Category: Education

Burrowing owls call Phoenix office home

Western’s customer service territory shares the land with a great diversity of wildlife. Sometimes we even share the borders of our office buildings’ grounds with fascinating and interesting creatures. In the Desert Southwest region’s Phoenix office, employees work while 10 to 15 burrowing owls live just outside their door.

Three burrowing owls watch employees walk by at Desert Southwest’s Phoenix office, just as they do most mornings.

Three burrowing owls watch employees walk by at Desert Southwest’s Phoenix office, just as they do most mornings.

The convenience of being near wildlife brings some happiness to employees. “We all enjoy having [the owls] here at DSW. We have this great opportunity to be close to the wildlife and observe their living habits,” said Supply Technician Mary Bergeron.

As a result of an increasing human population leading to more residential and commercial development on agricultural land and prairies, wildlife species like the burrowing owl lose their natural nesting areas. For safety, health and conservation reasons, displaced owls are often relocated to man-made nesting structures like the one at the DSW yard.

In 2004, the Arizona Game and Fish Department conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of relocation efforts of burrowing owls to artificial burrows. They also wanted to establish relocation guidelines and recommendations for future management plans. As part of this study, AGFD monitored up to 50 relocation clusters throughout Arizona, including the one at DSW. On a regular basis, AGFD biologists would collect data on owl behavior, confirm the new burrow system was working, place bands on young birds to track their movements and make sure the site was still suitable for the owls. DSW’s artificial owl burrows are constructed of a PVC pipe system that is buried underground.

Unfortunately, the funding for this project ended after 2007, and the AGFD has not monitored the DSW birds for several years. Even so, DSW’s feathery neighbors are living happy lives today. If a funding source is secured in the future, the AGFD would like to continue monitoring the birds.

Learn more about burrowing owls.

Utility partners with high schools for science education

Wheatland Rural Electric Association took advantage of Western’s Equipment Loan Program to help science classes at Wheatland, Chugwater and Glendo high schools in Platte County, Colo.

The program offers Western customers technical equipment through loan agreements. Educational displays are among the most requested items in the program. Utilities set them up at customer meetings, classrooms and community events to open up conversations with their ratepayers.

Wheatland REA Member Services Manager Al Teel was enthusiastic about the capability and usefulness of weather stations, which measure wind speed, solar index, ultraviolet levels, precipitation, soil temperature and moisture content.

For residents in a largely agricultural economy, that information is relevant to their daily lives, Teel observed. “It’s more than a science project—students will be collecting data that has real value to the three communities,” he said.

To learn what students measured and how the information will be used, read the full story.

Western ‘energizes’ participants at Big Brother, Big Sister education event

Some Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Colorado youth and mentors were literally shocked while learning about the electrifying world of energy Aug. 11.

Participants, like this pair, had their pictures taken with an infrared camera during the Big Brothers and Big Sisters event focused on electricity, Aug. 11

Several Western Area Power Administration employees volunteered their time to provide participants with an understanding about how electricity travels from where it is generated to homes and businesses. “Watching participants learn new things about electricity and energy; and seeing them connect with how they can make simple choices that conserve energy is exciting,” said Energy Services Equipment Loan Program Manager Gary Hoffmann.

In just a little more than two hours, participants learn about money and energy-saving tips for their homes as well as for industry buildings; and took some time to investigate fuel-cell technology, understand different lighting options and ‘see’ heat using an infrared camera. They also had the opportunity to see a Tesla Coil and watch a fluorescent lamp light up in their hands.

One highlight of the event was the Van de Graaff generator where youth and mentors learned about static electricity and had the opportunity to share the electric charge and shock each other. Through the fun, hands-on event, participants learned first-hand how electricity works, its uses and also its dangers.

“We were all very excited about the success of the day. The kids and mentors loved learning about electricity in a hands-on way and were amazed by the various tools and toys Western shared,” added Program and Fund Development Intern Laura Newman, who organized the event. “Many of the kids left the event, infrared pictures of their match [mentor and youth] in hand, discussing how to do more and learn more about energy and science. Every match said they were interested in participating in more events like this.”

In the end, participants walked away charged up and ready to save energy. Some of those solutions include:

  • Turn off appliances when you’re not using them, including lights, computers, gaming consoles, TVs and radios.
  • Unplug chargers when not in use—charging devices can draw power even when they aren’t attached to a battery.
  • Close the refrigerator door quickly after you find a snack.
  • Keep doors, windows and curtains closed on very hot and very cold days.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Set your thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer and no higher than 68 degrees in the winter.
  • Seal leaks around windows, doors and heating ducts.
  • Air-dry clothes.

Western conducted grid reliability webinar

Western Area Power Administration conducted a Grid Reliability—Impacts to Tribal Renewable Projects webinar in partnership with the U.S. DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and DOE Tribal Energy Program July 25.

About 55 Tribal members and interested parties participated in the webinar with 112 registering for the event. Western’s Reliability Compliance Program Manager was the featured speaker, covering topics such as key definitions, reliability organizations, oversight process, standards and enforcement among other reliability considerations. 

Western’s Renewable Resource Program Manager Randy Manion shared, “This webinar was the eighth in the Fiscal Year 2012 Tribal Webinar series coordinated by Western. Laurent Weber, Western’s Reliability Compliance Program manager, did a masterful job explaining complex issues.”

The webinar series is giving Western transmission and power marketing experts a platform to share their incredible knowledge and expertise with Tribal representatives, renewable energy developers and other important stakeholders.

July 12 kickoff meeting for ‘Defining the future’

Western and DOE are hosting a webinar to kick off the public involvement and stakeholder process in our “Defining the Future” Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to achieve a more secure and sustainable electric sector in the United States.

Already Western has publicized it’s progress toward the objectives in Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu’s memo to the power marketing administrations.

Now during the webinar, participants can see the workshop and listening session formats, directions on how to access read-ahead material, a preview of information that will be presented during the workshops and a summary of the process for stakeholder participation during workshops and listening sessions.

So join us for:

Pre-workshop Webinar: “Defining the Future” Initiative
Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 1 p.m. (EDT)
Register for the webinar online

Government initiatives support tribal access to energy advancements

Over the last week, the Federal government took multiple steps to bring energy advancements to tribal lands.

  1. Department of Interior Secretary Salazar approved a 350-megawatt solar energy project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in Nevada on July 21. This project is the first-ever of its kind, being the only utility-scale development on tribal lands. The project supports President Obama’s all-of-the-above approach to energy and builds on the Administration’s efforts to advance renewable energy on America’s public lands. This innovative project is another step toward developing renewable energy resources on tribal lands with the hope of strengthening Native American economies.
  2. The Department of Energy announced Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team selections for six tribes in the lower 48 states to receive on-the-ground technical support for community-based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The START program provides both tribal communities and Alaska native villages with technical assistance to accelerate clean energy project development, advance energy self-sufficiency and create jobs.
  3. DOE recently launched an online resource library focused on energy topics relevant to tribal communities. The library lists links to more than 85 publications, websites and other resources about energy project development and financing in Indian Country. Topics include project checklists, technology, tribal case studies and strategic energy planning.
  4. Lastly, DOE announced the appointment of three additional tribal members for its Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group. The new tribal team members are the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Crow Tribe of Montana and Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska. Established in 2011, the group is made up of geographically diverse Native American energy leaders who discuss issues affecting tribal energy development. Members have broken ground by meeting with key energy sector players to share best practices and discuss emerging markets and opportunities for innovative partnerships.

Tribal webinar to discuss today’s energy needs, yesterday’s grid

Western Area Power Administration, the U.S. DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, and the DOE Tribal Energy Program are offering a free, informative webinar and discussion May 30 on how utilities’ generation portfolios are changing, often faster than the grid infrastructure that supports it, and the challenges currently being faced to integrate new generation and demand (load) response technologies into a grid that was designed to operate a different way.

There is no charge to attend the webinar; however, you must register to participate.

Tribal utility managers and resource engineers will hear information on (1) key findings in the MIT Energy Initiative Report on the changes needed in the U.S. transmission grid to handle expected challenges such as the influx of electric cars and wind and solar generation and (2) the Western Grid Group’s Clean Energy Vision Project, which charts a sustained, orderly transition from the carbon intensive electricity system of today to a cleaner, smarter and healthier electricity system of the future.

The webinar is chaired by Jay Caspary, with Southwest Power Pool and on assignment to the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The two speakers are Dr. Richard Schmalensee and Dr. Carl Linvill.

Dr. Schmalensee is the Director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Dr. Schmalensee was co-chair of the recent MIT Energy Initiative report on The Future of the Electric Grid. Dr. Linvill is Director of Integrated Energy Analysis and Planning with Aspen Environmental Group and a member of the Western Grid Group. He is a major contributor to the Clean Energy Vision Project.

For more information on this and the other tribal webinars, visit http://www.repartners.org/#tribeseries.

Montana Schools Win National Student Energy Efficiency Competition

A team of five schools from Carter County, Mont., has won the America’s Home Energy Education Challenge, a national student competition designed to encourage students and their families to take action to start saving money by saving energy.

The Montana team was supported by Southeast Electric Cooperative, based in Ekalaka, Mont.  Marlene Waterland of Southeast Electric coordinated the program and provided training for each of the schools.  Western contributed to the effort by providing a lighting efficiency display and infrared cameras through the Equipment Loan Program.

“Western is proud to be able to assist Southeast Electric Cooperative and Marlene engage these young people and focus their math and science skills on a real-life problem—how to save money by using energy efficiently at home,” said Gary Hoffmann, Western’s Equipment Loan Program manager.

The five schools, Alzeda Elementary School, Carter County High School, Ekalaka Elementary School (K-8th grade), Hammond School (K-8th grade) and Hawks Home School, will share the $15,000 they won as both a regional winner and as the national champion.

The Challenge, which is run by the National Science Teachers Association for the Department of Energy, challenged teams of third through eighth grade students to work with their science teachers and local utility companies to develop energy use savings plans that reduce the amount of energy used to power their homes. Each student team monitored and measured their energy consumption between September and November 2011, and then compared it to data collected during the same three-month period the year before.

The Montana students talked to their family members about steps they could take to save money by saving energy, including turning off the lights when leaving the room, running the laundry machine with cooler water and full loads, and in an agricultural community, using timers to set charging times for tractors.

Learn more about the America’s Home Energy Education Challenge

Read DOE’s press release on the America’s Home Energy Education Challenge winner

See photos and local coverage of the Carter County program

Western “holds on” during earthquake drill

Western employees hold on during Utah earthquake drill

Catherine Anderson, a contracted administrative technician, ducks, covers and holds on during a state-wide earthquake drill in Utah April 17 at 10:15 a.m.

Colorado River Storage Project Management Center employees in Salt Lake City, Utah, dropped, covered and held on with nearly 1 million other Utahns during a state-wide earthquake drill at 10:15 a.m. April 17.

“It was a great success with a lot of interest created in taking additional steps within the office toward better preparedness,” said CRSP Financial Analyst David Welker, who headed up the exercise for the office. After the drill, employees “had a brief group discussion on earthquake safety and general preparedness.”

 The Great Utah ShakeOut, the largest earthquake in Utah’s history, simulated a 7.0 magnitude earthquake where residents, businesses, schools and others took cover for about 60 seconds in shelters or other protected areas.

The exercise was meant to encourage emergency preparedness and educate citizens about earthquake safety, including making a disaster kit, having a plan and mapping out safe places to go during and after the quake.

“Utah is overdue for a major earthquake,” said Welker. “Utah has conducted small-scale drills in towns and such, but this is the first time it’s been done on a state-wide level. It’s important to keep the information fresh so you know what to do if there is a quake.”

Hoover Dam Bypass: An award-winning bridge

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge was honored this week with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2012 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award March 22. At nearly 900 feet above the Colorado River and 1,900 feet long, the Hoover Dam Bypass helps to protect the security of the dam by removing through traffic from US 93. The structure was constructed in a harsh environment where temperatures reached triple digits during the day. The structure is the highest and longest arch concrete bridge in the Western hemisphere and features the world’s tallest concrete columns.

The project was recognized not only as a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole but also emphasized environmental and cultural stewardship. The highway underpasses were built for endangered desert bighorn sheep, native plants in the construction corridor were preserved and replaced, and Native American cultural properties adjacent to the site were protected.

Western staff joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service and the states of Arizona and Nevada to build the bridge across the Colorado River, bypassing the highway that spans the crest of Hoover Dam.

Read more about the OCEA award and Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge at the ASCE’s news release.