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CREA Representing Co-ops at Legislative Sessions

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Now that the excitement of the 2020 election season has largely passed, it’s time for the newly-elected members of the Colorado General Assembly and those elected to Congress to get to work on behalf of Colorado and all the American people. From our perspective at Colorado Rural Electric Association, it’s also time to introduce these new representatives to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

At the state legislature, there is significant turnover every two years because Colorado adopted term limits back in 1994. That means members of the Colorado House of Representatives are limited to four two-year terms and state senators are limited to two four-year terms. The resulting realignment of each legislative chamber results in new leadership, committee chairs and committee membership on a regular basis.

In a normal year, we’re able to meet the new legislators (or legislators in new positions) in person and talk about the issues that are important to electric co-ops. In the age of COVID-19, it’s much more challenging to develop these relationships. We do meet with legislators via Zoom or other technologies, but meeting over a computer screen is not as impactful as an old-fashioned face-to-face chat.

We also stay in touch with the members of Colorado’s congressional delegation. As for our members of Congress, the incumbents were re-elected in six of Colorado’s seven congressional districts.

In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, political newcomer Lauren Boebert was successful in both the primary and general election and she will represent the vast expanses of the CD-3. Colorado CD-3 spans nearly 50,000 square miles including all or a portion of nearly half (29) of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Another interesting statistic about CD-3? Almost all of that territory is served by Colorado’s electric co-ops: 11 of Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops have service territory in the 3rd District. Thankfully, Rep.-elect Boebert reached out to us during the campaign and spent a considerable amount of time learning about how the electric co-ops serve rural Colorado. We look forward to working with Rep.- elect Boebert on national issues that impact rural Colorado.

In the case of Colorado’s new United States senator, John Hickenlooper, no introductions will be necessary. During his tenure as governor of Colorado, we had numerous opportunities to meet with then-Gov. Hickenlooper to talk about policy issues of importance to Colorado’s electric co-ops. We look forward to reacquainting Sen.-elect Hickenlooper with the Colorado electric co-op program and how his work in Washington can benefit electric co-op communities across Colorado.

As the trade association for Colorado’s electric co-ops, we will be monitoring the activities of the Colorado General Assembly closely once the legislature convenes on January 13. We will also be initiating a bill or two of our own and will work with both Democrats and Republicans in the House to see those bills through to passage and approval by the governor. We deploy expert lobbyists and government relations professionals who work diligently to represent the interests of our 22 electric distribution co-op members as well as Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

At this writing, it’s still unclear exactly how the legislature will conduct its business in 2021 given the impacts of COVID-19. The legislature was able to successfully complete a special session in December and we think that’s a good sign it will be able to meet effectively in 2021. We believe it’s imperative that the legislature continues to conduct its business in as transparent a manner as possible and enable all Colorado citizens to participate in the process. We’re confident that will happen in 2021 despite the unique circumstances that face the General Assembly.

Whether we all like it or not, electric co-ops were created through a political process and to be successful we need to continue to engage in that process.

As the old saying goes, in politics if you’re not at the table, you’re likely on the menu.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Making Plans for Better Days Ahead

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

If you, a friend or family member is a golfer, then you are probably familiar with the term “mulligan.” A mulligan is essentially what kids call a “do-over.” For example, if you hit a terrible tee shot and the ball goes sailing into a pond (hypothetically, of course, since this is not something I have ever experienced), you tee up another ball and try again.

As far as I’m concerned, we should consider the entire year of 2020 a mulligan. I mean, come on, who could have predicted a year where we endured a pandemic, a shutdown of the economy, unprecedented wildfires, weeks of social unrest and all of this topped off by a lengthy and brutal election?

Now, I’m sure lots of good things have happened in 2020: Families celebrated new additions, couples exchanged vows, people got new jobs or people made new friends. Thank goodness for all of those blessings. But for many Coloradans and Americans, 2020 has been a year of separation, heartache and uncertainty; the new year can’t come soon enough. And while it looks like we’ll be dealing with the pandemic for months to come, at least there are promising treatments and vaccines on the horizon to give us hope that life will gradually get back to normal next year.

So, what are you going to do with your mulligan? In golf, mulligans are typically limited to one per round, so you have to make the most of the next shot. That means you better make a plan for your 2021 mulligan year. Here’s my 10-step “2021 Mulligan Action Plan”:

• Step 1: See a movie in a theater.

• Step 2: Connect more. Connect with family, connect with friends, connect with co-workers, connect with our electric co-op family. I think we’re all connection-deprived; Zoom is great but a poor substitute for a real conversation, much less a hug.

• Step 3: Take a deep breath. I pledge to have a much slower middle finger trigger when navigating Denver traffic; we’ll see how long that lasts.

• Step 4: Walk the dog more. She deserves it and I need it.

• Step 5: Listen more, talk less. There’s a great line in the movie “Pulp Fiction” where Uma Thurman asks John Travolta: “Do you listen, or do you wait to talk?” I hope to listen better in 2021.

• Step 6: Learn to bake sourdough bread.

• Step 7: Quit eating bread and go on a low-carb diet.

• Step 8: Finally write that novel about a pandemic that threatens humanity. (It’ll never get published; the plot’s implausible.)

• Step 9: Pull out the trumpet and get the chops back in shape.

• Step 10: Thank everyone I work with at the Colorado Rural Electric Association for a job well done in 2020.

Perhaps my Mulligan Action Plan is not all that ambitious, but I think it’s realistic. No doubt your plan is better, so if you’re inclined to share, please drop us a line and let us know what you plan to do in 2021 to help recover from the train wreck that was 2020. I guess you could call these resolutions; I prefer the Mulligan Action Plan.

When I was a kid, my mom would fix ham hocks and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the coming of the new year; she said it would bring good luck. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m leaving nothing to chance. Honey, warm up the Crock-Pot®.

So long, 2020.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Thankful Despite the Circumstances

By Kent Singer

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a tough year in Colorado. With an unprecedented pandemic, the closing of many businesses, wildfires, windstorms, social unrest and political turmoil, this year has been an unrelenting test of our collective resolve. With the holidays fast approaching, though, maybe we should take a breath and count our blessings.

I’m especially thankful for:
• All my friends and colleagues who work for Colorado’s electric co-ops to keep the lights on every day. This year in particular, the challenges of providing electricity to rural communities have been great. Please thank your co-op staff for a job well done.

• All the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, food preparers, dishwashers, grocery store stockers, trash haulers and many others who kept our essential services available at great personal risk to themselves and their families over the last eight months.

• Netflix.

• Living in a city and state where, after a short drive, I can watch the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, enjoy a concert at Red Rocks, climb a 14er, ski A-Basin, bike Lookout Mountain or cast a fly in a mountain stream. Only in Colorado.

• The Denver Nuggets, a true basketball team with a bunch of guys whose hearts are even bigger than their talent.

• Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Joe Morgan and the other great baseball players of my youth who have gone to the Field of Dreams this year. Where I grew up, the teachers would set up black-and-white televisions to watch the afternoon World Series games featuring these Hall of Fame players. Farewell and Godspeed to them all.

• Zoom.

• My co-workers at the CREA who work hard every day to support our electric co-op partners with safety, communications, education and government relations services; you’re the best.

• Rising trout on the Frying Pan River.

• Working with incredible co-op leaders like Jim Lueck of Highline Electric Association who, despite being seriously injured in a farm accident, still attends board meetings and provides direction to CREA and our team.

• Watching the amazing Nolan Arenado make the impossible play look routine. (Hope this season was not his last hurrah with the Rockies.)

• Our right to vote.

• All the firefighters, law enforcement personnel and other first responders who risked their lives to protect Colorado residents and communities during the many fires and other emergencies that have occurred this year.

• Living in a country where most folks work every day to make a living, care for their families and try to make their communities better places to live. Is it perfect? No, but it’s still the best nation on earth.

• Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie.

• The opportunity to travel all across Colorado. While those travels have been somewhat limited this year, I’m thankful for the chance to attend the in-person annual meetings held by Yampa Valley Electric Association and Empire Electric Association. (The next time you’re in Cortez, try the chile rellenos at Gustavo’s!)

• The privilege of working with our friends at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and NRECA International to send Colorado and Oklahoma line crews to central and south America to bring electricity to people living in remote villages. The motto of the electric co-op program is that co-ops power communities and empower individuals; the International Program is a way for Colorado’s electric co-ops to show their commitment to these principles.

• I’m thankful to the many scientists and researchers who are developing treatments and vaccines that will one day bring us all back together.

• And of course, I’m thankful for my wife, sister, family and friends. It’s been a crazy year where getting together has been nearly impossible. Once this pandemic is solved, we’ll have a lot of catching up to do.

All of us at CREA hope you and yours are safe and healthy and that your blessings are abundant this Thanksgiving.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Electric Co-ops Support Local Communities through Crises

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

December 8, 1941, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave an address to a joint session of the United States Congress. In the first sentence of his speech (which he wrote himself), Roosevelt declared that December 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy.” Thirty-three minutes after the speech ended, Congress declared war on Japan.

FDR is often considered the patron saint of the electric cooperative program because he created the Rural Electrification Administration, or REA, by signing an executive order in 1935. Congress passed legislation the following year creating the administrative and financial framework for the REA program, but it was FDR’s leadership that led to the establishment of more than 900 electric co-ops that provide power to rural America today.

For Colorado’s electric co-ops, and indeed electric co-ops all around the country, it appears that 2020 is a year that will also live in infamy. No, we are not at war, but it sure seems as though just about every other possible challenge to running an electric system has hit us this year.

In early August, Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power to thousands of co-op consumer-members in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia and North Carolina. On August 10, a derecho with winds up to 145 miles per hour swept across Iowa leaving a path of destruction 80 miles wide and 225 miles long; some 10 million acres of corn and soybeans were destroyed, and rural co-op electric facilities were heavily damaged. In late August, millions of people in rural Arkansas and Louisiana were impacted by Hurricane Laura that swept across the southeastern United States. Wildfires in California and Oregon are ongoing and have hit rural co-op communities hard.

Just in the last month here in Colorado, rural communities and the electric co-ops that serve them have had to cope with wildfires, derechos, snowstorms and drought, not to mention a pandemic and associated economic crisis. One day in mid-September, I spoke with co-op managers who were dealing with power outages caused by heavy snows, wildfires and windstorms in multiple parts of the state. Others were dealing with lost revenue from the local economic impacts of the pandemic and some were still working in communities stricken by drought.

Time and time again, electric co-op employees have risen to the occasion and done everything in their power to keep the lights on and support their communities. Line crews have worked around the clock in dangerous conditions to restore power; co-op communicators have kept their communities informed about the storms and outages; co-op boards have established programs to help consumer-members pay their power bills; co-ops have even figured out ways to hold virtual annual meetings to connect with their consumer-members and provide updates on co-op business.

Although severe weather and wildfires are a fact of life in Colorado and elsewhere, I hope you and your families have not been impacted by any of the recent storms or economic displacement. This is a tough time in rural America, but we have endured worse and I have no doubt we’ll bounce back quickly.

The challenges faced by Colorado’s electric co-ops in 2020 remind me of a line from the movie “Apollo 13.” If you recall, when it looks like the Apollo 13 astronauts will be lost and the mission considered a failure, NASA’s director says to Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris): “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.” The reply from Gene Kranz? “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

Years from now when we look back at 2020, I believe history will conclude it was one of the finest hours for Colorado’s electric cooperatives.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Co-ops Using Ingenuity to Meet Consumer-Members’ Needs

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

I’m sitting on my back patio on yet another beautiful Colorado morning intermittently throwing a Frisbee to our border collie Ella, contemplating the subject of this column. Ella loves to catch the Frisbee, but rather than dropping it at my feet where I can reach it, she often drops it just out of my reach so I have to get up, take a couple of steps, bend over, throw it again and sit back down. Until, of course, like any advanced hominid, I figured out that I can use a branch of the forsythia bush my wife just trimmed to reach over and drag the Frisbee over to me without leaving my chair or iced tea. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

In its simplest terms, this old maxim just means that when humans have needed to find ways to survive and even improve their lives over the millennia, they invented better ways of doing things: From the spear to the wheel to microprocessors to Twitter, invention has generally improved our lives. (I’m not so sure about Twitter.)

For Colorado’s electric cooperatives, the necessity we face as modern electric utilities is the desire of many of our consumer-members for a new approach to electricity delivery. Whether it’s new ways to communicate with the co-op, new services that improve consumer-members’ lives, new thinking about power generation and delivery, or just a new attitude about customer satisfaction, all of these demands have led us to invent, engineer and innovate like never before.

This innovation is happening at all three levels of the traditional power delivery system: generation, transmission and distribution.

At the generation level, co-ops (and other utilities) are rapidly transitioning from coal-fired power plants to renewable resources backed up by natural gas plants. This is the result of not only policy decisions by the Colorado legislature, but also decisions made by utilities, including electric co-ops, based on the significant decline in the costs of wind and solar power over the last several years.

Regarding transmission, we continue to advocate for the creation of a regional electricity market (also called a “regional transmission organization” or RTO) that would pool the transmission assets of multiple utilities in the Rocky Mountain West and enable the more efficient exchange of power across multiple states. Co-ops and other utilities would benefit from the creation of such a market and would be able to integrate higher percentages of renewable energy from a wider array of resources than is currently possible.

And while innovation at the generation and transmission levels is ongoing, the real action today is at the distribution level. Electric co-ops are developing and deploying new products and services at a dizzying rate. Mountain Parks Electric in Granby and Yampa Valley Electric Association in Steamboat Springs have adopted “Electrify Everything” programs that encourage consumer-members to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to electric vehicles and using electric heat pumps instead of propane. Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs was an early supporter of the community solar garden model, and today community solar gardens have blossomed in many electric co-op service territories. Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, United Power and Intermountain REA have integrated large-scale solar arrays into their power supply mix, and IREA also recently completed a parking structure covered with solar panels.

These are just a few examples of the transformative thinking and doing that is propelling Colorado’s electric co-ops into their role as 21st century electric utilities. But rest assured that this evolving approach is also paired with the traditional values of the cooperative movement: a commitment to the communities that the co-ops serve and a desire to improve the lives of the consumer-members at the end of the line.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Co-ops Mitigating Colorado Wildfire Risks

By Kent Singer

Among the many challenges facing Colorado’s electric co-ops this summer, the threat of wildfires is near the top of the list. Over the last several years, several thousand acres of co-op service territory have been blackened by wildfires.

This problem, of course, is not limited to Colorado. The fires in northern California in recent years led to the loss of many lives, the destruction of billions of dollars of property and the bankruptcy of one of California’s major electric utilities.

Thankfully, in Colorado there has been no loss of life, but the fires have caused extensive property damage and resulted in lengthy interruptions of electric service. In the case of the 2018 Lake Christine fire near Basalt, only the quick thinking of a utility lineworker prevented the burning of facilities that would have caused a days-long power outage in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Electric co-ops spend a great deal of time and money taking steps to mitigate the risk of wildfires in their service territories. While it’s impossible to limit the lightning strikes that sometimes ignite fires, co-ops do as much as they can to clear the trees near power lines to prevent them from falling into the lines during storms. They also clear the brush and other vegetation under power lines to limit the fuel sources in the case of a downed power line. Co-ops spend millions of dollars annually to clear trees and vegetation to mitigate the risk of wildfires.

This task of “vegetation management” is one that is complicated by many competing interests. Some landowners aren’t excited about the prospect of the co-op cutting down trees on or near their property. While this is understandable, the alternative is drastically worse: the possibility of a “danger tree” falling into power lines and starting a fire. Co-ops work with landowners every day and appreciate the cooperation of their members in mitigating wildfire risks.

Another challenge for electric co-ops is working with federal, state and local government agencies to gain access to co-op rights-of-way across government-owned property. Although most agencies understand that the co-ops must have access to their facilities to clear trees and brush, some have policies that make it difficult for the co-ops to adequately mitigate the risk. Thankfully, at least in the case of the U.S. Forest Service, some new rules have been adopted by the agency that will hopefully streamline the process for gaining access.

Some states have adopted legislation to protect electric utilities in the event that a wildfire causes property damage and the utility is sued. In Colorado, as in most states, the standard of care for electric utilities as it relates to the maintenance of their facilities is not clear. In other words, electric utilities, such as electric co-ops, don’t have clear guidelines to follow with respect to their vegetation management practices. For that reason, CREA will work with the Colorado legislature during the 2021 legislative session to establish some guidelines, which, if followed, would enable co-ops to better defend themselves in the event of a lawsuit. This is an approach that the state of Utah adopted in 2018 and CREA thinks it has merit for consideration in Colorado.

Regardless of whether new legislation is passed, Colorado’s electric co-ops will continue to do what they have done for many years: take all prudent steps to mitigate the risk of wildfires. The good news is that you can play a part as an electric co-op consumer-member. Working with your co-op, you can help mitigate the risks of wildfires by taking steps to protect your property and allowing the co-op access to protect its power lines bringing electricity to you and your neighbors.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Colorado’s Electric Cooperatives Ask: How Can We Help?

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

For decades, Colorado’s electric co-ops have stepped up to serve their communities in times of crisis. Whether it’s a snowstorm, flood, rockslide, tornado or wildland fire, the first boots to hit the ground to provide a helping hand often belong to an electric co-op lineworker.

While the danger this time around is not from a storm or flood, the COVID-19 virus has nevertheless wreaked havoc on many rural communities. In addition to the public health crisis, the impacts on rural economies resulting from fighting the virus have been profound.

As soon as the pandemic began to gain a foothold in parts of Colorado, it was clear that many families and communities would be impacted either through illness or economic displacement. Over the last few months, thousands of Coloradans have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. In some cases, this has caused electric co-op consumer-members to have difficulty paying their power bills.

From the beginning of the pandemic, Colorado’s electric co-ops were quick to recognize that their consumer-members would be facing unprecedented challenges and they rallied to support their communities. Like they do for every other natural disaster, the first question Colorado’s electric co-ops asked was: how can we help?

One of the first steps co-ops took was to close their public spaces so that co-op consumer-members could not enter co-op facilities and risk either being infected or passing the virus to co-op employees. This was a hard decision; co-ops are extremely proud of being your hometown energy provider and they thrive on being transparent and having an open-door policy. But when it comes to public health and safety, co-ops will always take a conservative approach. Co-ops are reopening to the public as they determine that it’s safe to do so.

The next step co-ops took was to evaluate how to keep their systems operating at a high level of reliability while at the same time recognizing the need for line crews to follow social distancing guidelines. In many cases this meant delaying construction projects that are needed for long-term reliability and focusing on only doing what is necessary in the short-term. It also meant developing new operating procedures to minimize the contact between co-op personnel and the general public to promote public health. Co-op line crews have done an incredible job of keeping the lights on while at the same time looking out for the health and safety of their communities.

Many co-ops have also made financial commitments to assist their consumer-members in times of economic stress. Some have used money from unclaimed capital credit accounts and others have used general fund dollars to provide direct assistance to those in need. All of the co-ops work with their consumer-members to set up payment schedules to allow payments over time in cases where there is economic hardship. Electric co-ops have always bent over backward to help their consumer-members in times of need and they have once again risen to the occasion during the pandemic.

As the trade association for Colorado’s electric co-ops, we’re justifiably proud of our members’ long tradition of service to this state. For over 80 years, the electric co-ops have weathered storms — both literal and figurative — to power their communities. In good times and bad, Colorado’s electric co-ops have persevered and stayed true to their mission: to provide reliable, affordable and responsible energy.

We look forward to the day when we celebrate our deliverance from these turbulent times, but in the meantime we ask: How can we help?

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Missing the Great Local Co-op Annual Meetings

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

One of the unique characteristics of the electric co-op business model is the annual meeting of the consumer-members of the co-op. Electric co-ops are controlled by the consumer-members they serve, and those consumer-members have an opportunity every year to attend the annual meeting and learn more about what’s happening with the local electric co-op. In Colorado, as in most states, annual meeting season starts in the spring and continues through the end of summer.

In the world of electric utilities, only electric co-ops have a meeting every year where the consumers of the utility can meet with the management and board. These meetings are not only a celebration of your electric co-op, they’re also a celebration of the community served by the co-op. In many cases, co-op annual meetings include sharing a meal and/or some entertainment, but they always include great conversations.

As the manager of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, the statewide association that represents the interests of all of Colorado’s electric co-ops, attending co-op annual meetings is one of the best parts of my job. Every year, I attend many of the annual meetings of our member co-ops all over Colorado.

This year is different. With the limitations on getting together due to the COVID-19 pandemic, electric co-ops have made alternate plans. In some cases, the annual meetings have been conducted via telephone town halls, other co-ops have hosted video presentations and some co-ops postponed or canceled their annual meeting for 2020. Co-ops realize that the most important consideration is the health of their consumer-members and they have had to put that concern foremost.

But I gotta tell you, I miss these get-togethers.

I miss hearing the national anthem. I’ve heard the anthem sung by local high schoolers, by professional singers, by choirs and sometimes via audio and video recordings. Regardless of how it’s presented, when hundreds of people stand and sing the anthem, I get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

I miss the reports from the Youth Tour kids. In case you don’t know, every year the co-ops sponsor high school kids on a trip to Denver and then on to Washington, D.C., where they learn how our state and national governments work. At the following year’s annual meeting, the kids give a report about what they saw and learned on the trip. My favorite quote from a Youth Tour attendee: “We stood on the step outside the Colorado Capitol that marks 1 mile high, you know, 14 thousand feet.”

I miss the entertainment. I’ve seen magicians, comedians, singers, bands, guitar players, scenes from plays acted out by students, you name it. “America’s Got Talent” has got nothing on Colorado’s electric co-ops.

I miss the co-op swag. Co-ops almost always provide a small gift to the members; as a guest I’m usually given the same gift. I have collected insulated bottles, hats, picnic blankets, barbecue utensils and backpacks. My favorite? An ice cream scoop from Holy Cross Energy.

I also miss driving across this beautiful state to attend the meetings — from the eastern plains to the Great Sand Dunes, from the San Juan Mountains to Rocky Mountain National Park, from the Collegiate Peaks to Rabbit Ears Pass. Our electric co-ops serve the most spectacular territories anywhere in America.

But mostly, I miss you, Colorado’s electric co-op consumer-members. You are the folks who make the electric co-op program work. You are the backbone of not only our electric co-ops, but also of this great state and I know that you and your communities will come roaring back from our current challenges.

And when you do, your electric co-op will once again host a party, and I’ll be there to help you celebrate.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Co-ops Optimistically Working Toward Return to Normal

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

As I write this column on a beautiful Colorado spring day, it’s difficult to reconcile the hope of the season with the challenges facing so many Coloradans. The spread of the novel coronavirus has certainly changed our perspective on the world and dramatically impacted how we interact with each other.

One thing that will remain constant in these turbulent times is the commitment of your electric co-op to provide reliable electric service. We know that your access to electricity is the one lifeline to your health and safety that cannot be compromised. With so many Coloradans working from home and taking care of kids who are now being homeschooled, there is absolutely a premium on reliable electric service. If there is one thing you can rely on, it’s that Colorado’s electric co-ops will do everything humanly possible to keep the electricity flowing to your home and business.

To accomplish this task, Colorado’s electric co-ops are adjusting work practices to make sure that co-op personnel remain safe and healthy. We know how difficult it would be to maintain our facilities if a large number of co-op lineworkers became ill or needed to care for sick family members. So, co-ops across the state are implementing social distancing measures for their staff and carefully evaluating which projects are absolutely necessary to provide reliable service.

This “new normal” creates particular challenges for the co-op lineworkers who literally keep the lights on in your community. Co-op line crews in Colorado have always faced a variety of obstacles to do their work: difficult weather, extreme terrain and, of course, the always-present dangers of working near energized power lines. Now, however, line crews not only have to be mindful of the usual challenges but they also have to adapt their practices to protect their health.

My favorite historical figure is Winston Churchill, arguably the most important figure of the 20th century. Churchill suffered many setbacks in his life, but he did what all great leaders do: He refused to stay down for long. He was also guided by great moral clarity and he understood the consequences of inaction. By sheer force of will and refusal to succumb to Nazi Germany, he led Great Britain and the world to victory in a truly existential battle.

While the challenges we face today are not nearly as difficult as those the country faced in the early 1940s, these are still uncertain and challenging times. But as Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

Colorado’s electric co-ops are busy finding opportunities to serve our consumer-members in new ways during these difficult times. We’ll do everything possible to support the resilience of your communities and your ability to bounce back from great hardship. In the face of this reality, Colorado’s electric co-ops choose to be optimists and look forward to a brighter future in Colorado and across the country.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.

Beneficial Electrification

By Kent Singer

The electric industry is a complicated business and the vocabulary that we use to talk about it is full of mysterious acronyms, perplexing jargon and complex terminology. NERC, FERC, RTOs, ISOs, energy, capacity, kilowatts, megawatts, gigawatts — it’s been said that to understand the industry, you have to learn a second language.

To make things more complicated, yet another new term has been added to the electric utility lexicon in the last couple of years: beneficial electrification.

For those of us involved in the electric co-op program, the term “beneficial electrification,” at first blush, doesn’t make a lot of sense. We all know that there was a time when the farms and ranches of rural Colorado did not have access to the life-changing commodity that is electric power. Before electric co-ops were founded in the late 1930s and early 1940s, although cities were electrified, much of rural Colorado was still literally in the dark. With the construction of rural electric systems by cooperatives, the ability to apply motive power to the many backbreaking tasks that had previously been accomplished with manual labor vastly benefited the lives of countless Coloradans.

So, it’s obvious that the “electrification” of rural Colorado was then and is today something that is “beneficial” to many people; it hardly seems necessary to modify the word “electrification” with the word “beneficial,” right?

Today, however, “beneficial electrification” has a new meaning. It refers to the use of electricity in place of other fuels (e.g., natural gas, propane, heating oil, gasoline) where the substitution of electricity will accomplish certain goals. Among these are: saving consumers money, reducing environmental impacts, creating a more robust electric grid, and improving the quality of life for communities.

One of the most important examples of beneficial electrification is the trend toward electrification in the automobile industry. Switching from the internal combustion engine to a battery-powered vehicle results in lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and lower maintenance costs. Similarly, using electricity instead of propane for space and water heating and using heat pumps to heat and cool homes may also have environmental and economic benefits. Electric co-ops are working hard to integrate all of these technologies, and more, into their fleets and service offerings.

To further the cause of beneficial electrification, CREA was one of the primary sponsors of a conference last summer in Denver called “Electrify Colorado! Beneficial Electrification in the 21st Century.” The conference focused on the benefits of using electricity and how that transition is consistent with Colorado’s evolving energy policy. Building on that experience, CREA has become a founding member of the Beneficial Electric League of Colorado and is working with other stakeholders to sponsor another conference this summer.

For the last couple of years, CREA has sent Colorado co-op linemen to Guatemala (and is sending more to Bolivia this year) to bring electricity to remote villages. While we know that this is the original meaning of the term “beneficial electrification,” we also know that programs we implement to meet the new meaning will benefit rural communities across Colorado for years to come.

Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.