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2023 Legislative Session

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s Henry V, you may recall King Henry’s exhortation to his troops at the siege of Harfleur during the Hundred Years’ War. The city walls have been weakened by a long assault and the English troops are sick and exhausted, but Henry urges them to muster all their strength and fortitude for a final, victorious charge.

Okay, I admit it’s a little melodramatic to compare CREA’s lobbying efforts with the Hundred Years’ War. However, as we look back at the recently concluded 2023 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, you should know that the CREA government relations team once again “entered the breach” (in this case, the doors to the State Capitol) to protect the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

As compared with past sessions, energy policy played a secondary role in 2023 while the legislature focused on social issues such as gun control, abortion, tenant’s rights, and healthcare costs. There were bills intended to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power, but much of the policy movement on that front had already been decided during the 2019 legislative session.

When the session adjourned on May 8, legislators had introduced 610 bills. Of that number, CREA staff actively “engaged” on 42 bills. This means we either worked to support, oppose, or amend the legislation based on our evaluation of the impacts on electric co-ops and ultimately the vote of the CREA Board of Directors.

On the energy policy front during the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly convened a “Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates” to investigate the cause of the high heating bills that many Coloradans were hit with in late 2022 and early 2023.

Although the Committee’s focus was to explore why customers of Colorado’s investor-owned utilities were impacted by these charges, we made sure the Committee understood this was not a co-op problem.

We made it clear to the legislators that, for the most part, electric co-ops do not provide home heating services and that our rates have remained stable. As a result, a bill that was introduced by the Committee to further regulate investor-owned electric utilities did not affect electric co-ops.

We also were successful in pushing back on a bill (HB23-1282) that we believe would have resulted in frivolous lawsuits against electric co-ops. Electric co-op consumer-members are already protected from unfair or unjust rates under Colorado law, and there was no reason to call them out under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. We garnered bipartisan support to defeat this bill, and we’re thankful to the many legislators who supported our position.

Another bill that we worked on for months was SB23-292, a bill that establishes new requirements for energy sector construction projects. SB23-292 requires that, when certain types of energy projects such as generating plants and transmission lines are constructed, contractors must pay prevailing wages and have apprenticeship programs.

While these requirements may be appropriate for larger projects, we successfully argued that they should not apply to most projects undertaken by distribution co-ops. We worked with the proponents of the bill and the bill sponsors to narrow the application of the bill in a way that benefits CREA member co-ops.

We also initiated a Senate Resolution (SR23-007) recognizing Colorado Electrical Lineworker Appreciation Day. The resolution establishes April 18 each year as the day to recognize all of Colorado’s electric lineworkers and the great work they do to keep the lights on for Colorado citizens.

About a dozen electric co-op lineworkers were present on the Senate floor as the resolution was read and they had a chance to meet with many of the Senators after the resolution was unanimously approved. These folks are often the unsung heroes of the electric industry and we’re grateful to the Colorado State Senate for recognizing their important service to the state.

CREA has a tremendous legislative team led by Director of Government Relations and General Counsel Craig Johnson and Manager of Legislative Affairs Tim Coleman who, along with our contract lobbying firm Brandeberry McKenna, worked long hours during the session to monitor the legislative process 24 hours a day for 120 days (the length of the session).

We’re also thankful for our dedicated legislative committee headed up by Debbie Rose of San Isabel Electric Association, and the CREA Board of Directors; the board spends many hours helping us develop our legislative positions.

So, while the 2023 legislative session was not exactly the “blast of war” described in Henry V, we nevertheless summoned “every spirit” to defend the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.

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

May is National Electrical Safety Month

By Jenna Hirsch, CREA Director of Safety

“Safety” is a universal word that is mentioned often but used loosely. Communities large and small, as well as companies across all industries say they are committed to safety.

Over the past couple of decades, safety measures have increased exponentially in the NFL, and those efforts have trickled down to youth football leagues. But how many times have we seen players, coaches and trainers bend the rules, even just a little bit? And fans get annoyed when a tackle we see on television doesn’t seem “that bad,” but the player is pulled from the field, and it affects the outcome of the game.

Often, when it really counts, steps to keep the public, workers, athletes and loved ones safe are ignored in the interest of expediency, convenience or a scoreboard.

Safety is more than just a catchphrase. It is a serious issue. And for Colorado’s electric co-ops, it is paramount.

Over time, each co-op across the state has created a culture of safety by putting its employees’ safety and the wellbeing of the community above all else. Your co-op has a core mission to provide affordable, reliable and safe electricity. And your co-op wants its staff and crews to return home to their loved ones at the end of the day. This requires ongoing focus, dedication and vigilance.

May is National Electrical Safety Month and with this comes an increased effort to educate consumer-members about how to use electricity safely. It also is a great time to highlight your local electric co-op’s overall commitment to safety.

The Colorado Rural Electric Association, the statewide organization representing electric co-ops, has a safety department that focuses on training and educating co-op employees on safe workplace practices.

I oversee three job training and safety instructors who are each assigned a group of co-ops — they’ve got the whole state covered. The team also has an assistant who helps administer the programs we facilitate. CREA’s safety team offers a great deal of experience, knowledge and dedication and is available to assist your local co-op with any safety issues that come up in its day-to-day operations.

CREA provides training and services based on regulations and leading national safety best practices for the utility industry. Facilitating and participating in the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program is a prime example of this.

RESAP is a national safety program established by NRECA. The program was developed to strengthen leadership engagement, create a continuous safety improvement process, promote employee involvement and help co-ops to reduce injuries over time.

RESAP helps your electric co-op evaluate its safety program and develop safety improvement plans to make sure it is living up to its mission to keep everyone safe.

A team lead from CREA’s safety department and three to five volunteers from other Colorado electric co-ops visit your co-op every three years to perform an onsite observation. The team uses a comprehensive checklist to assess your local co-op’s adherence to safety criteria, with each section rated by the evaluation team over a three-day observation period.

RESAP criteria covers 21 sections — it is rigorous and thorough. Among many other things, your co-op is assessed on warehouse and storage safety, hazardous materials, administration and office areas, company vehicles, personal protective equipment, arc-rated clothing, fall protection, substations and bucket trucks.

The team also conducts visits with crews in the field and interviews employees on safety practices. At the end of the evaluation, the team lead presents the findings to your co-op’s general manager, operations manager and line superintendent.

I applaud all 21 of CREA’s member co-ops for participating in RESAP observations and opening their doors to feedback and improvements. Your local electric co-op takes safety seriously everywhere they work — in the field, at its headquarters building and beyond.

Your co-op’s participation in RESAP observations shows it is committed to safety from all angles. Be assured that your co-op also looks outside of its own four walls to keep you and your community safe around electricity.

Whether shutting and locking the gate to a substation facility, trimming trees that are growing into power lines, or closing a pad mount transformer after maintenance, your co-op has your safety at the forefront across all aspects of its work.

I encourage you to connect with your local electric co-op to learn more about electrical safety — it may even have resources available to educate you, your family and your community on both the obvious and hidden dangers of electricity.

Together, we can work together to keep everyone safe.

Jenna Hirsch is the Director of Safety and Loss Control at CREA, the statewide trade association that represents your electric co-op. She has an extensive background in safety, including training, incident investigation and management; regulatory standard interpretation and program implementation; and performing safety audits and risk assessments.

Co-ops Not at Fault for “Rising Utility Rates”

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

In recent months, thousands of Coloradans have been hit with much higher home heating bills compared to past winters. I know, because the heating bill at our house in Denver (I’m an Xcel Energy customer) was significantly higher this winter. At a recent informational meeting of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the commission’s chief economist reported that “For a typical Xcel customer, the (2022) electric bills are up … 20-25%, as opposed to gas bills, which have increased … 75%.”

These increased costs to keep the lights on and our homes warm, particularly during this colder-than-average winter, have created a serious financial burden for thousands of Colorado residents. At a public hearing hosted by the CPUC, dozens of residents expressed their frustrations with the higher costs of home heating and how difficult it will be for them to pay their bills.

The utility companies that provide home heating services have largely blamed the high costs on the price of natural gas, the commodity that is used to heat most homes in Colorado. Natural gas prices are subject to significant volatility since the commodity is traded in national and international markets and is subject to many different variables that impact the cost.

The Colorado State Legislature and the Governor both have recognized the extraordinary costs of heating homes and businesses and they have initiated investigations into the cause of the recent rate increases. The legislature has established a “Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates” that will meet in the coming months to investigate the causes and possible solutions for the current problem. Governor Polis has established an “Energy Bill Relief Working Group” that will engage in a similar analysis.

During these investigations, CREA intends to make it clear to the legislature and the Governor that Colorado’s electric co-ops are NOT part of the problem when it comes to high heating costs. For the most part, electric co-ops provide electricity and are not involved in the home heating business (one electric co-op provides propane heat to a few hundred residents).

So, while the legislature and Governor tend to lump together all utility services when they talk about “rising utility costs,” the focus should really be on the increased rates of those utilities that use natural gas for heating homes and businesses.

This is not to say that Colorado’s electric co-ops have not been impacted by increased natural gas costs. Two years ago, during Winter Storm Uri, the electric co-ops that purchase their wholesale electricity from Xcel Energy were hit with multimillion dollar “fuel adjustment clause” surcharges that those co-ops had to pass on to their retail consumer-members.

These surcharges were the result of increased wholesale power costs that, according to Xcel, were caused by a runup in the cost of natural gas used to fuel their power plants. Long after Winter Storm Uri, some of the electric co-ops that purchase wholesale power from Xcel have been subjected to continuing wholesale power cost increases that have resulted in rate increases to their retail, end-use consumers.

And while some electric co-ops have had modest rate increases over the last several years to pay for the costs of upgrading their facilities and the costs of inflation, the power supplier to 17 of the co-ops (Tri-State G&T) has not had a rate increase since 2017. The bottom line is that electric co-op consumer-members have not experienced anywhere near the magnitude of rate increases that have impacted so many Coloradans recently. Simply put, electric co-ops are not part of the problem that our legislature and Governor are investigating.

Under Colorado law, electric co-ops are not-for-profit companies that exist for the sole purpose of serving their members; they do not exist to make a profit for out-of-state hedge funds and insurance companies. Colorado’s electric co-ops have a straightforward mission: to provide electricity to families and businesses that reside in co-op service territory (70% of the state’s land mass) in the most reliable and affordable way possible.

Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to live up to that mission every day, and we look forward to helping policymakers find solutions to the home heating emergency that impacted so many Coloradans this winter.

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

Recognition of Long-Serving Magazine Publisher

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turns out, I only knew the half of it.

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

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

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

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

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

Advocating for National Lineworker Day

By Kent Singer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREA Discusses Concerns with Legislators

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Holiday Wishes

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRA Direct Pay Benefits for Co-ops

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electrification Mission in Guatemala

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva Guatemala!

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

Exploring Colorful Colorado

Electric co-ops serve amazing parts of the state

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

I hope you’ll excuse me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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