Power, Energy and Water

Broadband Partnerships

September 2018

Broadband communications is coming to rural America, and the pace of progress remains slow. But there is good news in several areas.

CoBank sat down with Ty Thompson, vice president and deputy general counsel for director and legal services, and Jessica Healy, assistant general counsel, both of the NRECA, to discuss some of the high-level legal issues that co-ops must understand before moving into broadband.

CoBank spoke with Bill Miller, CPA, a tax partner with the firm of Bolinger, Segars, Gilbert & Moss, LLP to get a perspective on the accounting, tax and other issues that surround both creation of a broadband venture and an exit strategy.

CoBank sat down with Foster Hildreth, OPALCO’s general manager, and Gerry Lawlor, vice president, Fixed Broadband with T-Mobile to discuss how this unlikely broadband partnership began and the benefits it has provided.

CoBank sat down David Girvan, COO of United Electric Cooperative, and Jasper Schneider, vice president of member and industry at NISC, to discuss the challenges they faced and how they dramatically improved the co-op’s entire customer service function.

CoBank met with Jenny Kartes, finance and administration manager with Arrowhead and Kristi Westbrock, CEO and general manager of CTC, to better understand this non-traditional union and explore its benefits and challenges.

Adoption of distributed solar among ag producers remains low, largely driven by incentives and tax appetite, but will accelerate when the levelized cost of energy for on-farm solar converges with retail electricity rates, which will likely occur by 2025 in most states.

Positively Charged

The Emergence of Battery Energy Storage Among Electric Distribution Co-ops
Battery energy storage systems are gaining momentum beyond traditional markets in Hawaii, Alaska, California and the Northeast. Growth is dominated by lithiumion (Li-ion) battery technology, spurred by increasing demand for electric vehicles and stationary uses. Greater market share for Li-ion battery technology is buoyed  by an expanding global supply chain that promises greater economies of scale and constant downward pressure on costs.
The early market for plug-in electric vehicles has been characterized by modest but steadily increasing sales, high vehicle reliability and customer satisfaction, and a rapid evolution of both vehicle and charging technologies.
As water utilities wrestle with increasing regulatory compliance and costly infrastructure needs, many are considering whether consolidation, also referred to as regionalization or partnering, could help them meet their challenges. Proponents say consolidation can help rural water systems leverage economies of scale and available expertise to make better use of resources and opportunities. But not everyone agrees on the rationale or approach to consolidation.
More and more rural electric cooperatives are learning that their existing distribution networks can lend themselves to highly efficient deployment of broadband for their member-owners. Based on the distances that define rural America, one of the surest ways to effectively build a broadband network is to use an existing electric co-op infrastructure.
Across the U.S., a growing number of rural water and wastewater systems are taking advantage of technological innovations to increase efficiencies, save money, reduce water waste and comply with environmental regulations.
As the cost of renewable energy continues to decline and it becomes more competitive with other power sources, electric cooperatives are turning increasingly to low-cost renewable energy to help meet their members’ power requirements. In lieu of building and owning these generation assets themselves, many are executing long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) at contractually specified prices for renewable energy.
Some analysts have estimated that 50 percent of the rural water industry’s workforce will retire in the next few years. In its 2016 State of the Water Industry report, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) listed “aging workforce/anticipated retirements” as No. 13 of 28 top challenges.
The nation’s rural water systems are striving to improve their public image and address their pressing business challenges as they work to survive and thrive over the next few decades.
As a result of the coal industry’s severe contraction, many of the smaller companies will likely be wiped out, whereas the largest coal mining companies should emerge from bankruptcy being much more competitive both domestically and globally.
The proliferation of PV solar on the grid will continue to change traditional daily load curves, reducing net demand when PV power generation peaks during the middle of the day.
The Colorado River faces myriad threats as the limits of its ability to meet the diverse array of growing demands is tested by over-allocation and diminished streamflow, due in part to a 16-year drought considered among the worst in 1,200 years.

Banking on Renewables

February 2016
Renewable energy has taken center stage in the ongoing evolution of the U.S. electric industry. Declining installation costs, growing consumer demand, strong financial incentives, and environmental regulations will support the build out of renewable energy through the end of this decade and beyond.
Colorado’s overall existing water rights – from the most senior, to the most junior – exceed the available supply of water during many years and in most regions across the state. Growing demands from competing water users – reflecting population growth, energy development, and recreational and environmental needs – threaten to reduce irrigated farming and ranching in coming decades.
Going forward, significant demand growth will usher in a new era for domestic natural gas markets – one that is defined by the growing influence of international markets as the U.S. becomes a net exporter of natural gas.
The world oil market has transitioned over the past year from a situation characterized by concerns about scarcity based on disruption events to one defined by substantial oversupply. The shift toward substantial oversupply has drawn the market focus back to the question of cartel behavior and the policy preferences of Saudi Arabia and OPEC.
Plummeting oil prices have highlighted the delicate balance between global supply and demand, suppliers’ geopolitical agendas, and the interdependencies among all countries that participate in the international crude market. This global market began softening in July 2014 on the heels of weak global demand and surging production, particularly out of the U.S.
The U.S. solar industry is experiencing exceptionally rapid growth, largely due to falling photovoltaic (PV) solar prices and generous federal and state subsidies. Installations across all market segments – residential, non-residential, and utility-scale – will continue to grow.
The Ogallala Aquifer underlies parts of eight states within the High Plains region, from South Dakota to Texas, and is a major source for agricultural, industrial and municipal water needs. Withdrawals from the Ogallala for agricultural irrigation far exceed natural replenishment in some farming and ranching regions.
The Ogallala aquifer has been tapped faster than nature can replenish it. Overall, it has lost an estimated 8 percent of its water, albeit with wide variations. Wells in parts of Texas, for example, have dropped as much as 242 feet while some wells in Nebraska have seen 85-foot increases.
The U.S. solar industry is quickly evolving beyond its nascent beginning, as more risk-averse investors enter the market. Scrutiny of the long-term performance of solar assets by the investment community will impose a market driven discipline on product quality.
U.S. total electricity demand has “decoupled” from the pace of overall economic activity. It’s not clear, however, whether this break represents a transitory or permanent shift. The decoupling of growth in electricity sales from real GDP growth coincides with accelerated adoption rates of energy efficiency across all end-use sectors.
During the severe 2008-09 economic recession, many utilities delayed capital projects and now find themselves under mounting pressure to replace aging infrastructure or expand capacity. These financial pressures will be more pressing for government-owned utilities than for large investor-owned utilities as the latter have greater access to private capital.
Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., a well-known, highly regarded consultancy serving the water utilities industry, prepared the attached primer. It reviews the key metrics and financial considerations that credit analysts generally use to evaluate the creditworthiness of municipal water and wastewater utilities.
Many observers regard the recent shale gas and oil surges as a “game changer” for the U.S. economy, creating new jobs and spin-off industries, fattening tax coffers, driving down energy prices, and moving the nation closer to energy independence. Concerns about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing have grown along with its rapid expansion.
The solar industry is growing rapidly, due to sharply falling technology prices, volatility in the oil market, government subsidies and support measures, and ongoing environmental concerns.
The major global economies are now undergoing significant economic transitions. The U.S., Europe and China are in the process of realigning their economies to the new economic and geopolitical realities. This process will mean major structural shifts over the next few years, and the magnitude and pace of these transitions will drive U.S. and global economic potential.