Electricity use in Yampa Valley declined during pandemic | SteamboatToday.com

Electricity use in Yampa Valley declined during pandemic

Yampa Valley Electric Association Board Chairman Tom Fox, at podium, flanked by fellow board members and staff, wraps up the 79th annual co-op meeting on Tuesday. Photo by Suzie Romig

With the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, kilowatt-hour electricity consumption for Yampa Valley Electric Association co-op members dropped by 5.6% during 2020 for a reduction of some 30 million kilowatt-hours.

YVEA General Manager Steve Johnson reported on the successes and challenges of 2020 during the 79th annual meeting of the nonprofit member-owned co-op on Tuesday. YVEA officials hosted the afternoon meeting inside a large, cleaned-out mechanic’s bay behind the YVEA office in Steamboat Springs with almost 50 people in attendance.

Three members of the YVEA board of directors, who ran unopposed, were confirmed to serve the next three-year term, including 15-year director Scott McGill who represents Steamboat Springs, nine-year director Glynda Sheehan representing the area of Baggs and Savery, Wyo., and three-year director Ken Rogers in south Routt County.

The newest member of the nine-person board, Sasha Nelson, who represents the City of Craig area, introduced herself to members following her selection in March to fill a vacated seat. Nelson works as the director of workforce training and community programming at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig, was formerly a healthcare and education reporter for the Craig Press and has earned four university degrees in science and communication.

Longtime board Chairman Tom Fox noted YVEA crews and subcontractors stayed busy despite the pandemic completing $10 million of infrastructure work last year, and this year’s construction work plan tops $12 million.

“We spend a lot of money to update and protect our infrastructure,” Johnson noted.

In 2020, YVEA crews built 6.75 miles of line and installed 459 new services. The co-op with an almost $58 million annual budget in 2020 serves approximately 21,000 members via 3,006 miles of line within a 7,113 square-mile territory.

During a question-and-answer time, YVEA member Dave Peregoy of north Routt County complimented the work of the Luminate Broadband subsidiary of YVEA that has been helpful in boosting high-speed communications in North Routt. Peregoy also asked for an explanation as to how the deep freeze in February in the Southwest connects to increased electric bills for YVEA members. Johnson said one-third of the YVEA resource mix comes from natural gas, which experienced production and distribution issues due to frozen well-heads. So supply-and demand pressures of energy users needing power in short supply during the cold snap caused natural gas prices to soar.

A $6.4 million “February Xcel Power Cost Adjustment” was passed on to members spread across seven months of bills. Johnson said YVEA continues to work with wholesale partners and legislators to try to determine how to protect against such a scenario in the future.

In addition to 35% natural gas, the 2020 resource mix of the YVEA power supply includes 29% wind, 25% coal, 5% solar, 5% hydro and 1% other renewables. Those percentages changed somewhat from the 2019 YVEA resource mix that included 36% natural gas, 32% coal and 25% wind and 4% solar. The resource mix is largely driven by wholesale power supplier Xcel Energy.

Johnson reported that 262 members subscribed to the co-op’s Green Choice program created in 2020. Green Choice allows members to pay a small monthly fee for their energy use to be powered by 100% renewable energy.

In other YVEA updates, co-op leadership posted the 2020 Member Engagement Survey online at yvea.com/cooperative-principles-vision that indicates YVEA performance as a service provider and gauges potential for new program offerings. The survey, completed by 953 members last fall, shows that 76% of members were “extremely satisfied or satisfied” with YVEA experiences to date, a percentage that has stayed similar for the past three years. The survey reported a spectrum of summarized findings from members, such as, “seeking information on efficiency and renewables as it relates to managing costs,” “steady shift from not interested to interested in EV (electric vehicles) and associated programming,” “concerns about climate change mentioned repeatedly,” “concerns about loss of coal mentioned repeatedly” and “change: difficult and desired.”

When survey responses were separated between Craig and Steamboat Springs area members, the question, “How important is it to you that YVEA has renewable power as part of our power mix?” some 93% of Steamboat area members said it was moderately or extremely important, compared to 72% of Craig area members. When members were asked would they be interested in joining a community solar garden, 37% said yes, 37% maybe and 26% no. The survey shows 47% of respondents are willing to pay more monthly for renewable energy, and of those, 66% are willing to pay up to $10 more and 27% up to $20 more.

Last year, the co-op board designated $50,000 and reallocated some other funds that would have gone to sponsor special events to use to help members in need of bill assistance during the pandemic.

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