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Transitioning from Coal to Renewables

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

In this column, I frequently discuss the energy transition that is taking place in Colorado. Over the last 10 years or so, Colorado’s electric co-ops have been moving toward a much more diversified approach to how electricity is generated with the integration of higher amounts of renewable energy.

This transition has not been easy or without controversy. But in 2021, Colorado’s electric co-ops are moving quickly toward a power supply portfolio that will incorporate far more renewable energy and create far less greenhouse gas emissions. Both Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Xcel Energy Colorado, the power suppliers to 21 of 22 electric co-ops, will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from their power generating resources in Colorado by 90% from 2005 levels by 2030.

This is a watershed moment for the electric industry in Colorado. We are in the midst of the most dramatic departure from how electricity has been produced in rural Colorado for the last 80 years, moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Yes, the co-ops are moving in this direction because the Colorado legislature passed laws requiring it, but they are also moving in this direction due to the concerns expressed by many of their consumer-members.

In addition to the changes being made to the bulk power supply resources of the electric co-op providers, co-ops are also working with their end-use customers to increase energy efficiency and integrate more renewable energy into the grid. Utilizing community solar farms, microgrids, distributed energy resources and other innovative technologies, Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to reduce their impact on the environment while still maintaining reliable and affordable electricity for their consumer-members.

Given the dramatic changes happening in Colorado, I was a little perplexed by the headline of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal:

“Renewables Are Fast Replacing Coal, Except in Rural America.”

It may be true that in other parts of the country there is a more deliberate pace to the integration of renewable energy, but Colorado is on the fast track to a cleaner electric grid. The article in The Wall Street Journal focuses on the energy transition taking place in Colorado and the political and financial challenges that are associated with that transition. As the article states: “Co-ops are different from their investor-owned counterparts in a number of ways. Because they are owned by customers, rather than shareholders, they can’t raise equity and instead rely mainly on debt for financing needs. They are exempt from federal income taxes and therefore can’t use renewable energy tax credits. And many of the regions they serve rely on coal plants for jobs and tax revenue, making the prospect of closing them politically challenging.”

That’s all true. The transition to more sustainable resources has put pressure on electric co-ops and their power suppliers. However, Colorado’s electric co-ops are moving quickly toward their goal of an 80% reduction in Colorado power generation emissions by 2030 while working through the challenges. This includes supporting Coloradans and their local communities that have relied on the jobs provided by coal-fired power plants and coal mines that are being closed. The electric co-ops are also working with the state legislature to provide support for rural communities during this energy transition.

The bottom line is that renewables and other sustainable resources are fast replacing coal, including in rural Colorado.

Maybe a better headline for Colorado’s Wall Street Journal readers would have been “Renewables Are Fast Replacing Coal, Despite the Challenges Facing Rural America.”

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 its power supply co-op.

Electric Co-ops Intensify Wildfire Mitigation Action

By CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

Back in June, I provided a recap of the many pieces of legislation that CREA was involved with during the 2021 session of the Colorado General Assembly. Across a variety of issues, we worked constructively in a bipartisan manner with the legislature to achieve the legislature’s policy objectives in a way that we think will work for Colorado’s electric co-ops.

However, there was one area where the outcome was not what we had hoped for: the issue of mitigating the risks of wildfires to co-op facilities and communities. With the devastating fires of 2020 and the fires that have already occurred in 2021, we are acutely aware of the risk that wildfires pose to the consumer-members of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

Although none of the Colorado fires in 2020 were caused by power lines or other electric utility equipment, there have been instances in other states where fires have ignited as the result of trees falling into power lines or windstorms bringing down lines. Electric co-ops do everything in their power to clear the rights-of-way under their power lines, but it’s nearly impossible to clear all the rights-of way every year over the tens of thousands of miles of lines that co-ops maintain.

During the 2021 session of the legislature that was completed in June, CREA sponsored a bill that would have given electric co-ops liability protection in exchange for proven compliance with a wildfire mitigation plan. In other words, if an electric co-op developed a comprehensive plan to clear rights-of-way and took other steps to prevent wildfires, the state would grant the co-op protection from a lawsuit in the event co-op facilities were the cause of a wildfire. The bill, however, was killed in the first committee when the trial lawyers opposed it.

In the meantime, Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to take significant steps to reduce the risk of co-op facilities sparking a wildfire. In south-central Colorado, San Luis Valley Rural Electric is installing a new type of power line conductor that can withstand the impact of a falling tree. The new technology will improve the reliability of the system and reduce the potential of co-op facilities starting a wildfire.

According to San Luis Valley CEO Loren Howard: “One of the big drivers of this project is wildfire mitigation. We’re spending a great amount of effort looking at ways that we can mitigate the risk of wildfires caused by electric lines owned by San Luis Valley Rural Electric.”

Mountain Parks Electric, headquartered in Granby, experienced one of the worst fires in Colorado history last summer when the East Troublesome Fire burned nearly 194,000 acres in the service territory of the co-op. The fire was not caused by electric lines, but Mountain Parks is spending $1.5 million in improvements, including underground construction of some power lines, clearing of vegetation around power poles and transformers, and work with the U.S. Forest Service to deter birds from nesting atop power poles.

The improvements on the Mountain Parks system include the installation of fault interrupters known as “trip savers,” which do not spark when a fuse is blown. Don Finn, operations manager for Mountain Parks, explained how it works: “When the system detects a fault downstream from the fuse…with the trip savers, the arc is contained inside a unit so it’s not creating a fire potential or the boom from the expulsion fuse.”

Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, continually monitors its system with visual inspections, thermal imaging and drones to mitigate fire danger related to its facilities with the goal of inspecting all 1,100 miles of the co-ops’ overhead system. When there is a system outage, repair crews respond as soon as possible to give them the best opportunity to mitigate the damage if a line or other equipment might cause a fire.

Colorado’s electric co-ops will continue to be vigilant in monitoring their power systems and doing all they can to prevent fires. However, we still believe liability protection is appropriate if co-ops have acted prudently, and we’ll be back at the legislature in 2022 with legislation to protect co-ops and their consumer-members.

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 its power supply co-op.

Striving to Meet All Members’ Needs

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Two things were clear when the CEOs of Colorado’s electric co-ops met recently after a long hiatus from in-person meetings: First, they were all eager to get together, catch up and share the latest on what’s happening at their co-ops. Second, each co-op in the state is thinking “outside the box” as it faces a variety of challenges in its service territory.

One of the functions of CREA as a trade association is facilitating peer group discussions among the various groups of employees at Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops. We coordinate groups for accountants, attorneys, mechanics, lineworkers, member service representatives, operations managers and others, as well as the co-op general managers and CEOs.

At this first CEO meeting in more than a year, the managers met at Holy Cross Energy in Glenwood Springs. In addition to renewing previous connections and welcoming new CEOs to the group, the managers got down to brass tacks discussing the issues and challenges they, their boards and their staff face in providing reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity to over 70% of the landmass of Colorado.

To frame the discussion, we asked the co-op CEOs to consider where their co-ops would be in five years. The answers demonstrated not only the incredible diversity that exists among Colorado’s electric co-ops, but also the ingenuity and innovation that co-ops are deploying to respond to an evolving energy landscape.

Some CEOs indicated that their members want more options when it comes to the services provided by their electric co-op. This might be in the form of rates or options for carbon-free power. Other CEOs talked about additional services that co-ops could provide to bring more value to the communities they serve, whether that means additional energy services or an even broader scope of offerings beyond electricity. Among this group are co-ops that have started subsidiaries or initiated other projects to provide broadband service to their consumer-members.

Still, other CEOs talked about new technology: how their co-ops are implementing microgrids in remote locations where a local power supply will add resilience; investing in battery storage capacity to provide more flexibility and other value streams; working with their consumer-members on distributed energy systems; and looking at additional renewable generation options to support local communities.

There was also a lot of discussion about the challenges that lie ahead.

Several eastern plains co-ops are concerned about water, or the lack thereof. With limits proposed on the use of groundwater in the Republican River Basin, farmers and ranchers in eastern Colorado will be affected as will the co-ops depending on the revenue from the electricity operating irrigation wells. Many of those smaller co-ops also have no growth and are seeing their oil and gas customers leave. Yet other co-ops, in other parts of the state, are seeing tremendous growth with business and commercial accounts, adding to residential growth.

Every co-op has its specific challenges as it works to meet the needs of its consumer-members who rely on it for their electric energy needs.

All of Colorado’s electric co-ops, regardless of the unique challenges they face, are working to decarbonize the resources generating the power they distribute to their consumer-members. Colorado law requires all electric utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030, and the co-ops are working to meet those requirements while maintaining today’s levels of reliability and affordability for Colorado’s electric co-op consumer-members.

If you read this column regularly, you know I often say, “If you’ve seen one electric co-op, you’ve seen one electric co-op.” This is the opposite of the old saying, “If you’ve seen one (fill in the blank), you’ve seen them all.”

This highlights the point that each of Colorado’s electric co-ops is a unique company with its own goals, opportunities and challenges. CREA is excited for the opportunities ahead for Colorado’s electric cooperatives and is ready to assist its member co-ops in overcoming whatever challenges they face as they move into the new energy future.

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.

2021 CO Legislative Session Rundown

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The Colorado General Assembly will wrap up the 2021 legislative session this month after adopting legislation covering a wide range of issues.

CREA follows the activities of the legislature closely to protect the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops and this year was a particularly busy one. Now that the session is coming to an end, it’s time to take stock of how the legislature’s work in 2021 will impact Colorado’s electric co-ops.

The legislature considered over 800 bills this year on topics that included public safety, transportation, energy and myriad subjects in between. Since we represent Colorado’s electric co-ops primarily on energy issues, I’ll focus on the energy-related bills that passed this year.

Electric co-op governance
The legislature passed H.B. 21-1131, a bill that makes changes to the practices of electric co-ops related to board meetings, annual meetings and the election of directors.

After working with the sponsors of the bill to clarify some of its provisions, CREA supported the bill. Many of the bill’s requirements relating to transparency in governance are already followed by most co-ops. We appreciate the willingness of Rep. Judy Amabile (D-Boulder) to listen to CREA’s concerns.

Net metering
The legislature also considered a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) that changes the rules for utility consumers who want to generate power from their own behind-the-meter facilities (such as rooftop solar). Co-ops already provide net metering to thousands of customers and we support the current co-op net metering law, which limits consumer-members to generating only enough power to provide for their needs.

S.B. 21-261 eliminates this cap on generation in the state law, but only for investor-owned electric utilities. It retains the limits for electric co-ops. Electric co-ops support the efforts of their consumer-members who desire to install distributed generation such as solar panels, but the co-ops do not support customers using the co-op grid to export power in large quantities beyond what they need. We appreciate Sen. Fenberg recognizing our concerns and making sure the co-op limits stay intact.

Organized electricity markets
The legislature passed S.B. 21-72, a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) that directs Colorado electric utilities to move toward joining a regional transmission organization, or RTO, by 2030. Colorado’s electric co-ops supported Sen. Hansen’s bill because we believe that in order to comply with the requirements of H.B. 19-1261 (the bill requiring 80% reductions of greenhouse gases from the utility sector by 2030) we will need to have a regional power grid. If an RTO can be created, it will facilitate the transfer of significant additional amounts of wind and solar power supply from across a broader region than what is available only in Colorado.

Building performance standards
A bill requiring owners of buildings in excess of 50,000 square feet to meet energy efficiency performance standards also required electric co-ops to provide energy data to the building owners. We opposed this bill because it would require co-ops to purchase expensive software to upload the data to the Colorado Energy Office.

While we support the efforts of co-op consumer-members to use electricity in the most efficient manner possible, electric co-ops should not be required to spend large sums of their consumers-members’ money to comply with this law; we’re seeking amendments to address this concern.

Accelerated greenhouse gas reductions
Two years ago, the legislature passed H.B. 19-1261, a bill that requires electric utilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2030. Since then, all of Colorado’s electric utilities have worked to develop power supply portfolios that will meet those targets.

This year, the legislature is considering S.B. 21-200, a bill that would accelerate that process and set sector-specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of industries. We believe this bill amounts to “moving the goalposts” in a way that does not recognize the challenges of making major new investments in power supply and will negatively impact electric co-op consumer-members.

Each year when the speaker of the House uses the gavel to start a new session, it reminds me of the umpire in a baseball game hollering, “Play ball!” You can be sure that CREA will always go to bat for rural electricity consumers to keep power affordable and reliable.

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 its power supply co-op.

Wildland Fire Mitigation

Legislation supporting right-of-way clearing fails

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

Wildfires pose one of the most significant threats to the health and safety of folks living in many parts of rural Colorado. In 2020, three of the largest wildfires in Colorado history burned hundreds of thousands of acres and caused many millions of dollars of property damage. Tragically, two lives were lost during the East Troublesome Fire that ravaged portions of Mountain Parks Electric’s territory in Grand County.

One of the commonalities of these fires is that they often occur in the service territory of one or more of Colorado’s electric co-ops. That was certainly the case in 2020 as the Pine Gulch, Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires consumed over a half-million acres of both public and private lands in co-op service territory.

To be clear, none of these fires were caused by any equipment or facilities owned and operated by Colorado’s electric co-ops. However, we continue to be concerned that, despite our best efforts to clear our utility line rights-of-way (the land under our lines), trees outside the rights-of-way can fall into those lines and spark a fire. Electric co-ops spend millions of dollars each year clearing these rights-of-way, but they have limited authority to clear the trees outside the easements.

This is why CREA, representing Colorado’s electric cooperatives, worked with members of the Colorado General Assembly to sponsor a bill in the legislature this year to address our concerns. S.B. 21-170 was the result of over a year of work with many stakeholders to develop legislation that would encourage electric co-ops to develop more comprehensive wildfire protection plans to help prevent wildfires. In exchange for developing and implementing the plans, the bill provided that electric co-ops would be granted liability protection from lawsuits brought alleging that the co-ops were at fault for starting a fire.

Despite having bipartisan support in both the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate, the bill was killed in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. The sponsors of the legislation asked the committee to postpone consideration of the bill indefinitely, a legislative action referred to as a bill being “PI’d” or killed.

Why was S.B. 21-170 so unceremoniously rejected by the legislature? The trial lawyers lobby complained that the bill’s grant of liability protection would mean that plaintiff ’s lawyers would be unable to sue electric co-ops in the event of a wildfire caused by co-op facilities. Of course, that was the exact point of the bill.

By agreeing to develop specific plans to remove vegetation and following through on those plans, electric co-ops would be adding additional reasonable measures to prevent fires. In exchange for developing the plans, filing them with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and then implementing the plans, co-ops would be entitled to immunity from lawsuits alleging that co-op infrastructure caused a fire.

Despite the objections of the trial lawyers, many legislators supported CREA in this effort because they understand that electric co-ops have limited options with respect to liability insurance (thanks to the PG&E fires on the West Coast). Insurance is either unavailable or prohibitively expensive since costs would have to be borne by the end-use co-op consumer-members.

We’re not about to give up on this legislative effort. It is critically important to rural communities that all reasonable steps be taken to prevent wildfires. Electric co-ops plan to do their part. We hope to work on a new bill over the legislative interim period and come back in 2022 with a bill that everyone can support.

In the meantime, we want to thank the four members of the Colorado General Assembly who were willing to stand up and be counted in support of Colorado’s electric co-ops. To our prime bill sponsors, Sens. Dennis Hisey (R) and Joann Ginal (D) and Reps. Jeni Arndt (D) and Michael Lynch (R), we say thank you and we look forward to working with you again during the 2022 session of the Colorado legislature.

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 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.