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Economic and dam related articles

Co-op Added More Than
2,000 Meters in 2021 Alone

Chris Peterson
Hungry Horse News, April 27, 2022

Johnson explained that the Co-op went to the demand charge model because
it is charged more by the Bonneville Power Administration at peak hours.

Water runs through spillway gates of Lower Monumental Dam on the Lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. Increased spills benefit salmon. If one is looking for hard numbers behind the latest boom in the Flathead, one has to look no further than Flathead Electric Co-op. At Saturday's annual meeting, Co-op manager Mark Johnson noted the Co-op installed 2,061 new meters in 2021 alone.

It now has 71,622 meters servicewide and 56,280 members. In 1999, it had about 40,000 meters. Since 2011, there's been a 17% increase in the number of members.

Still, the Co-op has had the same number of employees for years now -- 156.

"Our employees are incredible," he said. "They do great work day in and day out."

Johnson credited technology for the efficiencies in employment. He noted automated metering systems not only making billing easier, they also pinpoint outages quickly, so crews can respond quickly as well.

For the fourth year in a row, the Co-op will have a revenue neutral rate adjustment. Some folks, however, could see a bump in their bills, depending on when they use their power and how much they use. Conversely, others might actually see a drop in their bills.

The demand charge was increased from 56 cents a kilowatt hour to 88 cents a kilowatt hour during peak times, but the energy charge was reduced 2.1% for all usage blocks.

The demand charge is what a residential customers pay for power from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m.

For example, a resident might have an overall kilowatt hour usage of 1197 for a month, but have a peak demand of 10.24 kilowatt hours. In that case, the bill went up $1.42 because the demand charge went from $5.73 to $9.01. But the energy charge went from $84.19 down to $82.34 because of the energy charge drop.

The best way to save on electricity bills? Try to use peak power at off times, such as doing wash at noon if possible, or running the dishwasher or taking showers later at night instead of first thing in the morning. Johnson explained that the Co-op went to the demand charge model because it is charged more by the Bonneville Power Administration at peak hours. The BPA controls federal power sources across the Pacific Northwest, including the Hungry Horse dam.

BPA supplies 97% of the Co-op electricity.

Johnson told the crowd that inflation, growth and the potential loss of dams on the lower Snake River are all cause for concerns.

Like many businesses, the Co-op is seeing increases in costs to equipment and supplies, so inflation is a worry moving forward. The loss of dams, which Johnson said is gaining momentum, is also a concern.

There's a growing push to remove dams on the lower Snake River as proponents have long held they hurt fish runs of salmon and steelhead.

But opponents claim the fish are doing poorly even in river systems that don't have dams and removing the dams would damage the regional economy and would mean a 20% to 25% hike in power costs across the Northwest.

There are also economies like agricultural and recreation that rely on the reservoirs behind the dams.

Johnson said the removal of the dams would likely take decades, if it does come about, but it's closer to reality than it ever has been. The Co-op urged members to oppose the dams and even handed out postcards urging Montana Sen. Jon Tester to oppose their removal as well.

Growth is also on the Co-op's front burner. There's growing demand from Bitcoin farms, marijuana grow operations and electric cars could become the norm rather than the exception in the coming years, as manufacturers transition to electric vehicles.

"They're coming whether we like it or not," Johnson said of electric cars.

Another big concern is wildfires and cyber attacks to the system. Periodically, the Co-op has a security group try to break through its firewalls electronically to see if they can be hacked. In addition security people also try to break into facilities physically to see if the security systems are working properly.

Fires are a concern not only because of the destruction they could wreak on the grid, but because of insurance rates. More fires mean higher premiums, if insurance is even available.

The Co-op has about 5,070 miles of lines of which just under 3,000 miles is underground.

But not all areas are suitable for underground service, as they can be either too rocky or too wet.

Underground lines cost about five times as much to install and it can be more difficult to find a break in an underground line, where it's relatively easy with above ground lines.

Chris Peterson
Co-op Added More Than 2,000 Meters in 2021 Alone
Hungry Horse News , April 27, 2022

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