Consumer-members can test drive this Tesla electric vehicle

Electric Co-ops Share the EV Experience

As part of an ongoing discussion about electric vehicles with its member distribution cooperatives, Tri-State Generation and Transmission created the EV Experience, an innovative electric vehicle allowing co-op consumer-members to try out EVs.

Access to electric vehicles can be limited in the rural areas that Colorado’s distribution cooperatives serve; consumer-members can’t easily go to an EV dealership for a test drive. Tri-State found this was preventing consumer-members from engaging with EVs, so the power supplier decided to provide the experience through five EVs that can be loaned to Tri-State member cooperatives.

These co-ops can take one of two Tesla Model 3 EVs, a Tesla Model Y, a Chevy Bolt or an electric Pacifica Minivan for a month at a time. During that time, the co-op is encouraged to allow consumer-members and co-op staff to ride and drive the EVs, providing a first-time EV experience for many.

The program began in May, and has been “wildly successful,” according to Tri-State Beneficial Electrification Manager Matt Fitzgibbon. In the first month, 30-40 drivers got behind the wheel of an EV. Seven Colorado electric co-ops have participated so far. One co-op even had 17% of its membership participate in the EV Experience. Matt says there has been overwhelmingly positive feedback, such as, “I was interested in getting an EV, but I’m going to do it sooner” and “I though these things would be boring and not fun to drive, but I’m blown away.”

This fall, Holyoke-based Highline Electric Association took Tri-State’s Chevy Bolt and had 41 unique drivers during the month.

Highline’s Member Services Manager Tadius Huser said, “It’s an awesome program; it was good education for people.” Huser said that people were surprised at the minimal amount of maintenance EVs require. Though drivers were concerned about range, especially since it’s an “infrastructure desert” in northeastern Colorado, “Tri-State is doing good work to change that,” Huser said. Highline will install a dual-head Level 2 public EV charger at its headquarters by the end of the year with funds from a Charge Ahead grant from the Colorado Energy Office and funds from Tri-State. It is also exploring installing a DC fast charger someplace in its service territory.

“The primary goal [of the EV Experience] is to get people behind the wheel. This provides boots on the ground feedback to promote EVs and EV charging infrastructure,” Fitzgibbon said. A long-term goal is to bring EVs to member co-op annual meetings to “spark the conversation and have a well-rounded discussion about beneficial electrification.”

Tri-State has thought of everything during these unique times. Keeping safety and hygiene at the forefront, each EV Experience event has a car-specific sanitizing kit and all the materials needed to clean the EVs between drivers.

Highline’s EV Experience was well-received by its consumer-members and the co-op is gearing up to take Tri-State’s Tesla Model Y in January. The co-op is expecting even more member engagement with the all-wheel drive Tesla SUV.

Electric Co-ops Lead in Keeping the Grid Secure

An innovative and state-of-the-art cybersecurity tool being developed by the electric cooperatives was given a boost with $6 million in funding from the United States Department of Energy. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is leading the development of the tool, known as Essence.

After initially receiving funds to create Essence in 2014, the national trade association for electric co-ops built a five-layer configuration of cyber tools. Now it is moving ahead with Essence 2.0, which monitors potential cyberthreats and provides instant feedback and data to co-op network administrators and system operators to isolate the problem and defend the system. After getting baseline information and data, the cutting-edge program then constantly evaluates the system for any abnormal activity, which, when detected, sends an alert.

The DOE funds will help NRECA develop, deploy and test the technology at 55 member electric co-ops across the country over three years. Stay tuned to this newsletter from CREA to learn how Essence 2.0 will help Colorado’s electric co-ops maintain and advance grid security across distribution systems.

Indoor "Farm in a Box" growing lettuce

Co-ops Bring New Opportunity to Craig School

Growing crops indoors is the focus of an innovative collaboration between electric power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the national Electric Power Research Institute and Moffat County School District in Craig. The program offers students and faculty an opportunity to grow various crops indoors and year-round with EPRI’s “Farm in a Box.”

This cutting-edge indoor agriculture facility will be installed by Tri-State at Moffat County High School in northwestern Colorado. The facility is housed in a 40-foot long shipping container and is temperature-controlled, has efficient lighting and plumbing infrastructure to support the production of crops.

The Farm in a Box will offer educational opportunities for Moffat County High School students and research data for EPRI. EPRI staff will monitor the container for the first two years to evaluate different metrics, such as nutrient quality of the produce, community impacts, sustainability performance and electricity load profiles.

CREA Shares Innovative Discussions

CREA has sponsored several webinars on key co-op issues and on innovative topics this fall.

For those who were not able to participate and/or miss the annual CREA Energy Innovations Summit, you can view the recorded webinars On the CREA website.

A recording and the PowerPoint slides are available here. Here’s what you’ll find:

Ground Source, Air Source, and Cold Climate Heat Pumps
Path Toward Creating and RTO for Colorado
How Co-ops Will Recover from the Pandemic
X-PRIZE & CO2 Storage
Ballot Measure Review
Electric Vehicles in Colorado

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association logo

Electric Co-op Supports Community Innovation

Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley REA is working with the community of Red Feather Lakes to create a microgrid. The small community in northern Colorado gets its electricity delivered by a single transmission line, which is vulnerable to wildfires such as the Cameron Peak Fire currently threatening the area. It is also vulnerable to high winds, winter storms and car accidents — all of which can take out the power line and cause extended outages.

A community-driven microgrid project was initiated when the Red Feather Lakes library was awarded a grant to pursue solar panels. PVREA will control and own the microgrid, which will be installed at the local fire station. It features a 140-kilowatt/448-kilowatt-hour battery with 3.2 hours of storage. And the library, across from the fire station will have a 20-kilowatt solar array.

This innovative partnership between the community and the co-op is sure to be a model for future microgrid projects both in Colorado and nationwide.

Holy Cross Energy Wins Award

Holy Cross Energy was nationally recognized and named the Electric Cooperative of the Year by the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

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. 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.

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 utilities which demonstrate this innovative thinking to advance clean energy and create replicable projects.

Watch a message from SEPA President and CEO Julia Hamm and Holy Cross Energy’s President and CEO Bryan Hannegan: https://youtu.be/Nx-mJ7UnHHc

solar panels being installed

Gunnison Electric Adds Solar for Community

In its continual effort to “Green the Grid,” Gunnison County Electric Association announced a second community solar garden, located on the roof at the co-op’s headquarters in Gunnison.

The electric co-op will lease solar panels on a month-to-month basis or consumer-members can participate in a 20-year lease agreement. There are already 195 panels leased, with the maximum shares being 5 panels per meter.

Though not in production yet, the array will be able to produce 100.8 kW. The system is entirely constructed and ready to operate, but according to GCEA Strategy Execution Specialist Matt Feier, it is awaiting approval from Tri-State and FERC before it can begin regular operation.

This innovative approach to community solar is well-received by the communities GCEA serves.

“Once members understand the community solar garden concept, it tends to be a no-brainer,” Feier says. “So much so that we are already looking for locations for our next community solar project.”

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.