Co-ops Keep Power Flowing Despite COVID-19 Virus

Colorado’s electric cooperatives, including their power suppliers, are in emergency mode, protecting critical personnel and making sure the lights stay on for consumer-members across the state during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s 22 electric cooperatives provide electricity to an estimated 1.75 million Coloradans living and working in all four corners of the state. Serving consumer-members along the edges of the Front Range population areas, as well as those who live down quiet country roads, the co-ops serve 70% of the state’s landmass. Co-op employees, including the CEOs and managers, the lineworkers and the office personnel, all understand how critical the electricity they provide is getting to everyone through the current situation.

The co-ops are doing everything they can to make sure your electricity stays on and CREA, the statewide trade association for the co-ops, is working to support the co-ops in these efforts.

Keeping personnel safe
Personnel at your electric co-op are meeting regularly to assess the situation as closures, restrictions and the status of the virus change. Protocols are in place to make sure that the staff, particularly the critical staff, including lineworkers and control room operators, are healthy and following procedures to maintain their health. Your co-op is also in contact with the other co-ops around the state and has made plans for assistance in case there is a need.

Co-op employees are the ones who will make sure the lights stay on. With that in mind, each co-op has established protocols that are appropriate for the community they serve. Some, especially those serving the ski resort communities where early cases of COVID-19 were reported, immediately closed their facilities to public access. Other co-ops quickly followed to lessen the chances of staff contracting the virus.

Co-op office lobbies have been closed to the public; employees who can are working from home. No outside travel is allowed. Meetings are conducted over the phone or internet.

However, none of that means that co-op services for consumer-members has stopped. Member services representatives are still available to answer questions and resolve problems over the phone. Drop boxes are available for member payments.

The Colorado electric co-ops that utilize upgraded digital meters also have account information online for consumer-members that is available through the SmartHub app or website link. The app allows consumers-members to view their usage and connect with auto-pay services.

Information is updated regularly on each co-op’s website and Facebook page. Some co-ops also offer information through Twitter and Instagram.

Check with your local electric cooperative about newly implemented procedures designed to keep you as a consumer-member and staff members at the co-op safe and healthy.

Sharing information
The co-ops are also benefiting from their connection to other co-ops across the country. Weekly phone calls with co-ops in other states and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association allow Colorado’s co-ops to learn from others, discuss ways to keep employees safe and share alternate ways to provide specific services to consumer-members.

Colorado’s electric cooperatives are committed to maintaining reliable electric service for all of their consumer-members during this crisis and will do everything in their power to serve their communities.

Moving Toward More Renewables

By Amy Higgins

In July 2019, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced the development of its Responsible Energy Plan. In January 2020, Tri-State divulged its blueprint to eliminate coal emissions from its facilities in Colorado and New Mexico and announced details about its upcoming renewable energy projects.

Coal closures are coming
Tri-State plans to shut down two coal plants and one mine: Escalante Generating Station in New Mexico by the end of 2020, and Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in Colorado by 2030.

Craig Station is in Moffat County and employs 253 people. The 1,285-megawatt plant houses three units — Unit 1 will close by the end of 2025, and Units 2 and 3 will close by 2030. Nearby Colowyo Mine, in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, produces coal for Craig Station and has 219 employees. Tri-State plans to cease the mine’s production by 2030.

“With 10 years until the closure of Craig Station and Colowyo Mine, we have additional time to work with the legislature, our employees and the communities in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties to plan for and support the transition,” said Tri-State CEO Duane Highley in a recent press release. “Our work starts now to ensure we can continue to safely produce power while working with stakeholders to thoughtfully plan for the future.”

Escalante Generating Station is a 253-megawatt coal power plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, and Tri-State estimates that its closure by the end of 2020 will affect 107 of the plant’s employees. To help ease the burden, those affected “will receive a generous severance package, the opportunity to apply for vacancies at other Tri-State facilities, assistance with education and financial planning and supplemental funding for health benefits,” according to the press release.

Tri-State also announced its decision to cancel its Holcomb coal project in Kansas and not to pursue additional coal-facility projects.

A renewable future
“Today we’re unveiling the results of our Responsible Energy Plan, which will transform Tri-State as a power supplier and put us on a bold path for the future,” Highley said at a January press conference. “The plan allows us to be responsible to our employees, our members, the communities in which they live and work and our environment while still providing reliable, affordable power across the West.”

Highley highlighted what Colorado’s electric cooperatives can anticipate with Tri-State’s new plan: more than doubling its wind and solar portfolio by 2024. The new renewable projects are expected to bring more than a gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) online. When complete, Tri-State and its members will have renewable projects powering the equivalent of more than 800,000 homes, he said. The eight projects are:
• Spanish Peaks I and II Solar Projects: a total of 140 MW in San Isabel Electric Association’s territory in southern Colorado.
• Crossing Trails Solar Project: 104 MW project in K.C. Electric Association’s territory on the eastern plains.
• Niyol Wind Project: 200 MW project in Highline Electric Association’s territory in northeastern Colorado.
• Coyote Gulch Solar Project: 120 MW project in La Plata Electric Association’s territory in southwestern Colorado.
• Dolores Canyon Solar Project: 110 MW project in Empire Electric Association’s territory in southwestern Colorado.
• Axial Basin Solar Project: 145 MW project in White River Electric Association’s territory in northwestern Colorado. This project “will be built on Colowyo Mine land to restore some tax base for the loss of the resources in that county from the loss of the power plant and the mine,” Highley said.
• Escalante Solar Project: 200 MW project in New Mexico’s Continental Divide Electric Cooperative territory. This project will be built on the retired Escalante Generating Station land and will help assist the community on lost tax base.

Tri-State affirms that it wants its electric distribution cooperative and public power district members to benefit from its renewable energy goals. “But we also have a goal to increase our members’ flexibility and ability to generate their own clean energy locally in addition to these large utility-scale projects,” Highley said.

The Tri-State board of directors developed a contract committee with representatives from each of its member distribution systems that is led by San Luis Valley REC director and Tri-State vice-chair Scott Wolfe and Southeast Colorado Power Association CEO Jack Johnston. This committee is making recommendations to the Tri-State board on more flexible contract options.

In addition to the wind and solar projects, Tri-State will offer more programs that will help members with energy efficiency and beneficial electricity endeavors, and will fund two electric vehicle charging stations per member system. “This will put electric vehicle charging into rural areas that currently have no infrastructure whatsoever — we’ll extend the use of electric vehicles,” Highley said.

Highley underscored Tri-State’s obligation to all of its members’ futures, which will result in cleaner air, greater economic opportunity and a cleaner grid. “We’re energized by this even as we try to manage the challenges associated with implementation,” he said.

Concern for community
A central part of Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan is a focus on working with local community leaders and state and federal officials to gain additional support for employees and communities as Tri-State’s coal facilities are retired.

With New Mexico’s Escalante Generating Station closing by the end of the year, Tri-State will provide $5 million to support economic development and transition needs for communities affected by the transition. In Colorado, Tri-State is engaging with local officials to provide support prior to the closure of Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in the next 10 years.

“My thoughts are with those who live in the communities in and around Moffat County and across northwest Colorado,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D) said in statement following Tri-State’s announcement. “Ensuring the future livelihoods of those affected by this announcement has to be a top priority as this transition plan moves forward.

“Northwest Colorado is extraordinarily resilient and has exceptional leadership. My office stands ready to do everything we can to provide support and assistance throughout this process,” Bennet said.

“We have an obligation to our employees and their communities to ensure a reasonable and equitable and just transition for those affected employees and communities,” Highley said. “We’re committed to working with local, state and federal leaders to look for continued opportunities for retraining and reinvestment in those communities.

“The last piece of our plan involves working together for a brighter future. We’re committed to maintaining rate stability with the goal — and we think it’s an achievable goal — to actually reduce rates through this clean energy transition,” Highley said. “A pretty amazing statement to make that kind of change in our portfolio while also managing costs.”

Amy Higgins is a contract writer for Colorado Country Life. She was a longtime resident of Colorado and she has written on the electric industry previously.

CREA: 75 Years of Representing Colorado’s Electric Co-ops

By Kylee Coleman

Most Coloradans don’t know life without electricity ready and available when they need it — and at the flip of a switch. Yet in relatively recent history, simple electric lighting and service were not part of life in many rural areas.

“The first 50 years of my life, I lived without electricity,” Paul Huntly said. A board director at Buena Vista-based Sangre de Cristo Electric Association from 1948 to 1977, Huntly once reflected about his experience growing up on an isolated 10,000-acre ranch in rural Colorado. In the February 1977 issue of Colorado Country Life, he said, “What was life like without electricity? [We were] walking through the snow to an outdoor toilet, carrying water from a well, using a coal oil lamp. We took our baths in a washtub in the kitchen, after heating the water on the cookstove.”

Longtime Hugo-based K.C. Electric Association board member Bob Bledsoe also remembers when electricity came to his family’s ranch in eastern Colorado when he was 4 or 5 years old. His dad took him out to watch neighbors bring line in and set the power poles by hand.

“Son, take a good look at what you see right now,” his dad said to him, “because this is really going to change our country.” And it did. Neighbors helped neighbors in their collective effort to bring electricity to Colorado’s rural areas starting in 1936. Communities had solid plans based on the new Rural Electrification Act and people collected signatures and $5 fees to form local electric co-ops.

To work together on shared goals, these new, small, local electric co-ops banded together in 1945 to create what was then called the Colorado State Association of Cooperatives. This month, the Colorado Rural Electric Association celebrates its 75th anniversary as that trade association for Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops and power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Few Colorado rural electric cooperative founders are still living these days, but their original efforts and legacy still power our lives. That’s why the collective cooperative story deserves telling — and retelling.

Statewide support
At its inception, CREA primarily worked on advancing legislative issues and political agendas promoting the rural electrification movement both locally and nationally.

As needs arose, CREA’s focus expanded to indirectly support member co-ops’ consumer-members. Your co-op’s goal is to provide safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity to your community and home. CREA is a tool that co-ops rely on to make that possible. Simply put, CREA has a statewide perspective and a holistic approach to serving co-ops so your community co-op can serve you better.

CREA continues the much needed work on shared co-op issues at the state Capitol as well as working on shared goals in other areas.

Safety and training
A commitment to keep your co-op and its employees safe has always been at the forefront of CREA’s efforts. Since its formation, job training and safety has been a valued service offered by CREA. From providing training programs to organization-wide safety assessments, classes and seminars for all 22 co-ops across the state, the four-person safety team reaches far and wide. The safety team also facilitates mutual aid efforts. When the power goes out in a community or town due to a major weather event, there are 21 other Colorado co-ops that can assist with getting the power back on.

Education
Education is an important spoke of the CREA wheel, and it helps perpetuate industry best practices. Through CREA’s education services, co-op staff and board members can advance their learning and leadership. A range of courses are available for directors, mechanics, accountants, member service managers and human resource specialists, as well as other co-op employees.

Delegates of the 2019 Colorado Youth Camp.

Delegates of the 1973 Colorado Youth Camp.

CREA helps your co-op to support future leaders.

For 25 years, CREA has promoted and organized Colorado co-op high schoolers’ annual Washington D.C. Youth Tour. A great opportunity for the students who are selected to go, the tour allows Colorado teens to meet with nearly 1,900 students from across the country to learn about cooperatives, the legislative process and sightseeing. A weeklong summer Leadership Camp in Steamboat Springs, offered since the 1970s, also gives teens a unique opportunity to learn about the co-op model, develop leadership skills and simply have fun.

Communication
Along with these programs, CREA assists local co-ops with communication services and telling the cooperative story. Colorado Country Life, (which was originally published under the name Colorado Rural Electric News and, later, Rocky Mountain Rural Life) is now in its 67th year of production.

This magazine is the most accessible and efficient way for your co-op to keep you informed. Readers get a little bit of everything: local co-op news and business, community events, local scholarship opportunities and relevant safety issues. Consumer-members also enjoy stories on interesting Colorado people, places, discoveries, recipes, political issues and gardening.

Serving Colorado communities and beyond
Making space for local and international philanthropic efforts has evolved for CREA over the last 75 years. For eight years, Colorado’s electric cooperatives have sponsored a team in the Pedal the Plains bike tour across the eastern plains. The team raises money for Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit organization that helps people with electric bills and energy efficiency updates in homes across Colorado.

In 2018 and 2019, CREA partnered with co-ops from Oklahoma to travel to Guatemala where crews of volunteer linemen electrified small, remote villages. Giving power to people who have never had it before is a proud and important moment for both the linemen and the co-ops they represent.

Still going strong
Since day one of modern rural electrification, the co-op industry evolved remarkably fast. New technologies and generation sources are developed nearly every day and electric service is not going away. Neither is the co-op model. As Bledsoe says, “CREA, in its history, made a profound effect on the infrastructure in Colorado and the people who are served by it. CREA should be a community effort to make sure all the co-ops have affordable and reliable electricity.” And that, it is.

Although the statewide trade association has changed over the past 75 years to meet modern cooperative needs, one thing remains the same: CREA continues to fight for co-op issues and encourage a new generation of people to connect with their cooperatives. CREA looks forward to many more years of representing and serving co-ops and consumer-members across the state.

Kylee Coleman is the editorial assistant at Colorado Country Life magazine. She writes about innovations at Colorado’s electric cooperatives and enjoyed sifting through print archives researching CREA’s history.

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.