon capture and storage. In addition to the demonstration projects from the infrastructure bill, the Slowing CO2 and Lowering Emissions (SCALE) Act was introduced in 2021 to provide funding to overcome expansion barriers. The SCALE Act aims to reduce costs by financing scaling projects for pipeline infrastructure, creating regional storage infrastructure, and providing grants for creating products derived from large-scale capture.

Capturing carbon is an important tool in reducing CO2 emissions generated from fossil fuel use. When this emerging technology can be deployed on a larger scale, the future of carbon capture will look much more promising.


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

 

Three Interesting Facts About Electricity

Electricity turns dark into light, makes hot foods cold and cold foods hot, washes the dishes and searches the internet. It is essential to our everyday lives, so much so that we rarely think about it. But behind the scenes, interesting things are happening.

Here are three interesting facts about electricity that cause even some experts to scratch and shake their heads.

1. Electricity must be used or stored after it’s generated.

A rechargeable battery stores electricity — more on that later. But the kind of electricity you use in your home needs to be used after it’s generated.

It’s true. Electricity produced from power plants, solar panels, wind turbines and hydro dams in the U.S. needs to be perfectly timed for when you decide to cook dinner, wash clothes or watch TV. The national grid, made up of power generators, wires and substations, is an incredibly complex network that makes electricity flow smoothly.

A vast and intricate system of devices controls that power flow in a precisely balanced way so that when you flip a switch calling for additional electricity, somewhere else a power source ramps up to provide the additional electricity you require.

It’s one reason utility operators must be strategic when adding renewable energy to the nation’s fuel mix — a coal or natural gas plant can ramp generation up or down fairly quickly to meet changing energy demand. Solar energy and wind power depend more on the whims of Mother Nature, which adds an extra challenge to power management. However, technology advances are making this challenge easier to deal with and more large-scale battery storage is also helping.

Big batteries offer another way for electric utilities to better balance the flow and timing of electricity and large-scale battery storage technology is improving rapidly. A few of Colorado’s electric cooperatives have incorporated battery storage into their distribution systems and more storage is being planned. Wider use of large utility-scale batteries will make it much easier to add more solar and wind energy to the grid, allowing electric co-ops and others to store energy that’s generated when it’s breezy and sunny for use at night and during calm weather.

2. Power out? Blame a squirrel.

While severe weather causes most outages, if it’s nice out and your electricity goes off, it could be caused by a squirrel.

We all know to play it safe around electricity, but squirrels don’t. They scamper and chew around transformers, substations and utility poles where they can disrupt high-voltage equipment, shutting down power for you and your neighbors.

We all know to play it safe around electricity, but squirrels don’t. They scamper and chew around transformers, substations and utility poles where they can disrupt high-voltage equipment, shutting down power for you and your neighbors.

But it’s not just squirrels. Snakes, birds and other critters can find their way into dangerous places. There’s no official record-keeping of wildlife-caused power outages, but estimates run as high as 20%.

Electric utilities are constantly devising new ways to keep wildlife away from dangerous electrical equipment—the resulting power disruptions are inconvenient for us energy consumers, and almost always fatal for the animal.

3. Highways could charge electric vehicles in the future.

If researchers have their way, electric vehicles wouldn’t need to plug in — they could charge while they’re being driven.

“Wireless dynamic charging” projects are underway around the world. The idea is similar to wireless chargers you can buy for your home electronics, the kind you can set near a charger rather than actually plugging in the smartphone or other device.

Wireless dynamic charging projects are underway around the world. Photo from Pixabay contributor Leon Wallis. *Image edited in Canva to show dynamic charging lane.

Charging cars while they’re driving along the freeway is of course a lot more ambitious. But some developers predict that within five years, in addition to today’s special high-occupancy-vehicle lanes for rush-hour traffic in large cities, there could be stretches of vehicle-charging lanes.

Futurists expect electric trucks as the most likely users of wireless charging lanes. Most electric cars, after all, can charge overnight in a residential garage. Wireless dynamic truck charging could keep the deliveries rolling rather than having drivers sitting and drinking coffee for the several hours it could take a conventional plug-in to get trucks back to full power.

Electricity is such a basic part of our everyday life, so it’s easy to forget about it. But every now and then it’s good to think about all its benefits and mysteries. That awareness can help make sure we pay attention to safety precautions, but sometimes it’s good just to be amazed.


Paul Wesslund writes for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association for the nation’s electric cooperatives.