Co-op Upgrades Power Lines During Wildfire Rebuild
Wildfires ravaged northwestern Colorado this summer, with at least three fires in Routt and Moffat counties. Steamboat Springs-based electric co-op, Yampa Valley Electric Association experienced the harsh effects of the lightning-caused Moffat County Pine Tree Fire, which was not well-contained until mid September and the Winter Valley Fire, which was spread quickly due to 50 mile per hour winds.
The Pine Tree Fire caused significant damage to the YVEA power system. Fire officials allowed co-op crews into parts of the 4,700 acre burn area to assess the damage to their lines and equipment.
YVEA had over 30 members without power due to the fire, but the co-op crews and contractors worked in extreme and challenging conditions to restore and replace the damaged infrastructure to their system. In addition to the 2 to 3 miles of overhead line that needed to be repaired, there were 33 utility poles that needed replacement, 13,200 feet of damaged aluminum conductor cable and two melted meters. The repairs will strengthen the transmission system and increase reliability in that area. The Winter Valley Fire, which spread to 7,800 acres, took out the three-phase line into Lily Park.
In both cases, the system was rebuilt with shorter spans between poles and an improved and strengthened infrastructure. This will mean fewer outages for members in these areas going forward and better reliability.
Innovations at Co-ops Reported at Federal Hearing
Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy CEO, Dr. Bryan Hannegan, was a valuable witness representing rural electric cooperatives at the Energy Subcommittee Powering America Hearing, held by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on September 26. The goal of this hearing was to provide insight into the nation’s electric grid and electricity markets and how rapidly-evolving technology innovations have a role in empowering consumers by giving them greater control.
During the introduction of the hearing, Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R–MI 6th District) stated that the United States electric grid has been transforming in a way that allows consumers to become active market participants, in which they expect control, convenience and choice. The hearing and the testimony from the panel of witnesses shed light on the challenges that prevent advanced energy technologies from deploying around the country.
The panel—including Dr. Hannegan— reported that although the electric industry is regulated to ensure that all Americans have access to reliable and affordable electricity, changing technologies require a grid that allows two-way flows. Several members of the panel emphasized that battery storage and microgrids provide grid resiliency and localized solutions to keep electricity reliable and affordable.
When asked a question by a subcommittee member about the advantages for microgrids in rural areas, Hannegan replied that microgrids improve reliability and service, especially during natural hazard events, such as the snowstorms Holy Cross experiences in their service territory. He pointed out that microgrids are always helpful in addition to grid supply and that local generation solutions are a better option in those situations.
Dr. Hannegan reminded the subcommittee that infrastructure is important in light of the wildfires and hurricanes around the nation that recently compromised electric stability, especially in Puerto Rico. He also emphasized that local decision-making must “remain paramount” and that electric regulations are not a one-size-fits-all situation. He explained how rural electric co-ops have a small employee base, how their linemen work differently because of technology, how their member service staff will want to rethink how they interact with customers who have a choice in their electricity needs and how all of those factors may lead to a new look at the standard co-op principles. Despite these challenges, he still thinks that innovative and evolving technologies are exciting because it gives co-ops access to solar and wind where the “price points are nearly a wash.”
With “no shortage of feedback from co-op members,” Holy Cross is aware that members will ask for electricity innovations that they’ve read about or have seen on television. And since electric co-ops are “heavily embedded in the communities they serve,” the feedback the co-op receives “forces a pace of innovation on the co-op.” Hannegan was quick to point out that the challenge of co-op boards is to make sure they strike a balance of what co-op members want and what makes fiscal sense.
He spoke to the fact that the architecture of the grid is changing from a hub and spoke model with passive consumers to “a dynamic decentralized and distributed grid” via digitization, metering data and software developments. He pointed out that co-ops are naturally consumer-centric being member-owned nonprofit distributors. He told the committee that even with rapidly-changing technologies, co-ops will continue to prioritize the needs of their members while developing and deploying the technologies to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity.
Eastern Colorado Co-op SCADA/AMI Team in Capable Hands
Reliability and timeliness are what drives Fort Morgan-based Morgan County Rural Electric Association’s SCADA/AMI team. Led by Ray Mann, the team monitors outages through the system, which allows the co-op to proactively deal with power outages quickly — in some instances, even before the member knows the power is out.
SCADA — supervisory control and data acquisition — is a control system architecture that uses technology such as computers and other peripheral devices including programmable controllers to interface with electrical substations. AMI — advanced metering infrastructure — are electrical meters in homes and businesses that measure electrical consumption, and also can communicate with the MCREA network to report measurements. The hardware and software monitor the electrical infrastructure throughout MCREA’s service territory and communicate system status to the control center at MCREA headquarters.
Not only does the system technology restore power quickly, the issue can often be resolved without having to send a serviceman or lineman to the location of the outage. This has the potential to cut vehicle use and fuel consumption, as well as save the cooperative labor costs.
Mann reports that even with the upgraded technology, communication from co-op members is still extremely important, especially in widespread outages. MCREA even has a texting service for members to report outages, which further promotes their innovative approach to serving co-op members.
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 energy.gov.
“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.