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  • A new push for rural jobs

    by Barry Hart  |  bhart@amec.coop

    One of my favorite roles during my career in rural electrification has been working to bring new jobs to my community as an economic development professional. Electric cooperatives realized early on there was no point in building power lines if the people they were built for didn’t have jobs.

    There’s a second reason why electric cooperatives work hard on economic development. Providing service to a major commercial or industrial member helps offset the low density common to rural areas. Commercial and industrial accounts add to the tax base, allowing rural communities to improve the quality of life for residents, with better schools, roads and essential services such as emergency responders and law enforcement.

    That’s why I was so happy to see our power supplier, Associated Electric Cooperative, launch a new program this year called “Power4Progress.” This innovative program is designed to reinvigorate the economic development program among Associated’s member systems in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma.

    Associated’s board showed its commitment to the program by funding it for five years. It sent a strong message to those in the trenches of job creation that Associated is serious about helping them help their communities.

    The need for such a program comes in the wake of dire news for many rural counties. Recently Mark Woodson, who is in charge of the economic development program at Associated, sent me a map that showed 52 out of Missouri’s 114 counties lost jobs and population since 2007. Another 25 counties gained population — but not jobs.

    It’s not surprising those two statistics follow each other. As jobs leave rural areas, so too will rural residents. Some may choose to make long commutes to find work, but for others that is not an option. It’s a downward spiral that electric cooperatives want to stop.

    The Power4Progress program is designed to offer economic development professionals the tools they need to help their communities right now. Specialized training is already underway. It includes “Basics of Site Selection,” “Principles of Community Development,” “Key Accounts Management” and “Building a Key Account Culture.”

    Lessons learned in these classes will show those attending how to make their electric cooperative a valuable business partner in the effort to attract new employers or to help existing businesses expand.

    The program includes access to the Location One Information System that can be used to list sites and buildings available to prospective businesses. Associated staff can consult with member systems that are reaching out to new prospects and can also offer research for business recruitment.

    There’s also help with one of the most valuable tools cooperatives have in their community assistance toolbox: the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, commonly called REDLGs. This USDA program funnels loans up to $1 million and grants up to $300,000 into rural projects through cooperatives.

    Over the years, REDLGs has been used for a number of vital projects in rural Missouri. Helping member cooperatives with the daunting application process will ensure it continues to put federal dollars where they can do the most good.

    I am excited to see this new emphasis on job creation from our power supplier. I can’t wait to see the results as this program works to create jobs, retain rural residents and improve the quality of life for all electric cooperative members.

    Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

  • Holiday Electrical Safety

    'Tis the season for decking the halls and lighting up the tree!

    Part of the fun and festivity of the holiday season is decorating your home with a beautiful display of electric lights. However, electrical accidents typically increase during the holiday season. 

    Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives wants all our Member-Owners to have a fun and safe holiday. So, keep in mind these important precautions to keep your season merry and bright!

    • Never throw holiday lights or other decorations into trees near power lines.
    • Do not staple or nail through light strings or electrical cords, and do not attach cords to utility poles.
    • Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep ladders, equipment, and yourself at least ten feet from all power lines.
    • Match plugs with outlets. Do not force a three-pronged plug into a twopronged outlet or extension cord.
    • Make sure extension cords are in good condition, are UL-approved, and rated to carry the electrical load you connect to them.
    • Do not let children or pets play with light strings or electrical decorations.
    • Cords used outdoors should be plugged into outlets equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
    • Avoid decorating outside on windy or wet days. Choose to decorate in favorable weather conditions and during daylight hours.
    • Always unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home.

    Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

  • Can I Save Money By Installing a Wind Turbine?

    This question is being asked more and more as members are looking for ways to reduce energy costs. The answer is maybe, depending on many factors, and how fast you want to see a return on your investment.

    Start with energy efficiency

    Before installing a wind energy system, consider reducing your energy use by making your home more energy-efficient. Many energy efficiency measures have a faster return on investment, and the initial investment is less than that of a renewable energy system.

    Is wind energy right for me?

    If you have made your home as energy efficient as possible and now want to install a wind turbine, contact your local electric cooperative in the initial planning stages. Be sure to conduct thorough research on all aspects of the system before making the investment. Determine what your goal of installing a wind system is. Do you want to install wind energy because you believe it is the right thing to do? Or are you looking to save money? If you want to save money, look at the financial considerations first.

    Financial considerations 

    The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) indicates that in Missouri, it is difficult to buy and install a wind energy system at your home, farm or business that will “pay back” its cost (recover the investment cost through utility bill reductions during the life of the system). DNR states that in most of the United States, in order for small wind energy systems to be economically attractive:

    1. The site must have an average annual wind speed over 12 mph at 80 to 120 feet. Based on the map below, the majority of the state does not meet that requirement.

    2. Retail cost of residential electricity must be above the national average. Recent Department of Energy data reports the Missouri average at over two cents per kilowatt-hour less than the national average.

    Given the above information, the Missouri DNR states that use of small-scale wind turbines to generate electricity at homes, businesses or farms is often economically marginal, even on the most promising sites. [1]

    Learn more about Missouri's Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram

  • Natural Gas is Important in Mix of Resources

    Since your Missouri Electric Cooperatives built its first natural gas power plant in 1999, gas has become an increasingly important generation fuel for members.

    The diversity of your Cooperatives' generation, coupled with flexible, negotiated fuel supply contracts, helps the cooperative take advantage of lower gas prices to serve member load reliably. In fact, when not needed for member load, your Missouri Electric Cooperatives' gas plants can competitively generate for off-system sales. This brings in revenue to help keep member rates as low as possible.

    The flexibility of switching between gas and coal, depending on price, supply and demand, has enabled your Cooperatives to sell power to members at a lower average cost than nonmember distribution cooperatives pay in the surrounding eight states.

    The selling points of gas add up:

    • Plentiful domestic natural gas supply, lower prices and less volatility make gas attractive for generating electricity.
    • In addition to its competitive price, gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, producing the least carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions.
    • Gas plants are less costly to build, operate, maintain and staff than coal plants, which face increasing costs due to new and uncertain environmental regulations.
    • Peaking gas units can start in nine to 15 minutes – much, much faster than coal units – to meet peak energy demand, the fluctuations that come with wind energy and federal reliability standards set by North American Electric Reliability Corp.
    • A combined-cycle gas plant can produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity more efficiently than a coal plant.

    Your Cooperatives gets in the gas business Natural gas traditionally was a fuel for heating homes, but in the mid-1990s that changed as wholesale generators began building lower-cost, gas-based power plants.

    Needing to diversify its power supply and add peaking generation, you Cooperatives saw these indicators and worked with a consultant to broker the construction of St. Francis Power Plant in 1999. In rapid order came Holden, Essex and Nodaway peaking plants; expansion of St. Francis; addition of Chouteau and Dell power plants; and expansion of Chouteau. Today, your Cooperatives' gas fleet is a highly valuable asset that gives the cooperative great flexibility for providing clean, affordable, reliable electricity for members.

    Your Cooperatives' gas supply comes from domestic sources connected to the country’s vast pipeline network, ranging from small, locally owned producers to some of the world’s largest energy companies.

    Contracts with pipelines also help stabilize delivered cost of gas. Vast new deposits of shale gas – estimated at more than 100 years – being drilled are expected to continue to stabilize gas prices.

    How does price affect costs?

    Like most commodities – think oil, wheat, corn, livestock – natural gas trades daily on exchanges such as the Intercontinental Exchange Inc. and New York Mercantile exchange. These trades, influenced by supply and demand, establish the price of gas for a given day or future timeframe. Your Cooperatives' fuels department procures and manages gas supply, seeking terms that reduce risk, provide reliable deliveries and minimize costs.

    Of course, your Cooperatives must consider current and future prices for all generating resources. The cooperative uses the lowest-cost resources and power plants available to supply members.

    Typically, hydropower and wind generation are used first, and that’s partly due to your Cooperatives' contracts that require taking all wind power produced. Then coal, gas or even purchased power, if its cost is lower than your Cooperatives can generate, are used.

    Your Cooperatives' diverse resource mix keeps its wholesale rates among the lowest in the country.

    Learn more about Missouri's Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram

  • Your Extensive Guide to Electrical Safety

    Learn how to keep you and your loved ones safe around electricity

    Each year, many people are injured or killed in and around their homes due to unsafe conditions that create fire and electrical shock hazards. Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives wanted to share information to create a safe indoor and outdoor environment for you and your family.

    Indoor electrical safety

    Electrical outlets – Check for loose–fitting plugs, and replace missing or broken wall plates so wiring and components are not exposed. If you have young children in your home, cover outlets with plastic safety caps.

    Plugs – Never force them into outlets. Don’t remove the grounding pin (third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit a two-prong outlet, and avoid overloading outlets.

    Cords – Make sure they are not frayed or cracked, placed under carpets or rugs or located in high traffic areas. Do not nail or staple them to walls, floors or other objects.

    Extension cords – Use them only on a temporary basis, not as permanent household wiring. Make sure cords have safety closures to protect young children from shock and mouth burn injuries.

    Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) – Make sure GFCI outlets are installed in your kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, workshop, basement and garage as well as on outdoor outlets. Test them monthly to ensure they’re working properly.

    Appliances/Electronics – If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker or has given you an electrical shock, immediately unplug it and have it repaired or replaced. Look for cracks or damage in wiring and connectors. Use surge protectors to protect expensive electronics.

    Electrical wiring - Wiring defects are a major cause of residential blazes. Check periodically for loose wall receptacles, loose wires or loose lighting fixtures. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that spark and flicker.

    Service capacity – As you add more lighting, appliances and electronics, your home’s electrical service capacity may become overburdened. If fuses blow or trip frequently, have a licensed electrician determine the appropriate service requirements.

    Outdoor electrical safety

    Remember the following when working or playing outside to stay safe.

    • Teach children to stay away from electric utility equipment. Never enter a substation; don’t play on pad mounted transformers; fly kites safely away from overhead power lines.
    • If you see a downed or sagging power line, stay far away, warn others to stay away and call the utility company or 911.
    • If you are involved in a vehicle accident and your vehicle is touching power lines, stay in the car until an electric utility worker tells you it is safe.
    • Don’t use electric yard tools if it’s raining or the ground is wet.
    • Make sure your outdoor outlets have ground fault (GFCI) protection; use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets don’t have one.

    Watch out for overhead power lines...

    In many neighborhoods overhead electric lines are part of the landscape, and may be overlooked because we are so familiar with them. Failure to notice electric lines can be a deadly mistake. Some overhead power lines can carry thousands of volts of electricity. Keep yourself and equipment at least ten feet away from power lines and service connections.

    • Always look up before using long tools like pruning poles, ladders or antennas.
    • Never place tall items like a ladder or antenna near a power line or electric service connection to your home.
    • When trimming trees, be aware that broken or dislodged branches may have also become tangled in overhead electric lines, or pushed the wire closer to the ground.
    • Be especially aware when working near backyard swimming pools. Pool cleaning equipment, like long metal poles on leaf skimmers, will conduct current to the person holding it.
    • ...And be aware of underground lines

    When you plan your next project such as building or remodeling a deck, planting trees or shrubs or anything else that requires digging, protect yourself first and call before you dig! Underground utilities, such as buried gas, water and electric lines, can be a shovel thrust away from turning a project into a disaster.

    To find out where utility lines run on your property, dial 811 from anywhere in the country, or visit www.call811.com a few days prior to digging. Indicate where you’re planning to dig and what type of work you will be doing, and affected local utilities will be notified. In a few days, a locator will arrive to designate the approximate location of any underground lines, pipes and cables with flags or marking paint so you’ll know what’s below. Then the safe digging can begin.

    Never assume the location or depth of underground utility lines! The 811 service is free and can help you avoid serious injury.

    Learn More About Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives 
    Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

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