Rave Reviews for Great Lakes Energy Fiber-to-the-Home Internet Service

By |2019-01-18T10:10:20-05:00January 17th, 2019|MECA News|

Fifty lucky subscribers were the first to be connected to Trustream before the end of 2018, and the new fiber-to-the-home internet service from Great Lakes Energy is already receiving rave reviews. Earlier this month,  Bear Creek Organic Farm shared a Facebook post explaining the dramatic impact Trustream has had on their business and in their daily lives:

“IT FINALLY HAPPENED! ON January 10, 2019 we joined the 21st century with high-speed fiber internet from Great Lakes Energy & Truestream.

These internet speed tests are from 6AM today. Until we had Truestream, we used two internet providers because both were inconsistent. We have paid $3000/year for the worst internet of anyone we know for the last 5 years. Now we will pay $800 for some of the fastest internet in the USA.

The numbers don’t lie. Truestream is 40x faster than our HughesNet and 400x faster than our rural Verizon service. And for 75% LESS money with NO contract and unlimited everything.

We could write a book about the ways this internet boondoggle has hampered our business, our daily life, and our essential infrastructure. But we won’t. Rather, this is a story about customer service, surveys, and customer value.

On August 2, 2016, our electric cooperative Great Lakes Energy sent out a ‘quick online survey’ to learn more about their customers’ access to high-speed internet. They were exploring the idea that a power company connecting rural communities to the electric grid might also be able to play a role in connecting these same customers to the high-speed internet the rest of the nation enjoys.

And in a testament to the power of customer surveys (hopefully you answered ours!) the response was staggering. The forgotten rural communities in our great state and nation were lacking access to this basic service. And we had something to say about it!

Fast forward two years. This summer GLE could be seen installing fiber cables on their power lines all around Emmet County. All summer we would wave & thumbs up at the installation crews on roadsides everywhere. And all summer we felt like our prayers had been answered. Somebody listened to their customers. Somebody chose to take on a massive infrastructure challenge head-on. We don’t know how many power companies are also internet providers, but in an era of waning government investment in critical infrastructure- Great Lakes Energy answered the need.

On Wednesday, Cindy from Truestream called our phone. She said “Hi Brian, this is Cindy from Truestream”. Brian replied “Cindy! Why does it sound like I can hear you smiling???” Cindy said “Well Brian, I’ve been excited to make this call to you for a long time.” Brian said “Oh CINDY! This sounds like GOOD NEWS!” And the rest is history.

We know many of our friends are still waiting for Truestream. And Great Lakes Energy knows it too. The road to fast internet has been slow, but GLE has answered the call! If you haven’t signed up for service – do it. Your neighbors are depending on you. Areas with higher interest will receive service sooner. And it will be worth it.

For the first time since Griffin was born, we were able to successfully FaceTime with his grandparents in Florida. No static, no lag, no blurry faces. Just family connecting across time and space the way the internet age originally intended! Now that’s a dream come true!”

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MECA Expands Outreach With MPSC

By |2018-11-16T14:36:08-05:00November 16th, 2018|MECA News|

MECA and its member co-ops have always valued a positive working relationship with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). However, since all of the co-ops have transitioned to member regulation in recent years, interaction between the co-ops and the agency has become much less frequent.

While the MPSC no longer regulates rates for co-ops, they do regulate several important issues that impact co-ops, including: energy waste reduction programs (Energy Optimization), the low-income energy assistance fund, capacity demonstration, service territories and code of conduct.

The MECA board recently identified open communication with the MPSC as a strategic priority and approved the hiring of Dan Blair (former MPSC Electric Division Director) to lead this effort in a consultant role. Under the direction of Mr. Blair, MECA and its member co-ops recently held two important outreach events with the MPSC:

Electric Cooperative Foundations
On Oct. 23, MECA hosted an “Electric Cooperative Foundations” session for approximately 50-60 new MPSC staff members at the agency’s offices in Lansing. The two-hour session was facilitated by Doug Snitgen, Executive VP at MECA, and included a significant amount of questions and dialogue from MPSC staff.

“We were really impressed by the level of engagement from the MPSC staff and the quality of questions they asked,” said Craig Borr, MECA President and CEO. “Even though the Commission no longer regulates our co-op rates, they’re clearly aware of what’s going on in the co-op world.”

Broadband Field Excursion
On Nov. 5, MECA hosted a rural broadband field day for MPSC leadership to learn more about electric co-op efforts to bring quality, fiber-speed internet service to rural communities in Michigan. The event, held at the HomeWorks office in Portland, was attended by approximately 20 senior members of both the MPSC and the Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE).

The event kicked off with presentations on co-op broadband deployment efforts by HomeWorks (Mark Kappler, general manager), Great Lakes Energy (Scott Blecke, VP engineering and Steve Drake, CFO), and Midwest Energy and Communications (Bob Hance, CEO).

In the afternoon, attendees visited a HomeWorks broadband connected home. The homeowner, a General Motors engineer, explained how the service allows him to live in the rural community that he loves, and continue to work remotely for his employer, which is headquartered in the Detroit area. He no longer has to rent office space to access a quality internet connection (a $10,000 annual savings!) and said the quality of service he now receives at his home is superior to what he even had available at the office.

Chris O’Neil, Fiber Operations Manager at HomeWorks, concluded the event with several demonstrations to explain how the fiberoptic broadband system works.

View Photos
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Mackinac Bridge Closure Complicates Mutual Aid Efforts

By |2018-09-27T10:13:17-04:00September 26th, 2018|MECA News|

Northern Michigan endured winds in excess of 50 miles-per-hour on Friday, Sept. 21. These powerful gusts took down trees and left thousands of co-op members without power. They also forced the Mackinac Bridge to partially close, which complicated restoration efforts.

Alger Delta Cooperative was hit hard. At the height of the event, about one-quarter of their system was without power (2,500 outages). The co-op reached out to Joe McElroy, safety director and mutual aid coordinator at MECA, for mutual aid assistance on Friday afternoon.

However, this mutual aid request couldn’t be handled the typical way.

Due to strong winds, the Mackinac Bridge was closed to all vehicles except for small passenger cars. As a rule, when winds reach 55 miles per hour, the bridge closes to high-profile vehicles such as trucks and trailers. Mutual aid crews were unable to cross to the upper peninsula with their equipment.

Help would have to come a different way.

Unsure of how long the bridge would be closed, McElroy put in a call to Wisconsin’s Restoration of Power in an Emergency (ROPE) program. Within a few hours, Wisconsin co-op crews were confirmed and headed out. Co-ops that provided assistance to Alger Delta include Pieper Power, Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Eau Claire Electric Cooperative, Bayfield Electric Cooperative, Oconto Electric Cooperative and Ontonagon Electric Cooperative.

Except for Ontonagon, the rest of the support came in from Wisconsin, underscoring the value of being part of the out-of-state mutual aid program.

Co-ops in the lower peninsula also provided aid to each other.

Co-op Outages Mutual Aid
Cherryland  2,500 Wolverine
Great Lakes Energy  17,000 Wolverine, GLE south
PIE&G  16,000 Wolverine, HomeWorks, Bay City, Thumb
Cloverland  12,000 Cherryland

As the weekend wrapped up, so did the outages.

“Thanks to all involved, including Midwest Energy and all of the municipals that stood ready to help if called upon,” said McElroy. “It’s the dedication of all involved that makes our mutual aid program work.”

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Thumb Completes RESAP Audit and Pole Top Rescue Training

By |2018-09-06T10:59:37-04:00September 6th, 2018|MECA News|

The last week of August included a very clear safety focus for Thumb Electric Cooperative (TEC). The co-op completed a Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program (RESAP) audit and provided life-saving Pole Top and Bucket Rescue Training for its operations employees.

“I’m proud of how they’re living up to the RESAP goal of continuous improvement,” said MECA Safety Director, Joe McElroy, commending TEC leadership and staff for their efforts.

Dallas Braun, General Manager at TEC, has positive things to say about the co-op’s involvement with the RESAP program, too. “RESAP is a great program that provides an ‘outside-looking-in’ perspective of the operation of our electric system,” he said. “The process results in a framework to prioritize and plan for continuous safety improvements.”

“There is no doubt this program has had a direct impact on positive safety improvements made at TEC over the past three years,” says Braun. “I expect the same results going forward. We are very fortunate to have MECA providing this program in Michigan.”

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Michigan Crews Spend Holiday Weekend Battling Storm Aftermath

By |2018-09-19T13:29:19-04:00September 6th, 2018|MECA News|

“If there’s going to be a big storm that causes widespread outages, you can bet it will probably happen over a holiday,” claims Joe McElroy, safety director and mutual aid coordinator at MECA.

Turns out he may be onto something.

That was certainly the case last week as a large-scale outage event took place over the Labor Day holiday. Storms raced through Michigan on Tuesday night, Aug. 28, leaving a wake of destruction behind them. The National Weather Service confirmed five tornados touched down, with winds up to 100 miles per hour.

The storms caused outages for all MECA member co-ops in the lower peninsula, but Great Lakes Energy was the hardest hit. The co-op restored power to more than 46,800 members affected by tornados, wind and rain. Thankfully, they didn’t have to face the task alone. Great Lakes Energy received mutual aid support from multiple co-ops (Alger Delta, Cherryland, HomeWorks and Wolverine) and municipalities (Bay City, Chelsea, Escanaba, Hart and Traverse City).

All together, Great Lakes Energy received help from 34 additional electric crews and 45 tree crews. The teams worked tirelessly all week long and through the holiday to restore power for all members. Restorations were completed by Tuesday, Sept. 4, which means some members were out of power for up to a week.

The damage was extensive,” said McElroy. “Several contractors said it was the worst they had ever seen.” Great Lakes Energy alone had over 364 broken poles, a new record the co-op doesn’t want to revisit.

Many other departments worked long days and nights, too, including dispatchers, member service reps, purchasing staff, vegetation management, IT, engineering and bird-dogs from many departments. Members were able to stay informed during the extended outage through the co-op’s website and Facebook page. GLE added over 800 new Facebook followers and fielded over 200 private messages through the social media platform during the course of the event.

Restoring power in this type of event requires a tremendous amount of team effort. As the next holiday rolls around, you can bet McElroy and the mutual aid partners will continue to monitor the weather closely, always prepared to spring into action.


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Wolverine Power Embarks on Extraordinary Transmission Upgrades

By |2018-09-13T10:53:44-04:00August 23rd, 2018|MECA News|

In July, the Wolverine Power Cooperative Board of Directors approved a five-year construction plan to rebuild 600 miles of transmission line—its most ambitious construction goal in the last half-century.

“This plan is the culmination of Wolverine’s member teams, Board of Directors, and staff, working together over a decade to develop the technical and financial capabilities needed to execute a work plan of this scale,” said Tim Martin, vice president of engineering and construction at Wolverine Power Cooperative. “We are privileged and proud to embark on this plan to invest nearly half a billion dollars into strengthening reliability, system monitoring, and opportunities for continued growth for our members.”

As part of its commitment to rebuild the entire 1,200-mile looped transmission network by 2023, Wolverine significantly upgraded much of the network over the past ten years. These upgrades include taller and stronger pole structures, essential conversions to 138 kV, and implementing fiber optic cable to improve system monitoring and security. As Wolverine enters 2019, the cooperative will embark on the largest portion of rebuilding and most ambitious single-year goal to-date—150 of the looped network’s remaining 600 transmission miles.

“We’re proud of our team’s work to improve our system’s reliability, and we look forward to completing this plan for the benefit of our members,” said Martin.

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Congressman Jack Bergman Visits Alpine Power Plant

By |2018-08-22T16:35:50-04:00August 22nd, 2018|MECA News|

On Monday, United States Congressman Jack Bergman visited Wolverine Power Cooperative’s state-of-the-art Alpine Power Plant to tour the facility and learn about the plant’s vital role for Wolverine’s members and Northern Michigan’s grid reliability.

The Alpine Power Plant natural gas facility, completed in 2016, provides more than 400 MW of peaking generation, as well as essential transmission support, for Wolverine’s members and Northern Michigan’s electric grid.

In addition to touring the facility, the Congressman was interested in discussing and learning more about renewable energy, the future of generation, battery storage, net metering, energy markets, as well as high energy prices and lack of adequate transmission in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

As a former pilot, the Congressman also had a keen interest in the operation of the plant’s turbines—which are very similar to jet engines.

Congressman Bergman represents constituents in Michigan’s 1st Congressional district, which is Michigan’s largest—encompassing the entire Upper Peninsula and 16 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. Congressman Bergman represents more cooperative members than any other Michigan congressman, including members of Great Lakes Energy, Presque Isle Electric & Gas, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association, Ontonagon REA, and Cloverland Electric Cooperative.

Wolverine is grateful for the opportunity to host Congressman Bergman, and for his interest in learning more about Michigan’s electric cooperatives.

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MECA Conducts First-Of-Its-Kind Training Assessment

By |2018-02-12T14:47:16-05:00February 9th, 2018|MECA News|

MECA and its member co-ops are conducting a first-of-its-kind, statewide employee education and training assessment this month. Results will be used to develop an in-state training program to be hosted by MECA later this year.

“We’re very good at using data to measure almost everything we do in the energy industry,” says Doug Snitgen, MECA executive vice-president. “But when it comes to selecting employee education and training opportunities, it’s very difficult to quantify what will have the greatest collective impact.”

MECA has worked very closely with the education and training team at NRECA to develop and test an assessment process that will help identify the most relevant in-state training opportunities for co-op employees. The assessment is based on the NRECA Electric Cooperative Competency Model, which was designed to help co-ops align the talent of their employees in three broad categories: Core Competencies, Role-Specific Competencies, and Supervisory, Management and Leadership Competencies.

The Michigan assessment has been pilot tested with a group of Cherryland and HomeWorks employees, and is now ready for the bigger task of collecting statewide data. Each participating co-op will ask its employees to complete an anonymous, online survey, then MECA will analyze the results and work with NRECA to develop an in-state training program. The training will be similar to NRECA certificate programs that MECA has hosted in previous years, but customized to address the unique needs of Michigan’s electric co-ops.

“It’s been a fun project because it’s part science and part art,” says Snitgen. “It’ll help us create a comprehensive training needs ‘gap analysis’ that we’ve never had available before, but there are also a lot of creative ways to interpret the data.”

While the primary goal of the assessment is to determine statewide training needs, the same data could be used to determine needs for individual co-ops, departments or job roles.

Learn more about the NRECA Electric Cooperative Employee Competency Model in RE Magazine or at Cooperative.com.

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‘Weather Bomb’ Causes Widespread Outages In Upper Peninsula

By |2017-11-07T16:55:45-05:00November 7th, 2017|MECA News|

30-foot waves rolled across Lake Superior on Tuesday, October 24. Winds near the shoreline gusted to over 60 mph taking down trees and powerlines in over two dozen locations in Alger, Marquette and Schoolcraft counties.

The Upper Peninsula was hit with a weather bomb. A ‘weather bomb’ is an unofficial term for a rapidly intensifying storm that typically develops over the water when a warm and cold air mass clash. It’s characterized by a low-pressure system where the central barometric pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. And the hurricane-force winds it produced were not good for Alger Delta’s electric system.

“The calls started to come in fast and furious on Tuesday morning about 5:30 a.m.,” said Tom Harrell, CEO.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck approach to fielding outage reports,” explained Harrell. By Tuesday evening, Members Services Representative Elizabeth Manninen had fielded 650 phone calls. Chief Financial Officer Amanda Seger had taken 250 calls herself. Staff was dedicated to supporting members on smarthub, too.

At the end of the day, a grand total of 3,500 Alger Delta members were left without power.

Alger Delta put in a call for mutual aid and received help on Wednesday from Great Lakes Energy, Wisconsin co-ops and on-site contractors who happened to be working on the system when the weather bomb exploded.

Working together, power was restored to most Alger Delta members by Friday afternoon.

This was the first outage event where facebook played a large role in communicating with members. Alger Delta staff, including Harrell himself, diligently provided updates and responded to member comments around the clock.

“People seemed to really appreciate it and it served as an effective tool for us,” said Harrell.

A big thank you to all the mutual aid crews who came out to help. This is yet another great example of co-ops working together.

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Great Lakes & Ontonagon Shine at Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards

By |2017-11-07T16:47:27-05:00October 31st, 2017|MECA News|

The Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards honors Michigan organizations and individuals for outstanding achievement in reducing energy waste. This year, MECA EO Collaborative members received awards for Best Project – Public for Ewen Trout Creek School District (Ontonagon) and Best Project – Agriculture for Friske Orchards (Great Lakes Energy).

Ewen Trout Creek is one of Michigan’s most rural school districts with only 205 students. Like many rural schools, their school building was deteriorating and the school administration was forced to divert scarce funds from education towards fixing the school. In 2015, voters approved a new $4.9 million bond referendum and the necessary upgrades, in conjunction with Ontonagon and MECA’s EO program, began. Ewen Trout schools installed new high-efficiency boilers, water heaters, and fan coil units as well as a new chiller and high-efficiency lighting. The project is estimated to save 33,500 Kwh of electricity on an annual basis.

Friske Orchards, south of Charlevoix, is known statewide for its apple cider and the wide array of fruits and vegetables grown on site. When owner Richard Friske noticed that his workers’ mobile homes needed considerable work, he decided to build new bunkhouses for his many seasonal workers. The new, all electric, housing units have Energy Star appliances and lighting, new air source heat pumps, insulation, and receive a good deal of their electricity from new solar panels. Friske Orchards expects to save approximately 44,000 Kwh of electricity per year.

A special “thank you” to Great Lakes and Ontonagon for their efforts, along with MECA EO Director Art Thayer and WECC for their direction and support in advancing the applications from both co-ops.


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