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Colorado Law Creates Transparency at Rural Electric Co-ops

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Originally published at ILSR.org

After moving to Colorado, Joe Smyth found he was barred from participating in his generation and transmission cooperative — despite a Colorado law promoting co-op transparency.

For this episode of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Joe Smyth, researcher at the Energy and Policy Institute and author of CleanCooperative.com. Farrell and Smyth discuss barriers to democratic participation in rural electric cooperative decision-making and how to promote transparency at all electric co-ops.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.


Reforming the Rural Electric Cooperative

Joe Smyth has a history of environmental activism and clean energy advocacy, but did not take an interest in electric cooperatives until he was served by one. At a board meeting for his cooperative, Smyth watched as the co-op leaders grappled with the declining costs of solar energy.

In his view, the cooperative had two choices: treat solar energy as a threat and clamp down on net metering, or embrace the transition and support members as they go solar. He soon realized, however, that their decision was not that simple. Distribution cooperatives like his get their power from a larger wholesale power provider: the generation and transmission cooperative.

Rural electric cooperatives are a product of the New Deal era. Since it was not profitable to electrify sparsely-populated areas, rural America was left in the dark. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 established hundreds of electric cooperatives which, with no shareholders or profit motive, could serve these areas with less overhead cost. Because electric co-ops are not-for-profit and owned by the customers, they are often unregulated by state agencies. Without that oversight, many cooperatives are falling behind as the electricity sector undergoes a rapid transition.

Customer-Owners Face Participation Barriers

In the absence of state law, electric cooperatives can set their own rules — including whether co-op members can attend board meetings. They can also decide what information they will publish and what to withhold. Without access to information, it is difficult for member-owners to have any input and influence over their cooperative.

We see some coops making decisions really behind closed doors, not informing their members about why they made decisions of where the electric cooperative is going as we transition away from coal

Colorado has long had a law ensuring cooperative transparency and access to board meetings. However, that transparency and access did not apply to the generation and transmission cooperative Tri-State. Since Tri-State’s decisions have “huge implications” for the coops they serve, says Smyth, there was a call for those decisions to be made in a public forum. A 2021 bill enacted by the Colorado General Assembly enforces that public forum.

We can’t have a democratically run utility unless there’s transparency and accountability.

Distribution Cooperatives Break Free of their Contracts

Prior to the 2021 bill, two electric co-ops successfully left Tri-State’s umbrella: Kit Carson Electric in New Mexico and Delta Montrose Electric Association in Colorado. These distribution cooperatives found that they could get cheaper wholesale rates elsewhere. The two co-ops, bound by the principle “concern for community,” also wanted to satisfy the local demand for renewable energy capacity.

Both Kit Carson and Delta Montrose faced multi-year processes to get out of their contracts with Tri-State. As the two broke away, the other distribution co-ops supplied by Tri-State watched carefully. Tri-State does not want to lose any more members, especially its largest customers. Because of this threat, says Smyth, Tri-State may now be willing to offer more flexibility to its remaining members.


Listen to our 2018 interview with Kit Carson General Manager Luis Reyes and our 2016 interview with Delta Montrose former Board Member Ed Marston.


Does Tri-State Have a Future?

To have any future at all, says Smyth, Tri-State needs to transition away from coal — it’s just too expensive. He hopes in that transition away from coal, Tri-State will also empower members to participate in decision making. Co-ops don’t just want affordable, clean energy, says Smyth. They want to provide input and support their communities.

What’s clear is that Tri-State now understands that they have to transition away from their uneconomic coal plants, both to keep their member co-ops and to comply with the rules that Colorado and New Mexico have … but whether they do that in a way that just reinforces the fairly centralized, top-down decision-making processes that they’ve historically operated under, or that more empowers their electric cooperative members, the distribution utilities, to do what makes sense for their communities, that’s not clear yet.

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 139th episode of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

Featured photo credit: National Renewable Energy Lab via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/09/24/colorado-law-creates-transparency-at-rural-electric-co-ops/

Cleantech

Never Mind the Torque Talk, Feel the Romance 

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As relayed by Majella Waterworth to David Waterworth 

Conversations collected at the AEVA EV experience day in Cleveland, Queensland, 26th September 2021.


Two young men were enamored by our Tesla Model 3. Majella showed them the tech and then got the comment: “I couldn’t afford this and an expensive engagement ring for my fiancé.” Apparently, he was expected to pay 3 months’ salary — about  $10,000 — for the ring.  My wife, who is quite the expert on jewelry, suggested he look at estate jewelry. But he said if he bought something second hand he would be divorced before he got married.

Then there would be the expense of the date on which he would present the ring. So, she showed him Romance Mode, Netflix access, the quality of the music, and how the panoramic glass roof would be the piece de résistance of a very affordable romantic date. The lower boot in the back would be just right for the chilled champagne and beer, and the frunk would hold the pizzas. Now, that was a hit, and they all had a good laugh.


A young couple arrived and began asking the usual questions about range, charging, and price. They had a two-year-old and another on the way in less than 2 months. Majella suggested they check out the back seat, and when they saw the baby seats, they realized a Tesla could be a family car. They checked out the screens that shielded the glass roof and made the car more comfortable for the children. They were impressed by the space afforded by the frunk and the two boots – you need all the room you can get when you are out with two small children. Karaoke with the Disney tunes was a hit, as was the ability to use Spotify for more kids music.

They live in a unit block and were concerned about where they could plug in. Majella showed them the PlugShare app on her phone. Dad was really surprised at the amount of information available – type of plug, speed of charging, availability. He was impressed at how many charge points there were close to home. He loved the lightning bolt on the Tesla screen that showed where the Superchargers were and how to get to them. 

Photo by Zach Shahan/CleanTechnica.


Majella is a mother and grandmother. She has practiced her people skills over many years in retail. She is an amateur gemologist who enjoys faceting gemstones she has found herself.

 

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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/10/17/never-mind-the-torque-talk-feel-the-romance/

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Bright Yellow Rivian R1T Spotted In NYC

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Sam Sheffer shared a short video of a beautiful, bright yellow Rivian R1T to TikTok yesterday. The electric truck was spotted in New York City and Sam noted in the video captions that he had a longer video on his YouTube channel — although, at the time of this article publishing, it is not yet up. In his TikTok video, Sam started with the front of the truck and showed that the frunk opened and closed automatically (sorry, Earl, no frunkpuppy submission here).

As with Tesla, Rivian has cameras everywhere. There are also very cool and unique roof-rack latches that easily snap on and off and can also be moved to the back of the truck above the bed area. The tires are 20 inch tires.

“Now, Rivian says this is an adventure vehicle, so in case of emergency, check this out,” Sam says while opening the door to the truck and then pressing a button along the inside of the door. “Inside the door is a built-in flashlight. How cool is that? And if the flashlight wasn’t enough for you, inside the center console thing is a portable Bluetooth speaker that charges in here!”

The truck also has an automatic liftgate that is activated by the push of a button and a gear tunnel where you can put anything from skateboards to groceries in. He also gave an inside look at the cab and showed the displays and the wooden dash. The seats are made with vegan leather, he added.

While demonstrating the charging port, which has a light to help its owner see at night, he asked, “Is this a transformer or is this a truck?”

You can watch Sam’s video on TikTok here.

 

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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/10/17/bright-yellow-rivian-r1t-spotted-in-nyc/

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US & Denmark Unveil Big Plans For Wind Power

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Here’s the thing about renewables like wind and solar that many people don’t get. The “fuel” that makes them work is free. That is not to say the devices we construct to harvest energy from wind and solar don’t cost anything and don’t contribute some greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s not pretend that somehow all the concrete, steel, and piping that go into making a thermal generating plant are inexpensive and carbon free.

And yes, getting the power generated by renewables from where it is made to where it is used requires building new transmission lines. But they don’t leak oil and gas into our rivers and oceans the way pipelines do. Isn’t it odd how fossil fuel apologists question the need for new transmission infrastructure when it involves electricity from renewables but never do when it comes to electricity from thermal sources? One is a scourge while the other is a blessing? Does that make any sense?

The central point is, once the fuel for thermal generating plants gets consumed, we have to go out and find more of it. Prices for coal, oil, and gas aren’t stable. They fluctuate constantly — sometimes wildly — which makes it hard to make long term business decisions. The world is about to get a hard lesson in the true cost of relying on fossil fuels this winter. With unnatural gas in short supply, prices are expected to skyrocket. The cost of electricity in some places could double or triple as a result.

Yet the cost of sunlight never goes up. It is free and always will be. All we have to do is gather it up and distribute it efficiently and humans will have all the electrical energy they could possibly need forever.

Wind Is Solar

Wind is just solar energy in a different format. Think about it. Wind is air moving from one place to another. And what causes the air to move? Temperature differences. And what causes temperature differences? The sun. Whether we are talking about a breeze that fills the sails of a boat or the jet streams that encircle the globe, the sun is the ultimate source of all air movements on Earth.

Denmark Opts For Wind Islands

Denmark has been experimenting with offshore wind power since 1991. It’s no wonder two of the world’s largest wind turbine companies — Vestas and Ørsted — are both Danish. For years, it has thought about constructing artificial islands in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to serve as bases for offshore wind farms. Now the government has officially sanctioned the idea. The Danish government will own 50.1% of the islands with private partners owning the rest.

The island in the North Sea will have a capacity of 3 GW, which is equal to the electricity consumption of three million households and twice the amount of energy provided by all offshore wind turbines in Denmark today. It also corresponds to approximately half of Denmark’s total electricity consumption. The capacity will be expanded in phases to a maximum of 10 GW, which could cover the electricity consumption of 10 million households and contribute to the further electrification of Denmark and its neighboring countries.

In the Baltic Sea, the artificial island will be located offshore near the island of Bornholm. Electricity from the offshore installation will be distributed from Bornholm to electricity grids on Zealand and neighboring countries. The turbines off the coast of Bornholm will have a capacity of 2 GW, corresponding to the electricity consumption of two million households.

The decision to establish the two energy islands was reached under the climate agreement of 22 June 2020, which was entered into by the Danish Government, the Liberal Party, Danish People’s Party, Social Liberal Party, Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance, Conservative Party, Liberal Alliance and the Alternative.

The US Offshore Wind Initiative

Offshore wind is popular because the equipment can be placed well out to sea where it is invisible to people on land. We don’t object to a welter of poles, wires, and transformers cluttering up our built environment but heaven forfend we have to deal with the sight of a spinning turbine. Eeeek! Also, wind speeds tend to be more stable and predictable out over the ocean than they are on land, which makes offshore wind more reliable.

This past week, the US government announced plans for seven major offshore wind farms along both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are part of a plan by the Biden administration to create 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 — enough for 10 million homes. Sharp eyed readers will note Danish authorities expect that much electricity to power 30 million homes, which tells you something about how much electricity the average home in the US uses compared to homes in the rest of the world.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said her department hopes to hold lease sales by 2025 for areas off the coasts of Maine, New York and the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Carolinas, California, Oregon and the Gulf of Mexico. The projects could avoid about 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions while creating up to 77,000 jobs, according to The Guardian.

In addition to offshore wind, the interior department is working with other federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands, Haaland said, with a goal of at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy from wind and solar power by 2025.

The government’s wind initiatives will face a host of technical and political challenges. Who will ever forget a certain ex-president telling a group of fawning admirers that wind turbines “kill all the birds”? Yet the same people don’t bat an eye when offshore oil rigs (many of which are visible from land) spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, when pipelines threaten the water supply of millions of people, or fracking turns domestic drinking water toxic. Can you say “hypocrites,” boys and girls? Yeah, we knew you could.

The government is taking steps to address those concerns, however. The DOE announced last week it allocate $11.5 million to study the risks offshore wind development may pose to birds, bats, and marine mammals. It will also monitor changes in commercial fish and marine invertebrate populations at an offshore wind site on the east coast and spend $2 million on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds at potential wind sites on the west coast.

“In order for Americans living in coastal areas to see the benefits of offshore wind, we must ensure that it’s done with care for the surrounding ecosystem by coexisting with fisheries and marine life – and that’s exactly what this investment will do,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is what is known in the industry as the levelized cost of electricity — the triple net, absolute measure of what it costs to generate kilowatt of electricity. Water seeks its own level, nature abhors a vacuum, and business craves the lowest cost option. Today, the LCOE of wind and solar energy is lower than thermal generation and getting cheaper all the time. And why not? The cost of fuel for renewables is zero. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!

Fossil fuel adherents will fuss and fume about national security, energy independence, and the wonders of military might, but the truth is renewables not only slash carbon emissions, they can enhance national security, provide energy independence, and eliminate much of the need for standing armies to any country and all for free. What could we possibly be waiting for?

 

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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/10/17/us-denmark-unveil-big-plans-for-wind-power/

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Cool & Fun Alternatives Manufacturers Can Use To Lower Insurance Premiums For Fast EVs (Part 2)

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In Part 1, I explored the problem of high insurance rates for EVs, and the problems that can come with giving insurance companies even more data. Long story short, there are life-and-death level privacy risks that come from having your personal data out there, the data isn’t as good as we think, and insurers will eventually want even more of our data or money.

In this article, I want to explore the problem a little more so we can see why alternative approaches are necessary, and then go through some of the options I’ve come up with.

I May Be Wrong, But I’m Not Alone

I know not all readers will agree with what I’ve had to say in Part 1, and some will think I’m being extreme or paranoid. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that you personally shouldn’t be able to purchase such insurance or share your personal data with whoever you want. I think customer choice is a great thing, and you should be able to choose that option if you’re comfortable with it and think it suits you.

Even if us “luddites” who don’t want telematics-based insurance are 100% wrong and 200% stupid, around a third of insurance customers aren’t comfortable sharing telematics data, so addressing this concern with alternatives is still a smart move. Leaving a third of the market to a company’s competition isn’t a great move, and if a manufacturer’s insurance monitoring programs are really saving lives, having 1/3 of the population sit those out leaves a lot of chances to improve safety on the table.

Manufacturers and insurers should come up with alternative approaches that we can choose from depending on our comfort level. That way, people comfortable with the risks of telematics-based insurance can still use it, while people like me can have alternatives to choose from. Plus, you can do telematics plus alternatives, and save even more!

On top of this, public support for innovative insurance programs can be improved when people aren’t reading about how something like a “safety score” could lead to bad driving. People don’t like to feel like guinea pigs, especially when it’s for an experiment they didn’t sign up to be part of. Once again, even if these concerns are unfounded, they should still be considered if a manufacturer doesn’t want the government coming down on them.

Things Any Alternatives Must Do

High performance vehicles often come with high insurance premiums because the history of other owners with the same make and model isn’t so great. Big wrecks, a high number of small wrecks, or anything else that drives the average cost of claims for that make and model up leads to a high “symbol,” and high premiums for the owners of that vehicle type.

Telematics helps insurers offer lower rates because (in theory) they don’t have to guess at who is more likely to do something irresponsible with a vehicle that has 2–5 times the power of the average family sedan they had a good driving record in before.

For any alternative solution to work at reducing what you pay for insurance, it must (A) lower the actual number of wrecks and the costs of those wrecks for the make and model in the wild and/or (B) help insurers to see that you’re personally a less risky driver. Ideally, both should happen.

Idea #1: Tutorial Mode For New Owners

One of the biggest problems with fast cars is that it’s a lot easier to get in over your head. People who have been driving a gas car with only 100–300 horsepower don’t know how different a vehicle’s dynamics can be with 500+ horsepower and full, instant torque from zero RPM. Thus, even experienced drivers can make big, big mistakes.

If manufacturers offered an optional “Tutorial Mode” for new owners, insurers would likely approve a discount for drivers that went through the tutorial and gradual got used to the higher power levels a performance EV offers.

The car can start out offering only a small fraction of its full potential power for a set number of miles, while offering safety tips through the infotainment system. With a reasonably good driving score (with plenty of leeway for the occasional need to do things like stomp the brakes), the vehicle can unlock higher levels of power a little at a time until the driver finishes the tutorial and has full power at their disposal.

No data, other than that the driver passed the tutorial program, would need to be sent to insurers, so privacy concerns wouldn’t be an issue if one chose to use these “training wheels.”

Idea #2: In-Person Training For New Owners

The Jurassic Park-like entrance to the Bronco Off-Roadeo.

Earlier this year, I had a lot of fun going to Ford’s “Bronco Off-Roadeo” near Austin, Texas. The event is meant for new Bronco and Bronco Sport owners to get familiar with the off-road capabilities of their vehicles in a controlled environment with professional instructors. Perhaps more importantly, the training time is included in the price of the vehicle.

Not only was it a fun experience and a great show that Ford put on, but I left the event knowing a lot more about how the new Ford Bronco works, and where the vehicle’s features would work best. I didn’t leave there knowing everything, but anyone would be a safer off-roader after attending such an event.

The gathering area for the training drives.

There’s no reason that other manufacturers, including the manufacturers of high-performance EVs, couldn’t do the same. Insurance companies already give discounts for additional driver training, so this would be a great approach.

Idea #3: In-Car Virtual Reality Training

In-person training is expensive, especially if a customer has to travel to the event. Fortunately, modern technology gives us other options, and today’s EVs are well-suited to this kind of thing.

It may surprise some readers that the United States Air Force uses the DCS World flight simulator software to train A-10 Warthog pilots. The simulator runs on a normal gaming computer, using off-the-shelf VR goggles like the Oculus Quest. Add a decent set of controls (joystick, throttle, and a few other odds and ends–all available for cheap on Amazon), and you can provide a person with a simulation of flying that’s close enough to the real thing for the Air Force to allow it to serve as training time.

Here’s the thing: Tesla already uses the vehicle’s controls for in-car games. Beach Buggy Racing 2 Tesla Edition uses the car’s steering wheel and pedals to control the video game car on the car’s center display.

Tesla’s computing hardware is also up to the task of powering advanced VR software, especially the newer ones. So, that’s not going to get in the way. Add some power-steering-based wheel force feedback and modified sim racing software to the car, work any adjustable suspension to add realism, plug in a pair of VR goggles, and you can have a very robust and realistic car simulator software.

The gaming potential of using a Tesla as a sim racing rig is cool on its own, but it could also serve as a great virtual environment for safety training. While parked, the driver can experience all sorts of driving situations we would rather not ever see on the real streets, and learn to effectively deal with them to avoid collisions.

This could enable every Tesla to come with a months-long advanced driver training course that drivers could go through in their spare time to get insurance discounts. If other manufacturers’ in-car computers are sufficient to do this, any EV could potentially serve as a training area.

I’ve personally tried DCS World, and found the experience very realistic. I’ve also done Star Wars Squadrons in VR, and while I have no idea what flying a TIE fighter is really like, it did feel very realistic. But, none of my personal experience is anywhere close to what an Air Force flight instructor or a professional race car driver has. If today’s VR is good enough for them, it should be good enough for anybody.

Do You Have More Ideas?

I’m going to hand this back to the readers now. Do you have any ideas that EV manufacturers could use to improve safety? Do you have any other ideas to reduce insurance costs without introducing potential dealbreakers like monitoring or tracking?

I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Featured image by United States Air Force (Public Domain)

 

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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/10/17/cool-fun-alternatives-manufacturers-can-use-to-lower-insurance-premiums-for-fast-evs-part-2/

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