Colorado Co-op Innovators Recognized

Grid modernization and clean energy solutions are the focus of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, providing tools and resources to electric utilities to engage in forward-thinking change. Each year SEPA awards individuals and utilities which demonstrate this innovative thinking to advance clean energy and create replicable projects.

2020 Power Players Award finalists include Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission CEO Duane Highley and Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy.

Highley was nominated for the Individual Power Player of the Year award. This award recognizes an individual who demonstrates leadership and innovation “to significantly advance an integrative perspective of clean energy, DER, grid modernization and its value as a resource to meet the needs of their electricity consumers.” In his first year at Tri-State, Highley led the organization through transformational changes to produce cleaner energy. With its Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State has significantly expanded renewables, reduced emissions and increased flexibility for its member distribution cooperatives to develop more local renewable projects.

The Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year Award is given to an electric co-op that demonstrates leadership through innovation to significantly advance clean energy and grid modernization. Holy Cross Energy is a 2020 finalist for this award. In 2018, Holy Cross Energy adopted the Seventy70Thirty Plan, which established the goal for the co-op to attain 70% renewable supply by 2030. HCE is taking assertive steps to achieve this goal, including PPAs with a 100-megawatt wind project and a 30-MW solar project, both of which went online in 2019.

Co-op Assists with Solar Research

La Plata Electric Association in Durango is collaborating with Fort Lewis College, Teledyne Brown, Lockheed Martin Space and King Energy to develop a 2-megawatt solar garden at the Old Fort property south of Hesperus. This facility will generate electricity and provide students and faculty research opportunities.

This innovative use of atypical space for a solar development — a rocky and rural landscape — will lend itself to infrastructure research, according to a news release by FLC. Researchers will test various solar installations and establish new industry options for areas that aren’t flat or graded. The Old Fort’s location is in LPEA’s remote service territory, but not close to current infrastructure. This will take additional research to get the solar park’s energy connected to the grid.

Solar Leads Future Co-op Growth

Electric cooperatives will see an acceleration of growth in renewable resources over the next three years primarily led by large solar projects, according to a July business and technology advisory published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are contributing to a large portion of this national trend with many local solar and renewable projects. Recent projects include:
• A 101-kilowat solar garden at Gunnison County Electric Association headquarters in current construction
• Highline Electric Association’s 1.5-megawatt Riverview Solar project
• Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s 110-megawatt Dolores Canyon solar project, projected to be online in 2023.

Today, the co-ops’ renewable portfolio is diverse. All electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, and therefore cannot utilize federal tax credits other utilities use to keep costs lower for renewable project development, so they work with others to get the job done. Of the 10.1 GW of co-op renewable capacity, more than 8.6 GW are under power purchase agreements rather than owned.

Co-ops Hit High Point of 58% Renewables

At one point in early May, electric co-op power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission supplied 58% renewable energy to its members.

It was a sunny May 4, and Tri-State averaged 46% renewable energy for its members for the day, peaking at 58%. Then again, on May 7, Tri-State averaged 47% renewable energy for its members with a peak of 55%.

The power supplier’s goal is to provide 50% renewable energy for its members year round by 2024. It is adding an additional 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar to its system to accomplish this goal.

Tesla Test Drives for Co-op Members

After being suspended for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gunnison County Electric Association’s robust electric vehicle test drive program is up and running again. Exclusively for consumer-members of the co-op, GCEA members can take the co-op’s Chevy Bolt for a week-long test drive. Or they can request a guided test drive around the Gunnison, Crested Butte and Blue Mesa areas in the co-op’s Tesla Model 3. The guided test drive shows members all the features of the vehicle, which are all controlled on the main screen on the vehicle’s dashboard.

Mountain Parks Electric is also the proud new owner of a Tesla Model 3. The Granby-based co-op is still finalizing how and under what conditions it will let consumer-members drive this new addition to its fleet. Under MPE’s Electrify Everything program, the co-op is offering financial assistance and on-bill financing for commercial EV charging stations. EV home charging rebates and wiring rebates are also available for MPE consumer-members.

New EV Chargers in Southeastern Colorado

La Junta-based electric cooperative Southeast Colorado Power Association recently installed two electric vehicle charging stations, made possible by a Charge Ahead Colorado grant through the Colorado Energy Office.

The first EV charger is located at the co-op’s headquarters parking lot, and the second one is located in the Holiday Inn Express parking lot, also in La Junta. Both stations are Level 2 chargers and can charge two EVs at once.

The Great Outdoors Goes Electric

In an effort to promote beneficial electrification, Colorado electric co-ops in all corners of the state are encouraging consumer-members to make the switch to electric outdoor power equipment. They are doing this by partnering with power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission to offer consumer rebate opportunities on new outdoor equipment.

Mountain View Electric Association, Inc., headquartered in Limon, is holding an outdoor equipment contest for its members to enter: The co-op will give away an electric lawnmower in June and an electric snowblower in October. MVEA states on its website that, while there is an initial investment when making the switch to electric equipment, switching to electric can save consumer-members money over time since the equipment or the equipment battery chargers plug into a wall. Electric lawnmowers, snowblowers and chain saws don’t need to be refueled and the cost of electricity is cheaper than other fuel sources.

Electric outdoor equipment is also better for the environment, as gasoline-powered lawn equipment creates pollution from exhaust and spillage when refilling the tanks.

This is just one more way that Colorado’s electric co-ops and Tri-State are innovatively creating beneficial electrification opportunities for consumer-members across the state.

Colorado Rural Electric Cooperatives Provide Essential Internet Services

San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, and its high-speed internet subsidiary Ciello, partnered with a local, high-poverty school district to wire family homes with internet to give students a chance to be successful at remote learning during the on-going pandemic. The school district is paying for the Wi-Fi service through the remainder of the school year. Ciello waived installation and equipment fees and contract terms.

According to a Colorado Futures Center report, at the beginning of this recent period of remote learning caused by the novel coronavirus, about 54,000 school-age children lived in homes with no access to internet service. Higher numbers of these students live in southwestern Colorado

This innovative way to support local communities is not uncommon for Colorado’s electric cooperatives. Delta-Montrose Electric Association also met a need in its community with its internet service provider, Elevate. At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, Elevate took every residential internet subscriber to 1 gigabit per second speeds while maintaining the same price structure.

The pandemic has brought to light the disparities that rural Coloradans face when it comes to what could be argued as an essential, basic service in every home. Many rural electric cooperatives across Colorado are stepping up to assist in bringing internet access to local communities that larger internet companies ignored because it is not cost-effective to serve these areas.

United Power Masks Keep Crews Safe

In response to the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks while performing essential services in the community during the pandemic, a group of United Power employees (Operations Manager Brent Sydow; Safety Specialist Mike Robinson; Purchasing Director Curtis Subia; and Operations Superintendent Kurt Eisenbarth) had an innovative idea: repurposing fire-retardant work shirts into masks.

The Brighton-based electric cooperative had an extra supply of bright yellow FR (flame resistant) shirts on hand and gave those to a local seamstress to design and make the masks. The masks were provided to all United Power essential crews.

These special masks are important since lineworkers dress for the job and their clothing is designed to protect them in case of an electrical contact. These essential workers cannot simply use an off-the-shelf face mask and stay safe on the job. The FR face masks maintain that protection for these crews.

The cooperative is also providing the rest of its employees with non-FR masks repurposed from United Power T-shirts it had in stock. These will be used when the social distancing restrictions have been lifted and their staff is back in the office. Currently, the co-op is utilizing teleworking protocols and many of their 175 employees are working from home when it is feasible.

Poudre Valley REA Goes Virtual

Poudre Valley REA held another successful annual meeting on April 4. And it was all virtual. Due to statewide social distancing requirements, the electric co-op hired a professional marketing company to film the annual meeting in the co-op’s community room at its headquarters in Fort Collins. Linden Marketing also did all of the post-production for the co-op, overlaying the video with slides, titles and pop-up prompts. PVREA uploaded the video to YouTube and scheduled it to air on the original annual meeting date using the YouTube Premier feature.

“Over 700 consumer-members tuned in to the meeting on April 4 and we received great feedback,” PVREA Communications Specialist Jessica Johnson said. The election of directors proceeded as planned with an independent third-party performing mail-in ballot counting and ballots were even allowed to be cast onsite the day of the meeting. Any consumer-member who submitted a ballot was entered into the co-op’s prize drawings. The grand prize winner won a home package that consists of electric outdoor equipment as well as smart gadgets.

The innovative solution to making sure co-op consumer-members still had a chance to participate in the annual meeting and director elections will surely be replicated across Colorado and the nation as the need arises and social distancing measures are still in place.