“It’ll be difficult to measure the success of this strategy, but there are definitely trees that are not going to fall on power lines as a result.” That’s according to FEC Director of Operations, Frank Kauzlarich, who coordinated a helicopter snow removal operation December 29, in a 22-mile area from West Glacier to the south end of Pinnacle. “We were thinking outside the box on this a bit, but we had heard from other utilities that this kind of preventative maintenance has been highly effective, and conditions were ripe.”
The conditions Kauzlarich referred to, were piles of snow frozen on trees with no warming predicted to melt it off and no wind in the forecast to blow it off--leaving it primed to overload the trees and tumble them onto poles and wires. “The folks in these forested areas have experienced a series of weather-related outages, and we’re just trying to mitigate that situation the best we can.”
With the help of an aviation service, Kauzlarich flew over the Co-op’s right-of-ways as the downward force from the helicopter blades blasted the snow from tree after tree. “Looking back where we had flown, we saw a stretch of green instead of white, clearly reflecting the value of this effort.“
“Thank you for getting the lights back on in the middle of the night
under such hazardous conditions.”
That is just one of the many comments received at Flathead Electric after a severe November windstorm led to more than 100 outages from one end of Co-op service territory to the other; the widest spread outage event on record. 60 mile per hour wind gusts toppled hundreds of trees onto power lines and poles, leaving a vast swath of debris in their wake. The fast and furious storm saw employees working in very difficult and dangerous conditions.
Thankfully no one was critically hurt. Although there was significant structural damage, most members had power back within a couple of days (some neighboring utilities were unable to restore full service for weeks). The FEC Call Center answered a record number of calls--1,621--in one day alone.
Despite the fact that over 13,000 members were impacted, the Co-op enjoyed more commendations than complaints, and for that we offer our sincerest appreciation. Thank you for your patience, understanding, support and concern. Together, we will continue to weather the storms.
If you call the Co-op to report an outage using the phone number listed on your account, then the outage at your address is automatically registered to the system and will be scheduled for restoration. If you use a number that has not been provided to Flathead Electric, however, the outage location cannot be promptly confirmed. So if you have a new phone number, please notify Flathead Electric so we can serve you as quickly as possible during an outage or otherwise as needed.
Flathead Electric has 1,035 members registered as having a “medical necessity.” These members rely on electronic equipment for their health and wellbeing. So, what happens if there is an interruption of power to their home?
When Flathead Electric conducts a planned outage, for repairs or maintenance, medical necessity members are notified in advance in order to make arrangements. But inevitably, most outages occur randomly, so it’s best to be prepared.
First, make provisions ahead of time with family, friends or even a healthcare facility that can accommodate you and your equipment should the need arise.
Next, advise the Co-op of your situation. You will be listed in the database as a priority. During an outage, a red flag appears on the Co-op’s computer system, indicating to dispatchers what the utility considers “critical load” areas, such as hospitals, schools and members with medical necessities.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that while Flathead Electric understands the sense of urgency members experience during an outage, it is not feasible for crews to respond immediately to individual residents. Power is restored as quickly as possible to the most members as possible, but the process requires a series of actions and safety measures.
The bottom line is, whether you have a medical- necessity or not, it’s always a good idea to have your Plan B… ready to go.
Citing its vigorous energy efficiency programs and pioneering of renewable energy projects, Governor Steve Bullock presented Flathead Electric Co-op with a “Montana Innovator Award at a ceremony in Missoula August 27.
Accepting on the Co-op’s behalf was Ross Holter, Supervisor of Energy Services, who the Governor described as someone who “wakes up in the middle of the night calculating cost savings.” “The work of staff, management and the board of Flathead Electric, has resulted in robust energy efficiency programs that saved more than 117,000 megawatt hours of electricity through 2014, and have saved every year since the inception of the programs in the 90’s. That’s enough to power almost 10,000 homes on an annual basis!” “FEC also owns Montana’s first and only “Landfill Gas-to Energy” facility and installed Montana’s first “Chargepoint” electric vehicle charging station. Flathead Electric entered into a power purchase agreement with Stoltze Land and Lumber to facilitate the construction of their biomass electricity plant and also helped redeploy a hydro-electric plant for the City of Whitefish. Now, they have built Montana’s first community solar array, the “Solar Utility Network” or “SUN” project.”
Award recipients were selected by Montanans for Good Jobs and Clean Air, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations and businesses united in support of a responsible energy future. Bullock told the crowd that one of the most pressing challenges will be creating more good jobs in the energy economy, while at the same time keeping the environment clean. “That’s what we are doing here today; honoring the businesses that are looking to the future and leading the way in renewable energy and job creations.” Award winners received their own supply of “Montana Innovator Ale”, which Holter says was “quite tasty”. He still has some in the refrigerator, however, adding that saving is always good whether it’s on costs, energy…or beer.
*Flathead Electric reminds our members that panels are still available for purchase in the Solar Utility Network. Call 751-4483 or visit flatheadelectric.com and click on the SUN.
(Flathead Beacon May 21, 2015)
A 49-year-old man who was stabbed May 9 outside of a local bar may have died from his injuries if it hadn’t been for a Kalispell police officer’s use of a tourniquet.
According to Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset, officers began carrying tourniquets last fall after the department was awarded a grant through Flathead Electric Cooperative’s RoundUp for Safety program. The program awards grants to organizations by allocating money that Flathead Electric service members contribute by rounding their monthly bills up to the next dollar. On average, it adds about $8 to a home’s electricity bills each year.
“It’s nice when you have a program like this that has been doing a great thing for so long, and in this case we can show a direct benefit,” Nasset said. “It saved this victim’s life.”
Nasset said a member of the Kalispell Police Department’s SWAT Team, Ben Sutton, learned of the importance of tourniquets during his SWAT training, then took the initiative of applying for a grant through the RoundUp for Safety Program.
“He learned of the life-saving abilities of tourniquets, not only to fellow officers but also to victims and suspects, and the important ability of applying immediate first aid, especially in a situation where there is major trauma and significant bleeding,” Nasset said. “The chance of survival is much greater if a tourniquet is properly applied immediately rather than waiting for medical personnel to arrive.”
In the early morning hours of May 9, police responded to a report of a stabbing in the parking lot of a bar on U.S. Highway 2 West, Nasset said. The man had suffered multiple stab and slashing wounds, mainly to his extremities, and witnesses to the assault were attempting to stanch the profuse bleeding.
Officer Jesse Allen immediately applied a tourniquet to what he observed was an arterial bleed on the man’s left leg.
Medical staff later acknowledged that the stabbing victim might have succumbed to his injuries if it were not for the proper application of a tourniquet.
The suspect in the case was arrested May 14. The victim underwent emergency surgery and has since been released from the hospital.
Nasset said the RoundUp for Safety program has also provided funds to purchase ballistic helmets and medical kits for the SWAT team.
Flathead Electric recognizes the fact that social media is an increasing part of day-to-day interactions with friends, family, businesses, organizations and interest groups. With a goal to create dynamic interaction with our membership, we have established our presence in the world of social media on two of the most popular forums:Facebook and Twitter. The Co-op plans to use these platforms for news, sharing, program information, public interest and member interaction that is not time sensitive.
The majority of the time, Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Co-op will be monitored during business hours. However, Co-op staff will assess the need to communicate “real time” situations as they arise. Outages should still be reported through a phone call to the Co-op at 406-751-4449 or 1-800-406-0762. Outage reports are monitored 24 hours/day and we need your reports to help us establish where an outage may be taking place. Please keep your phone number updated on your account to help us further! We continue to assess the best tools to interact with our members based on how you would like to hear from and communicate with us.
If you would like to “Like” us on Facebook, our official page can be found as: Flathead Electric Cooperative, Inc. If you would like to “Follow” us on Twitter, our “handle” is @FlatheadElec. See you in the world of social media, but don’t worry, we are still just a phone call away! #interactwithus #weloveourmembers
Flathead Electric Co-op has completed installation of Montana’s first Chargepoint Vehicle Charging Station in the front parking lot of the Kalispell Headquarters.
The charging station will be listed in a database and available for folks who want to pull in and power-up their electric vehicles (EV’s). If any members in our service territory drive an EV, please contact Flathead Electric.
One goal of the project is to find out how many plug-in vehicles there are in the Flathead and to gauge charging habits of drivers. We also want to evaluate any opportunities for alternative rate design that would minimize FEC’s power costs, since this load could be flexible for the time of day it is charged.
In addition, we hope to determine the various locations of these vehicles during the day, for possible future deployment of another charging station. In the interim, the Co-op will be gathering data from the charging of employee Wade Harris’ Chevy Volt to analyze the costs, benefits, and impacts of this utilization on the electric system.
The ultimate goal behind both new projects is to better prepare for these types of technical innovations in the future.
At its monthly members’ meeting on January 8, the Executive Committee of the Public Power Council (PPC) elected officers for the 2015-2016 term, and chose FEC’s General Manager, Mark Johnson, as Chairman. Johnson is the first Executive Committee member from Montana to serve in this capacity. PPC Executive Director Scott Corwin said, “PPC is very fortunate to have Johnson at the helm. The Northwest public power community will be very well-served by his expertise and leadership.” Johnson says he is excited for the opportunity to serve. “I look forward to working with the Committee, other member utilities, and the PPC staff to handle the many issues facing public power over the next two years.”
The Public Power Council, established in 1966, is an association that represents over 100 consumer-owned electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest. PPC’s mission is to preserve and protect the benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System for consumer-owned utilities. Johnson says it is a key forum to identify, discuss and build consensus around energy and utility issues. “There is strength in numbers, so it is important to have these regional connections and conversations. No one utility itself can confront the challenges of BPA rates, regulation mandates and so on by itself. Although we are associated with many regional entities who have varying interests, there is a common goal--to protect the interests of our members.”
Johnson brings longevity to his new role, attending Council meetings since 2006. And Flathead Electric has historically been deemed a leader in the region in terms of power generation, energy efficiency and overall participation with the public power industry. FEC has also generally enjoyed support from its congressional delegation. Johnson says it’s significant that he is the first Chair from Montana. “We are on the eastern side of the Bonneville Power system, as opposed to being situated along the I-5 Corridor, so it’s important that our perspectives be heard.”
The Public Power Council is highly influential in the energy industry. Representatives are frequently called to testify in Washington D.C. on key topics such as the Columbia River Treaty, the Bonneville Power Administration and hydropower, etc… Johnson says he appreciates a seat at the table to do his part in, “keeping power rates affordable for our members.”
Flathead Electric wants to advise its members concerning reports from people who’ve received fraudulent phone calls from solicitors posing as Co-op employees. The imposters ask the consumers to provide credit card or other financial account information and personally identifiable information over the phone. One angle of this scam is to say the consumer owes on his or her account and will have service shut off unless information-such as the number for a prepaid credit card-is provided immediately. It is not the policy of Flathead Electric to ask personal questions of its members or to threaten members with immediate disconnect if there is a balance on their account. The Co-op follows a comprehensive series of procedures with regards to delinquent accounts to find an equitable solution for all concerned. Should you receive a call similar to those reported, do not release your personal information and please notify the Co-op immediately. Local law enforcement agencies should also be advised when illegal activity is suspected. In addition, if you are concerned about protecting yourself from identity theft or feel you may be a victim, you can find more information by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft site at www.ftc.gov/idtheft
Early this spring, four of Flathead Electric’s power poles were inadvertently set on fire by people conducting debris burns.
And according to Assistant Operations Superintendent, Al Thorson, the problem seems to be on the rise. “I don’t know if this dilemma can be attributed solely to an increase in population, but it seems to be occurring more frequently over the last couple of years.”
For durability through extreme weather events, power poles used by Flathead Electric are treated with a preservative known to be highly resistant to rot. Thorson says they are also, however, highly flammable. “If fire reaches one of these poles, there’s no stopping it. Our crews, along with various fire departments, have already had to respond several times this year.” Just as it’s essential to have power lines located before digging in the ground, Thorson says it is equally important to be aware of the location of power poles and overhead lines on or near your property. “They’re expensive to replace, and when you add labor costs of installation and restoration from power outages that might occur, you have a pricey situation for members and all concerned.”
What is being done to secure the power grid against terrorism at Flathead Electric Cooperative?
That was a question posed by a member at the FEC Annual Meeting in March, and it’s a timely one because the issue has come to the forefront with a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. The report projects that the U.S. could suffer a coast-to coast blackout if saboteurs knocked out just nine—four in the East, three in the West and two in Texas—of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations on a scorching summer day. The article went on to say the forecast is based on a FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) analysis indicating the loss of those key substations could plunge the country into darkness for weeks, if not months.
Some federal officials say those conclusions overstate the grid’s vulnerability, and Flathead Electric’s Director of Engineering, Jason Williams, says he is skeptical as well. “Let’s look at what happened in California, for example. Snipers shot holes into the cooling systems sustaining 17 giant transformers that supply all of Silicon Valley. Although the transformers were destroyed, Pacific Gas & Electric (the utility that operates those transformers) was able to avoid a large scale outage by rerouting power from another source.”
Williams says smaller utilities, like Flathead Electric, are less likely to be the target of terrorist activities, because while an attack on our system would impact members in this service territory, it would have no effect on the national grid. “Unlike the massive utilities that intertie with each other for generation and transmission, we are isolated within our own infrastructure.”
Some of the most difficult decisions facing utilities today concern security measures and weighing the costs versus the benefits. Flathead Electric could fortify its substations like Fort Knox-increasing rates drastically-but if the transmission system that delivers our power supply were compromised, it would all have been an effort in futility.
That said, however, the Co-op has a strong culture of safety and security and continuously evaluates system protection. “We are both proactive and reactive to mitigating risks regarding changing technologies, regulations and all of the various industry dynamics” says Williams. “We enforce all required codes, we have contingency plans in place and two-way communications. We regularly inspect and monitor our substations and equipment and we have surveillance of Co-op property. Our data is backed up daily at a separate undisclosed location; we have alternate meeting sites and otherwise do everything we think makes sense financially and practically for Flathead Electric.”
Williams says we are more susceptible to outages from weather events than we are from terrorist activity, but either way power would be restored in a conventional manner. “There’s no guarantee on how quickly we could reenergize, depending on the magnitude of the situation, but we have redundancy built into the system. So we would identify the problem area, redirect power and activate one line at a time, just as it would be done on a national level. If need be, we would request aid from a neighboring utility and borrow a transformer or other supplies if ours were damaged. There’s strength in numbers and while we Montanans are typically very independent and resourceful, we also extend our cooperative principles to our neighbors, be they in our local communities, throughout the region, or to our fellow Americans across the country. The adage is true that “united we stand.”
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
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 accountingfor 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.
“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.
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.
Updated: Thursday, December 03, 2015