Skip to content

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.

Colorado Co-ops Represent in D.C.

At this week’s NRECA legislative conference in Washington, D.C., representatives of Colorado’s distribution co-ops and Tri-State G&T met with our Congressional delegation to discuss matters of importance to our program. As the legislative session in Colorado was winding down under the Golden Dome in Denver, approximately 85 Colorado co-op directors and managers shifted their attention to the work being done by our national senators and representatives.

The Colorado co-op delegation joined some 2500 co-op folks from around the U.S. to make Congress aware that the policies adopted in Washington impact our ability to provide affordable and reliable power to our member-owners. The co-ops spoke with one voice to remind our representatives that the many regulatory initiatives currently underway, from greenhouse gas and endangered species regulations to FEMA and energy efficiency policies, may result in higher electricity costs.

We were pleased this year that we had a chance to speak with the members rather than staff. While we appreciate the opportunity to meet with staffers, our message is clearer when it is delivered directly.  Both our Senators and our House members gave us ample opportunity to talk about co-op and energy policy issues, and we appreciate the opportunity to bend their ears. Just like the members of CREA, our congressional delegation is diverse and it was interesting to listen to their various perspectives on issues ranging from climate change to foreign policy. Hopefully our show of strength will help us stay relevant as Congress moves ahead with policies that impact co-ops in the months ahead.

The legislative conference is an important annual event on the co-op calendar, and Colorado co-ops once again demonstrated our commitment to being a force in the political arena.

 

Pennsylvania Electricity Consumers Burned by Retail Choice

In the late 1990’s, CREA joined with other consumer groups to defeat various legislative proposals designed to institute retail competition in the Colorado electricity market. Our position at the time was that retail choice would increase the electric bills of rural residential consumers as our largest loads were cherry-picked by power marketers. We understood that the only beneficiaries of the retail choice initiative would likely be large industrial customers and out-of-state companies like Enron who could manipulate the Colorado electricity market to the detriment of residential and small business customers. As it turns out, we had a pretty good crystal ball – just ask California ratepayers.

Recently, entities like the Compete Coalition have been advocating for an expansion of retail competition into those states that rejected this policy years ago. In proceedings before state utility commissions and legislatures, these advocacy groups have argued that retail competition in the electric sector will spur innovation, provide more options for consumers, and lower costs for businesses. These efforts are supported by such companies as Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, and Staples; large commercial consumers of electricity.

Before Colorado or any other state jumps back on the retail choice bandwagon, however, they might want to consider the experience of Pennsylvania electricity consumers during this past winter. In February and March of this year, more than 9,100 Pennsylvania residents contacted the Pennsylvania public utilities commission expressing outrage about their power bills. A bitter cold snap put a strain on the electricity grid and sent electricity prices skyrocketing. Under the variable rate pricing scheme offered by certain power marketers in the retail choice-enabled state, electricity prices paid by some consumers increased by 200 – 400%; consumers who were used to seeing a monthly power bill of $150 were hit with bills topping $600.

Needless to say, the voices of Pennsylvania consumers have been heard and the Pennsylvania PUC has adopted new regulations requiring notice about the possible volatility of variable rates and requiring additional transparency of the rules under the retail choice program. The Pennsylvania legislature and Attorney General are also investigating whether the power marketers manipulated the market. In the meantime, Colorado and other states should think twice before embracing retail competition.

 

Co-ops Team With Colorado Energy Office on Energy Efficiency Pilot Project

For the last several months, CREA and four of our member co-ops have been working with the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to develop an energy efficiency pilot project. Yesterday, CEO hosted the kickoff meeting for the Colorado Dairy and Irrigation Efficiency Pilot Program, a program that will provide energy audits to a dozen Colorado farms and ranches and ultimately energy efficiency retrofits that will help those co-op member-owners save money on their power bills.

The four co-ops involved, United Power, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, Morgan County Rural Electric Association, and Highline Electric Association, identified producers in their service territories who would benefit from the installation of various types of energy efficient lighting, motors, and other equipment. Under the program, CEO will fund 75% of the costs of retrofits, up to a cap of $25,000 per project. The balance of the costs of the retrofits may be covered by a combination of rebates from Tri-State, or funds from the Colorado Department of Agriculture or the USDA. 

CEO has retained a company from Vermont called EnSave to administer the program and perform the energy audits. Each of the co-ops and their member-owners will work with EnSave to review their past energy bills and evaluate the steps they could take to improve the energy efficiency of their operations. EnSave has a lot of experience working with co-ops and in fact its CEO is a member-owner of an electric co-op.

The pilot project is on a fast track and CEO hopes to complete four of the retrofit projects that are identified in the course of the audits by June 30 this year. We appreciate the work of the four co-ops involved, as well as Tri-State, to provide the information needed and to work with the co-op member-owners to complete the projects. Electric co-ops have long worked with their member-owners to increase the efficiency of their operations, and we’re excited about the prospects of continuing that work with the Colorado Dairy and Irrigation Efficiency Project.

NRECA Annual Meeting Focuses on EPA Power Plant Regulations

Thousands of electric co-op directors, managers and staff descended on the Music City (Nashville) earlier this week for the annual celebration of the electric co-op program. The NRECA Annual Meeting provides a forum for the co-op family to get together from across the country and talk about issues that are important to us. NRECA also brings in experts on all sorts of topics that impact co-op operations, from power supply to political advocacy. We also have a little fun!

This year, the focus of the meeting was on the pending greenhouse gas regulations that have been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency for new power plants, and the upcoming regulations that will apply to existing power plants. NRECA’s message is that the proposed rules are likely to create an “all but one” scenario where coal-fired generation is effectively prohibited for new plants and potentially for existing plants. NRECA has urged co-op member-owners to contact EPA and ask that the agency reconsider this approach.

The events of the last few days demonstrate the challenges of relying exclusively on natural gas and renewables for future power supply in the U.S. While natural gas supplies have been greatly enhanced in recent years as the result of new drilling techniques, there are now calls for increased exports to address geopolitical concerns in Europe and Russia. In Congress, both Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Cory Gardner introduced legislation this week urging the expedited construction of new liquified natural gas terminals in hopes that U.S. gas exports will reduce the market dominance and political leverage of Russian natural gas.

Although it will be years before new LNG terminals can be built given the permitting requirements and objections of environmental groups (who oppose the new terminals because they would increase hydraulic fracturing), the demands of the international market for gas will likely impact domestic prices in the not-too-distant future. Natural gas prices have historically been volatile, and recent events are not likely to give utilities, including electric co-ops, much comfort that the volatility will diminish in coming years.

While electric co-ops continue to aggressively invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, they have to make tough choices about how to provide reliable and affordable power to their member-owners. In the midst of sweeping new environmental regulations and international developments, electric co-ops continue to believe that an “all-of-the-above” policy for electric power generation makes the most sense for co-op member-owners.

Happy Trails, Sen. Wattenberg

The passing of Sen. Dave Wattenberg earlier this week brings back a lot of fond memories. Many of us who worked in the Colorado legislature as staff or lobbyists during the 1980s and 1990s had the privilege of getting to know Sen. Wattenberg. In a time when rural legislators had a great deal of influence in legislative matters, Sen. Wattenberg was a proud, and authentic, member of the Cowboy Caucus.

As a staffer in what was then known as the Legislative Drafting Office, I had the opportunity to work with Sen. Wattenberg on a number of bills over many legislative sessions. He took his job very seriously, but never himself. He was always ready to share a joke or a smile, and  he invariably brightened your day. He also never hesitated to reach across the aisle and work with the other party, and he rejected partisanship in favor of what he considered to be in the best interests of the people of Colorado.

Sen. Wattenberg lived by the principles of Cowboy Ethics: he was tough but fair, talked less and said more, remembered that some things aren’t for sale, lived each day with courage, took pride in his work, finished what he started and, most importantly, kept every promise he made. He will be missed.