Red Feather Lakes’ electricity, delivered by a single transmission line, is vulnerable to wildfires, winter storms and all-too-frequent car accidents on the curvy roads around this hamlet high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
With help from its electric cooperative, Poudre Valley REA, and a microgrid, that’s about to change.
At an elevation of 8,342 feet, Red Feather Lakes gets lots of snow and even tornadoes that topple trees onto the power line. A car accident this year also took out the lights for several hours. On Sept. 20, winds swept the Cameron Peak Fire toward Red Feather Lakes, forcing its evacuation.
PVREA, headquartered about 60 miles away in Fort Collins, is working with the community of less than 400 people to install local energy storage that connects to generation resources and can provide power for several hours after disaster strikes.
“There are a lot of good reasons to have that microgrid up and running,” said Jeff Wadsworth, the co-op’s president and CEO.
PVREA will control the Red Feather Lakes microgrid and own the 140-kilowatt/448-kilowatt-hour battery with 3.2 hours of energy storage. The system will be installed at the community fire station, which has diesel generators, and will sit across the street from the town library, which is getting a 20-kW solar array on its roof.
The idea of a microgrid came about when the library won a grant to pursue solar panels and a battery to help reduce its electricity costs and improve resiliency.
“This project was really rooted in the community,” said Wadsworth. “Once we heard they got that grant, that inspired conversations to move ahead and create a microgrid so we can provide resilient service up there when it is needed.”
PVREA and Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, with input from NRECA, have been studying how microgrids could be beneficial to distribution cooperatives and G&Ts as well.
“Without the partners we had, this wouldn’t have been achievable,” said Wadsworth. “We are able to start learning what a microgrid does, what we can do with it and apply that knowledge to future projects. When costs and performance of batteries improve, we will be able to put microgrid technologies in other areas in our system.”
The initiative in Red Feather Lakes is one of four microgrid projects involving five co-ops that NRECA connected with a U.S. Department of Energy project providing $1.3 million in energy storage grants. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are also partners in the project.
The other co-ops include West River Electric Association in Wall, South Dakota; North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and Pantego-based Tideland EMC, which helped create a microgrid for the nation’s second-largest egg producer, and Sandhills Utility Services in Fort Bragg.
Wadsworth said he learned how the technology could benefit his co-op members during a visit to North Carolina and a tour of the Butler Farm microgrid last year. “I took a lot away from that, that there could be an opportunity here for us,” he said.
Microgrid installation at Red Feather Lakes will be completed and operation will begin as soon as the threatening wildfire is at bay, Wadsworth said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.