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.”
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.