Ballots were due at the offices of auditing firm, JCCS, by April 5th. Flathead Electric received certification from CPA, Tony Vanorny, at JCCS that 5,734 total ballots were received. The certification also stated that incumbents, Chris Byrd-District #1 and Doug Grob-District #4 were reelected to continue to sit on the Board of Trustees for the Co-op. George Taylor-District #7, was the only opposed Trustee in this year’s election and he received 2,400 votes. Challenger Bruce Measure won the District #7 seat, by receiving 3, 055 votes. The Board and staff wish to extend a sincere thank you to those who voted and encourage members to continue to stay involved with the future success of Flathead Electric Cooperative.
Although a significant wholesale power rate increase has been imposed on the Co-op, the Board of Trustees for Flathead Electric elected not to hike the retail rates at a comparable level. Instead, rates will be adjusted incrementally, over time. Trustees feel that spreading expenses out will help smooth the transition into higher power costs, as many people struggle to pay their bills during this unstable time in our economy.
Flathead Electric will be implementing an average annualized rate increase of 3.75% across all rate classes as a result of increased wholesale power costs. The majority of residential members will experience an increase of less than $4.75 per month. The increase will affect two aspects of your bill; the monthly Basic Charge that helps cover the Cooperative’s minimum fixed costs and the Energy Charge for the amount of energy consumed. A residential member of Flathead Electric Cooperative using 1,000 kWh per month, will now pay $84.52 rather than $80.14 under the old rate. Bills issued after June 1, 2013 will reflect the new rates, which will include energy usage from May.
Flathead Electric Cooperative’s primary power supply is hydropower purchased from the Bonneville Power Administration. We are extremely fortunate to have this low cost, clean resource. It is important for all of us to understand what dynamics exist that could put this essential resource in jeopardy, however, and we will do our best to keep you informed.
A public education effort, called CleanHydro, is being coordinated by Northwest RiverPartners , an alliance of utilities, ports, businesses and farming organizations, that advocate for a balanced approach to managing the federal hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Other regional and national organizations with a stake in hydropower and river commerce are also supporting the effort to educate the public about these resources and their benefits.
Terry Flores, Executive Director of RiverPartners, noted that the organization’s public opinion surveys show a lack of understanding and appreciation for the tremendous value that the Columbia and Snake River system brings to the Northwest, both economically and environmentally. “For those of us who grew up in the Northwest, it was always a given that hydropower was the premier renewable energy source; and the energy production benefits of our dams were also well known.”
Today, Flores says, there is a whole new audience that needs to be educated: “Many people have moved into the Northwest from other places, and younger generations know very little about hydropower and the river system’s contributions. They didn’t grow up with them. Hydropower doesn’t have the kind of ingrained recognition it once did. So in a sense, we’re reintroducing – and reminding – the public of the tremendous value these resources bring to our lives.”
And with a changing energy industry, hydropower has been overlooked in recent years. “We’ve seen huge growth in other renewable sources of energy, particularly wind. These have been so prominent in the popular media that it’s given rise to a perception that they are the only renewables out there,” Flores said. “We just want to make sure that hydropower is considered in the same context.”
Besides accounting for 90 percent of the region’s renewable energy, the system of dams and locks on the Columbia and Snake Rivers create a river highway allowing billions of dollars of goods to be transported by barge, creating thousands of jobs and boosting the economy. The hydropower system allows crops grown by local farmers to feed the Northwest and the world. “We have a great story to tell,” Flores noted. “It simply hasn’t been getting out – now it will.”
For more information, visit CleanHydro.com.
Zinc Air Inc (ZAI) and Flathead Electric Co-op have announced an agreement to install a battery on FEC’s campus in Kalispell. This installation will help demonstrate how ZAI’s technology can deliver on the long-held promise of battery storage technologies in delivering cheap, clean and abundant power.
"This is another major step for Zinc Air and commercializing our technology. Working with FEC will give us first-hand knowledge and experience in the operation of the battery system.” said Peter Walters, COO of ZAI. "Running these tests in our own back yard is also a great way for us to support the local economy,” stated ZAI CEO Dave Wilkins.
This customer field trial will allow ZAI and FEC to run a number of applications for both Utility and end user benefits, such as peak demand reduction and load shifting. Cheryl Talley, FEC’s Director of Member and Energy Services, said she is, “interested in results of the project and how it might benefit members of the Co-op.”
Zinc Air, based in Columbia Falls, is delivering its first field installations this year with its first commercial deployments in 2014. The energy storage systems will be used primarily for smart grid applications and renewable integration of wind and solar.
Flathead Electric Cooperative was contacted by a local journalist recently, inquiring about FEC’s role in economic development. We discussed the Co-op’s 157 employees and their purchases and contributions, along with Flathead Electric’s duty to help strengthen the community through donations. We talked about FEC’s responsibilities in providing affordable power to its membership so people can spend their money otherwise; and we discussed the significant part the utility plays in supporting the Valley’s tax base.
It may come as a surprise to some (as it did to the journalist) that FEC is the largest property tax payer in Flathead County. Flathead Electric contributed approximately $4.3 million to the local economy in 2012, to support schools, roads and so on. FEC pays property taxes on its vehicles, office buildings, 30 substations and other real estate. But it may also surprise people to learn that the Co-op pays property tax on every one of its roughly 50,000 power poles and on each of its 4,500 miles of energized line!
The Co-op’s service territory extends into parts of Lincoln, Lake, Sanders and Park Counties as well, bringing its total property tax contribution to over $4.6 million for 2012.
Have you ever received a postcard in the mail inviting you to a free dinner where you will be shown how to save on your energy costs?
Read what these local residents had to say about their costly encounters:
“This company provided a great meal and a very professional presentation. They convinced me that I could save energy by installing their product. I’ve since learned that the product is basically useless and I’m out $995!”
“I was led to believe that by putting their aluminum 'insulation' in my attic, my electric bills would be cut in half and I would receive a rebate from the Co-op. But that aluminum doesn’t save energy or qualify for a rebate and may even lead to harmful humidity levels in my home. I can’t believe I was duped out of $2,800!”
We encourage members to use our Phone Number Update System, which provides an easy way to update not only your home phone number, but your cell and work phone numbers as well.
Call 751-2928 any time of day and enter your Flathead Electric account number then follow the voice prompts. Keep in mind that the number you designate as your “home” number will be the number that Flathead Electric will call if there is a planned outage in your area.
With a start-up date of September 7, 2012, Flathead Electric Co-op officially began a two-phase power purchase agreement with the City of Whitefish for the advance purchase of electricity generated from the city’s hydro-electric generator. Flathead Electric paid the city $400,000 in advance for energy to be generated and delivered to the power grid during the first phase. This money, plus a $200,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant, provided through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, was used to rebuild the hydroelectric facility. During Phase 2, Flathead Electric will accept generated energy in exchange for energy delivered to select accounts with the Public Works and Parks Departments.
FEC General Manager Ken Sugden says the deal is mutually beneficial: “Pre-purchasing the energy made the project feasible for Whitefish and gives Flathead Electric another local source of clean energy. Eventually, the energy will be used in the City of Whitefish’s own water and sewer pumping loads.” Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns agrees that the deal is reciprocal: “Flathead Electric gets to diversify its power source and, once our loan is offset, the energy goes toward our own consumption. I want to thank FEC for its tremendous effort in making this project go forward.”
Flathead Electric Co-op has received Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) top honors for Excellence in Energy Efficiency! Ross Holter, Energy Services Supervisor at FEC, says the distinction is especially gratifying, considering the quality of nominations: “We shared this recognition with the Snohomish Public Utility District out of Washington State, which is approximately seven times our size in terms of members and staff. I think the BPA was particularly impressed with what our Co-op has been able to accomplish with limited resources.”
In presenting the award, Acting Vice President of BPA, Karen Meadows,
said: “Quite simply, Flathead Electric exemplified each of the criteria
we established.” Here in part are her comments during the recent award
ceremony at BPA headquarters in Portland, Oregon:
“FEC’s achievement was well beyond what would be expected of a utility of their size and geography. They have shown remarkable creativity in the means by which they have promoted their efficiency programs in their largely rural service territory. They have pursued nearly every efficiency opportunity available in all conservation sectors and are adding more programs in 2012, when many of their peers are cutting back. Flathead has demonstrated over and over their willingness to collaborate with their neighboring utilities and host regional events, and they have received high profile recognition for their efforts. What we found most compelling in Flathead’s nomination was the steps they’ve taken to succeed in their service area, and how effective they have been despite the challenges that are inherent in a rural setting. Though Flathead presented us with a wealth of information highlighting their achievements, I’d like to point out some of the programs and accomplishments that stood out:
These efforts have led to remarkable success; in 2011 Flathead acquired more than 2 average megawatts of efficiency--an increase of over 40% from the previous year and a phenomenal achievement given their total load. I am proud to present Flathead with the second annual Award for Excellence in Energy Efficiency.”
Flathead Electric’s energy efficiency campaigns have also been recognized by the Montana Electric Co-op Association and the Northwest Public Power Association, among others in the industry. Cheryl Talley, FEC Director of Energy and Member Services, says the BPA honor, however, is the ultimate stamp of approval: “Flathead Electric has always maintained high standards when it comes to energy efficiency, but the validation of our efforts from BPA will serve to motivate us even further.”
According to BPA data, the Northwest has been a leader in treating energy efficiency and conservation as a power resource for more than 30 years. The Northwest Power Act of 1980 called on the Northwest to give energy conservation top priority in meeting its power needs, and the region quickly learned that a megawatt saved is the equivalent of a megawatt produced. Today, energy efficiency is more important than ever. It is clean and emission free. It is also low cost relative to new energy generating resources. It serves our national goals of reducing our carbon footprint and enhancing our energy independence. In short, it is the world's most environmentally and economically friendly energy resource.
“Flathead Electric’s gas-to-energy facility has the highest uptime capacity in our fleet and one of the highest in the nation.” That’s according to Carl Cortez, Project Director for SCS Energy.
SCS Energy, which specializes in landfill projects on an international scale, installed the system in 2009 and continues to operate the facility at the Flathead County Landfill. Citing a successful business partnership, the FEC Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to renew their contract.
“Initially, this project operated at roughly 96% of capacity and that figure has grown to 99% so far in 2012.” That’s remarkable, Cortez says, especially in light of the extreme weather conditions here in northwest Montana.
The gas-to-energy facility has also surpassed power production
“We’ve gone from producing enough power to energize 900 homes in the Flathead Valley up to approximately 1,600 homes, which is ahead of where we anticipated performance to be at this juncture.”
Funded through Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS), awarded to Flathead Electric in the amount of $3.5 million, the system (the first of its kind in Montana) utilizes a vacuum system to draw the methane gas from the waste within the landfill. Once the gas is captured, it is filtered to remove liquid and particulates, then burned in a 20-cylinder engine. The burning methane drives a 1.6 megawatt electric generator, connected directly to Flathead Electric’s distribution system.
The process has additional value, in that it allows the Solid Waste District to be in compliance with environmental mandates, by preventing methane (a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide) from escaping into the atmosphere or leaking into groundwater under the landfill. Another significant bonus is that since methane gas results from decaying garbage, there will continue to be an ample supply of fuel, as the landfill expands into the future.
Citing the importance of openness and member involvement, trustees of Flathead Electric have voted unanimously to adopt Transparency Standards for the Co-op. “We have always tried to be forthright in representing our member-owners, but adopting these written standards makes it official.” That’s according to President Chris Byrd, who added that while the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association (MECA) has proposed a set of standards for all Co-ops in the state, Flathead Electric’s policies go beyond the norm. “With the obvious exception of members’ personal account information, we want those we serve to be fully aware that they have access to information regarding their Co-op; that they have every right to attend board meetings; and that we embrace their involvement.”
In addition to adopting Transparency Standards, the board also unanimously approved (as they have for the last decade) policies regarding trustee conduct and fiduciary responsibility. Byrd says the policies revolve around mutual respect for their colleagues and accountability to the members. “As trustees, we owe it to each other to engage in good faith, fair and legal dealings. We also owe members our integrity, our loyalty to their interests, and our assurance that we are thorough in researching issues that might impact the Co-op. We understand that we work for the people, and renewing these policies is a restatement of our pledge to them.”
The Board of Trustees for Flathead Electric Co-op has approved a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company, INC. The official term of the agreement is for twenty years, beginning in 2013.
Entering into a long-term agreement assists Stoltze in securing the necessary finances to replace an antiquated boiler and construct a biomass-fueled electric generation facility at their plant near Columbia Falls, Mt. Flathead Electric will purchase an annual average of up to 2.5 megawatts of power at a wholesale rate (9¢ per kWh), and will also receive Renewable Energy Credits in the transaction.
Chuck Roady, Vice President of Stoltze, says the company is very pleased to partner with Flathead Electric: “Not only is this agreement great for the community, but it will provide a renewable energy source and also help manage the forests.”
FEC General Manager, Ken Sugden, says he too, believes the arrangement will be mutually beneficial, adding that both parties have been negotiating in good faith for years. “Stoltze will be able to maintain and strengthen local job opportunities, and Flathead Electric will be able to efficiently distribute electricity in our service territory. Although a small component, this purchase agreement also adds to the Co-op’s renewable energy portfolio, without financially overburdening our members.”
All Co-op members have now received their AMR (Automated Meter Reading) meters, allowing Flathead Electric to offer faster and better service over the years to come. Some members have questions about their new meters, however, and we want to take this opportunity to not only alleviate concerns, but to also explain fully how the technology is going to benefit the members and the Cooperative as a whole:
How does Automated Meter Reading (AMR) work?
Using a power line carrier, FEC can bring meter reading information and other electronic data back from the member’s location to the Cooperative almost instantly.
Do members have a choice in getting a new meter?
No. New AMR meters have been installed on all FEC accounts. The Cooperative has embarked on a system-wide AMR program that changed 100 percent of existing residential and commercial meters to AMR, in order to acquire more accurate information and reduce the need to access a member’s property.
Will the cost of the meters be reflected on my bill?
No. Due to efficiencies gained, the meters will pay for themselves over time.
I am concerned about radio frequency…can’t that be harmful to my health?
The meters do not use radio frequency (RF) to send information to FEC- the information is carried through the power lines only.
Why did we update to the newer system?
The AMR system provides FEC members with numerous member service and cost saving benefits including:
Will meter readers ever need to come to read the meter manually again?
Probably not. Meter readers will no longer regularly need to spend valuable time traveling to every meter for a monthly read.
Since FEC employees will no longer need to read the meter, can obstacles be constructed that may make the meter inaccessible?
No. Reasonable access to equipment still must be maintained. Routine inspections of all meters and services will continue, in order to look for safety hazards, theft or other problems.
What information does the new meter record?
The new meter records an electronic kWh reading of energy usage, the
overall peak demand of the electric account and the number of times the
meter has experienced a loss of power for any reason. It cannot
determine how you are using energy. Some members mistakenly think that
FEC will use the device to monitor what electric devices they are using
in their home - this is not the case.
AMR meters cannot be used for surveillance.
Will someone other than FEC be able to read the new meter?
No. The AMR computer software is especially written for the FEC system. Someone using a home computer will not be able to read this electric meter. All meter data is secure and stored at the meter, then downloaded to the computers at FEC’s headquarters. The FEC meter display is visible for members to be able to check their consumption. All other information and data stored in the meter is secure and the meter is sealed.
Can the Cooperative disconnect electric service using the new meters?
Not without additional equipment. The system can, however, send connect/disconnect orders.
What if my bill reports more kWh usage than normal or I think my meter is not working correctly?
In some cases, members have not had accurate bill reads from the older meters. The new meters will show more accurate reads and eliminate human error, because electronic meters are more accurate than analog or mechanical meters. These AMR’s have been tested and meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) regulations. If you feel there are discrepancies in the meter reads, contact FEC right away to discuss your billing concerns.
Okay, so asking members to actually “embrace their blinks” may be a stretch (resetting clocks is a hassle after all), but it is important to at least understand why your lights sometimes dim or blink, especially during inclement weather. The power lines that serve your home have a variety of protective devices designed to keep your power on during storms. There are several reasons your lights might blink during a storm, but the most common cause is tree movement. Despite our best efforts to keep trees near our lines trimmed on a regular basis, strong winds can cause those trees to make contact with wires. When that happens, your lights may dim, or you might lose power for a few seconds as the system operates to identify and clear the problem. Without the protective equipment, members could experience a prolonged outage instead. If you have an ongoing reason for concern however, don’t hesitate to contact your Cooperative.
Flathead Electric offers options to make your busy life easier. Try our E-Bill, Auto Pay, or Pay by Phone options. E-bill provides you with the option to pay by check, debit or credit card. Auto Pay automatically deducts the amount due from an account you designate.
Pay by Phone enables you to call us at 1-877-761-4637 to pay by check, debit or credit card. Save a stamp and sign up for one of these easy bill paying options today at Flathead Electric Cooperative.
Updated: Thursday, April 11, 2013