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

Helicopters Help Co-ops Minimize Impact on Environment

The Cotopaxi and Texas Creek areas had extra air traffic this summer, but minimal impact on the local, mountainous terrain, thanks to the local electric co-op. The same was true on the Western Slope when a helicopter was used for power line inspections.

It was Sangre de Cristo Electric, headquartered in Buena Vista, which brought the helicopter to the mountain sides along the Arkansas River. The co-op needed to set four 900-pound poles, but the difficult and fragile terrain prevented safe access with typical co-op equipment. So, the helicopter was called in and the job was completed.

Colorado electric cooperative, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, also recently recruited the help of a helicopter to conduct line inspections across its service territory. The aerial patrol program helps DMEA inspect lines on parts of the power system that are difficult to reach in mountainous terrain. Crews in the helicopter scan for damaged equipment and linemen ride along to look for other potential problems before they cause outages. Damaged equipment can heat up, so hot spots are identified from the helicopter above through thermal imaging equipment

More than 3,000 miles of power lines will undergo aerial line patrol this year as part of DMEA’s system reliability program. Inspections help ensure safe and reliable power to homes and businesses across the DMEA service territory.

This use of helicopters is another example of how Colorado co-ops are always looking ahead to find innovative approaches to providing safe, low-cost, environmentally-friendly electricity to their service territories.

NEED & Power Supplier Educate Educators

In June, the sixth annual Tri-State Energy Conference brought together 45 educators teaching grades 4-12, and who are electric cooperative members or teach at schools that are within Tri-State’s member cooperatives’ service areas. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is the power supplier for 18 of Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops and 21 other electric co-ops in Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico.

The program, hosted at Tri-State’s headquarters in Westminster, CO, was offered in partnership with the National Energy Education Development Project. NEED works to promote an energy conscious and educated society through multi-sided energy education programs. Tri-State and NEED have partnered since 2012.

The three-day conference hosted applicants from Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming, and provided the educators with cutting-edge industry information regarding the science of energy, sources of energy, transportation, consumption, electricity, efficiency and environmental and economic impacts.

Participants worked their way through six innovative, hands-on stations that each represented a different lesson, with the goal to learn how to teach energy in the classroom or during after school programs. “The curriculum is designed to integrate energy and STEM into the classroom,” explained Michelle Pastor, Tri-State’s education program advisor.

Each teacher received professional development credits and the participants walked away with a Science of Energy kit to use in their classrooms which “Includes hands-on activities for kids to do that all relate to energy education,” Pastor said.

Teachers reported that they learned about the conference via social media and Colorado Country Life magazine, the statewide trade publication of the Colorado Rural Electric Association.

Co-ops Research Electric School Buses

Colorado’s electric co-ops are part of a national organization that does energy efficiency research and are watching as two power cooperatives in Minnesota take the lead in advancing clean and efficient student transportation.

There are already 90 electric school buses in the North America, one of which will run in Minnesota starting this fall for the 2017-2018 school year. Great River Energy and Dakota Electric Association have partnered with Schmitty and Sons, and are working on securing two more for their school districts in their rural service territories. Cooperatives serve more than 8,000 of the United States’ 13,325 school districts, meaning partnerships like this one between electric co-ops and school districts could provide a nationwide model going forward.

The upfront cost of these electric vehicles starts at $325,000, but the potential savings in maintenance and fuel costs each year will be upwards of $10,000 per bus.

The eLion school bus seats 72 students, and is 100 percent electrically powered. This specific model can go 100 miles, and with the average school bus route in the United States being 60 miles, there is enough range for these electric vehicles to do many of the bus routes (even in cold weather) without having to charge in the middle of the day. It takes four to six hours to charge the bus, and most will charge overnight while taking advantage of lower electricity demand.

Colorado Utilities Rank in the Top Ten for Grid Modernization

Traditionally a “one-way street,” the U.S. electricity grid is changing and becoming an exchange network, with growing numbers of consumers also generating electricity on a small scale that contributes to the grid. This is referred to as a transition to grid modernization and can offer many benefits to Colorado electric cooperative members.

A 2017 CETC study on grid modernization ranked Colorado utilities in the top 10 among 16 states that took action to study or investigate grid modernization issues, energy storage and demand response. And rapid advancements in technology can contribute greatly to the electric system, benefiting both utilities and consumers if done right.

The nationwide deployment of advanced grid technology such as advanced metering infrastructure or AMI has been underway for several years with electric co-ops leading the way. In Colorado, the first automated meters were deployed by co-ops in the early 1990s. Known as “Turtle” meters, these meters slowly sent meter readings back to headquarters, eliminating the need for meter readers to drive the countryside collecting meter readings.

Those first Turtle meters have since been replaced by more comprehensive AMI meters that provide more information to the co-op and the co-op members. Nationwide, 65 million smart meters had been installed by the end of 2015, with countless household installations since then and more coming soon. In Colorado, Mountain View Electric is among the co-ops currently studying how it can upgrade to AMI meters.

National activity in policy, regulations and technology will continue to change and modernize the electricity grid across the country, and Colorado’s electric cooperatives will continue to keep up-to-date with new technologies that will benefit their members and operations.

Holy Cross Energy “REVs Up Your Ride”

Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs is promoting electric vehicles in the hopes that more of its members will buy the cars and start utilizing electricity to fuel their cars rather than gasoline.

Holy Cross officials joined dignitaries from Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties at co-op headquarters recently to announce the launch of the electric vehicle sales event, “REV Up Your Ride,” a campaign to drive up purchases of electric vehicles.

For the sales event, which runs through June 30, four auto dealerships are offering discounts on seven models of electric vehicles, including plug-in electric and gasoline hybrids and plug-in battery electric vehicles. The discounts can be combined with Colorado’s tax credit up to $5,000 and federal tax credit up to $7,500.

Vail town councilwoman Kim Langmaid says, “The EV Sales Event goal is for the dealerships to sell at least 50 electric vehicles to residents and businesses in the three counties.” The sales event also set a goal of increasing public charging stations in the region by 25 percent, growing the current number of stations to 200 by the end of the year.

Compared to other transportation fuels, electricity is the cheapest. In Colorado, the average price of gasoline is currently about $2.32 per gallon, while the price of electricity purchased from Holy Cross Energy is $0.94 per eGallon. EVs also have fewer moving parts and are often much simpler than a conventional vehicle. No oil changes are required, brakes last longer and maintenance costs can be cut in half, according to

“Electric vehicles are shifting the transportation fuel market away from oil and toward electricity energy, a domestic energy source,” Glenwood Springs city councilman, Stephen Bershenyi says. “That supports Colorado electric utilities and their fuel providers,” he continues, “and raises consumer demand for more renewable energy.”

EV Charging Station Up and Running in Co-op Territory

Gunnison County Electric Association and the town of Crested Butte just announced a new electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Crested Butte’s Town Plaza. The charging station represents the first public Level II (240 volt) charging station as well as the first alternative fuel station in Gunnison County.

GCEA secured a Charge Ahead Colorado grant that provided the lion’s share of the station hardware cost. The town of Crested Butte provided the location. GCEA also provided labor and materials to install the station.

Under the terms of the grant, the charging station is currently free of charge. With two connections at the station, EV owners may charge their vehicles up to eight hours. This allows drivers to spend the day experiencing local sights and activities while still ensuring availability of the station to all EV drivers.

The EV charging station can charge all new generation electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric and more. The station is easy, reliable and safe to use.

Electric Co-op Solar Assists Low-Income Members

Empire Electric Association in Cortez, the Colorado Energy Office and GRID Alternatives have broken ground for a community solar array that will lower the electric bills of qualified low-income residents in Empire’s southwestern Colorado service territory.

The project is part of a statewide initiative designed to demonstrate how the community solar model can be optimized to reduce energy costs for utilities’ highest need customers: those who spend more than 4 percent of their income on utility bills.

“This groundbreaking in Cortez marks the first of many that will follow in the months ahead. Through these partnerships we are simultaneously achieving two objectives: mitigating energy burden for the most financially strapped households and assisting electric utilities to achieve renewable energy goals,” said Colorado Energy Office Director Jeff Ackermann.

GRID received a $1.2 million CEO grant in August 2015 to partner with utilities to implement low-income community solar. Earlier this year, CEO and GRID announced project partners, each of which is piloting a slight variation on the low-income community solar model to address the unique needs of rural utility service areas and that co-op’s customers. The projects selected are both affordable and scalable for utility partners and offer great potential to expand across the state.

“Empire Electric will be the first demonstration project to come online, but GRID and other utility partners are already seeing a swell of incoming inquiries from the community and families who want to participate in the program,” said GRID Executive Director Chuck Watkins. “We’re already realizing a reputation of impact, integrity and effectiveness — partners, communities and people across Colorado are paying attention.”

Empire General Manager Josh Dellinger said Empire is interested in expanding renewable energy access. “As a member-owned cooperative, Empire is concerned about the best interests of our members. We see this low-income community solar project as an opportunity to positively impact the communities we serve,” he said. “Empire is providing a hand-up rather than a hand-out to the subscribers — everyone benefiting will contribute through sweat equity and contribute financially to the project through a monthly energy payment.”

On April 15 and 16 in Cortez, GRID’s programmatic barn-raising model brought members of the community together to install the 21 kilowatt solar array. Participants included employees from the utility, the subscribers benefiting, local elected officials, schools and others.

GRID also included students from Navajo Technical University, a tribal school in New Mexico that offers an Energy Systems Associates Degree and courses on photovoltaic system design and installation. The students participated in the build and had an opportunity to work and learn on an actual solar project.

Together, the volunteers and their leaders installed 70 solar panels that will help save up to 10 qualified families approximately $500 per year.

Community Storage Initiative: Electric Co-ops Lead Research on Power Storage

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and other energy and environmental stakeholders are uniting around “community storage” as they search for a way to solve the electric industry’s energy storage challenge.

Community storage refers to a spectrum of utility-sponsored programs that aggregate electric storage resources available throughout the community, such as water heaters and electric vehicles, to improve the efficiency of electric energy services for consumers. Community storage programs offer the industry practical steps to rapidly increase the amount of energy storage available, and also integrate more renewable resources.

Initiative members are already implementing community storage programs; through the Initiative, they will be working together to evolve those programs.

Like community solar, community storage enables consumers and utilities to share the system-wide benefits of energy storage – environmental benefits, lower costs and grid optimization – in communities large and small across the country. Such programs maximize the value of distributed energy resources, many of which are already available to participate in energy storage programs through simple retrofits and program design.

NRECA, the national service organization for the Colorado Rural Electric Association and the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, is a charter sponsor for The Community Storage Initiative.

Additional charter sponsors include American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and Peak Load Management Alliance. The Initiative will be chaired by Gary Connett, director of member services at Great River Energy, a generation and transmission cooperative based in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

The Initiative’s supporters include a wide array of energy, environmental and business interests including several trade associations, environmental and efficiency advocacy groups and manufacturers.

Research conducted by The Brattle Group and sponsored by the Initiative’s founding members recognized that the nation’s 50 million residential electric water heaters collectively represent a significant and vastly underutilized energy storage resource capable of leveraging substantial environmental and cost benefits. A recent article in Public Utility Fortnightly introduced the community storage concept. Links to both the report and the article can be found on the Community Storage Initiative’s website,