Co-ops Staff Up on Beneficial Electrification to Meet Members’ Needs

Hoosier Energy’s Blake Kleaving, left, talks with a participant at last fall’s Electrify Indiana! conference that focused on beneficial electrification modes and technologies. (Photo By: Hoosier Energy)
Hoosier Energy’s Blake Kleaving, left, talks with a participant at last fall’s Electrify Indiana! conference that focused on beneficial electrification modes and technologies. (Photo By: Hoosier Energy)

For Joe Hejda, beneficial electrification was a way of life before it became a new career path.

He bought an older home and switched out the key appliances to electric for improved efficiency, comfort and control.

“I was astounded at how much cheaper it was to take an average house and go all electric,” said Hejda, who joined Central Iowa Power Cooperative in 2019 as the new manager of smart electrification.

“That’s the reason why I got into this role. When I saw the position was explicitly about market transformation, that spoke to me.”

New dedicated job roles and titles are the latest co-op adaptations to the beneficial electrification movement.

Beneficial electrification is the deployment of electric-powered devices where at least one of the following goals is met without adversely impacting the others: consumer savings, reduced pollution, grid resiliency and improved products and quality of life.

“Electric co-ops are moving ahead as quick as they can” with beneficial electrification staff, said Steve Koep, general manager of the national Beneficial Electrification League. “It’s one of those ideas that speaks to the original mission of co-ops: Bring the benefit of electricity to people.” 

Tri-State Generation and Transmission collaborated with the league, NRECA and the Natural Resources Defense Council to create BEL-CO, the first Beneficial Electrification League state chapter, and expanded two of its key staff positions in late 2019.

Matt Fitzgibbon went from relationship manager to beneficial electrification manager, and Shaun Mann Tuyuri is now senior manager of beneficial electrification and research and development at the Westminster, Colorado-based generation and transmission co-op.

Fitzgibbon, a longtime Tri-State employee, said the co-op’s energy efficiency program has had an “underlying tone of beneficial electrification.” 

The title change has “helped us be more effective communicators of beneficial electrification,” he said. “It shows we are very much committed to beneficial electrification and what it means for our co-ops and consumers.”

“Before in R&D, we were already doing that work” in technology development, such as demonstrating heat pumps that work in extreme cold, said Mann Tuyuri. Now there is “business innovation and how to drive consumer adoption of beneficial electrification.”

“Beneficial electrification is extremely important, especially as we move forward with plans for more renewable energy and a cleaner grid,” said Fitzgibbon. “It boils down to putting the trusted energy adviser back into the hands of members.”

Hoosier Energy, with support from all 18 of its member co-ops, is shifting away from demand-side management job descriptions and toward those that encompass beneficial electrification tasks and goals.  

Blake Kleaving is manager of energy management solutions at the G&T based in Bloomington, Indiana, which hosted an Electrify Indiana! conference last October. Prior to Kleaving’s arrival in February, the position was manager of marketing.

“Membership is bringing this forward,” said Kleaving. “We know we are moving in the right direction.”

Hoosier Energy has a subcommittee of eight distribution co-op representatives evaluating its path toward beneficial electrification to ensure alignment with its core values for load growth, member value and being the trusted energy adviser.

“We know what BE is in a sense,” Kleaving said. “We want to see what is being done across the nation at G&Ts of similar size and implement those programs for our members.”

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, CIPCO’s Hejda said he finds the challenge in delivering beneficial electrification to distribution co-ops and ultimately their member-consumers “is that you don’t know what home performance can be until you get a chance to experience it.”

“Beneficial electrification is not just about energy savings but comfort and control,” he said.

Hejda no longer lives in the home he electrified. He moved to a new house with central air conditioning in a more convenient location after taking his new position. He said he misses the electric “mini split” heat pump systems he installed in the bedrooms.

“I could always be assured the kids would stay in bed all night by setting each room’s temperature correctly,” he said. “I didn’t know I was spoiled.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.