Part 2 of a special series on Resource Adequacy issues.

These days, electricity powers just about everything. You might hear the term “beneficial electrification,” which refers to the electrification of a rapidly increasing number of objects that were not previously powered at all (like Grandpa’s heated gloves and your dog’s new GPS collar) or were previously powered by something other than electricity (your gasoline-powered weedwhacker and leaf blower).

While we’re charging everything from our watches to our cars, the Northwest is also seeing an incredible population increase. This combination means unprecedented growth in the demand on our electric grid. In addition to these grid pressures, baseload electric generation plants run by carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and natural gas are being retired. Some hydropower facilities are threatened, too. This means there is or will be less baseload electricity available when more electricity is needed. The combination of these factors is troubling.

This map of Flathead County shows new electric services (past 5 years) as green dots. This is not our entire service area — Libby is not pictured here, but has also experienced significant growth. Map courtesy of Flathead Electric Co-op’s GIS Department

The question members ask us most frequently: is there enough power? The short answer: yes, for now. As we look forward, answering questions about resource adequacy becomes more complicated. Will there be enough power and (adequate transmission resources to deliver that power) to maintain balanced supply and demand across the electric grid? What can we do to ensure that the lights stay on and energy stays affordable in the future?

Increasing reliable electric generation and increasing the capacity of the grid to bring that electricity to our homes and businesses is an expensive proposition. Some of those tasks may require Congressional action. All of them will require members working with their co-ops and partners working across industries, agencies, and state lines to ensure the continued reliability and affordability of electricity in Northwest Montana, the Pacific Northwest, and the United States.

In January of 2024, your Co-op hit our highest-ever system peak, at 442 megawatts of electricity demand. BPA’s current limit (the amount of electric capacity they can provide us) is 527 megawatts.

At Flathead Electric Cooperative, our job is to provide you with affordable, reliable electricity. Our financial wizards, engineers, and operations crews constantly discuss how to augment and improve the existing electric grid responsibly while keeping rates affordable. Our data analysts crunch numbers and try to predict how much power our area will require next month, next year, and even in 2033. Our executive team works with our wholesale power provider (the Bonneville Power Administration), industry partners, and elected officials to negotiate power contracts, plan for the development and acquisition of new resources, and inform policy decisions that impact public power and the future of our Cooperative. These conversations are hard. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer for hardening our grid to prepare for future growth.

However, one way your Co-op is preparing is by expanding opportunities and programs that empower members to help with grid management by reducing or shifting their demand on the electric system. You can help with this effort (and possibly discover ways to reduce your electric bill) by taking your Co-op’s Energy Survey. As part of a grant we received to create future energy programs, Flathead Electric is collecting information about how our members use energy in their homes. This data will be used by your Co-op to develop programs that can help keep your electric rates lower — which will ultimately benefit all Co-op members. You can take the survey here.

As we navigate future challenges, your Co-op encourages you to stay engaged and informed about resource adequacy and energy industry issues. We are all impacted by choices made about electricity, in our own homes, in our state, in our region, and in Washington, D.C., too. While we may not have all the answers today, we hope you’ll continue to connect with your Co-op and participate in discussions and decisions that shape our energy future. Together, we can work towards ensuring a reliable and sustainable energy supply for our community now and for future generations.

Courtney Stone

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