Author: Wade Harris

NRECA International Uses Drones to Improve Electric Service in Bangladesh

NRECA International is using drones for the first time as it helps a government-owned electric utility in Bangladesh improve its efficiency and boost customer satisfaction.

Two drones are being deployed by NRECA International to help develop a geographic information system for the Northern Electricity Supply Co. Ltd. The distribution utility is based in Rajshahi, near the Indian border.

The GIS that NRECA International is developing will create an interactive database of the electric distribution system, which serves about 1.5 million consumers through 65 substations and more than 9,000 miles of electric line. The drones will capture images of the distribution system, houses, farms and commercial buildings served by the utility.

A GIS will not only show where distribution infrastructure and consumers are located, it will store detailed data such as pole size, date of purchase, date of installation and condition.

The goal of the two-year project is to provide NESCO with a comprehensive GIS network management system. That will help the utility analyze its performance to operate more efficiently, improve its financial situation, and monitor and enhance the quality of service to raise customer satisfaction, said ATM Selim, NRECA International’s team leader on the project.

NESCO is renovating and expanding its existing distribution system, he said.

“The use of drone technology will ensure the completeness and correctness of the GIS data that will be collected as a part of the project,” Selim said. “NESCO will be able to operate its business more effectively with the help of the database. This will help to improve the service quality for its customers.”

NRECA International hired drone operators, which deployed the 2-pound drones on June 19. They have been able to capture images of about 35 square miles during a four-week period.

There have been major challenges along the way, including a countrywide lockdown in June and July due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, heavy rainfall and restricted flyover zones. However, Selim said the team expects to finish its drone work after four additional weeks.

“The images are in excellent condition and are playing a very important role in the survey of electric poles and in identifying buildings in the area,” he said. The drones have also helped speed up data collection.

Without drones, data is typically collected in the field using GPS satellite technology to build digital maps. Information can also be gathered from traditional photographs, books, newspapers and government publications and databases.

“The team is always looking for more inventive ways to collect better data that can help them provide more accurate analyses and information to help our partners in different countries,” said Dan Waddle, senior vice president of NRECA International, which does GIS work in several nations across the globe. “We will use this new drone experience in Bangladesh to determine whether drones could be used effectively in other countries.”

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.

NERC: Summer Heat Could Disrupt Power Supplies in West, Midwest, New England

Above-average temperatures this summer will increase the risk of electricity emergencies in the West, especially Texas and California, and challenge reliability in the Upper Midwest and New England, according to the nation’s grid watchdog. 

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. in its “2021 Summer Reliability Assessment” predicts extreme heat will drive demand nationwide and elevate the potential for power disruptions as air conditioning use chomps electricity.

Texas in particular will be ripe for shortages despite increasing its on-peak reserve margins from 12.9% to 15.3% last year with 7,858 megawatts of wind, solar and battery storage, NERC said. The assessment notes that “[with] a significant portion of electricity supply coming from wind generation, operators must have sufficient flexible resources to cover periods of low-wind output.”

NERC also finds California, a huge energy importer, at risk for disruptions this summer even during normal peak demand periods as additions to its energy supply have largely been solar, which may not be available to serve heightened demand. Periods of above-normal demand in the West will place the state at a high risk for energy emergencies, the report states. 

“As the grid transforms and weather-dependent resources become increasingly important to maintaining the real-time supply for electricity, the bulk power system becomes more vulnerable,” said John Moura, NERC director of reliability assessment and performance analysis.

“Above-average seasonal temperatures, such as those predicted for this summer, can contribute to high peak demand and impact the availability of generation resources and imports from neighboring areas,” he said. “This means that it is especially important for the electric industry to ensure the committed resource mix can support a variety of abnormal conditions.”

NERC said the Midcontinent Independent System Operator in the Midwest and ISO-New England have sufficient resources to meet projected peak needs, but above-normal demand will likely outstrip capacity. That means supplies will need to be tapped from outside areas.

“All other areas have sufficient resources to manage normal summer peak demand and are at low risk of energy shortfalls from more extreme demand or generation outage conditions,” the assessment said.

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.

Meredith to head safety efforts in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (June 29, 2021) – In his 30th year working either as an electrical lineman or supporting the safety of linemen, Randy Meredith has been named Director of Safety & Training at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association supporting the 26 electric co-ops in the commonwealth.

In this new role, Meredith leads a team of three Safety & Loss Prevention Instructors and is accountable for leading training programs to comply with applicable federal, state and local legislation and codes. The safety team helps cooperatives’ compliance personnel with regulatory issues including OSHA, FEMA, FMCSA, DOT, EPA, PSC, NESC and NEC. Additional responsibilities include accident investigations, RESAP administration, crew audits and mutual aid storm coordination for the cooperatives.

“My desire is that our Safety and Loss Prevention department becomes best in class,” Meredith says. “Kentucky co-ops are committed to safety, and we pledge excellence in training, preparedness and expertise. I was already proud to be a part of the statewide association’s exemplary statewide team. Charlie Lewis and Tony Dempsey are the best colleagues one could ask for and they are instrumental to the ongoing safety improvements at Kentucky co-ops.”

Meredith began his co-op career in 1992 as a lineman at Warren RECC, where he later became operations supervisor during his 16 years at the co-op. After four years in a supervisory role with the Davis H. Elliot company, Meredith returned to the cooperative family working first in safety and compliance at Nolin RECC then as superintendent of line design. In August 2019, he joined the statewide association staff.

“Randy’s entire career has demonstrated a commitment to safety and the wellbeing of co-op crews and co-op members,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “His dedication to safety goals and innovative approach to effectively communicating safety lessons is an asset to Kentucky’s electric cooperative program.”

Meredith lives in Bee Spring with his wife, Javonica. They have three grown children.

Joe Arnold Wins 2021 LaBerge Award

The energy industry promotes an all-of-the-above strategy so that not just one fuel source provides power. It’s the same thing for communications, says Kentucky Electric Cooperatives’ Joe Arnold, winner of the 2021 LaBerge Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication, announced Wednesday during the virtual Connect conference of co-op communicators.

“You just can’t just rely upon one source. We have an amazing magazine, Kentucky Living, which effectively reaches the entire commonwealth. But you can’t stop there. Social media, website traffic, video production, email and grassroots campaigns…You need all of those things combined to effectively and meaningfully reach our consumer-members,” said Arnold, the statewide association’s vice president of strategic communications.

“If you aren’t telling your story, somebody else will,” Arnold said. “This is why Kentucky Living magazine is such a critical component for co-ops. Local co-op consumer-members are bombarded with conflicting messages from social media, mainstream media and others who do not have cooperatives’ best interests at heart. The fact that Kentucky’s electric cooperatives actually own their own trusted media outlet is a tremendous asset and its value cannot be underestimated as ‘baseload generation’ of our all-of-the-above strategy.”

The LaBerge Award recognizes a co-op communicator with demonstrated excellence, influence and impact in co-op communications, both as a practitioner and contributor across the network. It was established in 2018 in memory of Justin LaBerge, senior leadership communications manager for NRECA.

Arnold, a veteran journalist at several Louisville outlets for more than 25 years, relied on the “all-of-the-above” approach when he was hired by Kentucky Electric Cooperatives nearly six years ago with the charge to bring a strategic approach to communications. He reorganized the department to match talent with emerging public relations needs and channels, and revitalized an ethos among staff that their mission is to serve co-ops. 

The award “affirms what we’re doing as a team more than as a recognition of me personally,” said Arnold, who also credits his boss, Chris Perry, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives president and CEO, “for prioritizing communications in the first place, allowing me to invest in the talent and professionals to do their jobs and empowering me to make changes.”

During his tenure at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, Arnold and his team rolled out several “innovations,” including a revamped “Best of Kentucky” contest in its magazine and Rural Power Kentucky, a grassroots campaign. Along the way, they leveraged several NRECA communications tools, including the Young Adult Member Engagement initiative.

A strong emphasis on collaboration was critical for success, said Arnold. “I am absolutely most proud of the service mentality of our team, the fact that we are responsive to co-op needs. And we try to emulate the way the co-ops are responsive to their members’ needs. 

LaBerge Award judges noted Arnold’s collaborative style as “a great example of the cooperative principles that guide what we do. I know the communicators he serves benefit from his expertise and leadership.”

In addition, wrote another judge, Arnold’s skill as a broadcast journalist and attention to detail helped raise the profile of Kentucky co-ops as “thought leaders and a valued source of information to their members.”

Arnold, who knew little about co-ops before Kentucky Electric Cooperatives (“I have the passion of a convert,” he said), is modest. “It’s not a matter of ‘see what I did, to serve the co-ops.’ We are blessed with talented communicators who are willing to learn and understand members’ needs.”

by Victoria A. Rocha, NRECA

Unprecedented Mail Rate Hike Could Hit Co-ops and Statewides Hard

Electric cooperatives, which serve some of the most remote and economically disadvantaged communities in the country, will have a new challenge this summer: postal rate increases well above inflation.

Effective Aug. 29, the U.S. Postal Service will increase rates for nonprofit marketing mail by an average of 7.8%. Until recently, the agency had been required by law to tie increases to inflation, which has been about 1.5% to 2% in recent years. 

But a new Postal Regulatory Commission ruling will allow the USPS to deploy a new pricing formula that is far more onerous to nonprofit groups, according to a report by the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers (ANM).

Increases include 5.7% for first-class letters, 10.4% for flats (including magazines) and 8.6% for parcels.

The new rates will hurt the bottom lines of electric co-ops, which use the Postal Service for critical functions like billing, distributing director election materials and meeting notices, and mailing their widely read statewide magazines to members. Some state laws require mailed notices for certain communications, and a lack of adequate internet service in many co-op territories means that moving billing and other outreach to online-only is not an option.

“Rural communities that rely on the postal service will be especially hurt by these rate hikes,” said Bobby Hamill, NRECA’s government relations director on this issue. “A mailing cost increase well above inflation really puts co-ops and their low-income members in a bind.”

NRECA joined ANM in February 2020 in urging the Postal Regulatory Commission to reconsider its inflation-rate ruling and has advocated strenuously for USPS not to use its full rate authority. They argued that the Postal Service is now in a much better financial position because of a windfall of COVID-19 relief funds and that future shortfalls ought to be addressed with structural changes rather than rate hikes, Hamill said.

“USPS is at a point where it is no longer necessary to impose these postal increases, especially on not-for-profit entities,” he said.

Co-ops and statewide associations across the country are concerned about what this jump in postal costs will mean for their budgets and their members.

“We want postal rate-makers to know the importance of written communication to electric co-op members,” said Lou Green, executive vice president of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, based in Cayce.

“It’s vital that communication remains affordable for millions of member-owners. In our state, South Carolina Living magazine is an irreplaceable link between members and their co-ops.”

The Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives said the increase raises its rates by about 8% in addition to the consumer price index increase by USPS in January.

“The USPS appears to be targeting rural areas with unprecedented increases well beyond anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Valerie Cheathamvice president of communications at the Springfield-based AIEC.

“We do everything we can to keep the rates of our statewide magazine affordable and it’s increases like this that negatively affect us and our readers.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.

Co-ops Apply Lessons Learned From Catastrophic Wildfires

Nearly 60,000 western wildfires destroyed more than 10 million acres in 2020, making it one of the worst seasons ever. As another begins, battled-tested electric cooperatives are readying strategies to prepare and mitigate damage.

“It comes down to prevention and protecting our members,” said Dave Markham, president and CEO of Central Electric Cooperative in Redmond, Oregon.

Unlike tornados that devastate in single short spurts or hurricanes that may be predicted weeks in advance, wildfires can spark at any time and often go unnoticed until dangerously out of control. These fires gain strength and size as they consume woody debris and other fuel in their path and can spread destruction for weeks or even months.

In northern Colorado’s drought-plagued mountains, Poudre Valley REA experienced its greatest devastation ever from wildfires in 2020: 400 distribution poles and 20 miles of power line were destroyed, and a substation was severely damaged.

As what came to be known as the Cameron Peak Fire began to spread in August 2020, the co-op worked simultaneously to support first responders, protect infrastructure and restore electricity.

“Preparing for the fire and restoration was challenging due to the fire’s unpredictable nature,” said John Bowerfind, chief operating officer at the Fort Collins, Colorado-based co-op.

“We created and followed our plan while remaining flexible, with the ability to pivot and change course as the fire conditions changed.”

That meant lots of communication with fire authorities and members about when an area would be repaired and re-energized. The co-op used social media, livestreamed events and local media coverage to share the latest developments.

Poudre Valley REA lost 400 poles and more than 20 miles of power line to wildfires in 2020. (Photo Courtesy: PVREA)

The blaze began about 15 miles from the Red Feather Lakes community served by PVREA. It roared into the co-op’s service area in waves, appearing to recede then raging back in short bursts when the weather turned drier and windy. The wildfire was not fully contained until December.

Fire incident command called for the largest public safety power shutoffs PVREA had ever experienced. Because the co-op had asked suppliers in advance to have materials readily available, damaged segments were repaired and lines were re-energized quickly.

“Every natural disaster is different—our response plan provides a starting point and must remain flexible,” said Bowerfind. “We were planning for the restoration and rebuilding efforts before facilities were destroyed by the fire.”

In Oregon, more than 1.5 million acres burned in 2020, making it one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in the state’s history. Flames along the Cascade Range whipped by 70 mph gales threatened CEC territory, but the co-op was spared when winds diminished.

“We dodged a potential catastrophe,” said Markham. “But we realize it is getting drier and hotter and there are more dead and dying trees.”

With more than half of CEC’s service territory across federal lands, Markham has testified before Congress on how delays in approvals for right-of-way upgrades, maintenance and improvements can have serious consequences. It took over a year to receive approval from the U.S. Forest Service to replace 131 aging power poles and remove encroaching vegetation along a 13-mile overhead power line route on federal land, he said.

“We are in a significant drought,” he said. “Going into summer, this is the time of year we will get lightning storms.”

CEC’s wildfire plan covers inspection and maintenance, operational practices, situational and conditional awareness, and response and recovery. Brad Wilson, who as director of operations and engineering heads the co-op’s wildfire mitigation efforts in the field, calls the plan “a living document.”

“While we will annually review the plan and update as needed, events in real-time may require some flexibility in its execution,” he said.

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.

New laws fund broadband expansion

Rural Kentucky’s long and frustrating wait for high-speed internet broadband service is getting a historic boost thanks to legislation approved by the Kentucky General Assembly. 

House Bill 320 allocates $250 million for last mile broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and allows electric cooperatives to add broadband service, if it is in the best interests of co-op consumer-members. House Bill 382 earmarks an additional $50 million for broadband expansion designated for economic development purposes. 

“Those of us from the rural areas of this state have waited and waited and we’ve become impatient,” says House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade (R-Stanford). “And it’s time to do something. The funds are here. The need is evident. So, let’s strike while the iron is hot.”

Sponsored by Rep. Brandon Reed (R-Hodgenville) and Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton), House Bill 320 permits a local electric co-op to assess the practicality of offering broadband service through a subsidiary. Until now, 19 of Kentucky’s 24 local distribution cooperatives were not permitted to provide broadband service to their consumer- members.

The legislation does not mandate that an electric cooperative provide broadband service. Instead, each co-op can determine whether entering the broadband business could be accomplished without jeopardizing the co-op’s primary objective of providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to its members.

“Throughout every discussion, co-ops have insisted that any broadband expansion should not result in electric cooperative consumer-members paying more on their current electric bill,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.

Supported by a grassroots campaign of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives, the bill did not include any changes to existing pole attachment regulations that would have led to electric rate increases. A lobbying effort by the telecommunications industry was pushing for changes that would shift pole attachment costs to electric ratepayers.

House Bill 320 requires the Kentucky Public Service Commission to draft updated pole attachment regulations by the end of the year. Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are having good-faith discussions with the Commission, with the shared goal of speeding up broadband expansion while preserving the safety and reliability of both the public and lineworkers.

Of the $250 million of federal coronavirus relief funds in House Bill 320, $50 million will be allocated before April 2022. Funds are specific to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth. 

“Some of our areas have three to four homes per mile, and those areas will never be enticing to those large communication companies to service,” Meade says. “We’ve seen that year after year as we have been up here passing legislation to deregulate telecom companies and to establish avenues for additional money to entice them to expand to that last mile.”

Spearheading the legislation in the Senate, Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens (R-Greensburg) says lawmakers were “planting the seed” and could make more decisions about funding in the future.

“It moves broadband forward in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with significant investment,” Reed says.

Kentucky’s electric co-ops live up to their name

Whether it’s a pair of shoes for a child who has none or money to help fight cancer or bottled water when the local supply isn’t sufficient, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are addressing pressing needs in multiple communities by joining with East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s Good Giving Committee. 

“EKPC has always been a good corporate sponsor,” says Jerry Purvis, who has served as executive sponsor of the Good Giving Committee for the past six years and is the co-op’s vice president, environmental affairs. “We look at what we can do that serves our counties and really makes a difference. We wanted to make sure that any collected money—all of it—went to them.” 

Breast cancer awareness was the committee’s first major project. The committee donated to the Susan G. Komen fund for the fight against breast cancer. Next was helping patients at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center by donating profits from a chili cook-off. Former Markey patients helped deliver checks to UK. 

The East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s Good Giving Committee in 2014, its first year. Photo: Scott Mandl 

More teamwork 

Each year, Clark Energy Cooperative helps sponsor A Day of Giving under the theme of Operation Happiness. The Good Giving Committee helped Clark Energy distribute food boxes to adults and children in Clark County for five years. 

In Martin, which is served by Big Sandy RECC, the water supply was compromised, so that cooperative joined with the Good Giving Committee to deliver five pallets of bottled water to the middle and high schools. 

Cumberland Valley RECC provided school supplies, clothes, shoes and coats for children in need through the Knox County School District’s family resource centers. 

Teri Lacy is the new leader of the Good Giving Committee, now in its sixth year, and David Crews is the new executive sponsor. 

“I am always amazed at how EKPC employees answer the call to those in need,” says Teri. “I think it’s part of the DNA of a cooperative employee. We know that we don’t just serve a business, we serve the people that need our business. Many of our customers face challenges we take for granted. Not being able to rely on clean water, or having school supplies for children, or cleaning up after devastating weather are life-sustaining issues. If we can help, we are going to.”

-Debra Gibson Isaacs

Kentucky’s lakes and shorelines are waiting

IT’S FINALLY THAT TIME of year again—time for us to head to the beautiful lakes throughout Kentucky. From one end of the state to the other, Kentucky offers an abundance of options for boaters. 

There is nothing that I love more than visiting with friends and family on the peaceful waters of Kentucky lakes. Dale Hollow, Grayson, Nolin, Cave Run, Barkley and Kentucky Lake are the ultimate for fishing and fun. 

One of my favorite memories is the night my wife, Kim, and I spent with one of her high school friends on a houseboat at Green River Lake, above, just outside Campbellsville. Dr. Kellee Frogge and her husband were gracious hosts. It’s crazy how fast time passes, how we sometimes lose touch with friends whose stories are woven into the fabric of our past.

I don’t think there’s anything better in Kentucky than watching the sun set across the water while sharing laughs and stories with friends and family. 

In the magazine this month, there is a story about Kentucky’s beaches (page 49). Many people don’t think about beaches when visiting our state, but we have our share. I think Kentucky offers the best of all worlds. Our tremendous parks, pristine lakes and friendly people make our state the perfect place to spend a day at the beach. 

I hope as you begin making plans for this summer you’ll consider visiting Kentucky’s amazing outdoor spaces. 

There still will be safety concerns as we get vaccinated for COVID-19 and venture back into the world. For that reason, staying close to home and visiting with people who are special in your life could become the perfect vacation. 

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” —Henry David Thoreau

Safety Committee votes to postpone Rodeo

The Safety Committee of the Kentucky Electric Cooperatives has voted to recommend that the 2021 Lineman’s Rodeo be postponed because of ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and the ability to comply with safety restrictions.

The full Board of Directors will hear the recommendation at its May 18th meeting.

The committee’s recommendation was informed by a survey of Kentucky co-ops. 

Pending board action, it will be the second year that the Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo to be hosted by Jackson Purchase Energy in Paducah will be postponed.