The Energy Innovations newsletter is your source for the latest innovations by Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Gunnison Co-op Offers EV Exposure to Community

In March 2018, Gunnison County Electric Association expanded its electric vehicle program with the addition of a 2018 Chevy Bolt. The Bolt joins the co-op’s Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Spark that are currently in their EV fleet.

GCEA started the electric vehicle program with a Chevy Spark as a way to provide an EV driving experience for members. GCEA employees also use the car on a daily basis and named it “Spark-e.” To further educate people about EVs, the co-op loans Spark-e out for a week at a time in the “Adopt Spark-e” program.

The Chevy Bolt will be only offered for test drives. All long-distance trips in the Bolt are recorded and are outlined in a blog, Check out one employee’s trip over Monarch Pass with the Bolt on the blog.

To further support EV owners, GCEA also offers a 35 percent rebate, up to $250, on home chargers — as long as the member goes on the time-of-use rate. They can plug in their EV at home at 6 p.m., but it is scheduled to start charging at 10 p.m. to stay off peak.

Studies suggest that exposure to electric vehicles increases acceptance, and Gunnison County Electric Association hopes to help its consumers understand EVs better by sharing their EV fleet.

Electric Co-ops Get Creative with Carbon Emissions

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, a power supplier for 18 of Colorado’s 22 electric cooperatives helped dedicate the Dry Fork Station Integrated Test Center on May 16, 2018. The ITC is host to the Carbon XPRIZE, in which participants compete for a total of $20 million in prize money. The goal for the XPRIZE is to incentivize the creation of commercial commodities from CO2 emissions in an effort to create a circular carbon economy. In 2016, coal-based generation facilities produced more than 1.2 metric tons of CO2.

The ITC project occupies over 200,000 square feet of space at the Dry Fork facility in Wyoming. The Carbon XPRIZE finalists will use one of five test bays, and will share access to flue gas produced by 1.5 MW of generation capacity from the coal plant.

Tri-State contributed $5 million to the ITC project after identifying the need “to provide venues for innovators to bring new [carbon utilization] technology forward,” according to Ellen Connor, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Tri-State.

XPRIZE finalists are proposing products like feedstock, foamed plastics and concrete — all created by using CO2 emissions from the coal plant. CREA will continue to track the XPRIZE and how solutions from forward-thinking innovators will trickle down to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Colorado Co-op Innovates with Nest Thermostats

United Power, Inc., announced in May that all members qualify to receive savings by purchasing and using a Nest programmable thermostat.

The Brighton-based electric co-op now offers member rebates for new Nest purchases, as well as through a program called “Rush Hour Rewards” for members who have a Nest thermostat and central air conditioning. It will help the co-op decrease peak power usage during hot summer days when members’ collective air-conditioning use is high, thus relieving some of the load on the electric grid during those times.

Prior to a “Rush Hour” of energy usage, members’ qualifying Nest thermostats will pre-cool the home. Nest-using members will receive a message directly from the app saying that United Power has scheduled a Rush Hour because predicted electricity use is high. Then members’ Nest thermostats will automatically adjust up or down a few degrees. When the Rush Hour is over, the Nest thermostat will automatically return to its regular temperature schedule.

Rush Hour Rewards rebates are applied as United Power bill credits. Members will receive $50 upon enrollment in the Rush Hour Rewards program, and then an additional $25 at the end of the summer when they stay enrolled for the season.

Keep up-to-date with this innovative approach to saving energy and members’ money with the CREA Innovations in Energy newsletter. We are anxious to see how more Colorado electric cooperatives innovate with smart home devices.

Mountain Parks Electric Builds New Solar Array

The board of directors for Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric, a nonprofit electric provider, approved the purchase of electricity from a 1.3-megawatt solar array to be built in Jackson County. Microgrid Energy plans to construct the solar array several miles north of Walden, just east of Highway 125. MPE will purchase the solar generation for 20 years after the array is constructed.

The electricity generated from the array is estimated to produce enough electricity for 300 homes. Mountain Parks Electric “will save money on wholesale power costs with every kilowatt-hour generated by this solar array,” says Tom Sifers, MPE general manager.

Other renewable energy projects in MPE territory include hydroelectric generation from the Granby Dam, Grand Lake’s micro-hydro recovery system and the Williams Fork Dam. This solar generation array will add to the local renewable power supply, increasing it their renewable portfolio, which currently stands at 30 percent.

Co-op Power Suppliers Evolve to Meet Future Needs

By Amy Higgins

Electric cooperatives are committed to making reliable and low-cost electricity available to consumer-members. To do that, many co-ops depend on their generation and transmission co-ops (G&Ts) that supply the electricity. Those G&Ts are finding new ways and new resources to help their co-ops meet the needs of their members today and tomorrow.

“G&Ts have expanded their supply portfolio to add cleaner and more efficient modern natural-gas fired generation and renewable resources, and are also investing in emerging technologies,” said Paul Breakman, senior director in NRECA’s business and technology strategies (BTS) department.

“The nation’s 63 G&Ts (including Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in Colorado) are finding ways to support infrastructure opportunities and replace existing generation to ensure electric co-ops have access to the lowest cost electricity available,” said Dan Walsh, senior power supply and generation director for BTS. “G&Ts are investing millions of dollars each year into research, plant modernization and new generation.”

The Earth’s Energy

Owned or purchased renewable energy capacity available to electric cooperatives has topped 9 gigawatts, with at least another 1.1 GW planned by 2020, excluding about 10 GW of federal hydropower purchased by co-ops each year.

Fueling the projected growth are a number of factors, including the extension of federal tax incentives and the improving economics of renewable resources.

With 85 megawatts of solar, Westminster-based Tri-State Generation & Transmission leads the nation in co-op solar power, according to Lee Boughey, Tri-State’s senior manager of communications and public affairs. The G&T supplies electricity to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops. In 2017, 30 percent of the energy consumed within the association came from renewable resources.

Tri-State’s first two large, utility-scale projects were announced in 2009 and came on line in 2010: the 30-megawatt Cimarron Solar facility located in Colfax County, New Mexico, and the 51-megawatt Kit Carson Windpower Project in Kit Carson County, Colorado. “Since then, Tri-State has added two additional solar projects, which make our association the top G&T in the nation for solar power,” Boughey said.

With three wind projects in eastern Colorado and six hydropower projects, Tri-State has 475 MW of renewable projects in its portfolio. “Those projects are complemented by our members’ local renewable projects and the hydropower power the association purchases from the Western Area Power Administration,” Boughey said.

There have been significant decreases in the cost of renewable power since the G&T’s first projects were signed on in 2009. As a result, its recent renewable energy power purchase agreements benefit its member systems with the lower cost of energy. Projects that came on line in 2017 include the Alta Luna solar project in southern New Mexico and the Twin Buttes wind project in southeast Colorado.

“While other utilities across the country have seen decreases in the demand for power, Tri-State, which has a diversity of member systems, continues to experience load growth,” Boughey said. In 2017, the amount of energy the G&T supplied to its members increased more than 2 percent.

And more of that power is now generated using renewable resources.

Amy Higgins writes on cooperative issues for Colorado Country Life.

Sunshine in Southeast Colorado

After two years of analytical research, planning, development and construction, Colorado electric co-op Southeast Colorado Power Association energized the Vilas Solar site on March 1.

A partnership with RES, the solar project will provide solid energy output. The La Junta-based co-op will pay RES for the energy output from the solar site on a pre-determined pricing model. And since solar power is relatively easy and cheaper to produce, members will see cost benefits over the next 20 years.

The solar project sits on almost 40 acres near Springfield. This is the first local solar project for SECPA and the co-op is excited to add this solar source to its renewable power generation portfolio.

D.C. Conference Focuses on Broadband

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference took place in Washington, D.C., the first week in April and Colorado co-ops attended to meet with legislators. The annual conference gives rural electric cooperative leaders the opportunity to discuss co-op priorities and legislation that directly affects co-ops and rural America. This year, one of the topics was broadband for rural America.

Work on the House Farm Bill and expanding funding for rural broadband was discussed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who was the keynote speaker at the NRECA conference. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” Perdue told more than 2,000 electric cooperative leaders attending the conference in Washington on April 9. “I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere,” said Perdue. “In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

Broadband access will improve rural education, medical care, communication and business, including farming, he continued. Perdue described how smart technology can drive precision fertilization and seeding at large farms. “You can’t do that without broadband e-connectivity,” he said.

Perdue said that the USDA is working now to distribute $600 million in rural broadband grants and loans, which has the potential to directly impact rural parts of Colorado. Several Colorado co-ops are currently innovation leaders in expanding high-speed internet into underserved parts of rural Colorado.

Electric Co-op Makes Technological Strides

“Forward-thinking and proactive” are two ways that Dan Harms, manager of rates, technology and energy policy at La Plata Electric Association, describes the Durango-based electric cooperative.

Technological advances in battery storage, increased individual solar systems and electric vehicle home charging popularity put LPEA in the top percentage of rural electric cooperatives across the country. This use of the latest technology benefits its members by maintaining reliability and efficiency.

The co-op also uses advanced computerized technology to track the territory system and outages. Dispatch has a “live” wall that monitors all parts of the system 24/7 in real time and the line crews use smartphones and tablets in the field for maintenance, inspections and repairs.

This innovative use of technology allows LPEA to serve the membership better while keeping rates low.

Co-op Grant Gets to the Core of History and Promotes Sustainability

Nucla-based San Miguel Power Association, CoBank and power supplier Basin Electric awarded the Apple Core Project with a “Sharing Success” grant. The grant from these three cooperative sources will assist in the installation of a demonstration orchard at the Pinion Farm Homestead in Nucla.

The Sharing Success grant seeks funding opportunities that will stimulate and enhance the local economies by job creation in the area, creating and improving local commerce, offering sustainability progress and building collaboration.

The funds from this particular Sharing Success grant will aid in planting hand-grafted apple trees in the demonstration orchard. According to the Apple Core Project’s website, “Each tree planted [in the demonstration orchard] will become part of a new generation genetic bank from which [the Apple Core Project] will collect the scion for grafting additional trees to plant.”

The Apple Core Project aims to identify and map fruit tree varieties on the Western Slope; to discover the stories of the people who planted and cared for these trees; to propagate local and rare fruit genetics by grafting and planting new trees in the area; and to revive the fruit growing economy on the Western Slope.

The Sharing Success grant is just one way that SMPA uses resources in an innovative way to help members support the local community. Visit for more information about the demonstration orchard and for interesting historical facts about the fruit industry on the Western Slope. Visit to learn more about how the electric co-op supports their community.

Ski and Sun in the San Luis Valley

San Luis Valley Rural Electric Association, a Monte Vista-based electric cooperative, is proud to power the thriving Wolf Creek Ski Area with solar power. Ski lifts and buildings at Wolf Creek came on line with the Penitente Solar Project in November 2017. The ski area is the largest consumer of power in the San Luis Valley territory in the fall and winter months, both day and night.

Penitente Solar is a 2.75 AC megawatt solar project that sits on a sunny, unobstructed location less than a half mile from SLVREC’s La Garita Substation. SLVREC negotiated a long-term power purchase agreement with Renewable Energy Systems. RES operates and maintains the distribution of the photovoltaic system, from which SLVREC purchases the output to serve members’ electricity needs. This project provides power to the Wolf Creek Ski Area and to co-op members in Saguache, Rio Grande, Costilla, Alamosa, Conejos, Mineral and Hinsdale counties. Residential members get access to renewable energy that is locally generated and cost-effective.

The annual output of the solar plant is about 7,000 kilowatt-hours. Wolf Creek uses approximately 1,000 kilowatt-hours each year. The expected operational lifetime of the project is more than 25 years, benefitting skiers and members alike well into the future.