March 2021 Light Reading Newsletter

March 2021 Light Reading Header

Download March 2021 Light Reading (PDF)


After The Storm

The severe and prolonged windstorm that hit Montana on January 13 caused power outages across our service territory as trees tumbled onto power lines, taking them down as fast as crews could put them back up. Restoration was steady but slowed by the sheer amount of debris and damage to our system. We appreciate the support and concern that was expressed for the safety of our crews as they battled the elements.  

Flathead Electric Co-op (FEC) received several good questions from our members over the course of this event: “Will I get a refund for the time my power was out?” (No, you’re only charged for power you use, so when your power is out you aren’t being charged for any usage.) and “Why don’t you cut down more trees to prevent outages?” (We have a robust, year-round tree trimming schedule within our rights-of-way). However, we want to address the question our members asked the most during this storm: 

Jan 2021 Windstorm
Co-op crews work to restore power on Jan. 13, 2021.

“Why doesn’t FEC just replace all overhead (OH) with underground (UG) lines?”

Here’s what you should know about this topic:

Since 2000,


miles of new UG line has been added to FEC’s system. (1,625 miles will take you all the way down the West coast. If you start in Seattle and go South for 1600 miles, you’ll end up in Tijuana, Mexico.)

Seattle to Tijuana


FEC has


total miles of energized line, over half of which is UG.

March LR UG to OH

UG line is not feasible at all locations including wetlands, high water tables, river crossings, for existing structures, or where there are rocky soil conditions. 

Underground Conditions

Members generally decide whether new line extensions are installed below or above ground. That decision is usually based on costs and aesthetics, with most new services being UG installation.

Members are required to install UG lines when there is limited access for Co-op crews to complete the OH installation, for safety regulations (clearances from signs, buildings, pedestrian traffic, etc.), and when state permits require it.

Underground Excavation

Besides the cost, there are other challenges to installing underground line. Although UG may decrease the frequency of outages, it can also increase the duration of outages if there is a cable fault. It takes much longer to restore power when lines must be excavated to repair.

Cost Comparison

There are too many variables to provide an exact cost comparison between installing OH and UG, but shorter line extensions can cost three times as much to go UG, while long extensions can reach upwards of ten times the cost of OH. Replacing our entire system would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. As a member-owned cooperative, those increased costs would fall onto our members through our rates.

Rainbow to Red Owl Conversion Site

The Co-op does constant analysis on where capital system improvements (like OH to UG conversions) would benefit the membership as a whole. A good example is the conversion project along Rainbow Drive and Red Owl Road in the Swan Lake area where it made sense because costs of maintenance and repair after storms were rising above the costs of an UG install.

FEC has always been (and will continue to be) committed to maintaining a balance on our system to provide reliable service and affordable rates now and for future generations.


FEC achieved significant energy savings in 2020

Energy Efficiency Savings

The Co-op is pleased to report that it saved enough energy through efficiency efforts last year to energize 352 average-usage homes for a year. The following are examples of energy/money saving accomplishments for 2020:

  • Members and program partners were paid over $931,357 for energy efficiency efforts that saved a combined total of 4,215 megawatt hours of electricity.
  • Our residential members received over $377,415 in rebates.
  • Our commercial members received over  $553,942 in rebates.
  • Since 2009, Flathead Electric’s efficiency programs have saved members and the Cooperative as-a-whole, over 113,215 megawatt hours, which is enough energy to power over 9,352 homes for a year.

To learn how you can save energy and money, call (406) 751-4483 and ask for the Energy Efficiency Team.


FEC announces youth essay winner

Whiteney Bodily
Whitney Brynne Bodily
Sophomore | Columbia Falls High School

Our Youth Tour Essay Contest this year asked applicants “How has reliable electricity benefitted you and your community through the COVID-19 pandemic?” Whitney Brynne Bodily, a sophomore at Columbia Falls High School, wrote the winning essay and earned a $1,000 scholarship. Here are a few excerpts from her essay: 

“I went from in class teaching to online learning in a matter of weeks. Google Meets, online testing and email communication was what it took to finish the school year while maintaining my academic goal of a 4.0. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to continue my studies through this difficult time.”  

“I’m thankful for Flathead Electric Co-op, whose dedication enables us to have consistent electricity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

As stated before these are just excerpts, but you are welcomed to read Whitney’s entire essay, it’s a great piece!


Co-op Connection

Get to know the people working for you

Brian Plunkett

Brian Plunkett | Engineering Manager

Q. What do you bring to your Co-op?

A. Over 22 years of experience as an engineer in the utility industry. I also try to bring an optimistic attitude and promote a positive environment for my coworkers.  Even when times get challenging, I try to maintain the perspective that I don’t have to come to work…I get to come to work.

Q. What’s the best thing about serving Flathead Electric Co-op? 

A. The quality of service it provides to its membership, which I believe is a product of the organizational support the Co-op gives to its employees.

Q. If you had a super-power, what would it be?

A. Time travel. I want the ability to know what the future will bring in order to justify my decisions today.


Roundup Report

Grant to help Marion Fire District in safer accident response

Marion Fire District

A $9,000 Roundup for Safety grant will help the Marion Fire District with safer response to accidents by providing air bags for lifting vehicles, as well as providing vehicle stabilization struts. The application emphasized that US Highway 2 is a major transit path with 23 miles of that highway crossing directly through their district. Due to the winding nature, high speeds, and inclement road conditions, the wrecks are often complex and require both extrication of patients and vehicle stabilization.

February Projects Funded

  • Elrod Elementary School
    Classroom emergency kits $700
  • Friends of the Flathead Avalanche Center
    Sensor calibration, heated wind vane and anemometer $5,900

Roundup for Safety is a voluntary program for FEC members who round up their electric bills to the next dollar. This money goes into a fund for community safety projects.