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.

CREA Backs Your Local Co-op to Serve Members Better

By Derrill Holly and Amy Higgins

The true power of locally-owned electric cooperatives is the consumer-members living and working in the communities they serve, and when those co-ops are connected, their collective energy gives them statewide reach.

That’s the role that the Colorado Rural Electric Association and other electric cooperative statewide associations play in supporting the goal of ensuring that co-op consumer-members always have safe, affordable, reliable energy.

“Our main objective is to complement what Colorado’s electric co-ops do at the local level,” said CREA Executive Director Kent Singer. “We aggregate all of their great work so we can talk about it collectively to all of the interested parties in the state who potentially have an impact on co-op consumers through laws, regulations or public policy.”

At the direction of its affiliated electric cooperatives, CREA is regularly involved in education and training, legislative affairs, tax and regulatory matters and regional planning. It also provides a framework for coordination of many activities that provide more meaningful results when addressed through collective action.

Capitol Concerns
It’s not unusual for Colorado’s lawmakers to deal with hundreds of bills with thousands of amendments during a legislative session — many never advance beyond committees or face numerous revisions during hearing and review processes. Keeping track of even major changes is no small feat.

Besides members of state legislatures or general assemblies, there are also regulatory commissions, typically made up of appointees who may be more familiar with major investor-owned utilities than they are with member-owned electric cooperatives.

“It’s all about making policy-makers aware of who we are, what we do and why we do it,” said CREA Director of Government Relations Geoff Hier. “We need to do whatever we can to help them understand who we are and, most importantly, that we’re all reaching for the same goal: providing safe, reliable, environmentally-friendly electric service at the lowest possible cost.”

Leveraged Learning
When it comes to safety, operating efficiency and governance, skills and training can help an electric cooperative run more successfully and serve its members better. But when co-op employees are spread across several locations and committed to maintaining 24/7 operations, getting true value for training dollars can be challenging.

CREA offers training in multiple locations across the state, so participants don’t always have to travel to Denver. In 2018, CREA’s education department had 272 people in the eight director courses it offered. For employees, 28 classes were offered ranging from courses on leadership skills to work orders, line design and staking, as well as training for different work groups such as the mechanics and human resource managers. More than 500 employees participated in these classes.

Education opportunities abound for those who participate in CREA’s annual meeting, the Energy Innovations Summit and the Fall Meeting. The Energy Innovations Summit is open to guests outside the co-op program and is an opportunity to mix with other industry leaders, adding additional value to the program.

CREA provides safety training for all 22 distribution cooperatives in Colorado. With three job training and safety instructors, each cooperative receives five weeks of training per year. The safety training is generated around Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.

The department also offers mutual aid assistance to members and to other states requesting assistance during times of need. The cooperatives participate in a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Federated Insurance program called the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program, or RESAP, which is managed by CREA’s safety and loss control department. Once every three years, each cooperative is extensively examined by volunteers from other cooperatives.

Engaging Future Co-op Members
Electric cooperative statewide associations also take a leadership role in many of the youth outreach programs supported by local electric cooperatives. CREA and other statewide associations coordinate the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, sending about 1,900 high school students from 46 states to Washington, D.C., every June.

“As cooperatives, we understand that our student leaders of today are our community leaders of tomorrow,” said CREA Director of Member Services and Education Liz Fiddes. “What better time to teach these students about the cooperative business model and co-op careers than through our youth programs?

“Colorado has taken students to Washington, D.C., for 25 years and to the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp for 42 years,” Fiddes added.

For many Youth Tour participants, the co-op sponsored trips are the farthest they have ever ventured from their home communities without their families. They also provide exposure to state and federal government operations, and opportunities to learn and practice skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

“We promote the life skills that today’s generation value, like building relationships, developing leadership skills and enhancing their resumes,” Fiddes said.

Participants develop strong relationships with their sponsoring electric co-op that often include speaking or volunteering at annual meetings and other co-op events. The results are meaningful community service hours and experiences that often inspire college application essays or can lead to technical or member services career opportunities after graduation.

These are just a few ways that statewide associations like CREA support electric cooperatives. Everything they do is aimed at one goal: bettering the communities they serve.

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

Amy Higgins is a contract writer covering Colorado’s electric co-ops.

How Net Metering Impacts Electric Cooperatives

By Paul Wesslund

One of the most controversial and least understood energy issues today is net metering.

At its most basic, net metering is a state law requiring utilities, including electric cooperatives, to purchase the excess electricity produced by consumers who have rooftop solar panels. But that’s where the simplicity ends.

States and electric utilities have established net metering programs to encourage clean energy generation. Nearly every state has some kind of net metering rule and they’re changing all the time. In the first nine months of 2018, states took more than 400 actions to change how they compensate small energy producers, according to the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, which collects net metering information from around the country. Some of those actions strengthened net metering laws, others weakened them.

In Colorado, electric cooperatives’ net metering requirements are governed by state statutes and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) interconnection standards. The statute requires all electric cooperatives to allow interconnection of a net metered generator of a renewable resource up to 10 kilowatts for residential accounts and 25 kW for nonresidential accounts, provided the installation complies with the interconnection standards adopted by the PUC.

Colorado co-ops may choose to have policies to allow installation of larger projects, but must interconnect at the 10 and 25kW minimum levels if the interconnection standards are met. If a cooperative denies an interconnection, the cooperative must provide the applicant with a written explanation for the denial.

Here are some additional explanations about net metering:

What is net metering?
Net metering is a way of measuring and valuing the electricity output of privately-owned solar panels. Net metering requires utilities, including electric cooperatives, to buy excess electricity back from consumers who have some way of generating electricity themselves. Net metering typically means that the consumer’s meter rolls forward when the consumer uses power and rolls backward when the consumer sends excess electricity back to the electric grid.

That excess electricity could be produced by solar panels, a windmill or a micro hydropower project. By far, the main source of this extra electricity comes from homeowners who installed solar panels on their property. Whenever their solar system generates more electricity than their home is using, under net metering, the electric utility must compensate the homeowner for the excess electricity.

The PUC interconnection standards are intended to protect the safety of the consumers, employees and owners of the net metered account by requiring approved equipment and availability on the circuit to be interconnected. Cooperatives may deny an interconnection if the equipment isn’t up to standards or if there is not sufficient available capacity on the circuit to accommodate additional net metered accounts.

How do electric utilities compensate consumers for the excess electricity?
Some net metering programs require the utility to buy back or credit the consumer’s bill for that electricity at the same retail rate the utility charges for selling electricity. Other programs allow the utility to credit the consumer at the wholesale cost, which is what the utility pays for power. Some utilities require that these consumers (with privately-owned generation) be metered separately. Under these net billing programs, the consumer receives a bill with the credit for the excess electricity subtracted from the total amount due.

All Colorado electric cooperatives are required to adopt policies to compensate net metered consumers for excess generation and to determine the annual “true up” date. However, there is no statutory formula for compensation. Therefore, each cooperative has discretion regarding the amount and timing of compensation for excess generation.

Is net metering new?
Net metering programs have been around nationally since 1983. Since then, 38 states and the District of Columbia put their policies and requirements into law. Additionally, states started passing other laws, such as renewable portfolio standards, that require electric utilities to have certain amounts of their power generated by renewable energy resources, to encourage solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy.

What makes net metering challenging?
The basic challenge with net metering is that sometimes the policies require electric utilities to pay high costs for what is often “low-value power.”

The reason it’s low-value power is you can’t count on it. There’s no solar energy at night and no electricity from wind during calm weather. Renewable energy advocates argue that net metering rates are a great way to support green power, but utilities say it’s not fair for them to have to buy electricity from a rooftop solar owner at a rate that covers round-the-clock service when that’s not what the homeowner is providing.

The results of that imbalance are where the net metering issue gets complicated. One result is that the economics of net metering create a subsidy for rooftop solar owners paid for by those who don’t have solar panels.

The cost difference between buying wholesale electricity at retail rates didn’t matter so much at first, but solar energy is booming, potentially reshaping the effect net metering could have on the energy industry. The number of rooftop solar installations grew 63 percent from 2012 to 2015, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. As a result of that kind of growth in potential net metering use, many states started rethinking their net metering rules.

Another result affects the ability of the utility to plan for its basic job of supplying reliable and affordable electricity. The engineers and accountants who run an electric utility that provides power 24/7 need to place a higher value on dependable electricity, like from a natural gas or coal power plant, than from several homeowners who may or may not be generating electricity when it’s needed.

Net metering payments also don’t cover the costs of setting up a billing system, paying taxes or any of the utility’s other fixed costs.

What alternatives are there to net metering?
Net metering programs that set the price at wholesale cost are more likely to ensure appropriate levels of compensation for both utilities and consumers who are generating electricity. Also, net billing programs provide a more equitable compensation to the net metered consumer without leaning on other consumers who don’t have solar panels or other ways to generate power at home. Additionally, NRECA suggests other policies for supporting renewable energy without implementing net metering. Those could include tax credits for installing renewable energy systems and dedicated research funds aimed at lowering costs for alternative energy.

How are electric co-ops supporting renewable energy programs that benefit all consumer-members?
Electric cooperatives are leaders in community solar programs that offer their members the opportunity to participate in renewable energy programs that are more affordable and reliable than privately-owned solar panels. Community solar arrays can be sized and priced to fit consumer demand, reducing risks of cross subsidization. With the help of NRECA, co-ops are also working to minimize costs of large solar projects.

As the energy industry continues to undergo major changes, whether to technology, renewable energy use or other emerging trends, electric cooperatives continue working with all co-op members to ensure the delivery of the safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally-sustainable energy our communities depend on.

The Colorado Rural Electric Association expects legislation in the 2019 session to encourage the development of renewable resources, potentially including net metering. There have been discussions regarding increasing or eliminating the 10 and 25 kW minimum interconnection levels. CREA and Colorado’s electric cooperatives supported the legislation to create the current laws regarding net metering and believe they are still appropriate. The law established reasonable thresholds for net metering and allow individual cooperatives flexibility to be as expansive and creative as their consumer-members want to encourage the development of net metering.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Reasons You May or May Not Want an EV for Christmas

By Paul Wesslund

Wondering if an electric vehicle is a good gift idea for you or your significant other this Christmas? The answer could depend on where you live.

Electric vehicles account for just 1.2 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, but sales are booming, growing 25 percent last year. And they’re getting better and cheaper as researchers improve the batteries that power them. Here’s a guide to help you decide if an electric car is for you — or if you just want to be smarter about one of the next big things in energy.

The first thing to realize about electric cars is they can drive more than enough miles for you on a single charge, even if you live out in the wide-open countryside.

LOCATION ISSUE 1: THE DISTANCE MYTH
Try keeping track of your actual daily use, advises Brian Sloboda, a program and product manager at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“If you’re an insurance salesman, you’re logging a lot of miles, so an electric car’s not going to be for you,” he says, noting that a typical range for an electric car today is more than 100 miles, and ranges of 150 to 250 miles are becoming common. “But if you look at how many miles you drive in a day, for most people in the United States, even in rural areas, that number is under 40 miles per day. So if your car has a range of 120 miles, that’s a lot of wiggle room.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average American drives 25 miles per day, and for rural areas that average is 34 miles a day.

Sloboda says another reason it’s worth thinking realistically about your daily mileage comes from the most likely way an electric car would be refueled. When an electric car is done driving for the day, you can plug it in to recharge overnight. Essentially, you’re topping off the gas tank while you sleep, giving you a fully-charged battery every morning.

There are three ways to charge an electric car:
Level 1 — The simplest charging technique is to plug the car into a standard home outlet. That will charge the battery at a rate that will add two to five miles to its range each hour. That’s pretty slow, but Sloboda notes the battery might start the charging session already partly charged, depending on how far it is driven that day.

Level 2 — Faster charging will require a professional installer to upgrade the home’s voltage for a unit that will add between 10 and 25 miles of range for each hour of charging — a rate that would fully charge the battery overnight. Sloboda says installing a Level 2 charger in a house or garage would run $500 to $800 for the equipment, plus at least that much for the labor. Timers can also be used to charge the vehicle in the middle of the night when electric consumption is typically lower.

Level 3 — DC (direct current) fast charge requires specialized equipment more suited to public charging stations and will bring a car battery up to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes. Sloboda warns this high-speed technique should only be used for special long-distance driving, since it can degrade the battery over time. That’s also why DC chargers shouldn’t be used to bring the battery up to 100 percent.

LOCATION ISSUE 2: OFF-PEAK ELECTRIC RATES
What you pay to charge your electric car could also depend on where you live, Sloboda says. He advises checking to see whether your local electric co-op offers a lower rate to charge an electric vehicle overnight, when the utility has a lower demand for electricity.

“It’s different depending on where you are in the country,” Sloboda says. Some local co-ops have fairly stable electric demand throughout a typical day, so they may not offer a special electric vehicle rate. He says there are areas of the country where the on-peak, off-peak difference in price is extreme, so it might make financial sense for the utility to offer an overnight charging rate.

Another factor affecting the economics of an electric car is, of course, the cost of the vehicle.

“These cars are really in the luxury and performance car categories,” Sloboda says. As electric cars improve, projections put their cost coming down to match conventional vehicles by about the year 2025. But today, the average electric car costs close to $40,000, compared with less than $30,000 for several internal combustion engine vehicles.

LOCATION ISSUES 3 AND 4: ENVIRONMENT AND GEOGRAPHY
For many people, one of the biggest selling points for electric cars is their effect on the environment, and that can also depend on where you live.

The sources of electricity for a local utility vary across the country — some areas depend heavily on coal-fired power plants, others use larger shares of solar or wind energy. One major environmental group analyzed all those local electric utility fuel mixes and determined that, for most of the country, electric vehicles have much less of an effect on the environment than conventional vehicles. That study by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that in the middle part of the country, driving an electric vehicle has the equivalent environmental benefits of driving a gasoline-powered car that gets 41 to 50 miles per gallon. For much of the rest of the country, it’s like driving a car that gets well over 50 miles per gallon.

“Seventy-five percent of people now live in places where driving on electricity is cleaner than a 50 mpg gasoline car,” the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists states.

Other local factors that will affect an electric car’s performance include climate and geography, Sloboda says. The range of the vehicle will be affected by whether you regularly drive up and down mountains or make a lot of use of the heater or air conditioner.

Sloboda concedes that electric vehicles are not for everybody. One limit to their growth is that no major carmaker currently offers an especially popular choice: a pickup truck. Although, the development of electric pickups is under way at Atlis Motor Vehicles and Workhorse group, and discussions show Tesla is considering developing an electric pickup as well.

Sloboda suggests possible advantages of an electric pickup: a heavy battery in the bottom would lower the center of gravity for better handling, and at a remote work site the battery could run power tools.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Co-op Solar Projects Start and Succeed with SUNDA Project

By Derrill Holly and Amy Higgins

Electric cooperatives are committed to providing safe, reliable, affordable energy to their consumer-members, and in many parts of the country that includes increasing the availability of solar power.

“Co-ops are big supporters of an ‘all sources’ national energy policy,” said Debra Roepke of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s business and technology strategies group. “Our challenge is finding ways to get sustainable value out of investments that not only help meet the needs of co-op members today, but also control their costs in the future.”

Roepke spent more than four years as NRECA’s liaison and co-project manager of the Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) project, an initiative launched by NRECA with partial funding from a Department of Energy Sunshot Initiative grant. In that role, she worked with generation and transmission cooperatives, electric cooperatives and other organizations involved in planning, developing and assessing the value of various approaches to solar projects.

Colorado Solar Projects
Between 2013 and 2018, total solar capacity owned or contracted by electric co-ops grew from 94 megawatts to 868 MW. Electric coops host more than two-thirds of all utility-sponsored community solar projects.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, based in Westminster, has three projects totaling 85 MW of utility-scale solar in place. According to NRECA, Tri-State is the top solar G&T in the nation.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, based in Fort Collins, utilizes community solar energy from six sites throughout northern Colorado and owns 2.7 MW.

“We have had a demand for a community solar option since we decided to build our first solar farm in 2012; the farm sold out before it was even built,” said David White, PVREA vice president of member relations. “Members continually requested a solar offering so we constructed a second solar farm that is five times bigger than our first solar farm, which sold out just a few months after construction was complete.

“An important part of our mission is to provide exceptional service to our members and, if meeting their energy needs includes a solar component, we need to be prepared to deliver,” White explained. “SUNDA provided resources at our fingertips that would have taken considerably more time to research on our own.”

SUNDA Provides Research
Solar projects, regardless of size or structure, help to build a knowledge base accessible to all electric co-ops.

PVREA’s first community solar project was Highlands Community Solar, followed by the Willox Community Solar Farm. Both thrived but were Power Purchase Agreement projects, which means the farms are owned and operated by a separate entity that PVREA purchases the energy from.

“With the success of two solar farms under our belt, we decided to build our third solar farm: the Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm,” White said. With this project, PVREA wanted to take a different approach where the cooperative would own and operate the solar array, eliminating the need for a third party to maintain the farm. However, the co-op did not yet have the experience to do it on its own.

“SUNDA was a great resource for PVREA, providing information on engineering, procurement and construction. We found their financial analysis tool to be instrumental in evaluating options,” White explained.

Materials provided by SUNDA help electric cooperatives with everything they need to know about the process of attaining solar power, from conceptualization to planning and execution, as well as communication with the co-ops’ memberships. White explained that SUNDA’s resources helped cut the amount of time it would have taken otherwise to build Coyote Ridge, which sits at 74 percent subscribed today.

“SUNDA has supported cooperatives across the country,” said Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications at Tri-State. “The sharing of knowledge helps co-ops understand the opportunities with solar and reduce risks, which leads to successful projects”

Declining Costs
Several SUNDA participants contend that declining prices helped move solar from a demonstration or educational technology to a competitive asset within wholesale generation portfolios in many areas of the United States.

Solar products and components are improving, and the manufacturing and vendor base continues to expand. That led to substantial declines in the cost for deployed solar. According to NRECA, the per-watt costs declined from $4.50 for the first research project in 2013 to less than $1.40 per watt in 2018.

“The ultimate economics of solar lends itself to serious consideration as a daytime resource,” said Todd Bartling, vice president of renewables development for the National Renewables Cooperative Organization.

With an average of 300 days of sunshine annually, Colorado electric cooperatives are primed to benefit from this renewable energy resource, given their membership’s support.

“With clear skies and bright sunshine across the West, decreasing costs and federal tax incentives, solar power is an attractive resource for both Tri-State and our members.” Boughey said. “We are able to blend solar power and other renewables with our owned and contracted resources to keep power reliable and costs down for our members.”

“The industry is working to reduce the costs of the underlying equipment, installation and financing,” Bartling said. “Those improvements will help ensure the technology’s commercial viability when or if tax incentives designed to hold down costs are phased out.”

Shared Insights
Thanks to the SUNDA project, all of this information is available to electric co-ops. Shared experiences and open discussion are among the greatest strengths of the electric co-op movement.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life magazine.