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Inventing Our Way into the Future

by Kent Singer, Colorado Rural Electric Association executive director
“Technology Trumps Policy” was the title of a column that appeared in POWER magazine a couple of years ago. The column, authored by Dr. Robert Peltier, made the case that the pace of technological breakthroughs often trumps the best-intentioned policies in the ever-changing energy world. In other words, at the same time that legislators, regulators and other policy-makers are crafting complex and expensive energy policies, inventors and entrepreneurs are developing new technologies that make those policies irrelevant or obsolete.

A prime example of this theory is the continuing evolution of battery storage technologies that will complement electricity generation from renewable resources. While renewable resources are becoming more cost effective with each passing year, they are still intermittent and must be backed up with “dispatchable,” nonrenewable power resources that will provide electricity at all hours of the day or night. This limitation for renewable resources would be negated by an affordable, reliable source of battery storage. Knowing that an effective battery solution is the “holy grail” for higher levels of renewable integration, many scientists, engineers and venture capitalists are hard at work searching for the most viable solution.

Sadoway ILP

Donald R. Sadoway

One of the pioneers of battery storage research is materials science professor Donald Sadoway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Sadoway and his team at a startup company called Ambri developed a liquid metal battery that could enable broader integration of renewable power sources. The objective of the Ambri technology is to store large amounts of electricity in a relatively small space for dispatch when renewable power sources aren’t available.

Ambri was created in 2007 when Sadoway and co-founder David Bradwell received a $7 million federal grant to develop their technology.

In 2010, after taking one of Dr. Sadoway’s courses online anonymously, a Washington state resident was so impressed with Sadoway and the battery technology that he decided to invest in the startup. It turns out that the student from Washington was a reasonably successful businessman named Bill Gates.

Fast-forward to 2015. This year Ambri intends to test several prototype batteries in places where electricity is more expensive, such as Hawaii, New York and Alaska. The company plans to sell its commercial-grade Ambri “cores” (rated at 200 kilowatt-hours, roughly enough power to run 10-15 homes per day) in 2016 and eventually market its product to large industrial and commercial users of electricity. The big advantage of the Ambri technology is that there is little degradation of the battery shells; and the company says the batteries have a life span of a decade or more. Ambri has ambitious plans to open factories near clients around the world, each employing as many as 150 people.

Battery storage technology is just one example of our changing energy world, and at the Colorado Rural Electric Association we do all that we can to further our collective understanding of this changing world. At CREA’s sixth annual Energy Innovations Summit on October 26 in downtown Denver, we are honored to welcome Dr. Sadoway as our featured luncheon speaker to talk about the latest developments at Ambri. He will also participate on a stellar battery storage panel later in the day that will also include a discussion of the Tesla Power wall and other battery storage products.

The summit will once again include top-notch speakers from across the country discussing a wide variety of energy-related issues. Beyond battery storage, they will share information on the status of wind generation, new utility regulatory models and natural gas markets. Colorado’s leading utility executives will look into the future of Colorado’s electric industry.

It’s a challenging time for all electric utilities, including electric co-ops. From efforts such as the Clean Power Plan, which will restrict fossil-fuel based generation, to the evolving state of technology, the future of electricity production is uncertain.

What is certain, however, is that this country’s vast intellectual firepower and dynamic markets will likely solve our energy challenges in new ways that regulations and policymakers can’t presently predict.

Come to the CREA Energy Innovations Summit and get a glimpse into that exciting future.

Grand Valley Power Flips Switch on Pioneering Solar Project

Teams of volunteers donned hard hats and safety vests this past Saturday to help install solar panels at the latest addition to the Grand Valley Power community solar array near Grand Junction. At the end of the day, GVP General Manager Tom Walch flipped the switch to energize the substation that will deliver carbon-free kilowatt-hours from the solar panels to member-owners of the electric co-op that provides service in Mesa, Delta and Garfield counties.

Working together with the nonprofit Grid Alternatives, Grand Valley Power sponsored the first community solar garden in Colorado that is specifically targeted at assisting low-income electric co-op member-owners. A total of eight families that receive electric service from GVP will benefit from the power generated from the solar panels. These families will continue to pay a monthly facilities charge, but they will see a significant reduction in their monthly electric bills since their energy usage will be offset by the electricity produced by the solar panels. After a four-year subscription period for the initial signees, a new set of co-op consumers will get their chance to save with solar.

Volunteers came from as far away as Texas and California to be a part of this groundbreaking project that enables co-op member-owners from all economic circumstances to benefit from solar power.  As part of “Team Shirley”, I had a chance to work with volunteers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and others to install the solar panels that will be producing energy at this site for the next couple of decades.

The Grand Valley Power community solar project exemplifies the electric co-op Commitment to Community and the GVP co-op board and staff deserve kudos for their imagination and ingenuity in responding to the wishes of their co-op member-owners.

For a video of the project, check out this link:

http://www.nbc11news.com/home/headlines/Community-solar-garden-celebrates-the-launch-of-the-pilot-program–305590791.html

 

The 2015 Legislative Session: CREA Forges Bipartisan Solutions

There has been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on with respect to the just-completed 2015 session of the Colorado general assembly. Many commentators have employed phrases like “partisan stalemate” and “legislative logjam” to describe the current environment in which Republicans have a majority in the state senate and Democrats are in control of the state house of representatives. The implication is that the 2015 legislature was a “do-nothing” body that was rendered impotent by partisan wrangling.

That was not CREA’s experience in 2015. While it’s certainly true that many bills passed through one chamber only to meet their maker in the other chamber, CREA was able to find a path through both houses on several bills that we supported in 2015. Not only were we able to move our own bill, SB 15-046, through the process, but we were also instrumental in the passage HB 15-1377 and HB 15-1364. These bills made common sense amendments to the Colorado renewable energy standard and the laws governing small hydropower facilities to give electric co-ops more flexibility in complying with our obligations under the renewable energy mandates.

These outcomes did not occur by happenstance, but were the result of the hard work of our dedicated lobbying team.  Geoff, Jeani and Heather worked countless hours with legislators and stakeholders to explain our issues and find solutions that could be supported by both Democrats and Republicans. We are very grateful to the many legislators that helped us this session, particularly Senators Grantham (R-Canon City) and Donovan (D-Vail) and Representative Moreno (D-Commerce City) who were the prime sponsors of SB 15-046.

On a bittersweet note, we are saying goodbye to our friend and colleague Jeani Frickey, our contract lobbyist who will be heading to greener pastures as the Executive Director of Stand for Children. Jeani has been a tireless supporter of Colorado’s electric co-ops and a tremendous asset to our government relations team for many years. We wish Jeani the best in her new endeavor; her knowledge of our program and her boundless enthusiasm will be missed!

We want to thank the CREA board for its direction of our efforts in 2015, and we’ll try to keep the (properly inflated) ball rolling in 2016 as well…

IDEA SHARING: CREA EnergyWise Group Designed to Bring EE Options to Co-op Members

BY KENT SINGER, CREA Executive Director

The sixth cooperative principle, under which all of Colorado’s electric co-ops operate, is “cooperation among cooperatives.” You see, cooperatives, electric and otherwise, serve their members most effectively by working together.

That’s what the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s member coops are doing under the EnergyWise banner as they work to bring more and better energy efficiency programs to their member-owners. Energy efficiency is nothing new for electric co-ops, which have always promoted ways to help you save money on your power bill. As not-for-profit utilities, electric co-ops are not big corporations motivated by making money for investors, but locally-owned utilities dedicated to providing reliable electricity at an affordable price.

As part of this effort, we at CREA created the EnergyWise Project a couple of years ago. Through this initiative, we are encouraging and facilitating energy efficiency efforts in electric co-op service territory, and we are helping our co-ops publicize information on programs they offer their members and ways their members can save energy and money. Every electric co-op in the state promotes energy efficiency and other cost-saving measures. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize what kind of rebates are offered and the types of projects the co-ops are involved in. We probably don’t do enough to tell the world about our energy efficiency work, so we are using the EnergyWise banner to brand these efforts and get the word out.

Our first substantive project under the EnergyWise label last spring involved a partnership between CREA, four of our members and the Colorado Energy Office. As a result of this partnership, eight dairy farms on Colorado’s eastern plains received energy-saving lighting and other equipment that resulted in huge savings on their electric bills. The four co-op participants (Morgan County Rural Electric Association, United Power, Highline Electric Association and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association) worked with their memberowners to audit their energy usage and implement cost-saving measures. Today, those dairy operators are benefitting from lower monthly electricity bills due to the funds provided by CEO and the work of their local electric co-op.

To follow up on that project, we recently hosted the first meeting of the EnergyWise Advisory Council, a meeting of co-op employees who have expertise in energy efficiency and management. At the kickoff meeting, we brought in representatives from CEO, Colorado State University Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Western Area Power Administration, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to talk about various efforts by these groups to promote energy efficiency in rural Colorado. We spent a full day discussing potential partnerships between the co-ops and these organizations and our collective ongoing efforts to help co-op member-owners reduce their power bills.

The purpose of the EnergyWise Advisory Council is to create a forum where electric co-op energy efficiency experts can come together a couple of times a year to discuss their individual programs and to also hear about the latest developments in the energy efficiency field. Colorado has many governmental, nonprofit and private sector organizations and companies that are nationally and internationally recognized as leaders in energy efficiency, and the EnergyWise council can draw on that expertise from time to time.

One of CREA’s functions as a trade organization is to provide opportunities for the employees of our member co-ops to get together to exchange information with their peers. We facilitate meetings of co-op CEOs, accountants, human resources professionals, attorneys, member services employees, operations managers, mechanics and now energy efficiency specialists. We look forward to supporting this newest peer group and believe that it will continue to find ways to help co-op member-owners manage their electricity usage wisely.

After all, that’s the co-op way.

CREA-Sponsored SB 15-046 Heads to Governor

We are pleased to report that earlier today the Colorado House of Representatives passed SB 15-046 on third and final reading. The vote: 65-0 in favor of the bill. Since the bill was not amended in the House, it does not have to go back to the Senate and will now go to Governor Hickenlooper for his signature.

SB 15-046 was proposed by CREA to address the “retail distributed generation (DG)” requirement contained in SB 13-252. By the year 2020, electric co-ops must derive at least 0.5% of their sales from renewable energy sources that are located on the customer side of the electric meter.  For some electric co-ops, this is impractical because while they may have large sales of electricity from industrial consumers, they have small numbers of residential consumers who might be interested in renewable energy like rooftop solar panels. So, one component of SB 15-046 allows co-ops to exclude industrial sales from the total amount of sales that is subject to the 0.5% retail DG requirement.

The second component of SB 15-046 allows electric co-ops to count the output from community solar gardens as retail DG. The current RES law allows investor-owned utilities to count solar gardens as retail DG, so this provision in the bill simply puts co-ops on equal footing with the other utilities.

CREA worked for months with the primary sponsors of the bill, Senator Kevin Grantham and Representative Dominick Moreno, as well as many stakeholder groups in order to bring the bill forward and move it through both chambers of the legislature. It was truly a collaborative process that required give and take on both sides and we are grateful to all involved. We are especially appreciative of the efforts of Senator Kerry Donovan who convened stakeholder meetings after the bill’s introduction to encourage the parties to find common ground.

Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to support the smart integration of renewable energy resources in a way that also protects the pocketbooks of our rural member-owners. We thank the Colorado General Assembly for supporting our common sense proposal to meet both objectives.

Co-op Innovation, Ingenuity Caught On Tape

From CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

In last November’s column, I mentioned that one of the highlights of CREA’s 2014 Energy Innovations Summit was the premier of a video that we produced here at the Colorado Rural Electric Association. Titled “Colorado’s Electric Co-ops: Energy and Innovation,” the video features many of the exciting projects that our state’s co-ops developed over the last few years including our collective deployment of renewable power projects, energy efficiency programs and advanced metering technology.

We showed the video for the first time to all of the Summit attendees and, to my surprise, the 250 or so attendees applauded loudly at the end; clearly, a lot of our members are proud of the efforts their co-ops are making to diversify their power supply mix with renewables, help their member-owners with energy efficiency and improve the reliability of their service with advanced metering. The video demonstrates that Colorado’s electric co-ops are at the forefront of new technology and that we are responsive to the wishes of our member-owners.

We worked on the production of the video for about a year, and that included the work of a videographer who went out to co-op service territories and documented the great work achieved by CREA’s members. All of the electric co-ops in Colorado are involved with new technology to help serve their member-owners, and one of the challenges in producing the video was selecting only a few of those projects for the final product. The innovation displayed by our members in the video is truly amazing, and I am writing about it in hopes that you will give it a watch. You can find the video on YouTube at http://www.YouTube.com/COCountryLife1. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see we posted three versions: the original 8-minute version (http://bit.ly/1w494qm), a shorter 4-minute version (http://bit.ly/1AlDstL) that focuses on co-op renewable energy projects and a 2-minute version (http://bit.ly/19ce6Y1) that focuses on energy efficiency projects. All three versions give you a sampling of the incredible work accomplished in Colorado co-op territories to meet the challenges of the evolving energy paradigm.

I would like to thank a number of people for making the “Energy and Innovation” video a reality. Mona Neeley, publisher/editor of Colorado Country Life, was instrumental in developing the creative concept, assimilating several of the still photos used in the video, and helping edit the narrative language. Stefan Brodsky, our videographer, spent several days on the road meeting with Colorado co-op employees and shooting footage of their projects and service territories. Jim Van Someren, our creative consultant, provided a huge assist in refining our message and keeping the project moving forward. Most importantly, I want to thank all of the folks at Colorado’s electric co-ops who helped us with the video, including those who ended up on camera: Steve Casey at Holy Cross Energy, Steve Metheny and Jim Hennegan at Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Jeff Wadsworth at Poudre Valley REA, Bill Annan at Morgan County REA, Susan Hunter at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and Jerry Marizza and Ron Asche at United Power. If you ever worked on a project like this, you know the logistics are complicated and require the cooperation of a lot of people.

This video, “Colorado’s Electric Co-ops: Energy and Innovation,” demonstrates that Colorado’s electric co-ops are fulfilling our long-standing mission to provide safe, affordable and reliable electric service, and we are also integrating renewable resources and new technology to better serve our member-owners. The projects shown in this video are just a sample, and I have no doubt that somewhere down the road you will be able to watch “Energy and Innovation: The Sequel.”

EPA Hears from Electric Co-ops at Carbon Rule Hearings

Colorado’s electric co-ops were well-represented at this week’s EPA public comment hearings on the agency’s proposed rules limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. Representatives of Poudre Valley REA, Intermountain REA, Grand Valley Power, Holy Cross Energy, La Plata Electric Association, Tri-State, CREA and others were among the hundreds of people who testified during the two days of hearings at EPA’s Region 8 headquarters building in downtown Denver.

While some co-op reps argued that the rules were necessary to curb carbon emissions, most expressed concerns about the impacts of the rules on electricity reliability and affordability for rural consumers. Some co-op witnesses testified that the four EPA “building blocks” are not realistic and will not provide a path to lower carbon emissions. Others pointed out that the time frames set forth in the rules are too tight and cannot be met. Still others pointed out to the EPA that the rules essentially make the agency the “super PUC” that will oversee all utility operations and generation resource plans.

Colorado’s electric co-ops have made great strides in recent years diversifying their power supply portfolios with the inclusion of both utility-scale and distributed renewable generation sources. We have always promoted energy efficiency and helping our member-owners save money on their power bills. Our overall carbon emissions have come down and will continue to do so as older coal plants are retired in favor of inexpensive natural gas. Market forces and the demands of our member-owners will be the most effective tools for carbon reductions; we hope EPA will recognize this trend and tread lightly on electric co-ops as it finalizes the Clean Power Plan.