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Getting to Know Our Political Candidates

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

There is an old political maxim that goes something like this: If you are not at the table, you may end up on the menu. This means, when it comes to politics and lawmaking, only those who bother to show up and make their case will have any chance of influencing the outcome of any legislative process.

That is one of our key functions at the Colorado Rural Electric Association. We make sure Colorado’s electric cooperatives are at the table in Denver and Washington, D.C., when it comes to energy policy and other issues that impact the business operations and success of our co-op members. To do this effectively, we enlist the help of our board of directors, our members’ boards, our co-op managers and employees and many others.

We also work with legislators from the time they are candidates, sometimes offering financial support to state legislative candidates through the co-ops’ political action committee, Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification. CARE, a bipartisan entity, operates independently from CREA with a separate governing board made up of electric co-op directors and employees elected from across the state. (Funding for CARE comes from voluntary donations.)

Every two years, when Colorado has its state House and Senate elections, the CARE board interviews candidates running for the state legislature. With term limits in place in Colorado, there is significant turnover in both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate every election cycle. This year, the CARE committee met with 22 candidates (equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats) to learn a little about them and their reasons for running for office. It was also an opportunity to share who the co-ops are and what their concerns are.

We were extremely impressed with the candidates running for the Colorado General Assembly this year. Without exception, the candidates were smart, articulate and well-versed in the issues they will deal with at the state Capitol. That said, it was also clear that we have work to do to make sure they understand the co-op business model and how state legislative decisions can impact our co-op communities across the state.

Although electric co-ops serve primarily rural parts of the state, the CARE board interviewed many candidates from the Denver metro area to give them some sense of why rural electric co-ops were created and the challenges we face today from burdensome regulations and government overreach. While those future members of the legislature may not have rural interests at the top of their agendas, we hope the information we gave them will provide them with some basic background once the election is over and the lawmaking begins in January.

Several of the candidates we met with expressed common themes from the campaign trail. People are telling them they are tired of the political gridlock in Washington. They are also telling them that they are concerned about the stagnant economy and the price of housing. We made the case for a couple of basic principles that our organization advocated for many years that connect with these themes: local control and affordable electricity.

I believe these new legislators have great potential to be co-op supporters and to understand the concerns we have on a variety of energy issues. We’re hopeful that they will be able to express their individual judgment on bills and not be bound to their caucus’ position for every vote. Many candidates told us they would be independent-minded once elected to the General Assembly, and we hope they follow through on that promise.

There is no doubt that the presidential election this year will reach new lows when it comes to personal attacks and character assassination on both sides. The airwaves will be full of ads alleging that each candidate is a liar and scoundrel. So, it would be easy to conclude that the democratic process doesn’t work and that we are wasting our time by voting and getting involved in the political process.

That cynical outlook is not justified, in my opinion. There are many smart, articulate, caring people running for the Colorado General Assembly who are genuinely committed to addressing a variety of issues that we face in Colorado. We may not always agree with them on an issue, but we appreciate their willingness to get in the ring and fight for their beliefs. We at CREA intend to do the same.

LEADERSHIP AT GETTYSBURG

Communication pivotal for reaching goals in a changing environment

by Kent Singer, Colorado Rural Electric Association executive director

I’ll admit it right up front: I’m a Civil War geek. I have an endless fascination with that period of U.S. history — the politics, the battles, the incredible turmoil that was likely unavoidable given the flaws in our original Constitution.

So to be able to spend a few days recently in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, studying the famous battle in depth at the elbow of some of the preeminent historians on this subject, well, I was in hog heaven.

My full immersion in the Battle of Gettysburg occurred during a three-day leadership program sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and CoBank, one of the co-op banking partners and an associate member of the Colorado Rural Electric Association. The purpose was to provide leadership training for electric co-op employees and directors against the backdrop of the most significant battle on U.S. soil.

The events of July 1 through July 3, 1863, in southern Pennsylvania shaped not only the geographic boundaries of the United States but also our moral and legal foundations. You may recall from your history classes that in the months leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Robert E. Lee, racked up a string of victories over the Union Army of the Potomac. Although in many cases outmanned and outgunned, Lee and his subordinate generals, including Stonewall Jackson, found a way to outmaneuver the Union army in a series of bloody battles.

But Lee and the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, believed that the Confederacy needed to strike a blow in the North that would lead to a negotiated peace agreement. Lee moved the 50,000 or so men of the Army of Northern Virginia up through Maryland and into Pennsylvania to threaten Harrisburg and ultimately Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Washington, D.C. The Union army responded by moving 80,000 soldiers north to provide a shield for Washington and Baltimore. The two armies collided at Gettysburg, and the battles they fought over a three-day period were some of the most brutal and significant of the war.

It is impossible in a short space to recap all of the individual battles and acts of heroism that took place at Gettysburg. If you watched the movie 
“Gettysburg” or saw the Ken Burns documentary some years ago, you are familiar with some of the iconic geographic landmarks on the battlefield, such as Cemetery Hill, Seminary Ridge, the Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den. You may also be familiar with the heroics of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top or the crushing defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Pickett’s Charge on the final day of the battle.

But you may not realize that the outcome at Gettysburg may have been different if a direction given by General Lee to one of his commanders on the first day of the battle were more precise. With the Union army in retreat and falling back to Cemetery Hill in the late afternoon on July 1, Lee directed Richard Ewell to press on and take the Hill “if practicable.” Ewell interpreted this to mean that he should only move forward if he was certain of success. He was not and did not attack. The Union army was able to dig in and fortify its position on Cemetery Hill. As one of our battlefield guides explained, had Stonewall Jackson received the same order from Lee, the Army of Northern Virginia may very well have prevailed at Gettysburg.

One of the key lessons from Gettysburg is that the clarity of communication is extremely important, not only for commanders of armies but also for electric co-op leaders and supervisors. There is no doubt that the communication tools available today are superior to the written notes from couriers on horseback that were used at Gettysburg. Nonetheless, successful communication still depends on precise language and a common understanding of an organization’s goals and objectives.

CREA recognizes this and is working with Colorado’s electric co-ops to help them provide communication and other skills co-op employees will need as they face a projected turnover in the industry’s leadership and supervisory ranks. Among the resources is a new leadership training course initiated by CREA to help employees develop leadership skills.

Co-op employees also have access to the Gettysburg Leadership Experience through our national trade association. It is yet another opportunity for co-op leaders to work with their peers from around the country to help them prepare for the challenges of an evolving industry.

But back to brutal challenges faced by both sides at Gettysburg. My recent visit to that hallowed ground also reminded me of the sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers to establish “a new birth of freedom” for all Americans — sacrifices we are still thankful for today.

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Inventing Our Way into the Future

by Kent Singer, Colorado Rural Electric Association executive director
“Technology Trumps Policy” was the title of a column that appeared in POWER magazine a couple of years ago. The column, authored by Dr. Robert Peltier, made the case that the pace of technological breakthroughs often trumps the best-intentioned policies in the ever-changing energy world. In other words, at the same time that legislators, regulators and other policy-makers are crafting complex and expensive energy policies, inventors and entrepreneurs are developing new technologies that make those policies irrelevant or obsolete.

A prime example of this theory is the continuing evolution of battery storage technologies that will complement electricity generation from renewable resources. While renewable resources are becoming more cost effective with each passing year, they are still intermittent and must be backed up with “dispatchable,” nonrenewable power resources that will provide electricity at all hours of the day or night. This limitation for renewable resources would be negated by an affordable, reliable source of battery storage. Knowing that an effective battery solution is the “holy grail” for higher levels of renewable integration, many scientists, engineers and venture capitalists are hard at work searching for the most viable solution.

Sadoway ILP

Donald R. Sadoway

One of the pioneers of battery storage research is materials science professor Donald Sadoway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Sadoway and his team at a startup company called Ambri developed a liquid metal battery that could enable broader integration of renewable power sources. The objective of the Ambri technology is to store large amounts of electricity in a relatively small space for dispatch when renewable power sources aren’t available.

Ambri was created in 2007 when Sadoway and co-founder David Bradwell received a $7 million federal grant to develop their technology.

In 2010, after taking one of Dr. Sadoway’s courses online anonymously, a Washington state resident was so impressed with Sadoway and the battery technology that he decided to invest in the startup. It turns out that the student from Washington was a reasonably successful businessman named Bill Gates.

Fast-forward to 2015. This year Ambri intends to test several prototype batteries in places where electricity is more expensive, such as Hawaii, New York and Alaska. The company plans to sell its commercial-grade Ambri “cores” (rated at 200 kilowatt-hours, roughly enough power to run 10-15 homes per day) in 2016 and eventually market its product to large industrial and commercial users of electricity. The big advantage of the Ambri technology is that there is little degradation of the battery shells; and the company says the batteries have a life span of a decade or more. Ambri has ambitious plans to open factories near clients around the world, each employing as many as 150 people.

Battery storage technology is just one example of our changing energy world, and at the Colorado Rural Electric Association we do all that we can to further our collective understanding of this changing world. At CREA’s sixth annual Energy Innovations Summit on October 26 in downtown Denver, we are honored to welcome Dr. Sadoway as our featured luncheon speaker to talk about the latest developments at Ambri. He will also participate on a stellar battery storage panel later in the day that will also include a discussion of the Tesla Power wall and other battery storage products.

The summit will once again include top-notch speakers from across the country discussing a wide variety of energy-related issues. Beyond battery storage, they will share information on the status of wind generation, new utility regulatory models and natural gas markets. Colorado’s leading utility executives will look into the future of Colorado’s electric industry.

It’s a challenging time for all electric utilities, including electric co-ops. From efforts such as the Clean Power Plan, which will restrict fossil-fuel based generation, to the evolving state of technology, the future of electricity production is uncertain.

What is certain, however, is that this country’s vast intellectual firepower and dynamic markets will likely solve our energy challenges in new ways that regulations and policymakers can’t presently predict.

Come to the CREA Energy Innovations Summit and get a glimpse into that exciting future.

Grand Valley Power Flips Switch on Pioneering Solar Project

Teams of volunteers donned hard hats and safety vests this past Saturday to help install solar panels at the latest addition to the Grand Valley Power community solar array near Grand Junction. At the end of the day, GVP General Manager Tom Walch flipped the switch to energize the substation that will deliver carbon-free kilowatt-hours from the solar panels to member-owners of the electric co-op that provides service in Mesa, Delta and Garfield counties.

Working together with the nonprofit Grid Alternatives, Grand Valley Power sponsored the first community solar garden in Colorado that is specifically targeted at assisting low-income electric co-op member-owners. A total of eight families that receive electric service from GVP will benefit from the power generated from the solar panels. These families will continue to pay a monthly facilities charge, but they will see a significant reduction in their monthly electric bills since their energy usage will be offset by the electricity produced by the solar panels. After a four-year subscription period for the initial signees, a new set of co-op consumers will get their chance to save with solar.

Volunteers came from as far away as Texas and California to be a part of this groundbreaking project that enables co-op member-owners from all economic circumstances to benefit from solar power.  As part of “Team Shirley”, I had a chance to work with volunteers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and others to install the solar panels that will be producing energy at this site for the next couple of decades.

The Grand Valley Power community solar project exemplifies the electric co-op Commitment to Community and the GVP co-op board and staff deserve kudos for their imagination and ingenuity in responding to the wishes of their co-op member-owners.

For a video of the project, check out this link:

http://www.nbc11news.com/home/headlines/Community-solar-garden-celebrates-the-launch-of-the-pilot-program–305590791.html

 

The 2015 Legislative Session: CREA Forges Bipartisan Solutions

There has been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on with respect to the just-completed 2015 session of the Colorado general assembly. Many commentators have employed phrases like “partisan stalemate” and “legislative logjam” to describe the current environment in which Republicans have a majority in the state senate and Democrats are in control of the state house of representatives. The implication is that the 2015 legislature was a “do-nothing” body that was rendered impotent by partisan wrangling.

That was not CREA’s experience in 2015. While it’s certainly true that many bills passed through one chamber only to meet their maker in the other chamber, CREA was able to find a path through both houses on several bills that we supported in 2015. Not only were we able to move our own bill, SB 15-046, through the process, but we were also instrumental in the passage HB 15-1377 and HB 15-1364. These bills made common sense amendments to the Colorado renewable energy standard and the laws governing small hydropower facilities to give electric co-ops more flexibility in complying with our obligations under the renewable energy mandates.

These outcomes did not occur by happenstance, but were the result of the hard work of our dedicated lobbying team.  Geoff, Jeani and Heather worked countless hours with legislators and stakeholders to explain our issues and find solutions that could be supported by both Democrats and Republicans. We are very grateful to the many legislators that helped us this session, particularly Senators Grantham (R-Canon City) and Donovan (D-Vail) and Representative Moreno (D-Commerce City) who were the prime sponsors of SB 15-046.

On a bittersweet note, we are saying goodbye to our friend and colleague Jeani Frickey, our contract lobbyist who will be heading to greener pastures as the Executive Director of Stand for Children. Jeani has been a tireless supporter of Colorado’s electric co-ops and a tremendous asset to our government relations team for many years. We wish Jeani the best in her new endeavor; her knowledge of our program and her boundless enthusiasm will be missed!

We want to thank the CREA board for its direction of our efforts in 2015, and we’ll try to keep the (properly inflated) ball rolling in 2016 as well…

IDEA SHARING: CREA EnergyWise Group Designed to Bring EE Options to Co-op Members

LEAF LOGO

BY KENT SINGER, CREA Executive Director

The sixth cooperative principle, under which all of Colorado’s electric co-ops operate, is “cooperation among cooperatives.” You see, cooperatives, electric and otherwise, serve their members most effectively by working together.

That’s what the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s member coops are doing under the EnergyWise banner as they work to bring more and better energy efficiency programs to their member-owners. Energy efficiency is nothing new for electric co-ops, which have always promoted ways to help you save money on your power bill. As not-for-profit utilities, electric co-ops are not big corporations motivated by making money for investors, but locally-owned utilities dedicated to providing reliable electricity at an affordable price.

As part of this effort, we at CREA created the EnergyWise Project a couple of years ago. Through this initiative, we are encouraging and facilitating energy efficiency efforts in electric co-op service territory, and we are helping our co-ops publicize information on programs they offer their members and ways their members can save energy and money. Every electric co-op in the state promotes energy efficiency and other cost-saving measures. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize what kind of rebates are offered and the types of projects the co-ops are involved in. We probably don’t do enough to tell the world about our energy efficiency work, so we are using the EnergyWise banner to brand these efforts and get the word out.

Our first substantive project under the EnergyWise label last spring involved a partnership between CREA, four of our members and the Colorado Energy Office. As a result of this partnership, eight dairy farms on Colorado’s eastern plains received energy-saving lighting and other equipment that resulted in huge savings on their electric bills. The four co-op participants (Morgan County Rural Electric Association, United Power, Highline Electric Association and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association) worked with their memberowners to audit their energy usage and implement cost-saving measures. Today, those dairy operators are benefitting from lower monthly electricity bills due to the funds provided by CEO and the work of their local electric co-op.

To follow up on that project, we recently hosted the first meeting of the EnergyWise Advisory Council, a meeting of co-op employees who have expertise in energy efficiency and management. At the kickoff meeting, we brought in representatives from CEO, Colorado State University Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Western Area Power Administration, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to talk about various efforts by these groups to promote energy efficiency in rural Colorado. We spent a full day discussing potential partnerships between the co-ops and these organizations and our collective ongoing efforts to help co-op member-owners reduce their power bills.

The purpose of the EnergyWise Advisory Council is to create a forum where electric co-op energy efficiency experts can come together a couple of times a year to discuss their individual programs and to also hear about the latest developments in the energy efficiency field. Colorado has many governmental, nonprofit and private sector organizations and companies that are nationally and internationally recognized as leaders in energy efficiency, and the EnergyWise council can draw on that expertise from time to time.

One of CREA’s functions as a trade organization is to provide opportunities for the employees of our member co-ops to get together to exchange information with their peers. We facilitate meetings of co-op CEOs, accountants, human resources professionals, attorneys, member services employees, operations managers, mechanics and now energy efficiency specialists. We look forward to supporting this newest peer group and believe that it will continue to find ways to help co-op member-owners manage their electricity usage wisely.

After all, that’s the co-op way.

CREA-Sponsored SB 15-046 Heads to Governor

We are pleased to report that earlier today the Colorado House of Representatives passed SB 15-046 on third and final reading. The vote: 65-0 in favor of the bill. Since the bill was not amended in the House, it does not have to go back to the Senate and will now go to Governor Hickenlooper for his signature.

SB 15-046 was proposed by CREA to address the “retail distributed generation (DG)” requirement contained in SB 13-252. By the year 2020, electric co-ops must derive at least 0.5% of their sales from renewable energy sources that are located on the customer side of the electric meter.  For some electric co-ops, this is impractical because while they may have large sales of electricity from industrial consumers, they have small numbers of residential consumers who might be interested in renewable energy like rooftop solar panels. So, one component of SB 15-046 allows co-ops to exclude industrial sales from the total amount of sales that is subject to the 0.5% retail DG requirement.

The second component of SB 15-046 allows electric co-ops to count the output from community solar gardens as retail DG. The current RES law allows investor-owned utilities to count solar gardens as retail DG, so this provision in the bill simply puts co-ops on equal footing with the other utilities.

CREA worked for months with the primary sponsors of the bill, Senator Kevin Grantham and Representative Dominick Moreno, as well as many stakeholder groups in order to bring the bill forward and move it through both chambers of the legislature. It was truly a collaborative process that required give and take on both sides and we are grateful to all involved. We are especially appreciative of the efforts of Senator Kerry Donovan who convened stakeholder meetings after the bill’s introduction to encourage the parties to find common ground.

Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to support the smart integration of renewable energy resources in a way that also protects the pocketbooks of our rural member-owners. We thank the Colorado General Assembly for supporting our common sense proposal to meet both objectives.

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