If you live in Parker, you probably know who the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) is. You pay them each month to keep your lights, heat, and A/C functioning. IREA has a 5,000 square mile service territory that includes portions of 11 counties to the east, west, and south of Denver. As a customer-owned cooperative, IREA operates on a nonprofit basis. That means that earnings that exceed expenses are invested in improving the facilities used to provide electric service and are booked as member equity. Some of this equity is returned to members almost every year through capital credit refunds.
The widespread power outages in Texas due to extreme weather are a reminder of the importance of system reliability when it comes to keeping people safe and warm. Upgrades to lines, poles, and other infrastructure harden IREA’s system against Colorado’s unpredictable weather.
In addition, Colorado’s predisposition to wildfires can be mitigated by vegetation management. All 5,000-plus miles of overhead distribution lines in their system are cleared from intrusive foliage at least once every six years, and crews address customer reports of potential hazards year-round.
A recent installation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure also helps reliability tremendously. With this infrastructure, IREA can identify the locations and causes of outages so that power can be restored even faster.
Above all, IREA believes that the most efficient and cost-effective way to improve reliability is to join a regional transmission organization (RTO). An independent, non-profit RTO coordinates, controls, and monitors a multi-state electric grid. This is unlike the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) because an RTO is subject to federal regulation and has access to multi-state generation if the demand requires energy across state lines. More efficient and transparent transmission coordination across Colorado would reduce energy costs for customers, create thousands of new jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolster renewable energy options, according to a study commissioned by IREA and Holy Cross Energy. IREA customers who would like to help advance this and other beneficial legislation can sign up for legislative alerts by going to the contact form at https://irea.coop/contact-us/ and titling the subject “Legislative Alert Sign Up.”
Renewable energy sources provide a clean way to obtain energy that has a much lower environmental impact than conventional technologies. It sustainably secures energy for generations to come, which is a top-of-mind goal for IREA.
IREA’s newest utility-scale facility, Pioneer Solar, began power production in December and reached full operating capacity earlier this year. The facility sits on 540 acres near Bennett. It includes more than 230,000 photovoltaic panels with single-axis tracking, which allows them to follow the path of the sun and increase solar exposure.
Jim Anest, who, as the representative of District 7, represents most of Parker, predicts that IREA will only get greener.
IREA has come far since early 2016, when we had no solar energy on our system, to today’s model, where we have in place or under contract 200 megawatts of solar power,” Jim says. “It all started in 2016 with the company’s first solar production, and we are now rolling out or negotiating for a new solar farm on what seems like a yearly basis."
IREA’s board of directors has approved additional projects that will bring IREA’s renewable energy capacity to nearly 200 megawatts by the end of 2021. That’s about enough to power nearly 48,000 average homes on IREA's system for a year.