When Mark Johnson was growing up in Great Falls, he never envisioned a future in the electric industry. But Johnson, who went to the University of Oregon to become a CPA (he also earned an MBA from the University of Montana), says he feels very fortunate that his career turned out the way it did. “After working at an accounting firm for several years, I was hired as Flathead Electric’s Finance Director in 1999. I didn’t know exactly what the industry would entail, but I knew right away that this was a great place to be. I’m proud to be a part of the Cooperative and appreciate the support I’ve received from the Board of Trustees and staff.” Johnson assumes the position of General Manager as of November 1, after serving eight-years as Assistant General Manager. Retiring GM, Ken Sugden, says this was a natural progression for Johnson and is content to pass the baton. “Mark knows the ins and outs of the electric utility business and is keenly aware of the challenges ahead. He’s very involved in all aspects of the industry and serves on several state and national boards to keep informed on power supply, technology, and regulatory issues impacting Flathead Electric.” And those regulatory issues are what Johnson views as the greatest challenge now and into the future. “We operate in an ever increasing regulatory environment and I don’t expect that to change. In fact, we can anticipate further governmental mandates down the road. The other significant challenge for us is to serve a continually growing load base with a cap on our allotment of federal hydropower. New and alternative energy resources are generally more expensive.” One thing that is not a challenge Johnson says, however, is the talented Flathead Electric workforce. “Ken did a great job of putting the right people in the right positions here and it’s an extraordinary team. I also made important connections region wide through Ken’s mentorship. He was instrumental in my professional growth and really paved the way for a smooth transition.” Besides participating in industry relations, Johnson is also very involved with the local community. He is on the Board of Directors for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Flathead Food Bank and is recognized as a frequent official for local high school football games. “Our group covers high school games from Eureka to Bigfork.” In his rare free time, Johnson likes boating, golfing and being with his family. Although Johnson never imagined he would ultimately serve an electric cooperative at the start of his career, now he says he can’t imagine not being involved in this industry. “I enjoy being part of a people-based organization. I also appreciate having to be nimble, because this industry is complex and constantly evolving—rarely a dull moment. I may not have started out in this business, but I sure appreciate all the fortuitous bounces that led me here to Flathead Electric.”
Implementation of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Flathead Electric Co-op and F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company began October 1st. The official term of the agreement, signed in February of 2012, is for twenty years.
Entering into the long-term agreement assisted 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. Flathead Electric will purchase an annual average of up to 2.5 megawatts of power at a wholesale rate, 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 had 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.”
Flathead Electric Co-op today, presented Plum Creek Timber Company with a check for $386,635 in a transaction made possible through an energy efficiency incentive program sponsored by the Bonneville Power Administration. The program encourages industrial customers to install energy-saving technology by providing significant rebates toward the cost of the new systems.
A year in the making, Plum Creek recently completed a compressed air upgrade at the Columbia Falls Sawmill that will save an estimated 1,765,185 kilowatt-hours per year. Cost of the project was $522,337 and included the installation of a new 300 Horsepower variable frequency drive air compressor, advanced digital controls, a 1,500 gallon receiver and an assortment of peripheral equipment.
Plum Creek was one of the first in the Northwest to participate in the FEC/BPA Energy Smart Industrial program, and has completed 11 custom projects to date (for an estimated annual energy savings of 13,931,212 kilowatt hours) and has received incentives totaling $2,181,267.59. Plum Creek management has incorporated energy efficiency into operations and maintenance decisions and participated at all their Montana business sites, including the Evergreen Complex, Columbia Falls Medium Density Fiber Board, Sawmill and Plywood. Future projects are planned as well.
“Plum Creek is committed to reducing the impact of our operations”, said Tom Ray, Vice President of Montana Operations. “By working with the BPA and FEC rebate program, we were able to reduce our energy consumption and cover a greater part of the costs of the new system.” Don Newton, Flathead Electric Key Account Representative, said the Plum Creek project is the largest stand-alone projects FEC has undertaken with an industrial customer.“Our goal is to encourage other members to invest in technologies that will help them achieve energy efficiencies and reduce costs”, he said. “We consider this project to be a great example of what can be accomplished.”
Flathead Electric Cooperative General Manager, Ken Sugden, will retire toward the end of this year, but says he doesn’t want the pomp and ceremony typically associated with such an occasion. Ken says he might actually just slip out the door when no one’s looking. “I’m not going to make a grand exit. I don’t like goodbyes…I’m too emotional.” After Ken slips out that door, he is looking forward to spending more time with family and enjoying that which led him here in the first place—the natural amenities of the Flathead Valley. Prior to assuming the General Manager position at FEC in January, 2004, Ken managed the Franklin County Public Utility District in Pasco, Washington for 15 years. He began his career in the electric utility business in 1967, after obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Electrical Engineering. He has worked as a consultant to several Northwest cooperatives and other publicly-owned utilities, as well as engineering design and analysis. Ken’s impressive array of public performance includes representing boards, committees and charitable organizations (local, state and regional) too numerous to list.
When asked what he is most proud of accomplishing at Flathead Electric, Ken says he believes he is leaving it in better condition than he found it. “I arrived when the Co-op was in somewhat of a tumultuous state. For different reasons, prior general managers had come and gone in a relatively short period of time. I feel I was able to calm things down and establish a good working relationship with the Trustees, who I believe all sincerely want to do what’s right and best for the membership. I also feel I’ve been able to strengthen the staff here by hiring some exceptionally dedicated professionals.” And by all accounts, Ken’s hands-off managing style has allowed employees to thrive. “My motto has always been to hire people smarter than me, then let them do their jobs. I don’t believe in micromanaging.”
Another achievement during Ken’s tenure was the implementation of Interest Based Bargaining. “I don’t know of another electric co-op that has been able to put this non-adversarial type of negotiating into effect, but it was embraced by our Union and has proven quite productive for Flathead Electric. Our various departments work well together and I’m confident that I’m leaving the Co-op in capable hands.” Like Ken, Assistant General Manager, Mark Johnson, says he’s not big on goodbyes either. “I’m happy for Ken and his move to the next chapter in life, but he leaves big shoes to fill. He always led by example, and we all have tremendous respect for him. Ken may slip out the door sometime in coming months, but his legacy in the industry and at the Co-op is here to stay.”
Your Cooperative’s board of directors and employees would like to thank Flathead Electric member/owners for rewarding the Co-op with a score of 81 out of 100 in the recent American Customer Service Index (ACSI) survey. Your feedback compares Flathead Electric Cooperative favorably to the Cooperative Difference Survey National Benchmark group - also scoring 81. Flathead Electric outperformed on several levels relating to aggregate scores for investor-owned utilities, municipal electric companies and the energy utility sector, which all scored in the mid to high 70s.
Developed by the American Society for Quality, by the University of Michigan School of Business and CFI group that measures customer satisfaction in 200 leading corporations, the ACSI is the only independent national standard of customer satisfaction available in the United States. Flathead Electric uses this survey to weigh against other utilities and make sure we are aligning our goals to continue doing what we do well and to improve in areas where we may be falling short.
401 members participated in the survey and had the opportunity to offer additional comments to several of the questions. The Co-op scored relatively strong in areas such as helping members manage their costs, keeping members informed when working in their area and communicating to them about rising costs. Demographic information offered valuable insights to the technology attributes of our membership, finding that the majority of members own either a desktop or laptop computer; 34% own a “smart phone” like a Droid or iPhone, and 46% of membership participates in online social networking sites. We were pleased to find out that 79% have taken steps to reduce home electricity usage, and more than 80% of members have at least one energy saving compact fluorescent bulb in their home- with over 50% having six or more. 70% of members read at least some of this newsletter. Thank you!
While this is a customer satisfaction survey, Flathead Electric Cooperative’s member/owners are much more than just customers. Ken Sugden, FEC General Manager states: “This is an important distinction with Cooperatives, and one of the most significant findings in this survey was that 57% of our membership views themselves only as a customer, particularly younger members of the Co-op. We definitely need to better communicate to everyone the fact that member/owners have a voice in how this Co-op operates and emphasize that this is a not-for-profit business looking out for everyone’s best interests to keep rates stable and electricity reliable. “
That is the Cooperative Difference
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.
“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: Friday, November 08, 2013