Filling A Gap: Michigan Co-ops Bring Electric Vehicle Chargers to Rural Communities

By |2021-02-18T10:05:43-05:00February 9th, 2021|Uncategorized|

The remote town of Onaway, Michigan—population 880—is not an obvious pick to install a new electric vehicle (EV) charging station. While most EV charging stations today are in urban areas or along expressways, Michigan’s electric cooperatives are planning for a different future. Placing chargers in rural areas will allow EV drivers to visit smaller communities, while providing a boost to local economies.

Michigan’s electric co-ops began deploying EV charging stations several years ago. Notable milestones include when Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op (PIE&G) installed the first co-op public charger at Tom’s Family Market in Onaway (2017), and when Cherryland Electric Cooperative partnered with Blain’s Farm & Fleet in Traverse City to install the first Level 3 DC Fast Charger in Northern Michigan (2020).

This year, PIE&G and Great Lakes Energy plan to add 54 additional public EV charging stations throughout rural Michigan.

Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op

PIE&G is set to deploy over 50 EV charging stations. The co-op’s new headquarters building will include 15 chargers total—12 (Level 1) for employee charging and three (Level 2) for member and guest parking. PIE&G is also collaborating with member organizations to install 36 high-power Level 2 stations across its service territory.

“We view the deployment of EV charging stations in northeast Michigan as a two-pronged approach to growth,” explains PIE&G CEO Tom Sobeck. “First, the presence of charging stations makes the purchase of an EV more attractive to our members. They’ll be able to take trips with less anxiety as the charging stations will provide some reassurance that a re-charge is available.  Secondly, it opens our region to tourists who own EVs. Both cases promote the use of EVs in our region and enhance the area’s economic prospects.”

Not long after their EV station in Onaway was energized, PIE&G installed the next two charging stations at  Briley Township Park in Atlanta and at Albert Township Park in Lewiston. For the remainder of their installations, PIE&G will give priority consideration to education and health care facilities, grocery stores, parks, and locations along major travel routes. EV drivers will be able to add as much as 60 miles of range per hour plugged in, depending on the vehicle, while dining at a restaurant or shopping in town.

Great Lakes Energy

Great Lakes Energy will unveil a new charging depot in Scottsville this spring. The depot will house 4 Level 3 DC Fast-Chargers in close proximity to its co-op facility along U.S. Highway 10.

It’s an ideal location for people traveling from Grand Rapids, Holland or Muskegon to get a charge on their way up to Traverse City, Petoskey or even Mackinaw City. A short 30-minute stop at the charging depot will supply drivers with an 80% charge.

“It’s part of our mission to embrace new technology,” said Brett Streby, communications and marketing manager for Great Lakes Energy. “There are many benefits of electric vehicles that pique the interest of our members. As an electric co-op, we want to foster that interest and help with the initiative.”

The cost to bring these new EV chargers to rural Michigan was partially funded by the Wolverine Power Cooperative economic development fund and a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

By expanding the state’s EV charging network in communities throughout rural Michigan, co-ops hope to improve environmental health, economic development and quality of life.

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MECA Helps Produce PIE&G Virtual Annual Meeting

By |2020-10-29T14:33:38-04:00October 29th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op (PIE&G) continued the recent trend by holding its 83rd Annual Membership Meeting as a live, online event. The meeting was live streamed from the co-op headquarters building in Onaway via Zoom video conference. A multi-camera setup allowed directors in attendance to stay 6-feet apart and only remove face coverings when presenting.

“This was a really creative solution,” said PIE&G President/CEO, Tom Sobeck. “We were able to honor the spirit of our Annual Meeting, while keeping within COVID-19 safety guidelines.”

Sobeck provided a co-op update during his CEO message and answered questions submitted by members regarding construction progress on PIE&G’s new headquarters facility, expansion of natural gas service, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) high-speed internet, and paperless billing. Member questions were collected during the online registration process, with the most common being selected for discussion during the online event.

PIE&G approached MECA for help with its plan to hold the virtual annual meeting. MECA quickly agreed to fill the behind-the-scenes technical role with its live production equipment and in-house technical expertise.

“It looked like a TV station had moved into our board room,” said Board Chairman, Allan Berg. “We were really impressed with how MECA helped us produce the meeting, and how professional the final result looked.”

Chairman Berg (Presque Isle District) was among three incumbent directors elected to a 3-year term (2020-2023) at the annual meeting. The other successful directors were John Brown (Cheboygan District) and Charles Arbour (Montmorency District). Berg also facilitated the virtual annual meeting, along with co-op attorney, Michael Ekdahl.

Members gave the online event high marks in a follow-up survey and indicated that they would be likely to attend future virtual meetings, if the co-op were to hold them. Many members that participated in the virtual event had never attended a PIE&G Annual Meeting in-person before.

“COVID-19 has disrupted the way we conduct business, but this Annual Meeting was also an opportunity to engage with members in a new way,” said Sobeck. “We really appreciate the effort MECA put into helping us film and produce this event.”

A full recording of the Annual Meeting is available at PIEG.COM

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$16 Billion Rural Broadband Auction Kicks Off

By |2020-10-28T14:19:07-04:00October 28th, 2020|Uncategorized|

190 Electric Co-ops Among Qualified Bidders

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the list of qualifying bidders and a map of available territories for the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. This $16 billion auction opens up the opportunity to extend broadband to these rural areas of electric and telephone cooperatives, consortiums, and other local community-based entities. The auction is expected to lead to the expansion of high-speed internet service to more than 5 million unserved homes and businesses across the country, including more than 250,000 locations in Michigan. Only Texas and California have more locations available in the auction.

Six Michigan cooperatives participated in the auction including Cloverland, Great Lakes Energy (Truestream), HomeWorks Tri-County, Midwest Energy & Communications, Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op and Thumb Electric Cooperative. Nationwide, 190 electric cooperatives are among the 396 qualified bidders, although most electric co-ops are bidding as part of a consortium.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction “our biggest and boldest step yet” to bring broadband to unserved rural areas.

Winning bidders will receive funds over a 10-year period to deploy broadband to the unserved census blocks. The auction requires providers to deliver minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. It will use a weighted tier system and rules advocated by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to determine who is awarded each area.

Once the auction concludes, the commission will release the auction results, including identifying which bidders won support and which areas were awarded. Areas awarded other government broadband grants, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service ReConnect awards, are not eligible to receive funding in this auction.

For the map of available areas, click here.

For the list of qualified bidders, click here.

For more on state-by-state eligibility, click here. 

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Electric Co-ops Suspend Disconnects

By |2020-04-21T11:44:12-04:00April 17th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan electric cooperatives have temporarily suspended disconnection of delinquent electric and gas accounts. While not required, all Michigan co-ops have agreed to abide by a non-disconnect affirmation that largely mirrors a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) order which directs investor-owned utilities to suspend disconnects and waive late fees until June 1.

However, this effort to support member-consumers in crisis is not a bill waiver. Co-ops will continue to work with delinquent members on deferred payment plans and other assistance. NRECA also believes there is a strong possibility that Congress may tie future energy relief dollars to co-ops participating in statewide moratoriums.

By signing the non-disconnect affirmation, electric cooperatives confirm that the following minimum protections are in place for vulnerable customers related to bill payment, disconnection of service, and reconnection of service:

  1. Protections for Michigan’s low-income customers and seniors – Suspend disconnections for Michigan’s most vulnerable populations, low-income and senior customers, through June 1, 2020, and waive late fees for eligible low-income customers receiving energy assistance.
  2. Protections for customers medically affected by COVID-19 – Allow for customers exposed to, quarantined, or infected by COVID-19 to be eligible for an additional 30-day medical hold to suspend a disconnection service. The criteria and eligibility provisions for this medical hold are in addition to those set forth in Mich Admin Code, R 460.130.
  3. Restoration of electric and gas service – Waive deposits and reconnection fees for low-income customers, seniors, and customers experiencing financial hardship related to COVID-19 and seeking restoration of electric or natural gas service.
  4. Offer financial and customer assistance – Extend access to and flexibility of payment plans to customers financially impacted by COVID-19 and provide customer assistance personnel with the resources necessary to connect customers to available financial assistance and social service agencies.
  5. Safeguard customers and workforce employees – Safeguard customers and utility workers by limiting face-to-face contact through the closing of office lobbies, focusing efforts to provide emergency and critical infrastructure-related activities, and adopting COVID-19 best practices as outlined by the State of Michigan and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suspending disconnects is one of many steps that co-ops have taken to reduce stress and provide local families and businesses with certainty during an uncertain time.

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Alger Delta Earns RESAP Safety Accreditation

By |2019-08-23T11:42:59-04:00August 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|

Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association has completed the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program (RESAP) sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Electric Association (NRECA) in Alexandria, Virginia.

RESAP is a national safety program in partnership with utility safety leaders and utilizes a framework for continuous improvement to improve safety performance and culture. The program is designed to recognize electric cooperatives for above-average safety performance.

Alger Delta submitted to a two-part process that took place over several months. One part consisted of an on-site evaluation by a team of trained and certified safety professionals from other utilities and the insurance industry. The observation team spent two days examining and evaluating Alger Delta’s facilities, vehicles and equipment, safety and security procedures, operational procedures, and interviewing employees regarding their knowledge and understanding of safety-related work practices.

Another part of the process involves submitting an application that examines and evaluates the documentation of our safety-related work practices, reporting procedures, safety and health policies, accident investigations, corrective measures, training, and other safety-related functions. The application portion evaluates the cooperatives’ documentation and records maintained over the past three years.

“The safety achievement program is notable because it requires teamwork from the board room to the custodian’s closet,” said Tom Harrell, Alger Delta’s CEO. “This program reviews our processes and procedures, but also the culture of safety we’re trying to foster. In this business, whether working on high voltage lines or stacking material in the warehouse, working safely must be a part of what we do, every day, all day,” Harrell added.

Harrell praised the total team effort and all the staff at Alger Delta for doing their part toward supporting the achievement process and evaluation; including Operations Manager Troy Tiernan and Technical Services Manager Shannon Priebe.

According to the NRECA, there are 547 electric cooperatives that have been recognized by the safety achievement program. Alger Delta is one of seven electric cooperatives in Michigan to complete the safety achievement program.

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Thumb Holds 82nd Annual Meeting

By |2019-06-21T15:34:38-04:00June 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Louis Wenzlaff, President of the Board of Directors, opened the 82nd Annual Meeting of TEC members held on June 8 at the Thumb Octagon Barn. An estimated 500 people attended the meeting, which was highlighted by the election of four Directors and numerous entertainment activities featured as a part of the TEC Member Appreciation Day and Annual Meeting.

Elected to three-year terms of District 1 were Randall Dhyse, Huron County; Kim Nunn, Sanilac County; and Louis Wenzlaff Tuscola County. Others nominated for a Director position were Steve Bombard, Sanilac County; and Meagan Anderson and Stanley Fox, Tuscola County.

Elected to a two-year term of District 2 was Donald Wolschleger, Huron County. Also nominated for a Director position was Matthew Booms, Huron County.

President Wenzlaff introduced TEC Attorney Jason Bitzer and members of the current TEC Board of Directors, including Donald Wolschleger, Beth McDonald and Randall Dhyse, Huron County; Kim Nunn, Mike Briolat and Duane Kursinsky, Sanilac County; and Jonathan Findlay and Carl Cousins, Tuscola County. General Manager Dallas Braun was also introduced.

President Wenzlaff recognized all TEC employees for their role in achieving a safe and successful year. He also acknowledged and thanked Jan Sageman who recently retired after providing 36 years of service to the cooperative and its members. A moment of silence was also observed for the recent passing of Allan Shaw, who served 35 years on the TEC Board from 1972 thru 2007.

President Wenzlaff introduced Jazmyn Warchuck and Pearl Daskam and they briefly spoke about their experiences as TEC Youth Tour representatives in Washington, D.C. in 2018.

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Alger Delta Hosts 80th Annual Meeting

By |2019-06-14T11:41:17-04:00June 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Alger Delta celebrated their 80th annual meeting on June 5.  Four hundred thirty-seven members attended the event at the Island Resort Casino and Convention Center in Harris.  The event included a dinner, business meeting, staff reports and prize drawings. Doors opened early to accommodate the crowd that was lined up outside.

Director Darryl Small opened the meeting with an invocation.  During the meal, Chief Financial Officer Amanda Seger discussed the co-op’s new bill print, pointing out several features of the new design.  Operations Manager Troy Tiernan also spoke, discussing several ongoing projects and work-related developments.  After dinner, Board President Paul Sederquist called the meeting to order and commenced with the seating of the elected directors. CEO Tom Harrell addressed the members and spoke about the co-op’s success over the past 81 years, with emphasis on the highs and lows of the past 15 years in particular.  Harrell also acknowledged the long tenure of President Sederquist and Director Small, having served 30 years and 14 years, respectively.  “These two are, essentially, the elder statesmen of the board” Harrell said.

All incumbents on the board were reseated.

New business included a motion to approve multiple changes to the bylaws.  Director Ray Young chaired the Policy Committee and explained the board undertook a thorough review of the bylaws with the intent of cleaning up outdated language, ensuring compliance with current law, making them clearer, and revising the structure of the document itself. Members agreed and voted to adopt the changes.

The meeting concluded with the awarding of prizes to those lucky members whose ticket was drawn.

“It’s wonderful to see such a good turnout at the annual meeting,” said Harrell.  “This is a great expression of the interest the members have in their co-op and their desire to be involved and engaged.”

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MECA Releases Updated Mobile App

By |2019-02-05T10:00:23-05:00February 5th, 2019|Uncategorized|

MECA recently released an updated version of its mobile app for Apple and Android devices. The app is designed to keep Michigan’s electric co-ops connected with its searchable database of co-op directors, managers and employees, a listing of MECA sponsors, events calendar and co-op news from around the state.

“Users probably won’t notice much change in the overall look or functionality of the app” says Doug Snitgen, Executive Vice President at MECA. “But it’s a big update that really improves performance, data security and administrative back-end.”

Several co-op associations use their own state-specific version of the app, which is licensed through a partnership with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA).

“We really focused on performance improvements in this new release,” says Trent Scott, Vice President of Corporate Strategy at TECA. “We now time-stamp each individual piece of data, so when information is updated in the portal (such as names, phone numbers and photos), the user’s device will only download these individual pieces of information instead of the entire dataset. This makes load times much faster whenever the app is launched on a device.”

The new app also uses an improved, password-based access system. However, this means every user will need to complete an automated registration process the first time they use it.

“We know that registering is a small inconvenience, especially for those who have already been using the app,” says Snitgen, “but it will keep our co-op information more secure.”

A highly-anticipated back-end feature has also been included in the new release: co-op level administrative access. This addition allows an authorized individual at each co-op the ability to log into the admin portal and update the director and employee information for their co-op in real time.

The Tennessee statewide worked with a small agency on co-op lines to develop the app, which had its benefits, but also came with some challenges. One of these challenges included illness on the development team that significantly impacted the production schedule. This put all co-op content updates on hold for a while.

“We’ll hustle to help the co-ops get their director and employee information on the app up-to-date in the coming weeks,” concluded Snitgen. “But, overall, I think the new features were worth the wait.”

Click HERE to get the MECA mobile app, or search “Michigan Electric Cooperatives” in your app store.

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Journey Lineworker Job Opening (Alger Delta)

By |2018-01-22T11:13:52-05:00January 22nd, 2018|Uncategorized|

Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association in Gladstone, MI is seeking a Journey Lineworker. Alger Delta is a non-profit, member-owned electric utility serving about 10,000 consumers in the central Upper Peninsula. We are an employer of choice offering competitive compensation and benefits, good vehicles and equipment and up-to-date technology for a modern and mobile work force. Our culture is focused on leadership, safety, service to our members and commitment to the people and communities we serve.

Lineworkers are responsible for maintenance, operations, outage response, new services and related activities on the cooperative’s distribution system and all must be done safely and efficiently. This position involves climbing poles, working from an aerial lift, operating a digger derrick, driving considerable distances, exposure to all kinds of weather including sometimes extreme weather conditions, and working at any time of the day or night.

To qualify, you must document that you have successfully completed a Department of Labor approved apprenticeship training program; have a good work history; hold a Class A CDL and medical card, and have a clean driving record. If hired, you must live within 10 miles or 30 minutes of the cooperative headquarters, be on call on a regular basis and respond to system outages after normal work hours. Also, you must be proficient with a computer / iPad; must be a good decision maker of the highest integrity; and be dependable, patient and have very good interpersonal / customer relations skills.

To be considered, send a resume and cover letter to Alger Delta. By email: admin@algerdelta.com – write “Lineworker App” in the Subject line. By mail: Lineworker App c/o Alger Delta – 426 N. 9th St. – Gladstone, MI 49837.

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Energy Optimization Program Participants Selected as Finalists for Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards

By |2017-08-09T14:25:27-04:00August 9th, 2017|Uncategorized|

Lansing, Mich. (June 28, 2017) – Four Michigan businesses that completed large-scale energy efficiency improvements with the help of the Energy Optimization program are finalists for the coveted 2017 Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards.

The four finalists include: Ewen-Trout Creek School District (Ewen), Friske Orchards (Charlevoix), Don Earl Heating & A/C (Sault Ste. Marie), and Sklarczyk Seed Farm (Johannesburg).

Now in its third year, the Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards honors Michigan organizations and individuals for outstanding achievement in reducing energy waste. Nominations were spread across eight different categories to showcase exceptional commitment to responsible energy production and consumption across a variety of project types.

Ewen-Trout Creek School District

Constructed 20 years ago, the outdated K-12 Ewen-Trout Creek School building boasted unreliable heating and cooling equipment, a leaky and poorly-insulated roof, and an array of other failing systems—all of which began to negatively impact the student learning experience. In 2016, the District worked with the Energy Optimization program to install new, energy-efficient boilers, water heaters, and fan coil units; an entirely new roof; and energy-saving indoor and outdoor LED fixtures. The upgrades are projected to save the district more than $27,000 per year in utility costs. The Ewen-Trout Creek School District, served by Ontonagon County REA, was named a finalist in the “Best Project—Public” category.

Friske Orchards

Friske Orchards, a family farm founded in 1962 in Charlevoix, grows a variety of fruits and vegetables—but is particularly known for the fresh apple cider they produce throughout the winter months. Friske Orchards invested in the construction of a highly-efficient and low-maintenance labor housing building in 2016, which features a sizeable solar photovoltaic system which generates renewable energy for the housing unit. A combination of mini-split air-source heat pumps, LED fixtures, ENERGY STAR®   appliances, and more in the new labor housing unit is expected to save the Friskes nearly $4,000 per year in electricity costs. Friske Orchards, served by Great Lake Energy Cooperative, was named a finalist in the “Best Project—Agriculture” category.

Don Earl Heating & A/C

Don Earl Heating & A/C of Sault St. Marie, which operates in the Cloverland Electric Cooperative service territory, earned a finalist nomination in the “Contractor of the Year” category. Don Earl Heating & A/C contributes valuable savings to Cloverland members in the eastern Upper Peninsula  by installing high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. The business is committed to increasing awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency, and was the Energy Optimization program’s second-largest submitter of electric energy savings in 2016. Additionally, Don Earl Heating & A/C helped its customers save a combined $14,737 on their utility bills last year.

Sklarczyk Seed Farm

Sklarczyk Seed Farm, a family farm in Johannesburg, is a national leader in the seed potato industry. Manager Don Sklarczyk has invested heavily in making farm operations as energy efficient as possible. In 2016, Mr. Sklarczyk installed 90 LED grow lights, resulting in annual electricity savings of $21,000. The installation of the LEDs allowed the farm to meet growing demand without the need for costly new facilities. In 2016, Sklarczyk Seed Farm harvested over six million high-quality, disease-free seed potatoes. Sklarczyk Seed Farm, served by Great Lakes Energy Cooperative, was named a finalist in the “Best Project – Agriculture” category.

“We are incredibly proud of the energy-saving projects completed by these four participating businesses and institutions,” said Art Thayer, Director of Energy Efficiency Programs for the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association (MECA). “The Energy Optimization program exists to improve Michigan homes, farms, and businesses by providing cash incentives toward the purchase of energy-efficient products and equipment. We’re happy to see these businesses reap the rewards of these smart investments now and into the future.”

For more information about the Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards, visit mienergyexcellence.org.

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