New Insights from Electric Co-op Leadership Conference

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

The efficient use of electricity and water was the focus of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange conference in Aspen. The annual event provides an opportunity for utility employees to compare notes about the types of efficiency programs that are being implemented around the state and go home with new ideas and new resources.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Initiatives Worth Imitating.” Although this was the 11th year for the conference, and although CREA is a sponsor, this was the first time I was able to attend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I discovered was a multi-day, comprehensive discussion platform for anyone interested in how electric and water utilities can develop and deploy energy efficiency programs. The topics at the conference included new technologies for more efficient lighting, electric vehicles, how to save energy while growing marijuana (if you read my column last month, you may see a connection) and more.

While the RMUEE is open to all utilities, Colorado’s electric co-ops are key players in the success of the conference. One of the primary conference sponsors is Holy Cross Energy, the electric co-op that serves the Roaring Fork Valley and the Aspen Meadows resort where the conference was held. Holy Cross Energy has been a sponsor of this event since its inception, one of many ways that the co-op supports energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in its service territory.

The co-op connection, however, extends beyond the sponsorship by Holy Cross Energy. Staff members from electric co-ops around the state made presentations or led discussions at the RMUEE.

• Ray Pierotti of La Plata Electric Association in Durango helped facilitate a roundtable discussion to kick off the conference.
• Mary Weiner of Holy Cross Energy facilitated the opening day panels.
• Dan Harms of LPEA provided a case study of how the utility manages electric thermal storage units and water heating peak load.
• Gary Myers of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association described a heat pump project that the association developed with its member, Mountain Parks Electric near Granby.
• Megan Moore-Kemp of Yampa Valley Electric Association in Steamboat Springs talked about how the co-op works with its marijuana grow operators.
• Sam Whelan of Holy Cross Energy gave an overview of the co-op’s program to finance energy efficiency improvements in members’ homes.
• Chris Hildred of Holy Cross Energy joined a panel discussion about energy efficiency in the ski industry.
• Alantha Garrison of Gunnison County Electric Association in Gunnison facilitated the discussion of electric vehicles and energy storage.

I was proud to see the co-op involvement in the RMUEE as it demonstrates that Colorado’s electric co-ops are leaders among their industry peers in developing and implementing cutting-edge energy efficiency programs. These presentations showed that electric co-ops are listening to their member-owners and adopting programs to integrate distributed energy resources, as well as deliver power in the most efficient manner possible. As nonprofit electric utilities, co-ops have always been the trusted energy advisor to our member-owners.

Maybe it was the fresh air and beautiful Aspen scenery, or just the opportunity to spend a few days around really smart young people, but I’m convinced that our energy-related issues in Colorado are solvable. I’m also convinced that the young thinkers and doers at the electric co-ops will play a key role in helping develop those solutions.