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Electric Co-ops Weather the Cold Snap

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The mid-February power outages in Texas and other states caused widespread human suffering and even loss of life. Millions of Texans were without power, heat or water for several days in one of the worst power outages in U.S. history. There are many investigations underway and lots of finger-pointing, but the basic problem was that when the demand for electricity spiked during extremely cold weather, there was simply not enough to go around.

Although hearings and investigations regarding the causes of the blackouts are ongoing, it seems apparent that the primary causes of the outages were the result of power supply failures: frozen coal piles, inoperable wind turbines, inadequate natural gas supplies and a nuclear power plant that went off line. The blackouts were not caused by problems with the transmission or distribution systems as sometimes happens in wind or ice storms, but by lack of power supply of all varieties. It wasn’t a failure of renewable or nonrenewable energy, it was a failure of the entire power supply system.

As an association of electric co-ops whose job it is to keep the lights on in rural Colorado, the events in Texas of course bring a sobering question to mind:

Could it happen here?

Colorado’s electric co-ops take great pride in maintaining a system of generating plants and transmission and distribution lines that provide incredibly reliable electric service to over 70% of Colorado’s landmass. The safety and success of rural Colorado communities depend on the availability of reliable and affordable electricity; Colorado’s electric co-ops provide that power.

The same cold snap that impacted Texas resulted in a close call in Colorado. While the grid held up and there were no significant power outages, this was not a matter of luck. Instead, it was a matter of planning, thinking ahead and taking the steps necessary to protect the power delivery system. The power stayed on due to the smart and hard work done by dispatchers, power plant operators, maintenance staff and other electric utility workers from many utilities across the state.

In the co-op family, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the power supplier to 17 of Colorado’s 22 electric co-ops, was able to use fuel oil instead of natural gas in some of its dual-fuel capable units, thus avoiding the temporary spikes in natural gas prices. The weather reduced the availability of Tri-State’s wind and solar capacity, but all of its coal-fired units remained on line; clearly, as Tri-State retires these coal units in the coming years, it will need to solve the need for capacity with new technology. Even though Tri-State incurred higher costs for the natural gas it did use during the cold snap, it was able to minimize those costs and there will be no increase in Tri-State’s wholesale rates to its members as a result of the weather.

The same cannot be said for Colorado’s electric co-ops that purchase their power from Xcel Energy: Grand Valley Power, Holy Cross Energy, Intermountain REA and Yampa Valley Electric. These co-ops were hit with huge “fuel cost adjustment” charges from Xcel Energy. During the cold snap, the price of natural gas skyrocketed due to the demand across the country and Xcel spent an additional $650 million to keep its gas-fired power plants running. Xcel is now seeking to recover those costs not only from its retail customers, but also from the four electric co-ops in Colorado that purchase their wholesale power supply from Xcel.

The easy answer to the question of “Could it happen here?” is “Of course not.” But that’s not the right answer. The right answer is that while a blackout the scope of the Texas blackout is highly unlikely, more localized interruptions are possible.

The power grid is comprised of mechanical devices that may sometimes fail or be overwhelmed by severe weather. Colorado’s electric co-ops are doing everything in their power to anticipate all sorts of conditions, be it weather, fire or cyber threats, and if our performance in the latest cold snap is any indication, we’re up to the challenge.

There’s an old saying that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” While we don’t wish for challenging opportunities, Colorado’s electric co-ops are always preparing to be lucky.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA 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 one power supply co-op.

CREA’s Advocacy for Electric Co-ops

By Kent Singer

The first regular session of the 73rd Colorado General Assembly convened at the state Capitol at 10 a.m. on January 13 to conduct the people’s business. While the session started on time and in accordance with the requirements of the Colorado Constitution, it was unlike the beginning of any previous legislative session in Colorado history.

The start of a new Colorado General Assembly after a general election is usually accompanied by lots of pomp and circumstance. Newly elected members are often joined on the floor of each chamber with family members and the atmosphere — at least on the first day — is one of congeniality between the parties and the hope for bipartisanship and cooperation.

However, in the age of COVID-19, access to the Capitol on opening day was extremely limited this year and the plexiglass barriers between the desks of the legislators were a reminder of the unique circumstances facing the body. Given the ongoing risks of large groups of people meeting in close proximity, the general assembly almost immediately recessed for 30 days in hopes of keeping the members and staff safe and avoiding the worst of the pandemic.

CREA made good use of the recess to work on bills of importance to Colorado’s electric co-ops with individual members of the legislature. When the legislature reconvened on February 16, we had substantial work done on bills relating to electric co-op governance practices and wildfire mitigation, among others.

We have long supported transparent and fair rules for the governance of electric co-op elections and board meetings. Although electric co-ops are private businesses and not government agencies, we nonetheless support open and fair board elections and transparent decision-making by electric co-ops. “Democratic member control” is one of the seven cooperative principles and we believe in the rights of co-op consumer-members to have input into the direction of their co-op.

To that end, we are working with State Rep. Judy Amabile (D-Boulder) on a bill that would change some of the requirements for electric co-op board elections and meetings. Among other revisions, the bill will authorize, but not require, electric co-ops to conduct elections by electronic means. We continue to work with Rep. Amabile on other provisions of the bill.

We are also seeking legislation that recognizes the risks that wildfires pose to electric co-op systems as well as the risks to the financial viability of co-ops in the event a tree falls into our systems and causes a fire. We are supporting legislation similar to what other states have adopted where co-ops would be granted liability protection so long as they develop and implement robust fire mitigation plans. We are working with State Sen. Dennis Hisey (R-Fountain) on this legislation and appreciate his sponsorship of the bill.

We expect to see many other bills during the 2021 legislative session that could impact how electric co-ops operate. Our objective is always to watch for any measures that diminish the right of your local co-op board and management to make decisions for your co-op, and to also be on the lookout for any proposals that could increase the cost of doing business.

When Abraham Lincoln gave his second “Annual Message to Congress” on December 1, 1862, as the Civil War raged on, he concluded with one of the many phrases that establish him as the most eloquent president in U.S. history. Lincoln informed Congress that slavery must be abolished in order to save the union and the republic as “the last best hope of earth.” Our republican form of government remains that “last best hope of earth” today through the work done by our elected state representatives and senators. We appreciate their service and their willingness to work with us as we protect the interests of Colorado’s electric cooperatives.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA 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 one power supply co-op.

Remembering a Legendary Electric Co-op Figure

One of the privileges of my position with the Colorado Rural Electric Association, the statewide organization representing Colorado’s electric cooperatives, is the opportunity to work with truly great Coloradans. Over the last 25 years, I’ve met many tremendous leaders from across Colorado who are not only champions of the electric co-op program, but also visionary leaders in their communities.

John Porter, who passed away on December 28 in Cortez, was one of those leaders.

John was born in 1933 and raised on a farm near Lewis, Colorado, a town named after his maternal grandfather. After he graduated from Cortez High School, he earned a degree in agriculture from Colorado State University (then called Colorado A&M College). After college, John and his wife, Nancy, returned to southwestern Colorado in 1955 and operated their own farm in Lewis; Nancy also taught school in the Cortez school system. John and Nancy raised two daughters: Marsha and Mary.

In 1980, John succeeded his father as the manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, the organization in charge of managing the Dolores River. In that role, John oversaw the development of the Dolores Project, which created McPhee Dam and Reservoir. To this day, McPhee Reservoir supplies municipal and industrial water to the towns of Cortez, Dove Creek and Towaoc, as well as irrigation water to many farming operations in Montezuma and Dolores counties, including those of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

In recognition of his leadership in the development of the Dolores Project, the Colorado Water Congress named John the “Wayne N. Aspinall Water Leader of the Year” in 2000. The Aspinall award is given annually to the person “exemplifying the courage, dedication, knowledge and leadership qualities of Wayne N. Aspinall in the development, protection and preservation of the water of the state of Colorado.” In 2017, the Colorado General Assembly adopted a tribute to John for his leadership in the Dolores Project and his years of service on the boards of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, the Inter-Basin Compact Committee and the Colorado River Water Users Association.

I had the pleasure of working with John for the last 11 years in his role as the Empire Electric Association representative to CREA’s board of directors. Not long after I became the executive director of CREA, John invited me to a dinner with him and Doug Kemper, the head of the Colorado Water Congress. John felt it was important for me to understand the interplay between water and power and to get to know Doug and other advocates for rural Colorado. He was always interested in helping rural farmers and ranchers, whether it related to access to irrigation water or to affordable and reliable electricity.

John was a great board member for CREA and all of his colleagues on the board loved and respected him. He was always prepared for board meetings and always listened closely to his fellow board members. If the board reached an impasse on a difficult issue, John frequently suggested a thoughtful and effective compromise.

John was also a big supporter of the CREA staff. As the chair of our Education & Communications Committee, John led the committee that oversees all of the education programs that CREA sponsors as well as the efforts of our communications team. I will never forget that whenever a CREA staff member was recognized for an achievement or celebrated a work anniversary, John would be the first to initiate a round of congratulatory applause.

Several years ago, I made a trip to Cortez to meet with the Empire Electric Association Board of Directors. After the meeting, John gave me a cap with the famous “Certified Water Buffalo” insignia. John told me that from that time forward I would be recognized as an honorary water buffalo. The best part of the gift was the printing on the back of the cap: “From John 2016.”

John Porter was a devoted husband, loving father and grandfather and a legendary figure in the Colorado water and electric co-op communities. We are so thankful to have known him and so grateful for his lasting contributions to our great state.

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.

CREA Representing Co-ops at Legislative Sessions

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Plans for Better Days Ahead

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

• Step 1: See a movie in a theater.

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

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

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

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

• Step 6: Learn to bake sourdough bread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So long, 2020.

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

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

Thankful Despite the Circumstances

By Kent Singer

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

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

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

• Netflix.

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

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

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

• Zoom.

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

• Rising trout on the Frying Pan River.

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

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

• Our right to vote.

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

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

• Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric Co-ops Support Local Communities through Crises

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-ops Mitigating Colorado Wildfire Risks

By Kent Singer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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