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Remembering Dad this Father’s Day, D-Day

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

When my father passed away 20 years ago this month, my sister and I were heartbroken. Not only because we had lost our father but also, having lost our mother eight years earlier, we knew that our lives would never be quite the same without our folks.

I thought about my father a lot the last month or so as we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day and, of course, Father’s Day. Dad did not fight in Europe in World War II, but he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became an officer. Like thousands of men and women of the Greatest Generation, after the war he raised a family, worked hard and enjoyed spending time on his small Kansas farm where he grew up.

Dad was born in 1915 and the rural farmhouse where he was raised did not have electricity, indoor plumbing or a telephone. Although he worked fields behind a horse and plow as a kid, he lived to see a man walk on the moon. I have to chuckle when people suggest that our lives are changing faster than ever based on the development of new technology. I don’t think my dad would be all that impressed that the latest iPhone has facial recognition.

Dad was 43 when I was born, and we had different tastes when it came to music, culture and, of course, politics. But while we did not see eye to eye on many things, we shared a love of fishing and baseball and that was enough to make our relationship work pretty well. Dad taught me to fish with a cane pole when I was about 5 years old, and I’ve had the bug ever since. Whenever we spent time at the farm, the first thing I wanted to do was head down to Blue Hole to catch Old Fighter, the largemouth bass that always seemed to get away.

When I moved to Colorado, I learned how to fly fish and over the years I have acquired an embarrassing collection of fancy graphite fly rods and expensive reels. My dad’s fishing gear was not made by Scott, Winston or Sage, but rather ABU Garcia, Pflueger and Shakespeare. He did not own neoprene chest waders or polarized sunglasses; he made do with rubber hip boots and a Kansas City Royals ball cap.

But boy, could he catch fish. He could throw a number 2 Mepps spinner a hundred feet and drop it on a dime. He had that sixth sense that all great fishermen have: He knew where the fish were likely to be and how to make the right cast and retrieve to entice them to bite. Dad loved fishing for largemouth bass back in Kansas, but he loved fishing for Colorado trout even more.

And my goodness, was he tenacious. Like a hunting dog fixated on a running rooster, my dad would fight through all kinds of streamside trees and brush if it meant a better vantage point from which to cast a lure. It was not uncommon for him to come back from a fishing trip bruised and bloodied, the result of an encounter with a tree branch or a fall in a rushing mountain stream. Like most fishermen, he always needed to catch that one last fish of the day. And maybe one more.

It seems impossible that my dad has been gone for 20 years. I open his old tackle box once in a while because it reminds me of him: I can still smell the distinctive combination of sweat, blood and reel oil. Henry Lyman Singer was the best fisherman I ever knew; we miss you, Dad.

Colorado’s Electric Co-ops Ready to Work with Legislators

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Shortly after I graduated from law school in 1984, I moved to Denver and began my legal career as a staff attorney for the Colorado legislature. As an attorney in the legislative drafting office, my job, along with about 15 other lawyers, was to draft the hundreds of bills and amendments that are considered by the legislature each year. The legislative drafting office is now called the Office of Legislative Legal Services, one of the four nonpartisan staff agencies that support the work of the Colorado General Assembly.

As a legislative attorney, I worked with members of both the Colorado House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, to craft pieces of legislation to accomplish their policy objectives. This work often involved consultation with not only the members of the legislature, but also with lobbyists and other stakeholders whose clients or companies would be impacted by the proposed legislation.

Back in those days, it was unheard of for a member of the General Assembly to introduce a bill that would impact a particular business or company without first giving that business or company an opportunity to provide feedback on the bill. It was not at all uncommon for legislators to ask competing stakeholders to meet in a room and work out their differences.

Of course, when those differences could not be settled, the legislator sponsoring the bill would make the ultimate decision on legislative language. Yet, it was unusual for bills to be introduced where little or no opportunity was given to those affected by the bill to provide input and feedback.

Times have changed. In the just-completed 2019 legislative session, many important pieces of legislation were introduced with little or no opportunity for input from those who would be affected by the new requirements. From legislation regulating the oil and gas industry to bills mandating all sectors of the Colorado economy reduce carbon emissions, bills that will significantly impact Colorado’s energy economy were written over a period of months behind closed doors and without the input of impacted industries.

This was certainly true in the case of HB 19-1261, a bill that will impact rural electricity ratepayers for many years to come. Despite our requests to be included in the discussion of rational carbon regulation for electric co-ops, a plan was formed and imposed with little input from representatives of electric co-ops. This is unfortunate; we know our systems and facilities better than anyone, and electric co-ops should have had an opportunity to help design this legislation.

I’m fully aware that the majority party has the power to set policy direction in many areas; that’s how our system works. I’m also aware that some will say, “Why should we talk to you? You’ll just say no.”

That may have been a valid criticism in the past, but I don’t think it is true anymore. As a group, electric co-ops have recognized the changing energy industry and have taken responsible steps to generate more power from carbon-free resources while maintaining reliable service and affordable rates. While we continue to believe that our locally-elected boards should be the primary regulators of electric co-ops, we also understand that the power supply choices we make impact more than co-op consumer-members. We are working extraordinarily hard to make this transition in a way that focuses on continuing the economic vitality of rural Colorado.

I hope that a few legislators will read this column and consider inviting Colorado’s electric co-ops to the table the next time a major energy policy change is considered. I think you will find that we are interested in working together to find solutions to Colorado’s energy needs.

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.