SMPA Helps County Obtain Microgrid Grant

San Miguel Power Association, an electric cooperative based in Ridgway and Nucla, recently partnered with San Miguel County to install a microgrid. A microgrid is an “island” system with electricity sources that can operate independently to provide electricity when the greater grid loses power.

SMPA helped the county apply for a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant and it received $1.1 million to build two solar PV and energy storage microgrid systems. The co-op helped the county with solar and battery system design support, critical load determination, grant writing support, beneficial electrification rebates and interconnection and net-metering agreements

These innovative microgrid projects benefit two crucial parts of the San Miguel County sheriff’s department: the annex building in Norwood and the Ilium sheriff office near Telluride. These two sites are perfect examples of how microgrids can maintain 100% reliability for mission-critical loads. Mission-critical loads for the two sites were defined as building lighting, receptacles, communications and internet, control rooms, IT servers and radio rooms, and protective custody and lock systems.

The resiliency these microgrids provide the county offers peace of mind and security for the county during crises, outages and emergency situations, such as the myriad disasters Mother Nature can serve up in the mountain areas SMPA serves.

Hydropower from 100-Year-Old Dam

San Luis Valley REC recently celebrated 10 years of drawing renewable hydropower from the 100-year-old Humphreys Dam in Creede. The 90-foot concrete arch is like a miniature Hoover Dam. It was modernized 10 years ago into a cost-effective facility with a single-phase generator capable of generating up to 340 kilowatts of hydropower. It supplies about 1% of SLVREC’s renewable energy.

Drones Now Help Co-op Serve Consumer-Members

Buena Vista-based Colorado electric cooperative, SDCEA, was recently featured in a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association podcast that discussed the use of drones in the electric utility industry.

NRECA research and survey data shows that over 300 electric co-ops in the U.S. use drones on their system. And with its rugged territory and sometimes difficult-to-access equipment locations, SDCEA is a prime example of how this rapidly changing UAS technology can assist in ways previously never thought possible.

Bill Hovanec, GIS lead at SDCEA, stated in the interview that the drone program has been helping the co-op for 18 months. He said it’s a cost-effective way to get a lot of data that would otherwise be unavailable. Co-ops are typically smaller organizations with smaller budgets, but over the years, drone costs have gone down in price, and insurance, regulations and training expenses are also decreasing, making a robust drone program more accessible.

“Most rural co-ops can afford a couple drones to test and they bring back positive results,” Bill said. At SDCEA, the drone data collected comes directly back to GIS; operations and line crews can pull up the pictures of what they see and get what they need before they even go out to make repairs or work on maintenance.

Bill appreciates the functionality with drones and uses in GIS every day. The more Bill learns about UAS technology and capabilities, the more he sees how major weather events and natural disasters can benefit from drone data. Events such as wildfires and snowstorms the service area is prone to may limit access to equipment, but drones give an “eyeball on it.” An important part of SDCEA’s overall maintenance plan to improve reliability and safety is wildfire mitigation. Bill stated in the interview that drones help with data collection for trouble spots on the system.

Mission and flight planning, as well as analyzing and processing the data is the most time consuming for any electric cooperative drone program. The actual flight may take an hour, but flight planning and data processing is more important and can take about twice as much time.

Bill hasn’t had too many bad experiences when he or his pilot crew is flying the co-op’s drone. Some consumer-members get frustrated and question privacy, but he said most people are more interested than upset. SDCEA knocks on doors prior to a flight to let consumer-members in the flight path know what the co-op is doing beforehand. And just like line crews, the drone team maintains safety practices and gets the aircraft on the ground before they answer any questions.

SDCEA’s program currently has three pilots and one drone and the co-op is hoping to expand its drone inspection program.

United Power Installs New EV Charger

Bridging a 30-mile gap between electric vehicle DC fast-charge stations along I-25, United Power recently installed a new public charging station.

The new ChargePoint station is conveniently located along the northern corridor of I-25 between Thornton and Loveland.

Located at its Carbon Valley service center, this is the third public EV charger installed by the Brighton-based electric co-op. The co-op’s other two stations are located at its Coal Creek office in Golden and a gas station in Keenesburg. United Power’s strategic EV charging locations are helping make EVs more practical for Coloradans and more accessible for people living in rural communities.

Highline Electric Offers App for Members

Holyoke-based electric cooperative Highline Electric Association released its redesigned app this month. Available for download on Google Play and the App store, the co-op provides this app so that its consumer-members have easy access to their utility account.

This is the second iteration of an app HEA has developed, and some new features are included.
Consumer-members can make payments through the app, get notifications from the co-op, view an outage map and report an outage, view past and current billing statements, look at usage history and contact the co-op directly from the app. “Overall, this version is more modern, easier to use and navigate,” HEA Member Services Specialist Jessie Heath said.

This is an innovative way for Highline’s consumer-members to keep up with their electric cooperative.

Electric Cooperatives Prioritize Grid Security

Maintaining and enhancing security of the electric grid is a priority for electric cooperatives — and Colorado’s electric cooperatives are part of a larger network helping to make this happen.

Nationwide, electric co-ops partner with each other and government entities to provide cybersecurity training, secure resiliency, and develop technology to improve grid safety and efficiency.

As reported previously by CREA, tools like Essence 2.0 have been developed by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The national association still has frequent interaction with the Department of Energy to work on innovative technologies, tools and resources that modernize co-op systems and maintain grid resilience.

Cooperative Program Enhances Local Small Businesses

In an innovative approach to enhancing its rural small business community and economy, Pueblo West-based San Isabel Electric offers a unique program.

The electric co-op distributes pass-through loans with 0% financing for qualifying projects to local businesses, nonprofits and public entities. This is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.

Here’s how it works: The USDA provides the loan to San Isabel Electric, which then passes the loan through to local businesses in its service territory. The local business or nonprofit is responsible to repay the loan to SIEA, and the cooperative is then responsible for repayment to the USDA. San Isabel Electric may lend up to $1.5 million in total loans, and up to $300,000 in revolving loans.

The most recent recipient of a pass-through loan from SIEA is My One Hour Office, a coworking space in Walsenburg. Owner Mary Jo Tesitor said in a recent press release, “With a manageable low-or-no interest loan of less than $20,000, a small rural business can complete upgrades and improvements that may have been sitting on the back burner for a while.”

Tesitor believes the revolving loan program for small businesses can make a real difference for rural Colorado. And “is a great use of USDA funds. Small business owners will pay back into the fund, recirculating that money and growing the economy,” Tesitor said. She plans to use the REDL&G program funds to purchase virtual video conferencing equipment, a Wi-Fi management system and office furniture.

A previous REDL&G loan was issued to the La Veta Fire Protection District to support construction of its new fire station. San Isabel Electric is continually working with local rural businesses, nonprofits and public entities to process REDL&G applications. The co-op is also actively seeking a nonprofit or public body partner in the service territory to establish a revolving loan fund. An RLF would allow San Isabel Electric to issue these types of loans more quickly, without having to wait for USDA approval.

“To set up a revolving loan fund, we must issue a large loan to a nonprofit or public body entity, like a hospital, or local government organization. As they pay it back to us, we bank it, and then re-lend it. We can keep it going as long as we wish, as long as we’re following the USDA’s rules,” Laura Getts, San Isabel Electric’s business development manager said.

This is just one example of how a Colorado electric cooperative enhances community resilience through innovative programs.

Electric School Buses Get a Push

The move to electrify school buses across the country got a new push when The Beneficial Electrification League announced an initiative to accelerate the deployment of these buses in electric cooperative service territories.

BEL launched this coalition effort in advance of federal funds targeted to electric school buses in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs act passed by Congress in 2021.

“Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives are excited to partner with schools to bring the benefits of electric school buses to communities all across the state,” said Kent Singer, CREA executive director. “We believe these buses can bring a lot of benefits to students, the school systems and the electric cooperative community.”

In Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, CREA and three local electric co-ops are participating in the BEL initiative. Colorado also has two electric school buses deployed with the assistance of local electric co-ops with a third soon to be added.

To learn more, visit be-league.org/buses.

New EV Chargers Hit Winter Park Resort

Winter Park Resort is sporting 14 new EV chargers, thanks to Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric and its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

According to a January press release, Tri-State provided project funding to support and expand EV use in the region and MPE facilitated project planning and coordination. At the resort, Village Parking Garage now has six chargers and the outdoor B Lot has eight. Representatives from the co-op and Tri-State presented Winter Park Resort with a check at a January 11 ribbon cutting event.

MPE General Manager Mark Johnston said, “Since the ski resort chargers were energized a couple of weeks ago, skiers have been plugging in.” And the co-op expects usage to increase over time as consumers get more access to EVs and as charging infrastructure continues to grow and develop in mountain communities.

Co-op Rebates Give Back Cash and Smiles

Colorado’s electric co-ops with Tri-State Generation and Transmission have offered energy-efficiency rebates in partnership with their power supplier for years. Rebates have been made available for LED bulbs, Energy Star appliances, electric water heaters and much more. It’s an innovative and well-received program that’s helped thousands of consumer-members. Rebate programs not only give cash back to consumer-members, but they can also increase efficiency efforts at consumer homes, which typically translates into savings on residential electric bills. Who doesn’t like that?

The concept of consumer product rebates is nothing new and noteworthy. But the rebate landscape is evolving and expanding to keep up with new technologies. Many co-op rebate programs now often include smart thermostats, home EV chargers, electric lawn mowers, and other less traditional items that benefit consumer-members and are — dare we say — really fun!

In addition to providing extensive rebate information via websites and other marketing materials, co-ops often get the word out about rebate opportunities and offerings by hosting giveaways for popular and exciting rebate-qualifying items.

Fort Collins-based electric cooperative Poudre Valley REA offers rebates for electric bicycles. In December, the co-op reported that a recent electric bicycle giveaway recipient was having the time of his life on the new e-bike he won in a drawing the co-op hosted.

Earlier this month, Mountain Parks Electric gave away an electric snowblower to one lucky consumer-member a who attended a community event hosted by the Granby-based electric co-op.

Mountain View Electric Association’s popular GO ELECTRIC! Outdoor Power Equipment Giveaway helps consumer-members make the switch to electric and promotes the Limon-based co-op’s rebate program. In its contests, the co-op gives away items that assist in taking care of outdoor residential spaces: Electric lawnmowers, trimmers, power washers, chainsaws and more.

The benefits to transitioning to electric products are endless — especially when replacing gasoline-powered equipment. Consumers who use electric equipment experience zero emissions when mowing their lawn, power washing their back deck or removing snow off their driveway after a big storm. The noise factor of many of these activities nearly goes away. While no one could ever really call any chainsaw “quiet,” electric options operate at 10-20 decibels quieter than the gas equivalent. Electric lawnmowers, however, are whisper quiet and offer a huge sigh of relief for the neighbors of the weekend warrior who loves to mow her lawn at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Check your inbox monthly for future Energy Innovations newsletters from CREA to stay up-to-date on Colorado electric co-op news and programs.