Skip to content

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.

A Responsible Energy Plan

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

In January, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (a member of the Colorado Rural Electric Association) announced that over the next 10 years it will retire its coal-fired power plants in Colorado and replace those sources of electricity generation with wind and solar power. By the end of 2030, Tri-State will no longer operate any coal-fired plants in Colorado, thus reducing the company’s carbon emissions from its Colorado plants by 90% and reducing carbon emissions from all electric sales in Colorado by 70%. (Tri-State will continue to import some coal-fired power from sources outside of Colorado.)

This is an historic decision by Tri-State, which provides wholesale power supply to every Colorado electric distribution co-op except Grand Valley Power, Yampa Valley Electric Association, Holy Cross Energy and Intermountain Rural Electric Association. Along with the announcement of the coal plant retirements, Tri-State announced the addition of nearly 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of new renewable energy capacity to its generation resources. These new wind and solar projects will be located across Colorado, creating temporary construction jobs as well as permanent maintenance positions. After its Responsible Energy Plan is completed, Tri-State will have more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity on its 3,000 megawatt system.

Tri-State’s new direction regarding its power portfolio is driven by several factors. In 2019, the Colorado General Assembly adopted legislation (H.B. 19-1261) that requires significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from all industries operating in the state. Although the rules for the implementation of this legislation have not been finalized, it’s clear that electric utilities will be required to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels in the near future. Tri-State’s need to comply with the Colorado law is an important factor in its recent announcements.

But even absent a legislative mandate, the rapidly decreasing costs of renewable energy make those resources more attractive today than they were just a few short years ago. You may recall that, in 2013, Tri-State, along with CREA, opposed Senate Bill 13-252 that increased the renewable energy requirements for Colorado’s electric co-ops. As recently as seven years ago, the cost of renewable energy was significantly higher than it is today and, at that time, we were concerned that a requirement for more renewables would increase rates to co-op consumer-members. With improved technology and economies of scale, wind and solar generating plants today can provide cost-effective energy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions.

Perhaps the most important driver in Tri-State’s course change, however, is the desire by many of Tri-State’s members for the co-op to diversify its power supply and include more renewable energy. Tri-State is owned by its 43 distribution co-op and public power district members who are in turn owned by their consumer-members. One of the key principles of the cooperative business model is “democratic member control” and that means the members at the end of the line have input into Tri-State’s resource decisions. In making these adjustments to its power supply portfolio, Tri-State is also honoring this core co-op principle.

This new path for Tri-State does not come without challenges. On the operations side, Tri-State will have to figure out how to best balance its members’ power needs with an ever-increasing array of intermittent generating resources. This may require the deployment of new technologies and operating procedures in order for Tri-State to maintain the same level of reliable power supply that Colorado’s electric co-ops have enjoyed for decades.

More important than the reliability challenges, however, is the impact of Tri-State’s new direction on current Tri-State employees. Several hundred men and women who currently work at the Tri-State coal plants and coal mines that are being retired will be affected by this decision. These are folks who, in many cases, have spent their careers and much of their adult lives serving you, the citizens of rural Colorado. They have done this difficult and sometimes dangerous work so you could have light and power. They did it without asking for recognition or praise, but simply for the satisfaction of helping their communities. They deserve to be thanked and supported in this time of transition.

Colorado Needs a Robust Electricity Market

By Kent Singer, Executive Director

In most parts of the United States, regional transmission organizations (RTOs) or independent system operators (ISOs) oversee the regional transmission system and operate wholesale electricity markets. These nonprofit entities determine power requirements, on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis, and dispatch power from the most efficient units. They also set transmission rates across lines owned by multiple utilities and plan the regional transmission system.

These companies, such as the Southwest Power Pool, the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator and the California Independent System Operator, were created by groups of electric utilities in the various regions of the country to reduce costs to consumers by maximizing the efficiencies that can be achieved with multiple sources of power generation and transmission capacity. They also enable utilities to incorporate more renewable energy into their power supply mix by providing a system where the resources of one utility or power marketer are more easily accessed by another utility.

Colorado’s electric utilities, including the electric co-ops, do not operate within the boundaries of an RTO or ISO, although co-op power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association operates within an RTO outside of Colorado. For a variety of reasons, Colorado and its neighboring states have not created a regional electricity market despite the benefits that could be realized by electricity consumers. The largest electric utilities in Colorado worked together for several years, and it appeared that an RTO would be expanded to include Colorado, but ultimately the effort failed when one large utility pulled out.

Currently, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission is soliciting comments in a proceeding that stems from the passage of S.B. 19-236 during last year’s legislative session. One provision of that bill, the “Colorado Transmission Coordination Act,” required the commission to initiate an investigation into the merits of an RTO or ISO and report back to the legislature.

Many parties, including several electric co-ops and the Colorado Rural Electric Association, filed comments in that proceeding in favor of the creation of an RTO that would include Colorado’s electric utilities. Reasons given for supporting a regional market include greater access to lower cost resources; the elimination of transmission “pancaking” costs; and opportunities for the integration of additional renewable generation. In this proceeding, there is near-unanimous support by electric utilities, environmental groups and other stakeholders for the creation of an RTO.

While the discussion of this issue by the Colorado PUC is important, the Colorado legislature should also weigh in and pass legislation that would move Colorado electric utilities toward an RTO in a more expedited manner. Other states have passed similar legislation to spur the move toward an organized electricity market, and the Colorado General Assembly should follow their lead.

Of course, there are costs associated with the creation of a new RTO or expansion of an existing RTO that has to hire employees and incur other expenses so it can provide service to Colorado electric utilities. In the other parts of the country where RTOs have been established, these costs have been outweighed by the savings that are possible with a more efficient dispatch of generation and transmission resources.

With the adoption of H.B. 19-1261 last year, the Colorado legislature established aggressive requirements for electric utilities to significantly reduce their carbon emissions over a short period of time. A regional electricity market is a necessary tool to enable utilities, including electric co-ops, to reach those goals. We urge the Colorado legislature to act this year to help establish an RTO for Colorado electric utilities.

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.

The 2020 Legislative Session

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The second regular session of the 72nd Colorado General Assembly convenes January 8 and the Colorado Rural Electric Association will once again be actively engaged, protecting the interests Colorado’s electric co-ops. During the next four months, CREA staff and contract lobbyists will closely monitor the work of the legislature and interact with all 100 legislators to promote a better understanding of the electric co-op program.

During the 2020 legislative session, CREA plans to sponsor three bills to address issues of importance to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

First, we are working with House Speaker K.C. Becker (D-Boulder) on a bill relating to electric co-op governance. Under current Colorado law, consumer-members of electric co-ops may only vote for candidates for the co-op board of directors by mail or in person at the annual meeting. We are sponsoring a bill that will authorize (but not require) co-ops to allow their consumer-members to vote by electronic means as well. This technology may not work for all electric co-ops, but for those who want to use it, we need to change the current law. This bill will also require that all electric co-ops comply with existing transparency laws that currently only apply to co-ops of 25,000 or more consumer-members.

On the energy efficiency front, we plan to sponsor a bill that will make it clear that electric co-ops may engage in what is often referred to as “on-bill financing.” On-bill financing is used by some electric co-ops to enable their consumer-members to install energy-efficient appliances or make other energy efficiency changes with the cost to then be repaid through their electric bill. Again, not all co-ops have on-bill financing programs (that is a co-op by co-op decision), but, for those that choose to implement such programs, we will sponsor a bill to clarify how these programs are conducted.

The third bill we plan to sponsor relates to public schools and encourages school districts to work with their local electric co-op to explore opportunities to save money by deploying “beneficial electrification” or distributed energy resources such as wind or solar.

The term “beneficial electrification” was coined several years ago by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to describe opportunities for switching fuels like gas or oil to electricity, which is likely more cost effective and environmentally friendly. For instance, a school building currently using natural gas or propane for heating may be able to convert its heating and cooling system to electricity and save money over the useful life of the new equipment. Our legislation would simply state that school districts should consider these opportunities when they are constructing new buildings or renovating existing structures.

In addition to sponsoring these bills, CREA will watch for legislation that could impact the operations or autonomy of Colorado’s electric co-ops. There are often energy policy initiatives that surface in other states and then show up in Colorado. Not all of these initiatives make sense for Colorado’s electric co-ops, and we will work with our legislators so that they know how these changes could affect Colorado co-ops and their consumer-members.

We look forward to working with the representatives and senators in both the Colorado House and Colorado Senate and on both sides of the aisle. We will continue to support those legislators who support Colorado’s electric co-ops.

The legislative process is not always pretty (think sausage-making), but we should all be grateful that Colorado’s legislature provides an opportunity for thoughtful discourse for all those willing to engage in the process.

CREA will be so engaged on behalf of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

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.