Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC) was recently selected as one of five Cooperatives in the nation to participate in a Community-Integrated Distributed Energy Resilience (CIDER) Initiative, a $4 million project led by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). The project’s purpose is to advance grid resiliency through increased reliability and power supply cost savings. 

“As stewards of our community’s energy future, we’re thrilled about this opportunity to explore new grid strategies that can help us address evolving grid challenges,” explains FEC Community Relations Manager Katie Pfennigs. “Our participation in this initiative reflects the Co-op’s continued commitment to collaborative approaches and innovative solutions that empower our members, uphold our commitment to power affordability, and enhance grid reliability.” 

As part of the study, participating cooperatives, including Flathead Electric, will pilot distributed energy resource (DER) programs that utilize software to shift or reduce electric demand from participating members when extreme weather conditions impact the grid or when power prices spike. While members who participate in these programs will benefit directly from reduced electrical demand during peak periods, these programs are ultimately designed to benefit all Co-op members by ensuring reliable power supply and keeping electricity bills lower. 

Grant funding will provide a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) and home energy optimization or “virtual battery” software. Together, these platforms can automatically adjust various behind-the-meter resources that many members already use, including rooftop solar, electric vehicle chargers, water heaters, battery storage, and smart thermostats.  

The project will also help FEC assess and optimize member-facing energy programs and inform the development of future programs that provide maximum benefits to all members of the Co-op. Ashley Keltner, FEC Distributed Energy Specialist, summed up the project by saying, “In plain speak, the CIDER project will help us learn more about the health of our current grid in the Flathead Valley and what we can do to strengthen it using what is already available to us, rather than investing huge sums of money into new technology. The project asks, How can the existing grid serve growing demand in the Flathead? In three years, we hope to have some of those answers.” 

NRECA software development partners Camus Energy and Emulate Energy contributed $1.1 million towards the initiative. The DOE provided $2.9 million. The project is expected to be underway this summer, and the results will be shared with utilities nationwide. 

“Electric co-ops make an ideal laboratory for this software and research on resilience,” said David Pinney, CIDER principal investigator. “These rural systems face greater challenges than urban systems, and the whole nation benefits by co-ops serving in this project to manage a more reliable grid.”  

The other co-ops selected to participate by NRECA are: 

As part of the study, for a limited time FEC is offering a chance for each residential member who completes the Energy Survey to be entered in a monthly drawing for a $50 electric bill credit. The survey is open to all residential members of Flathead Electric Cooperative on a first-come basis until the target response rate has been reached.  Survey data will help FEC develop future energy programs that benefit all Co-op members. To learn more or take the energy use survey, visit flatheadelectric.com/energysurvey. 

 

Courtney Stone

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