SMPA still looking for Rico microgrid solar array site

· Electrification,SMPA,Microgrid
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Plan B: batteries first, solar later

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seasonal electric accounts billing
beneficial electrification
future electric rates

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portion of San Miguel Power Association 200 KiloWatt solar photovoltaic array near Norwood CO.
Ore Cart photo - August 11, 2021
more info
SMPA Norwood Community Solar 


In this report

  1. Rico microgrid
  2. SMPA energy and member service update



1) Rico microgrid

Terry Schuyler of San Miguel Power Association reported on design site options for the Rico microgrid feasibility assessment at the December 20, 2023 Rico Board of Trustees meeting. SMPA received planning grants in 2023 four for microgrid sites from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Microgrids for Community Resilience Program:

  • Rico
  • Ophir
  • Ridgway
  • SMPA office communications

“The very first element of this is to identify the possible locations for the battery systems and the solar systems. The initial design we looked at 300 KiloWatt community solar system that would provide auxiliary charging to a 4-hour battery bank. By itself, the 4-hour battery bank would provide 4 hours of backup for the whole community. In the case of an extended outage that might last a day or more, the solar would be available to recharge the batteries and extend the coverage. We’re also looking at possibly monetizing the battery bank by dispatching the solar during the day In order to reduce the demand charges, which would improve the project’s economics to make it more feasible for the board of directors to approve borrowing money to build and own and operate the system."

“Since then we’ve gotten out into the field with our contractor Sunsense. We’ve evaluated the three sites at ARCO. We initially targeted the ARCO Property north, the repository area, thinking that a brownfield would be the most logical sight. . . . This is the original site which we envisioned, turned out this is not viable. . . . . It’s very sloped, it’s very expensive to build there. They also identified other two sites, which are close and in town, as possible sites to look at. Since then we’ve discovered two things: one, they may be objectionable from a visual point of view, close to properties; two, they’re along a single-phase line, we actually need to place the majority of the system on a three-phase line. A three-phase line comes into town and then divides into individual single phase taps so that we can provide backup to the entire community.”

“All three of these sites proved untenable, so we’re on to looking at other sites.”


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San Miguel Power Association maps of potential Rico microgrid solar PV array sites which were reviewed and rejected. Left map - location shown with red border is the north portion of the Atlantic Richfield reclamation area. Right map - two locations shown do not have adjacent 3-phase powerlines or buried cables. A 3-phase powerline has 3 energized conductors (wires) and is needed for large electric equipment. A 1-phase powerline has 1 energized conductor.

SMPA presentation -
Rico Board of Trusteees meeting
December 20, 2023

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Desired solar PV array site qualities

Terry described characteristics needed for a solar PV array site:

  1. good solar resource - sunshine
  2. close access to 3-phase powerline
  3. good access for vehicular traffic during construction and maintenance
  4. inexpensive solar array structure
  5. low impact on neighborhood ecology to enable community buy-in
  6. low- to no-cost land lease
  7. cost for the project which is competitive with SMPA’s wholesale power supply

“If we cannot find a suitable location for the community solar array, we may be forced to look at a default situation where we just go for funding for the battery system only. To be clear, the solar array is not absolutely necessary for the operation of the microgrid.”


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San Miguel Power Association map of potential Rico microgrid solar PV arrays sites. Location at lower left map has 3-phase powerline. Upper-right location is at end of Mill Road.

SMPA presentation -
Rico Board of Trustees meeting
December 20, 2023

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Terry described the PV solar array, battery bank, and benefits of both:


  • 300 KW (KiloWatts) maximum instantaneous generating capacity will produce 1,200 KWhr (KiloWatt-hours) of daily battery recharge (if sun is shining).
  • re-charge batteries in case of extended power outage.
  • source of local renewable energy.
  • dispatch (release) energy stored in batteries at night which improves project economics.


  • 4-hour battery bank = approximately 1,200 KWhr
  • Double battery bank capacity to 2,400 KWhr allows SMPA to release energy during evening hours (if no power outage) to offset wholesale power purchases and avoid some of the wholesale monthly “demand charge.”

“Without that community solar array, it doesn’t mean that resiliency is not possible without the battery bank. We could look at using current and future excess rooftop solar during the day. Typically during an outage, anybody who has a net-metered solar system by definition, by Code, has to disconnect from the grid.”

“But once an outage occurs and we have a big battery bank, we form a new grid. It’s isolated by where we open the switch. In the case of Rico, we put a switch up north, and when there’s a power outage we open that circuit, power the entire town on the battery. Then the solar systems in town would be able to connect to that battery bank and continue to sell their excess solar (energy) back into the battery . . . And they would be participating as an active participant in the increased resiliency of the community by allowing their excess daytime solar to further offset the load that the battery bank has to provide.”


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SMPA Norwood Community Solar Array satellite image. The generating capacity is 200 KW (KiloWatts). Planned size of Rico solar array is 300 KW.

U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Database
U.S. Department of Energy

more info
San Miguel Power Assn proposes electric backup service
 Ore Cart - February 10, 2023

SMPA to seek Colorado microgrid "resiliency" grant for Rico backup power
 Ore Cart - January 17, 2023 
. . scroll down to item 2 

Microgrids for Community Resilience, and Climate Action
San Miguel Power Association - November 29, 2023



2) SMPA energy and member service update

Wiley Freeman, SMPA Manager of Member and Energy Services, described recent and future changes and projects:

  • seasonal accounts billing policy
  • electric utility industry transition to Beneficial Electrification
  • Timing Matters information to provide SMPA member-consumers with knowledge of why electric energy pricing may change based on time of
  • Red Mountain Reliability Project to re-build a powerline between Silverton and Ouray.

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Idle services and seasonal accounts

The previous SMPA Idle Services policy allowed member-consumers to request “seasonal disconnects” to shut-off electric service when the home or business is vacant, typically during winter. A seasonal account is one where a home or building is not occupied year-’round.

This policy “allowed these accounts to not pay the fixed monthly access charge while they were disconnected.”

The SMPA policy change stops this and “allows for those accounts to pay their fair share of the fixed maintenance costs of the grid. . . . This was an initiative to help bring about more equitable cost recovery.”

“This probably affects Rico and the surrounding area more than other parts of the service area because of the seasonal accounts that are in the area.”

SMPA’s monthly access charge recovers some of its costs to have electric service available, whether or not an SMPA member purchases electricity.

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Beneficial Electrification

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Countertop electric plug-in induction cooktop conceals propane stove burners at a Rico CO home.

Ore Cart photo
January 14,2024

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“Our industry is going through one of the biggest transitions ever. We are seeing the impact of communities, States, local government, Federal government taking action on climate change . . . seeking opportunities to electrify, switching from fossil-fuel based resources to renewable resources. . . . Beneficial electrification is one where technology is transforming and disrupting our legacy business models. But it's also bringing great opportunities to consumers.”

Wiley describe the four pillars of beneficial electrification.

  1. Save consumers money, such as using electricity for transportation or heat pumps for indoor heating.
  2. Improved product quality. Example: a battery-powered chainsaw is more reliable than a gas-powered version in which fuel can go bad and cause carburetor fouling if not used often.
  3. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Fostering a more resilient electric grid.

“This is the most important piece to SMPA. As people electrify, this creates some issues of strain on the electric grid. Additional resources are necessary to provide electricity as people electrify their transportation and home heating. Beneficial electrification has to have an element of strengthening the grid and creating more resilience.”

more info
SMPA Energy
 scroll up to "What is Beneficial Electrification?"

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Timing Matters

The time of day when electric power is generated and consumed presents utilities an opportunity to manage the electric grid with greater intelligence, and give electric consumers options. SMPA's Timing Matters information explains how and why electric power costs vary. Recent SMPA monthly billing statements show the consumer’s electric usage in two daily time slots.

"Hours of 4 PM to 9 PM are SMPA peak hours, when we have rush-hour on the grid, and that’s when electricity is most expensive to purchase from our wholesale power supplier, and also when the electricity is the most carbon-intense as fossil fuel generators ramp-up.”

Recently-added peak and off-peak electric consumption information on monthly power bills does not mean that SMPA rates have changed.

“Ultimate goal is to tease-out what’s going to be the best for our members. For the year 2024 we’re going to be coming to you, the members of SMPA, to offer some solutions to incorporating a time component to the retail rate structure, with an on-peak and an off-peak charge. What are those rates going to look like? I can’t tell you today because we’re just getting started on this project. We want to work with our members to find ways to lessen the amount of energy that they need during peak times of 4 to 9 PM.”

SMPA requests feedback from members on this retail rates transition.

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Red Mountain Pass Reliability project

“One of the largest capital projects that SMPA has ever taken-on. We have a transmission line between Silverton and Ouray along highway 550 that needs to be rebuilt. This project is likely to kick-off in summer 2024. We have been working up to this over the past five to six years.”




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