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Tri-County Electric's power supplier seeks smart grid monies through stimulus bill

Tue, Nov 10th, 2009
Posted in Business Announcements

Rushford, MN (7:30 a.m. Sept. 23, 2009)- Tri-County Electric Cooperative's (TEC's) wholesale power supplier, Dairyland Power Cooperative, has submitted a $70 million stimulus funding application to the U.S. Department of Energy for smart grid technology for itself, 15 of its member cooperatives and four Central Iowa Power Cooperative members.

A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communication to save energy, reduce costs, bolster reliability and detect power outages. It also helps integrate renewable energy more seamlessly onto the power grid and reduce carbon emissions due to its efficient delivery of electricity.

Dairyland's request includes industry-related equipment and software upgrades for a smart grid system and for added substation reliability, efficiency and communication. TEC's portion of the application includes $1.7 million for additional equipment to monitor substations and a pilot for purchasing roughly 200 in-home energy use displays.

Bob Spartz, TEC's operations manager, says the substation equipment will help the co-op be more efficient by allowing them to view voltage levels and load factors remotely instead of physically driving to the substation location to retrieve the readings. Load factor is an indicator of how steady an electric load (amount of power drawn from the electric system) is for a given period of time.

During a power outage many times the co-op is able to switch out the power source from one substation to another to temporarily allow members to have power while crews are fixing the problem.

"When we are switching the power source from one substation to another, we have to ensure we are not overloading substation equipment. We must know the load factors of the two substations, and it can get particularly tricky during times when energy use is high," Spartz explained.

Currently, the co-op sends an employee to the substation for the readings. By adding the equipment listed in the stimulus application, the co-op would view the information for each substation from its headquarters in Rushford.

"It obviously saves labor and travel time, but more importantly it provides us with a bird's eye view of the electric system. If one substation is loaded up and there is a problem we can quickly read the voltage and load factor and maybe by switching load from one substation to another, Tri-County can maintain service to most, if not all members," Spartz said.

The other part of TEC's portion of the stimulus application is something members have expressed interest in because it puts the consumer in a better position to control their energy costs.

"The consumer would have an in-home display unit and could choose to shift operation of major appliances based on whether energy rates are categorized as low, medium or high," said Brian Krambeer, TEC's president/CEO. "A signal would be sent to the in-home display to show the status of energy costs.

The project promotes energy efficiency, conservation and lets the consumer make money-saving decisions."

In the beginning stages it means consumers manually shifting their energy use. However, technology is leading to appliances and in-home displays communicating with each other. In the future, appliances fitted with special technology would automatically shift the work to times with lower rates based on the reading from the in-home display.

Earlier in 2009 TEC completed the installation of smart meters that provide two-way communication from the meter to the cooperative. Having this technology in place will provide a host of benefits in the coming years to TEC members and is the backbone communication for future additions like in-home energy use displays. Later this year the co-op looks to launch a web portal that will allow members to track their daily energy use online.

"Both of the projects highlighted in the stimulus application are part of the cooperative's strategic plan and we will be following through with them with or without stimulus funds," Krambeer stated. "But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to take advantage of this type of funding on behalf of our membership."

TEC is a member-owned electric distribution cooperative serving three counties in Minnesota including Winona, Houston and Fillmore and parts of Olmsted and Mower counties in Minnesota and Howard, Winneshiek and Allamakee counties in Iowa. It provides electricity to more than 12,500 services in the area. TEC is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.

Dairyland Power is a generation and transmission cooperative that provides the wholesale electrical requirements and other services for 25 electric distribution cooperatives and 16 municipal utilities in the Upper Midwest. In turn, these cooperatives and municipals deliver the electricity to consumers - meeting the energy needs of more than half a million people. Dairyland's generation resources include coal, natural gas, hydro, wind, landfill gas and animal waste. For more information, please visit www.dairynet.com.

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