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2019 Legislative Wrap-Up

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

When the Colorado General Assembly adjourns sine die on May 3, one of the most significant recent legislative sessions for Colorado’s electric co-ops will come to a close. Among the many bills considered by the legislature this year were bills that promoted electric vehicles; encouraged solar gardens; required the collection of climate change data; created new energy efficiency standards; expanded the powers of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission; and authorized local governments to impose restrictions on oil and gas development.

This list does not include perhaps the most impactful bill, H.B. 19-1261, which requires the reduction of carbon emissions from all sectors of the Colorado economy. If passed, H.B. 19-1261 will have a significant and lasting effect on Colorado’s electric co-ops. The bill requires that all electric utilities, including co-ops, reduce the level of carbon emissions that are related to power production.

Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops are at the end of a supply chain that includes many power plants and transmission lines owned by multiple entities. Eighteen of the state’s 22 co-ops have wholesale power contracts with Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association while the remaining four co-ops purchase their wholesale power from Public Service Company of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy. So, bills that impact Tri-State and Xcel impact the distribution co-ops and their consumer-members.

H.B. 19-1261 would require that the carbon emissions of all industries in Colorado be reduced by 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. The bill does not state how much each industry has to reduce its emissions; instead, the legislature delegates broad authority to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to adopt rules to accomplish the targets.

While the title and bill summary of H.B. 19-1261 says that the objective of the bill is to create “goals” for the reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear that the bill contemplates that the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will actually adopt standards, that is, legally enforceable requirements that will apply to many Colorado industries. While it is unclear how these standards will be enforced, it appears that the state will have the authority to impose a penalty on entities that fail to meet the standards that are created.

I wrote many columns over the last several years describing how Colorado’s electric co-ops are rapidly incorporating carbon-free power sources into our power supply mix. Today, thousands of co-op consumer-members have installed net metered rooftop solar arrays, and the distribution co-ops and Tri-State have integrated utility-scale solar farms into their resource mix. In the last six months alone, Tri-State has announced power purchase agreements for another 104 megawatts of wind and another 100 MW of solar power supply.

Steps taken by the co-ops and other Colorado electric utilities will result in reduced carbon emissions from the electric sector regardless of H.B. 19-1261. Our concern with the bill as it was introduced is that it did not take into account the important differences between the investor-owned electric utilities and the electric co-ops. Whereas Xcel Energy has an incentive to retire existing generating resources and earn a rate of return on the replacement power, the co-ops can only pay for new power plants with money from our rural consumer-members.

During the debate on H.B. 19-1261, the Colorado Rural Electric Association made it clear that electric co-ops support reductions in carbon emissions from the power sector, but that we oppose expanded state regulatory authority over electric co-ops. I’m hoping that by the time you read this we have been able to reach a compromise on H.B. 19-1261 that accomplishes the goals of the legislature but takes into account the cooperative difference.

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.

Appreciation, Recognition of Lineworkers

By Kent Singer, Executive Director

I’m sure almost everyone reading this column experienced the “bomb cyclone” that swept over Colorado in mid-March, bringing with it a lot of snow and high wind. It was an unusually strong storm, and certainly created havoc for anyone trying to get anywhere. Many people were stranded on the roads and heroic first responders stayed busy rescuing motorists and others around the state. Tragically, a member of the Colorado State Patrol was killed while attempting to assist a motorist during the storm.

The bomb cyclone also damaged electric utility poles and lines all across the state. Co-op line crews worked long hours in extreme conditions to restore power. For electric co-ops, the responsibility to keep the lights on and homes warm is one we take seriously. Co-op line crews pride themselves on taking care of the folks at the end of the line because they know that everyone expects to be able to flip the switch and have the lights go on. Electric service has become so reliable that we expect it to be available regardless of the weather conditions.

For electric lineworkers, there is always a tension between wanting to restore power quickly and making sure safe workplace practices are followed in difficult conditions. I know I speak for all electricity consumers when I say that I’m fine being without power for a couple extra hours if it means that the crews will go home safely after the work is done. We all need to be patient when it comes to the infrequent outages that occur.

As an Xcel Energy customer who lives in Denver, the bomb cyclone resulted in a nearly 24-hour outage at our house, the longest we have been without power in the 35 years we have lived here. It’s so easy to forget that without electricity there is no heat, no hot water, no refrigeration, no television and no internet. When all the creature comforts we take for granted are no longer available, we are quickly reminded that electricity is essential to modern life.

It’s no small task to make electricity available; it takes thousands of folks working in unison to run the facilities that generate the power, transmit it over long transmission lines and eventually deliver it to your house. Since electricity is consumed at exactly the same moment it is generated, the coordination between all of these elements of the grid has to be seamless and precise. Although there are lots of new distributed sources of electricity coming from rooftops and other customer-sited sources in co-op territory, most of the electricity that keeps the lights on in Colorado still comes from large plants and is transmitted through high voltage lines. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the people who keep the grid up and running.

Since National Lineman Appreciation Day is observed in April, this is a great time to tell your local electric co-op line crews that you appreciate their hard work and dedication to the job. After all, when the next bomb cyclone comes roaring across Colorado, co-op crews will be the ones picking up the pieces after the storm.

Exciting Renewable Projects at Co-ops All Over Colorado

By Kent Singer CREA Executive Director

Unprecedented.

That’s the best word I can think of to describe the number of renewable energy projects that are being developed by Colorado’s electric cooperatives. At our recent 2019 CREA Annual Meeting, we hosted a roundtable of the co-op CEOs to discuss recent activities at their systems. Here’s just a sampling:

Grand Valley Power in Grand Junction announced that 60 percent of the electric supply that the co-op delivers to its consumer-members will be from renewable sources by 2030. “With cost-effective advances in clean, renewable energy technology, we’ll be able to meet this 60 percent target while maintaining rate stability and our excellent reliability standards,” said Grand Valley Power’s CEO Tom Walch.

Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, power supplier to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops, announced that it will add 104 megawatts of wind power to its power supply mix with the signing of a power purchase agreement for the output of the Crossing Trails Wind Farm. Tri-State has now invested in five utility-scale wind farms in Colorado, along with four utility-scale solar projects.

Highline Electric Association in Holyoke recently approved a 1.5-megawatt solar project with construction slated to begin in 2019. The 5,700 single-track solar panels will follow the sun and generate enough electricity to power 400 to 500 homes. The Riverview Solar Project will generate 3.8 million kilowatt-hours per year and will provide power to the communities of Sterling, Atwood, West Plains, Iliff and Crook.

White River Electric Association in Meeker recently celebrated the completion of the Piceance Creek Solar Farm, a 5.4-megawatt system that will provide enough energy to power more than 830 single family homes each year. “WREA’s local renewables aren’t about trendy efforts but are projects that are designed to have a positive impact on our community and our rates,” said Trina Zagar-Brown, general counsel and manager of member services at WREA. WREA members will be able to lease solar panels from the solar farm later this year.

Intermountain Rural Electric Association in Sedalia continues to expand its solar capacity with the recent approval of the Sundance Solar project, a 30-megawatt facility near Kiowa that will be energized in 2020. The Sundance project is in addition to an 80-megawatt solar project near the town of Bennett as well as the 13-megawatt Victory Solar farm in Adams County.

Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs recently announced that it will acquire the output of a new 100-megawatt wind farm in 2021. At that time Holy Cross will achieve the greenhouse gas reductions outlined in its “Seventy70Thirty” plan. Under the plan, Holy Cross will provide a 70 percent clean energy portfolio providing electric service to its members by 2030 with no increase in the cost of power. The power from the wind farm is in addition to customer-sited and utility-scale solar projects that are already a part of the Holy Cross system.

In 2018, Mountain Parks Electric Association in Granby paid rebates totaling $34,260 to its consumer-members who installed renewable energy systems. Mountain Parks also purchases renewable energy from the Granby Dam and the town of Grand Lake’s micro hydropower recovery system and the co-op plans to purchase power from a 1-megawatt solar array that will be built in Jackson County in 2019.

Although the integration of renewable energy into the co-op power supply mix is not new, the pace at which Colorado’s electric co-ops are integrating cost-effective renewable energy sources has never been seen before.

There’s only one word for it: unprecedented.

Rural America: Lack of Understanding Leads to Dire Predictions

By CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

“Can rural America be saved?”

This was the provocative opening question posed in an article from the December 16, 2018, edition of The New York Times Sunday Review. Titled “The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy,” the article painted a bleak picture of rural America: poor job prospects, urban flight, an aging population, stagnant economic growth.

I was interested in this article, of course, because our members, Colorado’s electric cooperatives, provide electricity to vast swaths of rural Colorado. While some of our member co-ops serve areas with robust economic and population growth, many of them are experiencing the challenging circumstances outlined in The New York Times article.

The article is also timely given that newly-inaugurated Gov. Jared Polis (D) along with leaders of both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate focused on rural Colorado in their comments opening the 2019 General Assembly. All of us associated with the electric co-op program are hopeful that our new leaders will recognize the challenges of working and living in co-op territory and support policies that help us do our job of providing affordable, reliable power.

In addition to explaining some of the problems facing rural America, The New York Times piece examined some of the solutions proposed by various academics and policy-makers. Among the possible efforts to provide relief are tax credits for employers that hire workers in distressed communities, incentives for capital deployment and wider access to broadband and internet capacity.

While one or more of these strategies may have merit, the author of the article offered up another approach that only serves to highlight the disconnect between The New York Times and the people who actually live in rural America. The author suggests that one solution for what ails rural America would be to encourage cities, such as New York and San Francisco, to adopt zoning rules that would allow more affordable housing so folks from rural areas could move to the big cities. Yes, you read that right. The author is apparently under the impression that folks don’t actually want to live in rural America, and that they would jump at the chance to move to the city.

News flash: Tens of millions of people across the country, including in Colorado, love working, living and raising their families in rural America. They love the clean air, they love knowing their neighbors, they love growing up on the same farm where their parents and grandparents grew up, and they love being part of a community where people leave their doors unlocked and actually say hello when they see each other at the grocery store.

To make matters worse, the author of the article quotes a professor from the University of California Berkeley, who argues that tech companies “will be vastly less productive” if they locate in rural America rather than in urban tech clusters. The Berkeley professor says that tech companies are more productive when they “agglomerate” and that locating in “small-town America would reduce overall innovation.”

I beg to differ. There are many, many small towns and rural communities in Colorado and across the country that would embrace new companies, tech or otherwise, and provide an exceptional quality of life for their employees. With ever-increasing access to broadband capacity, most communities can support the highest of high-tech companies. So, if you’re an executive with an innovative company looking for a place to land and you want your employees to enjoy a safe, healthy and productive environment, please come to rural Colorado.

We’ll keep the lights on for you.

Electricity Continues to Power Colorado’s Communities

By Kent Singer, Executive Director

Back in 1985, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association published a book titled The Next Greatest Thing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the electric co-op program. The phrase “the next greatest thing” came from an oft-quoted passage from a sermon given in a Tennessee church in the early 1940s:

“Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.”

The book published by NRECA told the story of the rural electrification program and the dramatic improvement in the quality of life that this program brought to rural America. It featured numerous pictures and narratives about life in rural America before electric power was available, stories that are difficult to comprehend for most Americans today.

Have you ever considered how clothes were washed and ironed before electricity powered washing machines and irons? It’s hard to imagine, but in rural America, women (and this backbreaking work was done mostly by women) would pump water from a well or cistern into large buckets, haul the buckets back to the house, heat water in a basin over a wood stove, scrub clothes with lye soap over a washboard, rinse the clothes in another basin, wring them out, dry them on a clothesline and then heat a 6-pound iron over the same wood stove to iron the clothes.

Hauling water, chopping firewood, preserving fruits and vegetables, milking cows by hand, reading by the dim light of a kerosene lamp: This was the life of millions of farm families before the rural electrification program finally brought electricity to the countryside. So when electricity came to rural America, it changed people’s lives, freeing them from the drudgery of many day-to-day tasks and enabling them to lead more productive, enjoyable and healthier lives. Of the many New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt, the rural electrification program was undoubtedly the most successful in improving and transforming the lives of millions of Americans.

But while Colorado’s electric co-ops are proud of our past, we understand that we live in a world that asks, “What have you done for me lately?” In other words, it’s not good enough that we have electrified rural Colorado over the last 80 years. Today, we also have to understand that co-op consumer-members expect more options, more communication and more innovation from their electricity provider.

Whether that means advanced metering infrastructure, rooftop solar or robust energy efficiency programs, the consumer-members of Colorado’s electric co-ops expect today’s co-ops to think differently about how they provide power. Co-op consumer-members have more choices in their daily lives, and they expect their electric co-op to provide choices, too.

This is nothing new for Colorado’s electric co-ops. We were the first electric utilities in Colorado to deploy automated meters to enable two-way communication between the co-op and the consumer-member, improving reliability and advancing distributed generation. We were the first electric utilities in Colorado to establish community solar gardens to benefit low-income residents. We were also the first to create “roundup” programs where consumer-members can round up their bill to the next dollar and use the money to help their neighbors.

We’ve done all these things because that’s the cooperative way. We exist not to make a profit, but to power communities and empower the lives of our consumer-members. To that end, Colorado’s electric co-ops will always seek to find “the next greatest thing.

Serving Our Communities: The Co-op Difference

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Colorado Country Life, the magazine for the Colorado Rural Electric Association, is delivered each month to over 229,000 households and businesses in Colorado electric cooperative service territory. If you receive the magazine, you’re probably a member-consumer of one of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops that serve 70 percent of the geography of Colorado.

You may not realize it, but by virtue of being a consumer-member of an electric co-op, you’re not just a customer of a utility, you’re part of a movement. That’s right, the electric co-op program was a social experiment initiated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 (Congress passed enabling legislation in 1936).

FDR created the Rural Electrification Administration, commonly known as the REA, not only to provide jobs during the Great Depression, but also because he believed that the quality of life in rural America would be greatly improved if people in rural areas had access to electricity in the same way as those who lived in cities.

I was reminded of the beginnings of the REA program on a recent trip to the town of Hyde Park in upstate New York. As you may know, FDR was born in Hyde Park on an estate called Springwood; he returned there frequently over the course of his eventful life, and he and Eleanor Roosevelt are buried on the grounds of the estate. Today, you can tour the Roosevelt home at Springwood and visit the FDR Presidential Library & Museum. (For anyone interested in U.S. history, particularly World War II, the museum is a must-see.)

In addition to being a wartime president, Roosevelt had the overwhelming challenge of trying to jump-start the U.S. economy in the throes of the Great Depression. The REA program was just one of many “New Deal” programs he initiated. While the museum includes exhibits about each of these programs, I took special note of the exhibit titled “Powering Rural America.” The introduction to the exhibit reminds us of the reasons FDR started the REA program:

“Imagine a world without electricity. In 1933, 90 percent of America’s farmers lived in such a world. Ignored by private power companies, who could not make a profit wiring rural areas, farm families passed their nights in darkened homes. Their days were filled with time-consuming manual labor. Electricity could transform farm life with pumps to supply running water, refrigerators, washing machines and other labor-saving devices. A longtime advocate of public power, FDR was determined to bring affordable electricity to rural Americans.”

As the result of FDR’s vision and the hard work of co-op line crews over the last 80 years, America’s farms and small towns enjoy the benefits of electricity. Today, your co-op provides more than electricity; it’s an integral part of your community. That is part of the “co-op difference.”

Your local electric cooperative pays taxes; it employs your neighbors; it lights your kids’ ball field; it sponsors local youth programs; it offers college and trade school scholarships to local students; and so much more. Co-ops also help those who struggle to pay their power bills by supporting Energy Outreach Colorado and other organizations that help those less fortunate. No other type of electric utility has this kind of connection with its consumers.

When I visited Hyde Park this fall, I paid homage to FDR at his grave in the rose garden at the Springwood estate. With the REA, he started something big: a movement that has grown and flourished and now includes over 900 cooperatives serving more than 42 million Americans in 47 states. That’s something to be proud of, just as all of Colorado’s electric co-ops are proud to serve their members and their communities.

With your support, Colorado’s electric cooperatives will continue to live “the co-op difference” in 2019 and beyond. I wish you a happy holiday season and a healthy new year.

Turning on the Lights in Guatemalan Villages

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

After three weeks of hard work by line crews from Colorado and Oklahoma, the lights came on for the first time in two remote Guatemalan villages October 2. Just as they have done in the United States, co-op linemen brought electricity and a better way of life to our neighbors in Central America.

The line crews that made up the “Energy Trails” team gave their blood, sweat and tears to build 5 miles of distribution system and install the inside wiring for more than 100 homes, two churches, two schools and two medical clinics in the villages of Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas. They traveled over makeshift roads and worked long hours in sweltering heat and humidity to complete the much-needed project. When it was done, one more corner of the developing world had electric lighting and power.

The Colorado Rural Electric Association joined our partners at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and NRECA International to send some of our best men to Guatemala to provide electricity to the two villages. Working without the bucket trucks and modern equipment available in the United States, the line crews relied on “old school” techniques using ropes and hand tools to string the lines and hang the transformers.

In celebration of this historic event, the children and families from the villages saluted the co-op linemen with a parade, a flag-raising ceremony, speeches and a special banquet to thank them for bringing power to their communities. The inauguration ceremony on October 2 was a joyous occasion, complete with drummers, dancers and incense-carrying villagers who escorted the Energy Trails team to the school grounds for an elaborate program recognizing their service. Following speeches by local dignitaries, the ceremonial first light was switched on and the party began.

The efforts of the Energy Trails team to bring electricity to these two rural Guatemala villages is in the best tradition of the electric co-op program. For over 80 years, electric co-ops in Colorado and across the country brought power to rural areas that would not otherwise have access to it. Electric co-ops have provided electricity to the most remote areas of the United States and we believe we have a responsibility to help people in other parts of the world as well. NRECA International has been doing just that since 1962, and we were proud to join our Oklahoma friends to complete this project in Guatemala.

The real heroes of this effort, of course, are the linemen from Colorado and Oklahoma who volunteered to be away from their families and friends for three weeks to help people they had never met and who they will probably never see again. Each day, the Colorado and Oklahoma crews navigated a bone-jarring dirt road from Playa Grande to the job site; just getting back and forth from the villages each day required two hours on the road. They often arrived back in Playa Grande at 9 or 10 p.m. after a sweat-soaked day in the field.

The Colorado crew consisted of Ben Ludington from Poudre Valley Electric Association in Fort Collins; Nate Towne from Mountain Parks Electric Association in Granby; Chet Stickler and Christian Baker from Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs; Kelly Snow from United Power in Brighton; and Kris Barbee from Southeast Colorado Power Association in La Junta. The Colorado team leader was Dale Kishbaugh, CREA’s director of safety and loss control. These men from the Colorado co-op family deserve our gratitude for representing the Colorado electric co-op program in an exemplary way and for completing a project that will forever change the lives of many children and families in the two villages.

During this season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things: my family, friends, good health and great fortune to be an American. But I am especially thankful this year to be associated with the incredible linemen of the Energy Trails team who gave their time, skills and, most importantly, their brotherhood to people in need. Many thanks for a job well done.