By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
Representatives from each of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and their power supply co-op, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, meet in Denver every year for the Colorado Rural Electric Association Annual Meeting. We hold this meeting during the legislative session so that our members can meet with their representatives in the Colorado General Assembly, and we surround those legislative meetings with lots of educational opportunities, speakers and updates on the activities of our trade association.
This year’s February 10-13 annual meeting was a high-energy event featuring discussions about Colorado’s energy landscape and how electric co-ops fit into that picture. In fact, the theme of this year’s Annual Meeting was “Powering Colorado’s Future,” because there is no doubt that electric co-ops will be key players in providing reliable and affordable power across Colorado for many years to come.
Of course, the electricity industry is evolving and we brought in a variety of speakers to talk about some of those changes. Experts from the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory provided an update on battery storage technology, and we also heard from the CEOs of the state’s two largest utilities, Tri-State and Xcel Energy, with respect to their plans for future power supply.
At this year’s meeting, I was amazed to hear about the variety of renewable energy, energy efficiency and other projects that are under way in co-op service territories. Projects included largescale solar arrays, battery storage, small hydropower, automated metering and more. Colorado’s electric co-ops are fully engaged and aware of the new developments in the electric industry, and they are deploying these new technologies and programs at a pace that makes sense for their specific co-op.
Our meetings with state legislators also went well. Almost a quarter of all the legislators in the General Assembly attended our legislative reception, and our Co-op Day at the Capitol speakers included Sen. Don Coram (R), House Majority Leader K.C. Becker (D), Rep. Jeni Arndt (D), and Rep. Jim Wilson (R). We have been working hard on a bill to help provide broadband service to unserved parts of rural Colorado, and we appreciate the efforts of all the legislators who have supported that goal.
One of our main messages to the legislators was that every co-op in Colorado is unique, and one-size-fits-all policies usually don’t work well for co-ops. Each year bills are introduced in the legislature that mandate our power supply choices, and we generally don’t support those bills because we believe our locally-elected boards understand our facilities and individual circumstances much better than the legislature.
In addition to legislative discussions, we also heard a safety update from Phil Irwin, the CEO of Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, along with our own Director of Safety and Loss Control Dale Kishbaugh. Although Dale has been on the job for less than a year, he has brought a new focus and energy to CREA’s safety programs that is much appreciated by our members. Dale and Phil talked about the encouraging trend of fewer accidents in the co-op family, but expressed concern that too many serious accidents are still occurring around the country. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help your co-op line crews and office staff avoid on-the-job injuries.
Being a director on the board of an electric co-op requires an understanding of a lot of complex issues, from power supply to accounting to legal matters. CREA provides training courses at the annual meeting that enable Colorado co-op directors to achieve various certification levels established by the national trade association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. For the first time, 80 percent of Colorado’s electric co-op directors are now accredited as Credentialed Cooperative Directors, and many have also received their Director Leadership or Director Gold certification. By providing these courses in Colorado, CREA saves members a great deal of money on registration fees and travel expenses that they would incur if they had to travel out of state to take the training.
While our annual meeting is mostly business, we also had a little fun. At our awards banquet, we were entertained by a musician and comedian by the name of Joe Stoddard. Joe is a tremendous guitar player and singer who, among other talents, does a unique impression of Bob Dylan (you’ll have to see his show to see what I mean). For me, the highlight of Joe’s show was when the co-op folks joined in on the chorus of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Turns out I’m not the only “singer” in the group!