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Recognition of Long-Serving Magazine Publisher

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Read the March issue of Colorado Country Life magazine’s Focus On section and you’ll find an article about Mona Neeley, CCL‘s long-time publisher and editor.

In the column, Mona talks about her career with CREA and her upcoming retirement. She says that the readers of CCL have always been the most important part of her work and that the connections she has made with so many of them have sustained her throughout the years.

But Mona is too modest to say exactly how much she has meant to this association and to Colorado’s electric co-ops.

The simple truth is that Mona dedicated nearly her entire professional life to the viability and success of CREA and CCL, a magazine that has twice been recognized as the best statewide electric co-op magazine in the country.

Mona began her career at CCL in 1994 and she took over a publication that was struggling to survive. She was hired by my predecessor at CREA and given an ultimatum: make the magazine financially sustainable or find another job.

Through her incredible work ethic and her tremendous talents as an editor and writer, Mona did exactly that. She increased the circulation and ad revenues of the magazine and made it a profit center for CREA for many years.

She was able to do that by focusing on the quality of the content of the magazine as well as the format.

But the financial success of CCL only reflects a small part of Mona’s contributions to CREA. As the director of communications for CREA, Mona’s role in the organization went far beyond her role as publisher and editor of CCL.

As a communicator, Mona was not just the publisher of the magazine, but she played a critical role in every CREA messaging effort on legislative and other matters. This includes our epic battles against retail wheeling in the late 1990s, our efforts to emphasize the importance of safe workplace practices and our ongoing work to message the co-op principles in the ever-changing energy environment.

Her dedication to the success of our legislative, safety and education programs was just as ferocious as her dedication to the success of CCL.

In addition to supporting CREA’s communication efforts with legislators and other groups, Mona and her team also provide support for the communications programs for many of our electric co-op members.

Over the years, many of our members have added communications experts and staff to develop specific messages for each their communities, but the veteran magazine publisher has supported those efforts and provided tremendous value to each co-op member of CREA.

Finally, let me tell you a little about Mona as a colleague and co-worker. When I was considering applying for CREA’s executive director position 14 years ago, I did so with the knowledge that CREA had tremendous employees.

I had worked with Mona and others at CREA as the association’s attorney, and I knew how dedicated they were to the co-op program. I knew that CCL was in great hands, and that it was edited and published by someone who cared deeply about the quality of the magazine and the value it provides to tens of thousands of co-op consumer-members across Colorado.

Turns out, I only knew the half of it.

By that I mean, until I came to work at CREA full time, I had no idea what it takes to publish a 32-page magazine, every month, year in and year out, without fail. Meeting printing deadlines, working with contract writers, making sure each co-op has the copy for its individual pages, soliciting advertisers, and, of course, gently reminding the executive director that his monthly column is overdue.

But Mona handled those responsibilities not only with great professionalism, but also with good humor, patience and incredible energy.

Mona has been a key leader of the CREA team, a tremendous voice for the Colorado electric co-op program and, most importantly, a loving and supportive wife, mother and grandmother.

Mona, we’ll miss you, we thank you, and we wish you the very best in your well-deserved retirement. Happy trails!

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Advocating for National Lineworker Day

By Kent Singer

As I write this column in early January, the first regular session of the 74th Colorado General Assembly is about to get underway. The speaker of the house, the president of the senate and the governor will all make speeches about their legislative priorities and goals for the session. The CREA government relations team will be there, closely following the activities of the legislature to protect the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

One of CREA’s legislative priorities this session will be to ask the general assembly to recognize the essential work done by Colorado’s electric lineworkers. This is not a request to adopt any new legislative policy or program, but rather a request for an official legislative resolution honoring lineworkers. We will make this request on behalf of lineworkers employed by all utilities as well as contract lineworkers, not just electric co-op employees. We will ask that the recognition be done in conjunction with National Lineworker Day in April.

The hundreds of lineworkers who keep the lights on in Colorado deserve recognition, not only by our legislature and governor, but also by every citizen of the state whose life is made better by access to electric service. We take for granted that the lights will come on and our computers will hum every hour of every day without giving much thought to how electricity is generated and delivered. The fact is that the delivery of electricity depends on the efforts of lineworkers who work 24/7/365 to build, monitor and repair the poles and wires that bring electricity to our homes and businesses.

Lineworkers do hard, technical, physically demanding and potentially dangerous work. Especially during the winter months, lineworkers in Colorado do this work in the harshest of conditions. This winter, lineworkers in Colorado have faced near-arctic conditions as the temperatures have dropped to record lows in parts of the state. In some cases, lineworkers access facilities in snowmobiles given their remote location in deep snow. Despite these challenges, lineworkers keep the power grid up and running to make sure Colorado residents have all the comforts that electricity provides.

From time to time, we are reminded of the element of danger that is involved in linework by tragic incidents that happen around the country. Just this past December, two days before Christmas, a young co-op apprentice lineman in Ohio lost his life while working to restore power for the co-op’s consumer-members. While these incidents are rare, they are a sober reminder that the men and women working on the lines are exposed to dangers that make their job that much more difficult.

CREA employs a team of safety professionals who work with co-op line crews to supplement the safety programs at each co-op. Our safety team is composed of folks with many years of lineworker experience and our goal is to do everything we can to eliminate incidents and accidents that can occur in this work.

Our electric co-ops take this obligation to their line crews very seriously. Safety is literally job No.1 at every co-op.

By sponsoring a resolution honoring utility and contract lineworkers, CREA hopes to bring attention to the essential work done by these Colorado heroes. We hope that by doing so, our legislature and all Colorado citizens will take a moment or two to appreciate and thank all lineworkers for the critical service they provide to Colorado.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

CREA Discusses Concerns with Legislators

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

New members. New leadership. New priorities. New opportunities.

That’s the dynamic facing CREA’s government relations team as we prepare for the upcoming 2023 session of the Colorado General Assembly.

On January 9, Speaker of the House Julie McCluskey (D-Dillon) will bring down the gavel in the chamber of the Colorado House of Representatives to convene the first regular session of the 74th Colorado General Assembly. In her new role, Speaker McCluskey will preside over a legislative body with many new members and a to-be determined policy agenda.

As a result of the November election, Democrats have a 46-19 majority in the Colorado House and a 23-12 majority in the Colorado Senate. In total, there will be 37 new members of the Colorado General Assembly. Notably, Colorado is one of only two states (the other being Nevada) where the legislature will have a majority of women starting in 2023 (51 of 100 seats).

As soon as the 2022 election was finalized, our government relations team at CREA went into high gear to greet the new members and start educating them about Colorado’s electric co-ops, which CREA represents. We also reviewed the issues that are important to our member co-ops. Of course, we started this process much earlier by meeting with the then-candidates during the fall campaign. Our political action committee, CARE (Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification), is active during each campaign season to evaluate and support candidates who support the electric co-op program.

In early December, we held a “lunch and learn” meeting at CREA where we met with eleven newly elected legislators and gave them a soup-to-nuts overview of the electric co-op program. I gave an overview of the electric co-op landscape in Colorado, followed by presentations from Ryan Elarton, the CEO of San Isabel Electric Association, who focused on end-use delivery of electricity, and Tim Osborn, vice president of generation at Tri-State G&T, who focused on generation and transmission. We explained how electric co-ops are owned by the consumer-members who live in each co-op service territory and how co-ops work together to provide electricity to 1.5 million Coloradans.

We also talked about the fact that, while Colorado’s electric utilities are working hard to implement the legislatively-mandated transition away from coal-fired power plants, we will need to continue to deploy natural-gas fired generation in the near term. The legislators in attendance at our meeting asked a lot of great questions about distributed energy resources, the challenges of making infrastructure improvements and how consumers will be impacted by the energy transition.

One of the main points we left with the legislators is that Colorado’s electric co-ops are self-regulated, that is, they are not regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Instead, co-ops are governed by their locally-elected boards of directors, who are also consumer-members of the co-op. Working with professional management teams, Colorado’s electric co-op boards develop the policies and strategies that will best serve their communities. We’ll be monitoring the 2023 legislature carefully to protect the autonomy and independence of our member co-ops.

From January through May, the CREA team will use every tool at our disposal to reach out to the 100 members of the General Assembly to protect the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

This will include lobbying and testifying on bills and amendments; having countless conversations with legislators in both the House and Senate; working with many stakeholder groups; and helping facilitate meetings with representatives of electric co-ops from across the state. After all, electric co-ops provide electric service to over 70% of the landmass of Colorado.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are committed to innovation, ingenuity, and, most of all, service. That’s a message our legislators will hear often in the coming months.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Simple Holiday Wishes

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

One of the best ways to start an argument during the holiday season is to proclaim that It’s a Wonderful Life is the best holiday movie or TV show ever.

While it’s hard to argue with this classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, many other shows have to be in the running: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the one with Jim Carrey); A Charlie Brown Christmas (with the timeless soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi trio); the Home Alone series; and, of course Die Hard. What says Christmas more than a terrorist attack on a Los Angeles office building?

But for my money, the best holiday TV show is the annual highlight reel of the last 40 years of Christmas sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” Since I’m an old guy, I saw most of those sketches when they first aired, so there’s probably a bit of nostalgia involved in seeing them again every year. And while I’ve had a hard time understanding either the comedy or music on SNL in recent years (I realize this is largely because I’m a baby boomer and the show’s target audience is millennials and Gen Zers), some of the holiday sketches are classics.

At the risk of being the “get off my lawn” guy, I have to admit I long for the earlier days of SNL and the cast members that included people like Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and John Belushi and guest hosts like Steve Martin. I think about Steve Martin during the holiday season in particular because of a bit he did called “A Holiday Wish” back in the early ’90s. If you remember, Martin starts off the piece with a holiday wish that “all the children of the world join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace” but soon moves on to more, uh, selfish wishes.

So, with apologies to Steve Martin, here are my simple holiday wishes:

My first holiday wish is that all people of the world live together in peace and harmony.

My second holiday wish is that all drivers of all vehicles everywhere stop at stop signs and stoplights. This means that when you come to a stoplight or stop sign, you actually stop your vehicle. No rolling stops, no brief pauses, no stop and go, but a complete stop where your vehicle’s wheels actually stop rolling. I guarantee that observing this simple courtesy (not to mention traffic law) would improve everyone’s life immensely. You are not going to save any time by rolling through that stop sign or light and you may just ruin someone’s day. So please, just stop.

My third holiday wish is that everyone respects the queue: no cuts in line. Whether it’s the grocery store, the dry cleaners, a concert venue, a parking spot, merging on the highway, wherever: You know where you are in line and you know who was first. There is such a thing as karma, and line-cutters are destined to endure a lifetime of bad juju.

My fourth holiday wish is that all airlines stop selling the middle seats in every row. Talk about a “Wonderful Life!”

And, finally, my fifth holiday wish is that we all stop watching those news and sports channels where the hosts and panelists compete to see who can yell the loudest. You don’t need this nonsense anytime and you especially don’t need it during the holidays. Change the channel and catch something more calming: maybe another showing of Die Hard.

So those are my humble holiday wishes. If I can’t have all of them, I’ll stick with my first wish and pray for peace and harmony around the world. My best to you and yours this holiday season!

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

IRA Direct Pay Benefits for Co-ops

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Colorado’s electric cooperatives are primarily distribution utilities that purchase electricity from wholesale providers and then resell the power to their end-use consumer-members. In other words, for the most part, your local electric cooperative does not own the large power plants and transmission lines needed to supply power. Instead, it purchases the majority of its bulk power from wholesalers and then distributes that electricity to individual homes and businesses via its local co-op-owned distribution system.

In Colorado, with one exception, the electric co-ops either purchase power at wholesale rates from Tri-State G&T (also a co-op) or Public Service Company of Colorado (an investor-owned utility). The one exception is Delta-Montrose Electric Association, which buys power from a power marketing company.

This model of providing electricity services, sometimes referred to as “central station” power, has enabled Colorado electricity consumers to enjoy reliable and affordable electricity for decades. However, this traditional model is rapidly changing in Colorado and around the country.

With the recent emphasis on generating electricity from carbon-free resources, many co-ops are adding renewable energy from resources such as wind and solar. While the co-ops produce some of this renewable energy locally on their distribution systems, they primarily rely on their wholesale suppliers to acquire the large amounts of renewable energy needed to serve their consumer-members.

To that end, wholesale suppliers that are not for profit, such as Tri-State G&T, have usually relied on private developers to build the wind and solar facilities that are needed to provide the power. The private developers then own the wind and solar farms and sell the output of those facilities to the wholesale suppliers through power purchase agreements, or PPAs.

Since the developers are for-profit businesses, they have been able to take advantage of federal tax credits to help the business case for their projects. (By “business case,” I mean profits.) Through federal laws intended to incentivize the development of renewable energy projects, private developers have had an advantage over nonprofit utilities, including generation and transmission associations.

However, with the recent enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), this is changing. One of the key provisions of the IRA is a so-called “direct pay” program that provides incentives to nonprofit companies (such as electric co-ops) to develop renewable energy facilities. Through the work of our national trade association, NRECA, a provision was included in the IRA that authorizes direct payments to electric co-ops that deploy non-carbon emitting power sources such as nuclear and renewable energy. It also authorizes these payments for battery storage and other new energy technologies.

With the adoption of the IRA, electric co-ops can now take advantage of financial incentives to own and operate renewable energy facilities instead of purchasing the output of those facilities from other entities.

Under the direct pay provisions of the IRA, electric co-ops are eligible for reimbursement of up to 25% of the total costs of any project. This is a true game-changer for electric co-ops that may have been on the fence about whether and when to move forward with a battery storage or other new energy technology project. Since co-ops are always looking out for their consumer-members’ interests, they only pursue projects that further their goal of providing reliable and affordable power.

While some may argue that the IRA is not good public policy and question whether it will in fact reduce inflation, it nevertheless provides support to electric co-ops and enables them to pursue advanced energy solutions in a way that limits the impacts on consumer-members. Since Colorado policymakers have already determined that significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector are necessary, this federal legislation will help Colorado’s electric co-ops more affordably make this energy transition.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are rapidly deploying new technologies and infrastructure that will enable the energy transition that will take place over the next eight years. The direct pay provisions of the IRA will help co-ops do this important work.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Electrification Mission in Guatemala

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Last month, four linemen from Colorado’s electric co-ops traveled to Guatemala and joined eight co-op linemen from Oklahoma to provide electric service to the people of La Montanita de la Virgen, a small village in a mountainous community in central Guatemala.

This was our third trip to Guatemala with the “Energy Trails” team, a collaboration between the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Association, CREA and NRECA International, the philanthropic arm of our national trade association that sponsors electrification projects around the world.

Over the course of three weeks, the linemen from Colorado and Oklahoma worked long hours in difficult terrain to build the electric system and install the meters, light fixtures, switches and outlets for 81 homes, two churches and a school. Given the remote worksite, all of the work was done without the benefit of bucket trucks and other equipment that is typically used by utility line crews. Instead, the linemen used old-fashioned hand tools, pickup trucks and a lot of ingenuity.

Members of the La Montanita community were also instrumental in completing the project. Before the co-op teams arrived, many of the poles needed for the project were already set (into hand-dug holes) and much of the right of way had been cleared. Whenever the crews needed help pulling lines across ravines or climbing trees to cut down branches with machetes, the villagers were quick to provide the necessary assistance. The contributions of the people who will benefit from these projects has always been critical to the success of the international program, and this project was no exception.

Once the project was completed, the villagers came together for a day-long celebration. I was privileged to join the inauguration team from Colorado and Oklahoma for the “lighting” ceremony, in this case held in the community school.

What a joyous occasion! I could not help but think about the many times a similar ceremony took place in rural communities across the United States in the 1930s and 1940s as the result of the electric co-op program.

The celebration continued with the children of the village singing the Guatemalan national anthem, reading poetry, performing traditional dances and pom-pom routines, and hosting us for lunch. We also heard speeches from local officials, including the mayor of the village and surrounding areas. Mayor Robert Ramirez Guerra could have been speaking about rural electrification in the United States when he said that electricity is essential to modern life and that it’s a basic human need. It was also gratifying to hear him say “God bless America” as he recognized the efforts of the electric co-ops of Colorado and Oklahoma to improve the quality of life of our neighbors to the south.

It’s hard to believe that in the year 2022 there are still millions of people around the world who do not have access to electricity, but that’s the reality. While Colorado’s electric co-ops are primarily concerned with serving Colorado residents, we believe we have an obligation to help others as well. We’re so grateful to everyone who has contributed to this cause and supported our linemen who do this work.

One closing note about those linemen. After arriving at the Houston airport on the trip home from Guatemala, the linemen prepared to go their separate ways back to Oklahoma and Colorado. As they parted, it was clear that during their time in Guatemala they became true brothers. I must admit I got a little misty-eyed seeing these tough, fearless men hug each other and pledge to stay in touch in the years to come.

So, while we hope this project provides long-lasting benefits to the people of La Montanita de la Virgen, we know that it also created a lifetime of memories for Colorado electric co-op linemen.

Viva Guatemala!

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Exploring Colorful Colorado

Electric co-ops serve amazing parts of the state

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

I hope you’ll excuse me.

I started to write a column about how, by the time you read this, the U.S. Congress will have passed the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” (IRA). This is a piece of federal legislation that contains many provisions that potentially benefit Colorado’s electric cooperatives.

After all, as the executive director of CREA, part of my job is to support state and federal legislation that will help our electric co-ops. It looks like the IRA will provide funding for programs such as direct payments to co-ops working to transition away from fossil fuels, tax credits for electric vehicles and even funding for the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.

But as I was trying my best to summarize this 755-page bill and, frankly, questioning whether it would indeed reduce inflation, my mind started to wander. You see, earlier this summer I completed one of the items high on my Colorado bucket list: the hike from Crested Butte to Aspen on the West Maroon Trail during wildflower season. (While technically the trail starts at the West Maroon Trailhead and ends in the Maroon Bells trail parking lot, in general, the hike is from Crested Butte to Aspen.)

I would not normally use this space as a travelogue, but in the 38 years I have lived in Colorado, this 10.5-mile hike is the most “Colorado” thing I’ve ever done. I’ve hiked lots of fourteeners exploring colorful Colorado and fished many mountain rivers and streams, but when you think of Colorado scenery, what do you think of? Wildflowers? Forests primeval? (Thank you, Dan Fogelberg.) Crystalline lakes and streams? Snowbanks? Dogs? This hike has them all (assuming you bring your dog, as I did).

Ella the border collie and I caught a 6 a.m. shuttle van from a B&B in Crested Butte to the West Maroon trailhead north of Gothic. (My dear wife would make the long drive around and pick us up at Aspen Highlands later in the day.) Ella the border collie, being an antisocial sort, was glad to exit the van filled with other hikers, even in a steady downpour. Hoping that the rain would let up and starting out fast to get ahead of the other trekkers, we charged up the trail that leads to the summit at West Maroon Pass.

The rain quickly subsided and, after a half-mile or so of uphill hiking, the scene that unfolded in those mountain meadows was simply breathtaking. If you’ve seen the many iconic John Fielder photographs of the Colorado backcountry, you get the idea.

As we continued exploring colorful Colorado, we could see wildflowers blanketing the foothills from one horizon to the other: Colorado blue columbine, red Indian paintbrush, purple bluebells, silvery blue lupine, Rocky Mountain bee plants, subalpine larkspur, yellow black-eyed Susans, Maximilian sunflowers and dozens of additional varieties I could not identify. All these wildflowers were framed against a backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks, rushing mountain streams and pine forests, with not another human in sight. Paradise for man and, especially, beast.

We continued up the trail to the summit of West Maroon Pass (12,386 feet) where we “pawsed” for a snack. (Sorry.) I had one of those delicious trail bars that taste slightly better than the cardboard container they’re packed in, and Ella had a beef tenderstick (which cost considerably more than my trail bar and looked a lot more appetizing).

By this time, a lot of hikers were coming from the other direction, so I put Ella back on the leash since she is an incorrigible herder, meaning she likes to gently nip people on the backs of their ankles.

We headed downhill to complete the last 6 miles of the hike, stopping periodically to let Ella roll around on snowbanks and cool off in mountain streams. Along the way, we noticed something very peculiar: In our world of generally grumpy, stressed-out people, every hiker or group of hikers we approached was either laughing or smiling. Colorado still has that magic.

We finished the hike at the base of the spectacular Maroon Bells and caught a shuttle bus back to Aspen Highlands.

While there are no electric co-op facilities in the Maroon Bell-Snowmass Wilderness, electric co-ops serve the communities at both ends: Crested Butte and Aspen. I can therefore say with a straight face that, while this hike may have seemed like just a vacation, I was hard at work exploring colorful Colorado in co-op service territory. Hope you can too!

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 21 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Connecting with Co-op Leaders

By CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

One of the highlights of my work as CREA’s executive director is the opportunity to attend the annual meetings of many of CREA’s member electric cooperatives. I’ve been fortunate to attend about a dozen co-op annual meetings so far this year in towns ranging from Kit Carson to Springfield to Cortez to Craig and many points in between.

The resumption of face-to-face annual meetings, a longstanding co-op tradition, has been particularly gratifying after two years of mostly remote meetings brought on by COVID-19 concerns. It’s been my pleasure to be a guest at these meetings and to chat with co-op directors and staff members to learn what’s new at the co-op and to share what’s new at CREA. It’s also been great to hear from co-op consumer-members about what’s important to them and their communities.

Electric co-op annual meetings are truly celebrations of our diverse Colorado communities. They provide a chance for friends and neighbors to say hello and share a meal; for high school students to be recognized as scholarship winners; and for the co-op leadership to provide an update on co-op operations. Who knows — you might also win a door prize!

And while each co-op has its own unique annual meeting agenda, there are two common denominators at co-op annual meetings. First, each meeting starts with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. Whether the anthem is sung by a soloist, a choir, a recording or the folks in attendance, in one way or another, there is always a tribute to our great country at Colorado co-op annual meetings.

The second common denominator at co-op annual meetings is the opportunity given to consumer-members of the co-op to pose questions to the co-op board and staff regarding the operations of the co-op.

Think about that for a moment. As a consumer-member of your electric co-op, you have the right to attend the annual meeting of your electric utility and ask the CEO and/or the board president any question you want (politely, and related to electric service, of course). You can ask about rates, services, facilities, co-op policies, power supply; really, anything that you deem important about your electric service. And if the CEO or board president doesn’t have the answer for you at the meeting (which is rare), you can bet they will follow up with a phone call in a day or two.

Again, think about that. I live in Denver and receive electric service at my home from an investor-owned utility. Since I’m not a shareholder, I’m not entitled to attend the annual meeting of the utility. You can bet that if I have a question about my bill or service, I will not be able to reach the CEO or a board director for an answer. More likely, my call will be directed to an out-of-state call center, to be forever lost in digital purgatory.

That doesn’t mean consumer-members think every decision made by the co-op is perfect or that they don’t have questions or suggestions. Far from it. At the meetings I attended, many consumer-members had questions about programs or services offered by their electric co-op, and they had definite opinions about how those programs or services could be adjusted and perhaps improved. But, in all cases, the questions were asked politely and in a spirit of cooperation.

These meetings show that the electric co-op business model and the cooperative principles are alive and well in Colorado. The second cooperative principle, “democratic member control,” is proudly exercised by the consumer-members of Colorado co-ops through board elections and membership meetings.

In the end, Colorado co-op consumer-members know that their electric utility is member-owned, member-controlled, nonprofit and operated for the good of the local community. In these times of uncertainty and unrest, it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one institution that you can rely on to provide great service at a fair price: your local electric co-op.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

Meeting the Challenge for Reliability Issues

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Colorado’s electric co-ops are part of a complex network of electric utilities that keep the power flowing to communities across the United States.

Many of these electric utilities are members, either individually or through affiliated companies, of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, otherwise known as NERC. NERC is a nonprofit organization that was created in the 1960s to ensure that utilities work together to keep the grid running to provide power on a 24/7/365 basis to all Americans.

In a recent report titled “2022 Summer Reliability Assessment,” NERC found that significant parts of the United States are at risk of not having sufficient power-generating resources to keep the lights on this summer. According to the report, the risk is highest in the upper Midwest where, even in normal weather conditions, there may be insufficient operating reserves to maintain reliable electric service. The projected risk in the western United States is lower, where NERC concludes that operating reserves should be adequate unless weather conditions are hotter than expected.

The types of risks that NERC considers in its assessment of the reliability of the power grid include lack of transmission line availability; drought impacts on hydropower capacity; power plant outages due to fuel shortages; the mechanical failure of inverter-based solar power units; supply chain issues; and cybersecurity threats.

Ultimately, the power grid is a complex web of machines that can break down regardless of whether they are based on renewable resources or fossil fuels. This was the lesson of winter storm Uri in Texas last year: While there may be sufficient capacity on paper to provide heat and power, extreme weather can trump utility planning to devastating effect. And even though Uri happened in Texas, some Colorado utilities were impacted by the storm when it resulted in higher natural gas prices throughout the region.

In Colorado, all electric utilities, including electric co-ops, spend a great deal of time and money to have adequate resources to serve electric customers under all conditions. This concept of “resource adequacy” has received a lot of attention in Colorado recently as our regulators and policymakers consider what happened in Texas and read reports such as NERC’s recent assessment.

In the 2022 session of the Colorado General Assembly, a draft bill on resource adequacy was circulated but never introduced. CREA, representing Colorado’s electric co-ops, engaged in many discussions regarding that proposal. If a similar bill comes back in 2023, CREA will be at the table to protect co-op interests.

Concerns about resource adequacy have also come up in recent discussions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Some commissioners have questioned whether the transition to renewable sources for power generation, primarily wind and solar, is moving too quickly and impacting the reliability of the grid. Other commissioners point out that reliability is not significantly reduced by the addition of intermittent resources since all power-generating resources are subject to mechanical failure — think Colorado’s Comanche III power-generating station with its history of breakdowns and outages.

As all Colorado utilities move to close coal-fired generating stations by the end of this decade, regulators will have to pay close attention to impacts on reliability.

The first job for Colorado’s electric co-ops is to keep power flowing to co-op consumer-members day and night, in good weather and bad. This has always been a challenging undertaking given the terrain and often severe weather conditions that can prevail in Colorado. It’s even more challenging in electric co-op service territory given the thousands of miles of distribution lines that are needed to serve remote customers.

The energy transition that’s happening in Colorado adds yet another layer of complexity to the task of providing reliable, affordable electric service. Nevertheless, electric co-ops are confident that they can meet this challenge like they have met every other challenge for the last 80 years.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

D.C. Legislative Rally

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Each spring, representatives of electric cooperatives across the country fly to Washington, D.C., to participate in a legislative conference sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, our national trade association.

The purpose of this legislative rally is to remind members of Congress how important electric co-ops are to rural communities and to ask these national leaders to support policies and legislation that help electric co-ops provide reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric service to their consumer-members.

For many years, our team at CREA has organized this trip for Colorado co-op board directors, managers and staff. We typically send a group of 40–50 folks who represent many of Colorado’s electric co-ops. We work with the staff in the nine different Colorado legislative offices (seven House members, two Senators) to set meetings with the members of the Colorado congressional delegation and/or their staff.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, we were unable to have an in-person legislative rally in either 2020 or 2021. While we held virtual meetings with the members of Congress, those are not nearly as effective as sitting down face to face to talk about the issues. When our group convened in Washington for the 2022 legislative rally, it had been three years since we last traveled to our nation’s capital.

Since the U.S. House of Representatives was not in session during our visit, we met with the staff of the members of Congress rather than the members themselves. Our group was smaller this year in part because our meetings were “only” with staff, but the meetings with staff were excellent and extremely worthwhile. I think everyone in our group was impressed by the way the staffers listened carefully to our concerns, asked relevant questions, and demonstrated a sincere interest in following up with assistance if possible.

As an example, after our meeting, Dr. Nikki Roy from the office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D) reached out to us to discuss a possible partnership between our members and Subaru to install electric vehicle charging stations in Colorado’s four national parks. (Ironically, Rep. DeGette is the only member of our delegation without any co-op service territory in her congressional district.)

The U.S. Senate was in session during the time we were in Washington, so we had an opportunity to meet with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D) and two of his aides to discuss several issues of importance to Colorado’s electric co-ops. We worked with Sen. Hickenlooper for many years when he was Colorado’s governor and have always appreciated his willingness to listen to the concerns of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

We particularly enjoyed Sen. Hickenlooper’s story about a recent road trip with former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer deep into eastern Colorado co-op country. It was great to hear that at age 93, Gov. Romer has not lost a step and maintains a keen interest in his home state.

All our meetings in Washington were useful to our members and helped us establish and maintain contacts with our national delegation. The meetings demonstrated that our members of Congress are assisted by hardworking men and women who have a passion for public service.

Specifically, we want to thank the following staff members from our Colorado congressional delegation for taking the time to meet with the Colorado co-op group:

• Susanne Brooks, senior policy advisor for Sen. Michael Bennet (D)
• Daniel Palken, legislative assistant, and Rachel Starr, legislative fellow for Sen. Hickenlooper (D)
• Dr. Nikki Roy, climate and energy policy advisor for Rep. DeGette (D)
• James Thomas, legislative director and deputy chief of staff for Rep. Doug Lamborn (R)
• Jeff Small, chief of staff for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R)
• James Braid, chief of staff for Rep. Ken Buck (R)
• Macey Matthews, chief of staff for Rep. Jason Crow (D)
• Abbie Callahan, legislative assistant for energy and water issues for Rep. Joe Neguse (D)

Thank you to these staffers for all the work they do on behalf of Colorado’s residents and electric co-ops.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.