Stopping Scams Means Better Service

By Derrill Holly

Our increasingly connected world is giving scammers more opportunities to connect with unsuspecting consumers, and local authorities, utilities and other businesses are working overtime to keep people informed. To help prevent you, your family or your business from being victimized, they suggest “if you see something, say something” is a vigilant adage to abide by.

It’s likely that during the holidays you spent a good amount of time shopping online for family, friends and co-workers, and not tracking where the money was spent. Now, the wrapping paper, bows and holiday lights might be dwindling, but the bills can start to pile up. During this time it can be difficult to keep track of what’s legitimate and what’s not, and scammers can take advantage of consumers during this time of vulnerability, making demands for payment and prying for personal information. This is why it’s especially important to pay attention to the bills you’re responsible for, including your utility bills.

“The Federal Trade Commission has been hearing about scammers impersonating utility companies in an effort to get your money,” said Lisa Lake, a federal consumer education specialist. “Your reports help us fight these scams.”

Electric cooperatives are among the businesses and consumer organizations supporting Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS). The international consortium of electricity, natural gas, water and sewer providers, and trade and industry associations shares information on payment scams, identity theft and sales and service schemes as one means of fighting them.

Impostor scams are the most common type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission, according to UUAS officials. “Impersonators call homes and small businesses demanding payment for supposedly delinquent bills and threatening to terminate service.”

The frequency of the incidents picks up during peak heating and cooling seasons, in part because consumers are most concerned when temperature extremes increase the urgency of maintaining utility service.

Variations on the scam are also becoming more common. Rather than making an initial claim that a consumer owes an outstanding balance, some scammers are now claiming an overpayment is the reason for a telephone call to a consumer. They will make contact in an attempt to get banking information so they can process a refund.

“Never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate,” Lake wrote in an FTC blog.

There has also been an uptick in door-to-door scams by people claiming to represent utility providers, like your electric co-op. Representatives knock or ring the doorbell offering to replace or repair a meter or other device, or solicit personal information to sign a consumer up for programs that could reduce their energy bills.

They may try to charge you for the phony service, sell you unnecessary products, collect personal information for use in identity theft or simply gain entry to steal valuables, officials said.

High-pressure demands are a common tactic in many of the schemes. Someone urging immediate decisions or actions, like immediate payment, particularly by a specific option like a gift card, wire transfer, cellphone or third-party computer app, should raise serious concerns. Utility-connected scams are common, because utility services are so frequent. Lighting, heating, water and sewage services are all essential to modern living, so any threat of service disconnections can provoke a lot of anxiety.

Your first defense is personal awareness of your account status, including knowing whether balances are up to date. This is becoming more important as scammers use more automatic dialers or “robocalls” to phish for potential marks.

“Even if the caller insists you have a past due bill, that’s a big red flag,” Lake said, offering additional advice. “Contact the utility company directly using the number on your paper bill or on the company’s website. Don’t call any number the caller gave you.”

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.


SMART DEVICES

They’re definitely smart, but not always secure

For many of us, buying and using technology to make our homes smarter and interconnected is as tempting as walking through a candy store as a kid. (Sour Patch Kids and Pixy Stix anyone?)

Although not found in every household, many U.S. homes have one or two components, such as a smart security system complete with cameras, a smart thermostat or a know-it-all “voice assistant” such as Amazon’s Alexa. The rest of our homes range from doing things the old-fashioned way (no smart devices at all) to having a home decked out in every smart technology one could imagine.

According to Statista, a company specializing in market and consumer data, North Americans are forecast to spend $63 billion in the smart home market in 2022. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. (But if we do, millions of Americans may hear Alexa say, “Bless you.”)

Although convenient — who doesn’t want real-time glimpses of who is ringing our doorbell or to hear Google Assistant recite a recipe — smart devices come with their own set of security concerns.

Canada’s CBC News hired hackers (ethically responsible ones, of course) to hack a family’s smart home and they got in, literally. “All it took was a white van, a team of three hackers and a phishing email to remotely unlock … the front door.”

This eye-opening scenario is not intended to scare people; rather, we encourage you to give your smart devices serious thought before diving in. Security measures for smart devices are similar to the steps we should take in our daily life to protect us against seedy scammers and hackers everywhere.

For example, be leery of emails or calls asking for personal information such as login info or passwords. And although everyone loves to use the same passwords like “abc123” for everything, doing so can make your smart devices vulnerable. (Note: It’s not a good idea to use “abc123.” Be creative and make them hard to crack.) And although it seems obvious, never use the factory-set password; change it immediately.

Many tech companies are considering (and others have already switched) to two-step authentication for the smart devices they sell. Although the extra step can feel like a pain, the two-step process is a good thing; it is a valuable step in keeping you and your family safe and your conversations private.

Without the code provided in the second security step, outsiders can’t access your device or account — even if they guessed your SweetHomeAlabama1973 password (or whatever).

For more in-depth technology advice, consult an information technology professional. For more information about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org. And if your password is actually SweetHomeAlabama1973, we apologize; it was used for illustrative purposes only.

Energy From Waterpower

By Paul Wesslund and Amy Higgins

Attention to energy and the environment focuses new light on one of the oldest sources of power: falling water. “Hydropower was the first source of electrical energy used in the United States,” states a U.S. Department of Energy report issued in recent years. In fact, hydropower has always been a part of Colorado’s renewable energy mix. Today, about 30% of the power delivered by electric co-op power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association comes from renewable resources and approximately half of that 30% comes from large hydroelectric resources, which is primarily provided by the Western Area Power Administration, according to Mark Stutz, public relations specialist at Tri-State.

The DOE report concludes, “Increasing hydropower can simultaneously deliver an array of benefits to the nation that address issues of national concern, including climate change, air quality, public health, economic development, energy diversity and water security.”

The 395-page Hydropower Vision — A New Chapter for America’s 1st Renewable Electricity Source reports that, in the next 35 years, the United States could increase hydropower production by half of what it generates today: from 101 gigawatts today to 150 GW by 2050.

While this seems like a perfect energy solution, it should be noted that this projection wouldn’t make a major change in the nation’s fuel mix. Achieving that entire 150-GW goal would only raise the share of electricity produced by hydropower from about 6% today to about 9% 35 years from now. And that forecast is a best-case scenario.

Here’s what would be needed for that to happen:
• Technical innovation to improve the effectiveness of equipment that converts flowing water into electricity
• Construction of new hydroelectric dams and the conversion of existing power-producing structures into electricity generators
• Streamlining a complex web of regulations that affect construction on rivers and streams

But even though hydropower seems to have taken the back burner to solar, wind and battery storage, hydroelectricity is still an important, viable and valuable renewable energy resource.

Long term, cost effective
Tom Lovas understands the promise and the problems of hydropower. He worked on several hydroelectric projects as a technical liaison and consultant with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the trade association for the country’s electric co-ops.

“Hydropower is a good, long-term, cost-effective resource for electric cooperatives,” Lovas says. He adds that, with environmental concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, hydropower is “certainly an avenue that should be explored.”

But Lovas sees cost and regulation as limiting the DOE Vision report’s lofty goals.

“There’s been relatively little new hydroelectric development in the country in a number of years in part because of the consideration of environmental aspects associated with the reservoir development,” he says. “It takes quite a bit of time and effort to get through the licensing phase of extensive feasibility studies and environmental reports, plus there’s the relatively high up-front construction cost.”

For example, Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison conducted a study in 2010 that showed that the nearby Taylor Reservoir Dam could support a 3.4 megawatt hydroelectric project, so GCEA decided to take on the project. Fast forward to today — nearly a decade later — and the co-op is finally nearing an agreement with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users, according to GCEA CEO Mike McBride. “If we can get a memorandum of understanding signed — hopefully by the end of the year — we would turn our attention to permitting and design,” he says.

McBride says GCEA is also still in the permitting process with the Bureau of Reclamation, which will likely take several months. However, he explains, “Our two biggest challenges at Taylor have been in reaching a shared vision with the water users and the fact that electrical infrastructure at the dam is insufficient for a larger project.

“The 2010 (study) concluded that the water resource could support a 3.4 MW project, but there are 18 miles of singlephase distribution line from the dam to the substation that would need to be upgraded to three-phase, which would be a significant additional cost to the project,” McBride says.

GCEA is considering Taylor Reservoir Dam to be a 200- to 500-kilowatt project, which would produce between 1.6 million and 3.7 million kilowatt-hours of energy. “The fact that 6 miles of that line is under the road in a narrow section of the canyon is part of the reason that we are looking at a smaller project initially,” McBride says, adding “the project could be expanded in the future.

With hydropower, small seems to be trending. In 2017, White River Electric Association in Meeker began generating electricity with its first micro hydroelectric project using irrigation ditch water to power the project. And a Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association consumer-member has a 25-kW micro hydropower generator that powers his farm’s sprinkler during the growing season, using irrigation ditch water as well.

The DOE Vision report lists several ways to expand the use of technology that turns water into electricity. Lovas says the two most likely prospects for increasing hydropower are to modernize existing facilities and to add generation to dams and waterways that do not currently provide electricity.

“I would expect that upgrades to existing plants and adding power at existing dams and canals probably have the highest potential benefit,” Lovas says, noting that focusing on improving efficiency and effectiveness could avoid some of the problems of expense and regulatory approvals for an entirely new project.

DOE’s Vision reports that there are about 50,000 dams in the country that don’t have hydroelectric equipment. The report states that the potential of those 50,000 dams, as well as upgrades to existing plants, could provide about a fourth of its ambitious projection of 150 GW by 2050.

Storing energy from other renewable sources
Lovas also sees another area of promise for hydropower that would make solar and wind power more useful. It’s called pumped storage.

Forty-two existing pumped storage plants in the United States, including at least two in Colorado, basically allow the utilities that operate them to time-shift electricity use. When people aren’t using much electricity, like in the middle of the night, the utility uses relatively low-cost available generation capacity to pump water from a nearby reservoir to one located at a higher elevation. Then, when the utility needs extra capacity, it draws water from the upper reservoir to run a power turbine.

The DOE Vision report projects pumped storage as potentially providing 36 GW toward its 49 GW goal.

Lovas says more use of pumped storage could “help improve the economics of other renewable resources.” For example, pumped storage could provide electricity when a wind farm can’t, like in calm weather, or for a bank of photovoltaic solar energy cells at night.

“You could optimize the availability of photovoltaics by being able to store the energy,” Lovas says. “Then, the pumped storage effectively serves as an alternative to a battery.”

The problems might outweigh the promise of generating more hydropower, but utilities continue exploring viable options for more renewable energy sources.

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Amy Higgins covers Colorado issues.

Colorado Author Spotlights Electrifying the White House in 1891

By Amy Higgins

In 1891, the White House flipped a switch that shined new light on President Benjamin Harrison’s provisional home. In Cynthia Simmelink Becker’s book Lights On! Ike Hoover Electrifies the White House, young Ike Hoover navigates the White House rafters and walls to install the wiring for electric lights, replacing the conventional candles and lamps that the bulk of Americans were accustomed to.

To write the book, Becker, a Pueblo resident, researched early electricity, Thomas Edison, Harrison and his family and administration and, of course, Hoover (not to be confused with President Herbert Hoover), who chronicled his story in 42 Years in the White House. Additional research was done to ensure the illustrations were true to the era, including the clothing, White House architecture and interior design, and the Edison turbines.

Illustrator, 3-D chalk artist and native Coloradan Benjamin Hummel captured the essence of the era beautifully, from the Tiffany glass wall to the chandeliers, White House living quarters and the ever-affable Hoover. A two-time liver transplant recipient, Hummel finds joy with his artistic talent despite the chronic pain caused by his autoimmune disorder. In his drawings you can find a bit of Hummel hidden in the scenery — the German translation of his last name is “bumblebee” and he sometimes conceals the insect in his artworks. Lights On! is one of those examples.

Locating drawings of the turbines was particularly challenging, until Doris Baker, publisher at Palmer Lake-based Filter Press, contacted a knowledgeable librarian at Rutgers University Library who supplied links to the Edison catalogs that the salesmen used as visual aids when selling to municipalities and companies.

“After all the online work and phone calls, I attended a program at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs and there spotted a working, 1890s Edison turbine on display,” Baker explained. “All along, a wonderful example was waiting for me to discover in my own backyard.”

Sadly, Becker passed away in 2016, so she never saw her book come to fruition, but with the ongoing efforts of her family, friends and Filter Press, she knew the story was moving forward and would eventually get published. What resulted was a wonderfully illustrated and charming story about Hoover fitting the White House with electric lights and his relationships with Harrison and his staff. (Hoover would become a mainstay at the White House, starting as an electrician and eventually becoming what he called “Executive with the U.S. Government.”)

Lights On! was intended for third- through fifth-graders, but is a fun, educational read for all. Find it at filterpressbooks.comhummelillustration.com and several other online stores.

Ways Your Electric Co-op Helps Protect You

By Amy Higgins and Erin Campbell

While the threat of cybersecurity attacks on the electric grid gets a lot of attention these days, physical damage from storms or critters is much more likely to disrupt power. There are many physical threats to our power delivery system that Colorado’s electric cooperatives work hard to manage on a daily basis. Because weather events such as snowstorms, tornadoes and hail, as well as criminal activity, including copper theft and shooting at a substation, can occur, it takes proactive commitment to consistently deliver reliable service. Even something as small as a squirrel can damage infrastructure and cause power outages.

“We prepare for a potential threat by ensuring that all of our systems are regularly patched, by eliminating legacy and unsupported systems/equipment, by providing in-depth end user training, by staying informed of potential exploitations/vulnerabilities that are happening around the globe and by continually evaluating, hardening and securing our infrastructure,” explains Heather Romero, manager of information technology at Empire Electric Association in Cortez.

Part of the community
One of the most valuable things about being served by an electric co-op is that you also have an ownership stake in the way the cooperative operates. Electric co-ops know their communities — cooperative employees live and work in the neighborhoods and towns they serve. You know many of your co-op’s board members and employees and, in turn, board members and employees are personally acquainted with or are a part of fire departments, county supervisor boards, emergency medical technician crews and more.

“WREA believes in the cooperative business model and the important role that our members play in that ‘biz’ model. We are our members; their participation and support is key to our success,” says Trina Zagar-Brown, general counsel and manager of member services at White River Electric Association in Meeker.

Emergencies can happen at any time, and these relationships in and around the co-op’s communities are important when urgently responding to unplanned events or in preparing for more predictable events, including winter storms or summer flooding. For example, when tornadoes roared into Morgan County Rural Electric Association’s territory in the Fort Morgan area in 2018, crews from Akron-based Y-W Electric Association responded by assisting MCREA with power restoration efforts. That’s because they’re part of one large cooperative community, and cooperation among cooperatives is an essential principle of providing reliable electric service.

Planning, preparing and practicing
There is a well-known saying: “It’s not if a crisis will occur, but when it will occur.” Electric co-ops test disaster and business continuity plans regularly and take pride in being prepared at all times. Plans not only focus on how to prevent threats, but also how to respond and recover in the event of an incident.

Shane McGuinness, Systems Administrator at Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison, says guidelines and tabletop exercises are the most effective way to prepare for an array of cyber threats. “Tabletop exercises act like a practice and can highlight important factors, when preparing for threats, such as communication,” he says. “When practicing … we include many local entities to create a realistic scenario. Many of our personnel will provide training and receive training from entities around the state to help build a robust group that is ready to adapt to fight any threat.”

GCEA’s cybersecurity practices include using existing scenarios to help identify how adversaries may attack. For example, the co-op thoroughly studied Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and uses that information to help prepare for such a threat.

Electric co-ops place a high importance on partnerships with fellow cooperatives, industry partners and government agencies to mitigate the potential impacts of all types of threats to your electric cooperative. Electric cooperatives work closely with the rest of the electric industry, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on matters of critical infrastructure protection — that includes sharing necessary information about potential threats and working together to avoid disruptions to the extent possible.

MCREA utilizes the services of the National Information Solutions Cooperative for its cybersecurity protection. “We felt it pertinent to partner with a trusted resource that is able to provide a layer of protection via sophisticated software and active 24/7/365 monitoring of our computer systems,” explains MCREA Office Services Manager Robb Shaver. “Not only do they provide protection on a daily basis, [but] they also are in tune with any new/immediate threats that may arise on a moment’s notice.”

“Cooperatives frequently share knowledge and their best practices for many issues, including cybersecurity,” explains Kelli Root, IT manager at Yampa Valley Electric Association, which operates out of Steamboat Springs and Craig. “At a recently attended Colorado regional IT conference, various training options, availability security testing and protective options were discussed and have proved to be helpful. Technology is always changing and, therefore, security issues will also be changing.”

Your electric co-op is vigilant in ensuring protection from physical and cyber threats in order to power your lives. “We would like to encourage our members to always stop and think before acting,” says Drew Timmerman, IT supervisor at Durango-based La Plata Electric Association. Timmerman implores consumer-members to question any email, web browser pop-ups or phone calls with a sense of urgency to “fix” your computer or an account. “For example, we never email or call our members threatening to disconnect their electric service if they don’t immediately pay over the phone. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s likely a scam.”

“We also want our members to understand we have board policies in place to protect paper and electronic personal identifying information from unauthorized access, use, modification, disclosure or destruction,” McGuinness explains. “As the future goes on, we continue ongoing cybersecurity training to ensure the well-being of our members and power delivery system is held to its highest standard.”

Whether it is protecting consumer-members from a snowstorm-caused outage, a squirrel in a substation or a scammer, Colorado’s electric cooperatives are always evolving, staying up to date on how to best combat threats to their communities, because your electric co-op is vigilant about protecting you, its consumer-members.

Amy Higgins is a long-time freelance writer for Colorado Country Life. Erin Campbell is the Director of Communications at Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Making a Difference for Monarchs

By Derrill Holly, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Three to four generations of monarch butterflies migrated to their summer ranges last spring. Now, a single generation is returning to its wintering grounds only to begin the first leg of the 2020 migration early next year.

“We call them the super generation,” said Mara Koenig, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They live for about eight months, overwintering down in Mexico and waiting for the right conditions to return to their U.S. range in the spring.”

According to Koenig, communications coordinator for FWS’s Monarch Butterfly/ Pollinator Program, the largest migration of butterflies makes a 3,000-mile journey to Mexico from states south of the Great Lakes and east of the Rocky Mountains. A smaller population migrates from Arizona and the Pacific Northwest toward the California Coast. The immature insects spend the next few months roosting and eating in super colonies in a phase called diapause, when their reproductive organs are not mature.

“They develop those organs as they’re migrating north for the spring,” Koenig said. “They’ll do their first round of life cycle around Texas, Oklahoma and the southern United States and then slowly move north with each life cycle.”

Milkweed makes the difference

The FWS estimates that there are 128 million monarch butterflies left in North America, including a non-migratory population in south Florida. Support for saving the species has grown in recent years, spurred by recognition of pollinator preservation and their symbolic value to environmental stewardship.

“Everybody can play a part in monarch butterfly conservation,” Koenig said. “It takes small, simple actions such as planting milkweed in a garden or even in a pot on your balcony, to having large swaths of landscapes that are conserved for pollinator habitats.”

While various flowering plants provide the necessary nectar needed for nourishment, milkweed is crucial to the species survival because it is the only plant capable of hosting developing caterpillars.

“The monarch caterpillar requires the milkweed plant to survive and go through its life cycle process before it can then migrate back down to Mexico for the winter,” Koenig said, adding that “the plants provide the energy needed to spin cocoons.”

Butterfly backers are out to change the image of milkweed, long considered a nuisance plant because it is poisonous to cattle, horses and other livestock. Because of that and the fact that it is difficult to control, it is excluded from windbreak and right-of-way plantings. But that is changing as efforts are made to balance the monarch butterfly’s need for milkweed with protecting livestock.

“We want to plant over one billion stems of milkweed throughout the monarch’s migratory range,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director of community wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation. “It would provide enough habitat for the monarch to increase its numbers and reproduce.”

That spurred efforts to encourage gardeners to include ornamental milkweed varieties in landscapes and container gardens. Several colorful species can be cultivated and controlled to prevent them from overrunning garden space.

The NWF also partnered with the FWS and dozens of environmental and conservation groups on the promotion of monarch butterfly conservation initiatives.

Fitzgerald authored the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, which serves as a blueprint for community action, recommending 25 steps groups and individuals can take to help support butterfly and other pollinators’ conservation.

“We encourage people to look at park systems, open spaces, rights of way, schools and other public and undeveloped areas where you could possibly plant and manage areas for monarchs,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a guide online, and we have webinars to help land managers choose seed mixes and understand what decisions they can make that will help the monarchs.”

How electric co-ops help

Keeping with the seventh cooperative principle of Concern for Community, electric cooperatives across the country are embracing pollinator conservation.

Vegetation management programs, designed to help maintain the reliability of your electricity, have been adapted to help provide year-round pollinator habitats and food sources for migratory wildlife, including butterflies.

“We also need the other plants that the adult butterflies can use as a food source. They need nectar, so we need other types of plants throughout the range,” Fitzgerald said.

“All those blooming flowers that we see in the fall are a great source for them to fuel up,” Koenig said. “Making sure that those are available throughout the migratory range ensures that they have those reserves to go down to Mexico and wait out the winter, and enough reserves to start making that migration back north in the spring.”

Along utility pole lines near roadside ditches, across expanses of rural rights of way and on the grounds of electric substations, power plants and solar arrays, electric cooperatives are working with community groups to make open space even more nature friendly.

In the spring of 2019, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Fort Collins hosted a Plant Day with Colorado State University Extension where the electric co-op invited Resurrection Christian School high school students to help plant pollinator-friendly seeds at the cooperative’s Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm. This project not only makes the solar farm more attractive to passersby, but also creates an appealing place for pollinators of several varieties.

“The more habitat that’s created, the more likely there is a possibility for the monarch butterfly population to recover to a resilient population,” Koenig said, noting that the goal is to reverse a decline first identified more than 20 years ago. “We’re creating habitats for monarch butterflies and for other pollinators, including grassland songbirds. Upland game birds and even waterfowl can benefit from this.”

Officials at the NWF agree. They’re particularly optimistic about the potential of partnerships with electric co-ops, other utilities, state and local transportation departments and railroad operators.

“They manage those strips of land that we would call wildlife corridors or monarch corridors,” Fitzgerald said. “When we plant more milkweed and more native flowers in these areas, it could make a big difference.”

Always committed to the Seven Cooperative Principles, this effort among electric cooperatives throughout the United States, including Colorado, is yet another example of how co-ops are showing concern for their communities.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Combustion to EV: A Race for the Top

By Amy Higgins

Electric vehicles are multiplying on our neighborhood streets and highways, but they’re also generating more interest in a less likely arena: racing venues. When we think of car racing, we think of the growl of the engine, and the lingering scent of gasoline and oil. However, many of today’s race car drivers and their fans are becoming more accepting of change.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a time-honored competition that was established in 1916. Dubbed the “Race to the Clouds,” this 100-plus years race course goes up the iconic 14er, taking competitors through 156 twists and turns with treacherous cliffs marked with behemoth boulders and towering trees, climbing 14,115 feet to the finish line. This race isn’t for amateurs.

Colorado’s Electric Cooperatives sponsor the 1973 Porsche 911-converted EV at its debut in the PPIHC.

While many EVs have entered this climb over the decades, none were as cutting edge as one of this year’s exhibition vehicles: a 1973 Porsche 911 RSR EV. On June 30, it was the first former Pikes Peak competitor and winning car (the car won the vintage division in 2015) that turned heads with its internal combustion conversion to EV using California’s Zero Motorcycles’ EV powertrain. The vehicle was driven by Winding Road Adventures (WRA) Racing’s Chris Lennon of Monument.

Colorado’s electric cooperatives showed their support for this progressive venture with a sponsorship of the vehicle. “The electric co-ops are excited to be part of this project which delved further into electric vehicles and what their potential is,” said Colorado Rural Electric Association Executive Director Kent Singer.

Devotees and the debut
“We all call this ‘Hell Week,’” Lennon said in the week previous to the race. The WRA crew was busy testing the Porsche every morning at first light that week, before the tourists made their presence known. “We test on a different part of the mountain every day this week to find out how the car is working and try to get it in tip-top shape for the race.”

Winding Road Adventures’ crew tests the EV Porsche every morning the week before the race.

In the months prior to the race, the WRA crew was diligently transforming the Porsche into the handsome EV it is today. “We literally updated everything as part of the EV conversion,” Lennon explained. “From the chassis itself — we beefed it up — we put a whole new suspension on it, the weight distribution in the car is different, new brakes, new wheels. It’s literally like a brand-new car.”

The Porsche made its initial appearance at the PPIHC Fan Fest in downtown Colorado Springs on June 28, where tens of thousands of fans met the racers displaying their race cars. Right next to Lennon and the Porsche was a Honda EV that was driven by Katy Endicott in 1994, giving race fans a comparative taste of what a state-of-the-art EV looked like 25 years ago.

Counting down the hours to the actual race, WRA knew Lennon and the Porsche were ready to make their debut at their first PPIHC. “It going to be a great adventure either way,” Lennon said. “I’ve learned over the years — over the six years I’ve run previously — that there’s been bad weather almost every year. But that’s out of our control and we just kind of deal with it.”

Setting the pace
Call it kismet or simply Colorado — June 30 brought in storm clouds, rain pelted the pavement and Lennon wasn’t surprised. “The weather is always a factor there,” he reiterated. “What made it a little more unusual was the fact that there was lightning up there. After that, they stopped sending cars to the summit and the rest of us went to Glen Cove, which is as far as they could send us safely.”

PPIHC officials examined and calculated partial runs and full runs to decide who was the fastest in the race. In the end, Lennon and the modified Porsche made it to the podium with a third place finish in the exhibition division.

Lennon and his converted EV at the PPIHC.

“We think we could have gotten second place if we could have gone to the summit, but you never know until you do it,” Lennon said. He was impressed with the Porsche’s performance, “because the second place car had a lot more power than we did. It was the internal combustion technology with the Dodge Hellcat with a massive amount of power, and we had electric.”

Lennon liked the immediate availability of power the EV provided and was impressed with the powertrain, noting that it seemed to like the cooler temperature. When he reached the modified finish line, the Porsche still had about 50% charge remaining.

Even during the race, Lennon was discovering the particulars of the vehicle. “It took a little quick learning on my part, because we were doing it in the rain where maybe having all that power right away wasn’t the most controllable thing, but I was a quick study, I think,” he explained. “There was one point past one of the big spectator areas at the ski area where I came around the corner — I tried to be as gentle as I could on the accelerator, but the car got really sideways and even through my helmet I could hear people screaming outside. I think it was a fan favorite that I went sideways in front of all of them. It was definitely not intentional though.”

Already committed to the 2020 PPIHC, the WRA engineers will be reviewing the data from this year’s race to ensure they’re even more prepared to hit the hill once again.

A global influence
WRA wasn’t certain how the Porsche EV would perform at PPIHC, so landing a spot on the podium was the icing on the cake. “There’s no question we went in the right direction going EV this year — we got a terrific result,” Lennon said. “Again, with this being the first year of a two-year effort, we expect to learn a ton from this and come back even better next year.”

As an internationally loved event — one of the top four or five races in the world, Lennon said — PPIHC is an ideal platform to show off classic cars that are modified with modern technologies. “I suspect we’re not going to be the last ones to do this,” he said.

“I would have also thought that the racing world would be the last to really embrace this because they’re more traditional car people,” Lennon said. “I think that community is one of the tougher ones to win over with EV.”

Fans of the PPIHC may breathe in a little less gasoline and hear a little less growl at future races as more EVs make it to the scene and race their way to the clouds.

Amy Higgins is a longtime freelance writer for Colorado Country Life. She’s wise to the ways of the electric cooperatives’ diverse communities and is enthusiastic about engaging the CCL readership by reporting the latest innovations in energy.

Lighting the Way for Sillab, Guatemala

Lighting the Way for Sillab, Guatemala
By Anna Politano, Oklahoma Living Magazine Editor

The Sillab family is looking forward to putting away their flashlights and flipping on a light switch.

Sitting at 2,700 feet altitude atop a towering mountain surrounded by scenic and lush elevation ranges, is the small village of Sillab (pronounced “si-yap”) in north central Guatemala, near the border with Belize. Visitors coming to explore the Guatemalan beauty would likely never go up on this mountain — the area is far from tourist attractions and is nearly a 10-hour drive from the capital city of Guatemala City. Residents of Sillab live away from civilization. Most villagers don’t speak the official language of the country: Spanish. Instead, they speak an ancient, Mayan-based dialect called Q’eqchi’ or “kek-chi.”

Earlier this year, representatives from Colorado’s and Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives — in partnership with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s philanthropic arm, NRECA International — conducted a scouting trip to plan an electrification project for Sillab that will take place later in August and September. What they found was not only a primitive community lacking access to electricity, running water and plumbing, but also a dwelling of joyful, hospitable people. The purpose of the trip was to assess the local conditions, see the project site, meet the villagers and utility representatives, and evaluate the staking design for power lines.

With a total of 60 homes, one elementary school and four churches, the villagers of Sillab grow corn for self-consumption and generate most of their income from the production of cardamom seeds, peppers and coffee, as well as a variety of other spices. Stricken by scarce resources and poverty, most villagers made Sillab their home after receiving a plot of land from the Guatemalan government, a result of a peace agreement following the Guatemalan Civil War from 1963 to 1996.

In August 2019, 20 volunteers from Colorado’s and Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives will build power lines on a stretch of 6.5 miles, wire 60 poles and install four transformers. The power lines will belong to a local utility: ADECORK (Associación Para Desarollo Communitario Rax Kiche), or the Association for Community Development Rax Kiche.

ADECORK will carry the responsibility of generating and distributing electric power to Sillab. The utility operates a small hydropower plant with a capacity of 75 kilowatts. ADECORK currently provides power to 275 consumers in nearby villages, with an average of 4 kW per home.

ADECORK officials are actively seeking funds to increase their capacity for more water in order to power additional surrounding villages. The utility is currently not structured as an electric cooperative, but its leaders aspire to adopt the electric cooperative business model.

Colorado and Oklahoma volunteers will also wire each home with four lightbulbs (kitchen, living room, front porch and back of the home) and four electrical outlets. The estimated electric rate will be 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. As a reference, the average per kWh rate in Colorado is 12.2 cents. Although the villagers will incur another bill, their energy consumption is considerably lower compared to the United States. Most of the villagers do not own or cannot afford electrical appliances. Access to electricity should empower the villagers with economic prosperity, safety and a better quality of life.

Colorado and Oklahoma planning team visits Guatemala.

Included in the planning trip were Safety and Loss Control Director Dale Kishbaugh and Director of Member Services Liz Fiddes, both with the Colorado Rural Electric Association; Team Leader Mike Wolfe with Southwest Rural Electric Association based in Tipton, Oklahoma; and me, the editor of Oklahoma Living magazine, which is part of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives. We were accompanied by NRECA International Engineer Erick Berganza.

“It is an honor and privilege to serve as team leader for this electrification project,” Wolfe said. He was also a volunteer in the 2018 Guatemala electrification project. “I’m eager to work alongside a great team to bring electricity to the villagers in Sillab. On projects like this, you receive more than you give. It will be a life-changing experience.”

Editor’s Note: Colorado Country Life Editor Mona Neeley will travel to Guatemala the first week of September as part of the team helping celebrate when the lights come on for the first time in Sillab.

Electric Fuel for the Road

With the proliferation of electric vehicles, it’s becoming a priority to ensure these drivers can stay “fueled” when traveling. Range anxiety is a term used to describe the concern an EV owner has about the vehicle’s battery running out of charge before reaching a charging station. A recent AAA study showed that 57% of people are unlikely to purchase an EV because of range anxiety.

To lessen that unease, more states are offering incentives for local consumers, businesses and utilities to install EV charging stations. There are currently more than 21,000 EV charging stations in the United States, 701 in Colorado as of mid-May. Many more are in the works and Colorado’s electric cooperatives are in the mix.

This charging station in SMPA’s territory stays active.

Powering the Public

With offices in Nucla and Ridgway, San Miguel Power Association has a lot of experience with EV drivers. The first EV charging station in the cooperative’s region in southwestern Colorado was powered in 2014 at the Gondola parking garage in Mountain Village above Telluride. Since then, more public and semipublic charging stations have popped up in the area, some of which SMPA helped with financially, including the Ridgway charging station.

A new EV charger at GCEA headquarters.

In November 2015, Gunnison County Electric Association installed its first EV charging station. It currently owns and operates six stations and is looking for a location to install a DC (direct current) fast charger in its territory. GCEA Member Relations Supervisor Alliy Sahagun explained, “We see that as an opportunity to decrease range anxiety even further and give EV drivers in our area an opportunity to travel longer distances, as well as encourage visitors to bring their EVs to our area when they come to enjoy all the recreation the Gunnison Valley has to offer.”

Pueblo West-based San Isabel Electric Association partnered with Charge Ahead Colorado, the Pueblo City-County Library District, Pueblo County, Bank of the San Juans and the Pueblo West Metro District to install its first EV charging station in December 2018. The Pueblo County Energy Office received grant money through Charge Ahead Colorado and then all the organizations invested their time, energy and expertise to raise the additional funds. “This really wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the community coming together to get this done,” said SIEA Communications Manager Paris Elliot.

SIEA holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new charging station.

Conveniently located at the Pueblo West Library along the Highway 50 corridor, the new charging station has both a Level 2 and Level 3 charger. Additionally, SIEA is installing two more charging stations at its office: one for public use and the other for employee use.

La Plata Electric Association currently owns two Level 2 charging stations installed at the cooperative’s headquarters in Durango, and there are several private stations in the area to which the cooperative sells power, including at the Smiley Building, Mercy Medical Center and the city of Durango Transit Center. In January 2019, the Pagosa Springs Town Council approved installing a Level 2 charging station at Pagosa Springs’ Centennial Park. New DC fast chargers will be installed in Durango and Pagosa Springs within the next year.

A charging station is ready for EV owners in PVREA’s territory.

As more drivers switch from gas to electric, more electric co-ops are taking a “test drive” of EV charging stations of their own. Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association as well as Monte Vista-based San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative each installed a charging station at their headquarters’ parking lots to test demand.

White River Electric Association in Meeker, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association in Buena Vista and Yampa Valley Electric Association in Steamboat Springs are among recent recipients of grants awarded for EV charging station installations through Charge Ahead Colorado. SDCEA’s project went on line in April 2019; YVEA’s station will be running this July; and WREA’s is in the works. In addition, Holy Cross Energy, with offices in Glenwood Springs, Avon and Gypsum, is installing stations in Basalt, Vail and Eagle County.

Driving the Cause

In 2013, a partnership between the Regional Air Quality Council and the Colorado Energy Office formed Charge Ahead Colorado to encourage EV adoption by providing grants for EV charging stations. As of January 2018, the program awarded grants to more than 600 stations across Colorado, according to the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan.

Charge Ahead Colorado funds up to $9,000 for Level 2 chargers and $30,000, or 80% of project costs, for DC fast chargers, according to Program Manager Zachary Owens. The remaining balance is the responsibility of the applicant.

EV drivers pay a $50 annual registration fee for their road usage charge and gas tax; $20 of that fee goes to Charge Ahead Colorado to build charging infrastructure. “The idea of that is folks driving conventional vehicles are paying a gas tax,” Owens explained. “The registration fee was designed so that EV drivers are paying their fair share as well.”

Fueling the Economy?

EVs are touted as more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles and, depending on what type of charger you have and where it is located, could also have economic benefits for the community. If the charger is located near a shopping center, for example, EV drivers can spend time and money at the shops and restaurants while their vehicle charges.

The upcoming Centennial Park Level 2 charger project in LPEA’s territory is “an optimal location for those utilizing the service to shop, walk and dine in the area,” LPEA Energy Management Advisor Nancy Andrews explained. A Level 2 charger can take up to a few hours to charge an EV, which makes an area such as this desirable to EV owners as they bide their time.

While some electric co-ops do not own an EV charging station, some are helping others in their community to do so. For example, Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric’s Green Power program contributed to charger installations in its community. Also, SMPA made a donation of $2,000 for the Ridgway project; the co-op has $4,000 allocated every year for this purpose.

Several Colorado co-ops offer significant rebates for EVs and/or EV chargers, including PVREA, SIEA, SMPA and LPEA. Although Cortez-based Empire Electric Association does not own any EV charging stations, its board has approved rebate opportunities and EEA will market the program as soon as the campaign is finalized.

“Another creative idea we have is to promote our EV home charger rebate with property management companies and homeowners associations to offer EV charging as an amenity for those booking stays in the short-term rentals,” Sahagun said. “This will benefit the consumer-members by taking advantage of the rebate in their efforts to draw more people to their rentals and be a point of distinction in their offerings.”

The forecast shows that EVs are here to stay, and all of Colorado electric co-ops are taking notice and getting involved in whatever ways work best for each local co-op.

Some co-ops don’t have the population to support a charging station. In other areas the charging stations are maintained by other entities. Each co-op is learning and moving forward in a variety of ways. All of Colorado’s electric co-ops are planning for the future and working to lessen the range anxiety for their consumer-members while meeting their electricity needs.

Amy Higgins is a contract writer for Colorado Country Life magazine.

Energy Savings for Schools Program

By Katie Kershman

Delivering cost-effective energy services and advancing innovative energy solutions is the mission of the Colorado Energy Office. This year, in support of its mission, CEO piloted a new approach for the Energy Savings for Schools (ESS) program. Up to four school districts will work with CEO’s program administrator, Brendle Group, to identify energy and water goals, educate staff and students on conservation and plan and implement projects that result in increased awareness and cost savings.

Through the program, districts receive:
• Free technical support, and energy and water conservation coaching
• Free customized Resource Management Plan that sets goals, identifies priorities and activities, helps gain district buy-in and creates a culture of conservation
• Free electricity monitoring equipment and coaching to track electricity use in real time on a web-based dashboard
• Free hands-on resources for engaging students, including printable educational materials and learning activities
• Free recognition opportunities and connections to peer districts

“We understand how limited resources are — especially staff time and money — for districts in Colorado, and we also know how important conservation is for the bottom line,” explains program manager Susan Bartlett. “CEO’s program aims to help each district understand its baseline, set conservation goals and make both operational and behavioral improvements that are tangible and teachable.”

Operations and maintenance costs are the second highest operating costs for K-12 schools after instructional spending, according to the Financial Transparency for Colorado Schools website. It’s estimated that more than $2 billion could be saved nationwide by improving energy efficiency in school buildings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To reduce these costs, the EES program provides districts with:
• A menu of easy-to-do efficiency projects and activities
• Improved learning and leadership opportunities for students
• Resource planning support and best practices for long-term energy, water and cost savings
• Help identifying and pursuing potential funding sources
• Tools to maintain momentum
• Improved environment for students, teachers and administrators

To date, two districts are testing the new pilot. In March and April, Gunnison Watershed School District took conservation to its classrooms to raise awareness about energy and water use. “The support for student engagement and classroom activities has been the most exciting part of the program so far. Our teachers have been very enthusiastic about engaging both their classrooms and beyond, with the goal to not just teach in their classrooms but to engage the entire district,” explains Transportation and Facilities Manager Paul Morgan. “The engagement support ESS provides is helping us build more than just a one-year curriculum. Our aim is to continue engaging future students in conservation learning and activities for years to come.”

Sheridan School District began student and staff engagement in April. As part of the program, both districts will complete a Resource Management Plan that identifies additional operational and behavioral activities they will undertake in the next school year and how they plan to share their progress with the broader school community.

There are still two spots remaining for school districts interested in participating in the pilot this school year. You can learn more about the pilot on the program website: ColoradoESS.org. If you know of a school that might benefit from the program, contact Bartlett at 970-207-0058 or ess@brendlegroup.com.

Writer Katie Kershman is with the Brendle Group, an engineering and planning firm.

Co-ops’ Commitment to Zero Contacts

By Amy Higgins

Complacency can be dangerous. And with years of experience and daily repetition, it is easy to get complacent — both at home and on the job.

But complacency at work, especially for electric lineworkers, can be disastrous. Working with electricity is one of the most dangerous jobs out there and one mistake can lead to a catastrophic event. For example, if a lineworker fails to inspect his rubber gloves and has the smallest tear, he could be vulnerable to a fatal contact with electricity.

A new electric co-op initiative is designed to help lineworkers get back to basics, slow down and take time to be safe.

Identifying the problem
About five years ago, the injury rate at electric cooperatives was declining, but a closer look showed that the most serious injuries and fatalities were far too frequent to ignore. From 2006 to 2016, the electric cooperative industry experienced an average of 23 injuries per year. Of those injuries, approximately 40 percent — 10 to 11 per year on average — were from an electrical contact.

“When we looked across the industry, it was the same across communities in the industry, so we started partnering with Federated (the electric co-op insurance company) and meeting with cooperative leaders and looking at what we could do to study the problem,” said Bud Branham, director of safety programs at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “We started looking at that [data] and realized very quickly it’s a cultural- or behavioral-based problem where people — at organizations and co-ops — get blind spots over time, and in those blind spots you might have some inconsistencies in your basic work practices.”

“A lot of times we just focus on the power lines; we don’t focus on the other things around us,” said Dale Kishbaugh, director of safety and loss control at Colorado Rural Electric Association. Things like surrounding traffic, uneven working ground or confined spaces could affect how safely a job is done.

“We want to slow people down, especially on the routine work, and we want to do good job planning,” Branham explained.

Creating the program
Driven by the dedication of the safety of cooperative employees, NRECA, Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and the safety leaders at the nation’s electric cooperatives introduced the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative in April 2018. Through the program, participants are asked to take a pledge to take all the necessary steps at work and home to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities.

Following protocols, even if it makes the job longer, means everyone goes home at the end of the day.

Following protocols, even if it makes the job longer, means everyone goes home at the end of the day.

“We also asked senior leaders and the employees at the co-op, especially the field employees, to make a commitment. That commitment is really key,” Branham explained. “All the research shows that when people make a voluntary commitment that links to their internal values and they put it in writing — display it publicly — it has a large effect on changing or affecting their behaviors and awareness.”

“Commitment to Zero is not the next program; it is an initiative focused on eliminating contacts by permanently changing culture and addressing perception and behavior,” noted Corey Parr, Federated vice president of safety and loss prevention. “The initiative is focused on three keys: awareness, expectation and accountability.”

Commitment to Zero Contacts comes with a slate of resources to help electric co-ops get started, including implementation guides, placards, videos and promotional materials. Federated even created an app: S.A.F.E.

An acronym for Stop And Focus Everyday, the S.A.F.E. app is a job-planning tool to help workers avoid missing crucial steps at every job site, especially the most routine jobs where oversight and injuries are most common.

“The intention is just trying to get everybody to do their best every day, and if you see somebody in harm’s way, prevent it before it happens,” Kishbaugh said.

Rolling out the initiative
“We’ve done the groundbreaking with the ‘speak up, listen up’ training,” Kishbaugh said. “We’re just continually going out to support our co-ops and making an effort to get everybody to make that commitment that they’re going to go home the same way they came to work every day.”

Many electric cooperatives already have a safety program established and use the Commitment to Zero Contacts program to enhance it, which is highly encouraged. Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association and Mountain View Electric Association, with offices in Falcon, Limon and Monument, are two Colorado cooperatives doing just that.

“When I heard about the program, rather than just jump on it right away, I came back and I talked with our safety team to get their ideas,” said Jeff Wadsworth, president and chief executive officer at PVREA. Wadsworth handed it off to a team of employees, which consisted of linemen, equipment operators, tree trimmers and even office employees who also face work hazards every day.

The PVREA team took the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative, integrated it into their current safety program and began promoting it with specially-made hard hats, stickers and signs. They even created a video called “This is My Why,” featuring PVREA families who remind their loved ones to be safe on the job, saying: “We want our loved ones home at night,” “So we can grow old together” and “So we can play LEGO games.”

Based on employee feedback, MVEA rolled Commitment to Zero Contacts into its “Commitment to Safety” program that targets three groups within the co-op: leadership, qualified employees and employees who do not work with high voltage. Those in each group were asked to sign a “Commitment to Safety” pledge.

“When employees get hurt, or worse, it affects everyone and changes everyone forever,” said Todd Thomas, safety compliance administrator at MVEA. “This effort is intended to remind us to slow down, be safe and watch out for each other. We do this for ourselves, our families, our friends and our co-workers.”

MVEA’s “Commitment to Safety” logo can be found on all internal memos, the monthly safety posters, in the monthly employee newsletter and on employee wallet cards that highlight MVEA’s Safety Improvement Plan Priorities as well as important RESAP (Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program) information.

As of late February, 14 of those in Colorado’s electric co-op community had made the Commitment to Zero Contacts; 530 co-ops nationwide made the pledge.

“The commitment we ask for is not about people admitting they’re doing anything wrong or that there’s any finger pointing, or blame pointing,” Branham explained. “It has nothing to do with liability. In fact, we hope that the commitment will reduce the exposure, and the co-ops are aware across the country so that we have our people go home safe at night. Basically, that’s the bottom line.”

Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life.