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Electrical Safety Month

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The Memorial Day weekend is considered by many to be the unofficial start of the summer season. After the last couple of years of COVID confinement, it seems to me that this summer will be especially celebrated.

For Colorado’s electric co-ops, the beginning of summer also means the start of construction and maintenance season. While co-op line crews work to keep the lights on year-round, with the longer days and generally better weather, they will be completing even more projects this summer to continue powering communities across Colorado.

There’s no sugar-coating it: Electric co-op lineworkers do physically exhausting work in potentially dangerous conditions. You probably don’t think much about the power lines that run down the road, but those lines carry extremely high-voltage electricity. They are potentially deadly.

You may have read about what can happen if a person or the vehicle they’re driving contacts power lines: It can be catastrophic. Electric co-op lineworkers are in your community every day working in proximity to those power lines, either building, fixing, monitoring or planning ways to keep the system working to provide you with the power you depend on.

CREA does all it can to support our member electric co-ops when it comes to safe workplace practices. We have a team of safety professionals who help your local co-op line crews stay safe in their daily work. Our team conducts training sessions, makes crew visits, helps with safety meetings, and provides updates on the most recent regulations on safety and other matters.

CREA also works with our national trade association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to develop programs to keep co-op lineworkers safe. One of those programs is called the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative. This program was initiated in 2018 by NRECA and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, a company that insures electric co-ops. The purpose of the program is to provide co-op CEOs and other leaders with tools to help them eliminate serious injuries and fatalities due to electrical contacts.

One of the key elements of the Commitment to Zero Contacts program is a renewed emphasis on the “life-saving rules” that lineworkers always follow: Use gloves and sleeves; apply proper insulating material; use proper clearance procedures; test lines; and apply personal grounds. In addition to these rules, the program encourages lineworkers to speak up whenever they have a question or concern. It also encourages crews to slow down and do appropriate planning for each job.

The first phase of the Commitment to Zero Contacts program has been successful in reducing the overall number of electric contacts, but there are still too many contacts that result in serious injuries or fatalities to electric co-op lineworkers. Recognizing this problem, NRECA and Federated have developed Phase II of the program to help co-ops reassess and adjust their existing safety practices to further reduce the potential for future electrical contacts. Phase II of the program, which is currently being tested around the country, will help co-ops better understand their exposure to contacts and encourage them to adopt additional leading safety practices.

This safety awareness job is never done. On the day I finished writing this column, CREA’s safety director notified me that a contract lineworker for one of Colorado’s electric co-ops was being flown to the burn center in Greeley after suffering a serious injury during an electrical contact. Our prayers are with this man and his family; at this writing, the extent of his injuries is not clear.

What is clear is that hundreds of lineworkers employed by Colorado’s electric co-ops (and other utilities) go to work every day on your behalf, literally risking life and limb to power your lives. Next time you see one, please give them your thanks.

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 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.

CREA’s Mid-Term Legislative Report

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The Colorado General Assembly meets each year for 120 days with the legislative session convening in early January and adjourning in early May. As I write this column on March 12, the 60th day of the Second Regular Session of the Seventy-third General Assembly, the legislature is at exactly the halfway point of the 2022 legislative session.

As the trade association for Colorado’s electric cooperatives, CREA monitors the activities of the Colorado legislature closely. And by “activities,” I’m referring to the bills that are introduced and considered that could impact the business operations of the state’s electric co-ops.

So, how are Colorado’s electric co-ops faring so far in the 2022 legislative session? I’ll answer that question by providing an update on some of the bills we have been working on this year.

First, CREA initiated legislation this session that deals with the subject of “microgrids.” Microgrids are a subset of the larger electric grid that can be operated independently of or in conjunction with the grid. Typically, microgrids are comprised of small power resources that support a group of specific interconnected electric loads. Microgrids are engineered to enable “islanded” electric service, that is, to work separately from while still being connected to, the traditional electric grid.

Our bill, H.B. 22-1013, establishes a grant program in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs that would provide funding opportunities for electric co-ops and municipal utilities that want to set up microgrids in their communities. The microgrids could only be deployed to provide service to “community anchor institutions,” which are defined in the bill as schools, libraries, law enforcement facilities, government offices and other critical community service facilities.

The bill has bipartisan support in both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate. The bill was heard in the House Energy & Environment Committee on February 3 and passed nearly unanimously (11-1). It is awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee. We’re hopeful that the bill will be funded and eventually be passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis.

There are several other bills that have been introduced this session that could impact electric cooperatives. As introduced, S.B. 22-090 requires all electric and gas utilities to notify customers whenever a severe weather event is forecasted that could result in increased prices for gas or electric service.

You may recall, that in February of 2021, extremely cold weather resulted in widespread outages in Texas. That same weather system caused a spike in natural gas prices in Colorado, and some utilities passed on significant rate increases to their consumers. S.B. 22-090 appears intended to require utilities to notify customers in similar circumstances going forward so that customers can conserve energy and avoid big rate increases. We have concerns about how that would work in practice, and we’re working with the sponsor of the bill on amendments that would address those concerns.

Another bill pending at the legislature is H.B. 22-1104, a bill that encourages local governments to work with electric transmission providers to develop recreational trails known as “powerline trails” in electric transmission corridors. The term “transmission corridor” is defined to include easements for transmission lines of 69,000 volts or more.

While we don’t object to the primary objective of the bill, we asked the sponsor of the bill to exempt distribution co-ops from its application since most of them don’t maintain transmission facilities. This is an example of CREA working with a bill sponsor to fix what we perceived was a problem without interfering with the passage of the bill.

We have also been following S.B. 22-110, a bill that would require owners or operators of wind turbines to install aircraft detection lighting systems.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that wind turbines of a certain height have red warning lights that blink simultaneously to warn aircraft. To lessen the visual impacts of the flashing lights, the FAA allows wind turbine operators to install lights that come on only when aircraft come close to the turbines. Since many of Colorado’s wind farms are in co-op territory in eastern Colorado, we support measures to decrease the impact of turbines on rural communities.

So, speaking of wind turbines and aircraft, we’re hoping the wind will be at our back as we approach the glide path to the conclusion of the 2022 legislative session.

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.

CREA’s “Super” Annual Meeting

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The Colorado Rural Electric Association usually hosts an annual meeting in February in downtown Denver. Electric co-op board members and staff from across Colorado come together to attend education sessions, meet with legislators, learn about important industry trends, chat with each other about developments at their co-ops, and have a little fun. Since we were limited to a virtual annual meeting in 2021 due to the pandemic, it was great to get back together in person in 2022.

We intentionally schedule the annual meeting during the first couple of months of the year to overlap with each year’s session of the Colorado General Assembly. We schedule meetings with our legislators to learn about their activities and priorities; they make the laws that impact how electric co-ops provide service to rural Colorado.

This year, a record number of legislators made presentations to our group, and we also hosted a successful legislative reception. The co-ops are supporting a bill to create a grant program for electric co-ops to develop microgrids, so it was great to have a chance to talk with legislators about the reasons behind the bill and about its benefits.

While the primary purpose of our annual meeting is business, this year’s meeting also coincided with the Super Bowl. We decided to make the most of that happy accident with a blowout party. We set up a hotel conference room like a sports bar complete with big screen TVs, cornhole matches, trivia games, plenty of food and drinks — everything you need to properly enjoy the uniquely American spectacle that is the Super Bowl. And while many past Super Bowls have not lived up to the hype, the outcome of LVI was in doubt until the last minute.

Since our boys in Predominantly Orange were not participants in the action on the field, many people at our party were more interested in the commercials than the game. The crop of commercials this year featured, among other things, robo dogs, flying horses, real dogs, real horses, cute kids and, of course, Peyton Manning. But whereas in most years the commercials featured traditional consumer products (beer, chips, beer), this year the focus was on a couple of new categories: cryptocurrency and electric vehicles.

Why are Super Bowl commercials relevant to Colorado’s electric co-ops? As for cryptocurrency (or, as I refer to it, Digital Snake Oil), it takes extraordinary quantities of electricity to support the computing power that is the foundation of the “currency.” Founders of crypto companies site their operations in places where electricity is cheap and plentiful to support their insatiable need for power. While it might seem that this industry would be a boon for electric utilities, the long-term viability of these companies is unclear.

EVs, on the other hand, are a different story. There is little doubt that, in the coming years, the market penetration of many makes and models of EVs will grow dramatically. The investment by carmakers (GM, Kia, BMW, Nissan, Toyota) in flashy Super Bowl ads is just the latest sign of the ongoing market shift.

As for rural Colorado, the introduction this year of the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning as well as the electric Chevy Silverado and Rivian pickup trucks may be a game changer. Electric co-ops across the state will be a critical part of creating the charging network to serve this new fleet of vehicles.

As for the ads themselves, I got a kick out of the BMW ad featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Zeus and Salma Hayek as his wife Hera. Pretty funny to see Zeus zapping the electricity in his new Palm Springs retirement home. And as much as I hate to admit it, as a dog lover, I couldn’t help myself from tearing up when the robo dog was revived by the battery in the new Kia! Given the power of Super Bowl ads to drive, or at least anticipate, consumer choices, it sure looks like the EV age is fast approaching.

One final note on our Super Bowl party: When the huge American flag was unfurled across the field at SoFi Stadium and country music star Mickey Guyton sang the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner, a funny thing happened. Even though the party was in a downtown Denver office building a thousand miles from the actual Super Bowl, amidst the din of 150 people engaged in loud conversations, all of our co-op folks quickly quieted down, stood up, took off their caps, held their hands over their hearts, and either sang along with or listened respectfully to our national anthem.

I hope this scene was repeated at many other Super Bowl parties across America, but I know it happened at least once in Denver. Electric co-op folks: Super People for a Super Bowl.

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.

Pulling Together in Times of Crisis

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

On December 30, 2021, hurricane-force winds fanned a small grass fire in Boulder County into an inferno that resulted in at least two fatalities and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses, primarily in Louisville and Superior. It is not clear at this writing what sparked the Marshall Fire, but it does not appear to have been caused by electric utility lines or other equipment. In terms of property value, the Marshall Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are acutely aware of the financial and emotional toll that wildfires impose on communities. In the last several years, several so-called “mega fires” — those that burn over 100,000 acres — have impacted many electric co-op service territories. These fires caused extraordinary damage and disrupted the lives of hundreds of families.

I know I speak for the entire Colorado electric co-op community when I say that we grieve along with those who lost family members (including pets), homes or businesses in the fire. While the Marshall Fire did not occur in the service territory of any Colorado electric co-op, it destroyed the homes of two employees of Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, an electric co-op that provides wholesale power to 17 of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops.

While it’s difficult to find a silver lining in the face of this devastating event, it’s clear that the heroic actions of firefighters and other first responders saved many lives, homes, livestock and other property. Stories are surfacing of neighbors helping neighbors, from the Amazon delivery driver helping a family evacuate to the folks who kicked in a neighbor’s door to save the family pets. The stories of generosity and humanity continue today, with the unprecedented levels of financial support being contributed to various funds that support the victims of the fire.

Although the Marshall Fire did not directly impact electric co-op facilities, it did limit Xcel Energy’s capacity to deliver electricity and natural gas to some customers. When Xcel asked Tri-State for assistance, Tri-State worked with Mountain Parks Electric in Grand and Jackson counties to curtail power in parts of Mountain Parks’ service territory. This reduced demand on Xcel’s natural gas system. Colorado’s electric utilities may be in competition with one another, but they work cooperatively in the face of emergencies.

Electric co-ops live by a set of principles, the 7th of which is “cooperation among cooperatives.” This means we help each other out to serve the consumer-members at the end of the line. But as evidenced by Tri-State’s cooperation with Xcel during the Marshall Fire, it means more than that. It also means electric co-ops cooperate with other utilities, neighbors and communities whenever there is a need. We do it during storms; we do it during pandemics; we do it during fires.

In the days to come, there will undoubtedly be extensive discussions about what caused the Marshall Fire and what steps can be taken in the future to prevent similar tragedies. Colorado’s electric co-ops have long been concerned about the risks of wildfires in their service territories. While none of the recent large fires have been caused by power lines, electric co-ops are always aware of that risk and go to great lengths to mitigate the risk. We’re hopeful that during this legislative session, funds will be appropriated to help co-ops take further action to reduce the chance of wildfires.

As proud citizens of this great state, electric co-op employees, directors and consumer-members will always be willing to help their neighbors in difficult times. While much of Colorado’s electric co-op country may be culturally and politically different than Boulder County, in times of crisis we come together to support each other as Coloradans.

We are all Boulder County.

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.

2022 Legislative Session

By CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

The second regular session of the 73rd Colorado General Assembly begins at the Colorado State Capitol on January 12 at 10 a.m. with the hammering of the gavel by the Speaker of the House. With that action, another 120-day session of our state legislature commences.

The Colorado General Assembly has 100 members: 65 members of the House of Representatives and 35 members of the Senate. These elected legislators represent nearly 6 million Coloradans from all walks of life and political persuasions. They come from communities across the state to do legislative work in Denver, and they bring a broad diversity in life experience and different opinions about the role government should play in our lives.

I’ve been involved in one way or another with every session of the Colorado General Assembly since 1985. As a legislative staff attorney, an attorney in private practice representing the interests of clients on legislative matters, and for the last 12 years as the CREA executive director, I’ve been a close observer of our representative government for 36 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes in how the assembly functions over that time. Some changes have been good; others, not so much.

On the good side, our legislature is populated by honest, hardworking people who ran for office out of a sense of public service and a desire to make Colorado a better place to live. Our legislature has been almost entirely free of the corruption that has plagued other states. Regardless of whether you agree with the policy direction of the Colorado legislature, there is still, for the most part, a culture of transparency and integrity.

Another positive trend in the Colorado legislature over the last couple decades is the increasing diversity of those serving in the body. If you have visited the State Capitol and looked at the many pictures of the folks who were elected to past legislatures, it’s obvious that since statehood in 1876, the legislature has been largely comprised of white men. During the years I was a staff attorney in the 1980s, the general assembly had many distinguished women and minority members, but those groups were still underrepresented. That dynamic has changed dramatically in recent years with the result that more groups have a seat at the table.

On the flipside, there are some other recent (and by recent, I mean in the last 20 – 30 years) developments that I believe are not in the best interests of Colorado. One is the implementation of term limits by a vote of the people in 1994.

Under that constitutional amendment, state legislators are limited to eight consecutive years of service, in each chamber, be it two four-year terms in the Senate or four two-year terms in the House. While term limits may seem like a good idea in theory, the result has been that power has shifted from the elected representatives to the unelected lobbyists and legislative staff. Just when legislators have learned enough about the state budget and other complicated issues to be effective, they are precluded from running for office again and using their institutional knowledge to benefit all of Colorado.

The second concern I have about our legislature is the increasing trend toward “pro forma” committee hearings — hearings where the outcome is never in doubt and the testimony of witnesses is simply a formality. Of course, elections have consequences, and the majority party has always exercised power by assigning certain bills to committees, appointing committee chairs, and controlling which bills pass and which bills fail. However, in recent years, many committee chairs have implemented rules limiting testimony to 2 or 3 minutes per witness. All too frequently, members of the committee are not even present during witness testimony. When Coloradans make the effort to attend committee hearings and share their point of view with the legislature, it is not unreasonable for them to expect to be heard and to have their opinions taken seriously.

That said, and even though it’s far from perfect, the Colorado General Assembly is still a place where the people’s business is conducted in a transparent and open manner by people who sincerely wish to improve the lives of their constituents. At CREA, we look forward to the start of each legislative session as another opportunity to tell the electric co-op story and to participate in our republican form of government.

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.

Simplify Your Christmas

Don’t let the Supply Chain Grinch steal this season’s joy
By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

There have been many stories in the news recently describing how the U.S. supply chain for consumer goods is broken: ports jammed, ships parked at sea, trucks idled for lack of drivers. The supply chain problems are not only interfering with everyday commerce, but they’re also causing folks to be concerned about how the Christmas holidays will be impacted. Some recent headlines tell the story:

“Christmas At Risk as Supply Chain Disaster Only Gets Worse”

“How the Global Supply Chain Might Ruin Christmas”

“Christmas Lights Need a Supply Chain Miracle”

Now, I enjoy giving and receiving Christmas gifts as much as anyone, but perhaps we need to adjust our expectations this holiday season. Maybe we should embrace this supply chain hiccup as an opportunity, not a problem. Maybe, just maybe, we should rethink how we celebrate Christmas (or any other holiday you celebrate this time of year).

You know you’re going to procrastinate this year just like every year and start looking for a present for your wife or significant other on December 24. Remember, there’s a supply chain problem and the pickings that have always been slim on December 24 will be nonexistent this year.

Here’s a suggestion. Instead of a gift, tell your wife/SO that you’re taking care of Christmas dinner this year. Yes, that means the menu planning, the shopping, the cooking (including the figgy pudding), the serving, the cleanup — the whole enchilada.

Hopefully, you’ll be hosting 10 or fewer people, but you’re in no matter what: the only role your wife will play is to refill your wine glass and be your gravy consultant. And before you even go there, reservations at The Olive Garden do not count. I guarantee this will be a better gift than that talking reindeer Christmas sweater you bought at Home Depot last year.

If your husband/SO follows through on the gift described above well, first, it should restore your faith in Christmas miracles. Second, your part of the bargain is this: He gets to spend the afternoon of Christmas Day in front of the TV watching not one but two NFL games.

The Broncos aren’t playing that day, but some actual playoff contenders will be featured (apologies, Broncos fans): the Cleveland Browns against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and the Indianapolis Colts against the Arizona Cardinals. (I pray for a snowstorm at Lambeau; really, is there anything more entertaining than watching those cheddar-helmeted Packers fans root for their boys fighting it out on the frozen tundra while you enjoy a hot cocoa on the couch?)

Kudos to you if you are a little more ambitious on Christmas Day and plan to do a little ice climbing or skijoring (gotta love Colorado), but it’s just fine if you want to limit your aerobic activity to yelling at Terry Bradshaw. Ladies, you might even interrupt his nap, er, the game, with a turkey sandwich around 3 p.m. Best. Christmas. Ever.

Try to keep your wish list to a minimum this year. Honestly, you have enough stuff already. Your parents also don’t need much from you other than your promise to put away the screens for one 12-hour period. There’s nothing on Instagram that won’t wait a day and there are no text messages from friends that are as important as talking to your siblings and parents.

You also might think about whether you have a neighbor who needs to have their walk shoveled or someone to take them to the grocery store. Or maybe you could spend a few hours serving meals at a local church or homeless shelter. Doing something for someone else will be the best gift you give yourself.

So, there’s no reason to let the Supply Chain Grinch steal your Christmas this year. After all, Christmas is not about the latest iPhone — it’s about getting together with friends and family and celebrating the simple joys of the season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at CREA and your local electric cooperative!

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.

Co-ops Work Together for Sustainable Future

By Kent Singer, Executive Director

Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops provide electricity and associated services to nearly 70% of the state’s landmass but only about 25% of the electricity consumers in the state. This is because electric co-ops serve primarily rural parts of Colorado while the larger cities and urban areas are served by either municipal utilities or investor-owned utilities.

Each of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops are individual businesses that serve specific and unique parts of the state. They each have their own board of directors and staff and they each make decisions based on the specific needs and desires of the communities they serve.

There is probably no group of electric co-ops in the country that is more diverse than Colorado’s electric co-ops.

The state’s co-ops range in size from 2,500 consumer-members to 170,000 consumer-members. They range in customer density from 1.8 meters per mile of distribution line to 19.2 meter per mile. They serve loads (customers) that include farmers and ranchers as well as resorts and ski areas. They serve communities that range from small towns with only one stoplight (or none) to communities along the Front Range that have typical urban population densities.

Colorado’s co-ops have different geographies, demographics and political views. But despite these differences, Colorado’s electric co-ops still have a lot in common.

First, all 22 co-ops agree that maintaining reliable and affordable electric service will always be the primary objective of electric co-ops throughout the state. Access to electricity at all times of the day and night is important for a modern, safe and healthy lifestyle. Electricity is a critical commodity that we can’t live without for long. It is the basis for all the comforts and conveniences we enjoy daily. Colorado’s electric co-ops provide this service day in and day out, working around the clock to keep the lights on.

Second, Colorado’s co-ops are leading the way in advancing innovative solutions in today’s energy world. Co-ops have been adding renewable energy resources to their power supply mix for years and have pledged to provide at least 80% carbon-free energy to consumer-members by 2030.

But, the innovations go beyond simply adding wind and solar power to the grid. Co-ops have long deployed the latest technology to serve their consumer-members. Colorado’s electric co-ops have been installing automated meters for many years because they make sense in the vast territories served by co-ops. The co-ops save the cost of meter readers traveling throughout the service area, while reducing emissions through fewer miles traveled.

Co-ops were also early adopters of beneficial electrification, which is enjoying new life as the benefits of switching from other fuels to electricity are being acknowledged as another way to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Rebates and other incentives have encouraged co-op consumer-members to take advantage of the benefits of going electric. These have included switching diesel irrigation motors to electric motors, going from gas water heaters to electric water heaters and installing ground- and air-source heat pumps rather than using propane to heat homes.

Colorado’s co-ops are leaders in promoting electric vehicles, including electric school buses and pickups, and installing vehicle chargers to promote the use of EVs in co-op territory.

Lastly, Colorado’s 22 co-ops all accept their responsibility to enhance their own communities’ resilience. This means electric co-ops think outside the box to develop new ways to provide service during emergencies. Whether through the deployment of microgrids or the integration of customer-sited energy, Colorado’s electric co-ops do their best to keep the lights on during the storm.

So, while Colorado’s electric co-ops are individual organizations, each unique in the area it serves and services it provides, they are all working in their own way at:
• Maintaining reliability and affordability
• Advancing innovative solutions
• Enhancing community resilience

By fulfilling these core principles, Colorado’s electric co-ops are truly “Leaders for a Sustainable Future.”

2021 Energy Innovations Summit

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

On Monday, October 11, CREA will host the 12th annual Energy Innovations Summit. The Summit is an annual conference that we host in Denver for the purpose of looking into the future of the electric utility business. As the trade association for Colorado’s electric cooperatives, one of our core functions is to provide as much information as we can to our member co-ops and their managers and directors to help prepare them for a fast-changing and dynamic energy future.

There are many forces at work that impact how electric co-ops will provide electric service to rural Colorado in the coming years: legislative mandates to reduce greenhouse emissions from the power sector, technological breakthroughs for renewable energy and energy storage, desires of co-op consumer-members for more choices from their electricity suppliers and evolving energy markets, to name a few. Electric co-ops will face more challenges to their core mission of providing affordable and reliable power in the next 10 years than they have faced since they were formed in the 1930s and 1940s.

At CREA, we saw the energy transition coming many years ago. We initiated the Energy Innovations Summit as one more tool to help our members prepare for a new world of providing electricity. Some of our members have taken information learned at the Summit and implemented it into their business plan. A panel at one of our Summits several years ago sparked United Power’s interest in battery storage, leading to its investment in one of the largest co-op-owned storage projects in the country.

At this year’s Summit, we will continue to explore new developments in the electric industry including the latest in long-duration energy storage, the prospects for using hydrogen in energy production, updates on electric cars and trucks, how beneficial electrification can help both co-ops and their consumer-members and many more topics. We will once again bring in experts from across the country to talk about these issues and be available for continued discussions after their formal presentations.

The Summit is also a great opportunity for Colorado’s electric co-ops to interact with other stakeholders and demonstrate that co-ops are on the leading edge of the energy transition. Many of the panel presentations offered during the Summit will include CEOs of various electric co-ops talking about how their systems are involved in innovative projects and working to implement new business models to better serve their consumer-members. Every year, we look forward to the many conversations that take place, not only among electric co-ops folks, but also between co-op folks and others who have a stake in our industry.

We’re also excited about getting back together for an in-person conference this year. Although attendees will be able to participate via webcast if they prefer, we believe we can safely meet in person. The remote Summit we hosted last year was great, but there’s no replacement for live, in-person interaction.

Colorado’s electric co-ops have a bright future given their close relationship with their consumer-members and their commitment to keeping the lights on in an affordable and responsible manner. The Energy Innovations Summit will once again show the Colorado energy world that electric co-ops are ready, willing and able to meet the challenges of a changing industry. Hope to see you there!

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.

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.