How much energy do you use? What’s it cost?

color-coded map of U.S. showing energy costs

How much energy costs by state

Do you know which state spends the most money per person on energy?

Spoiler alert! It’s Alaska.

Now, based on Energy Information Administration’s 2009 “State Energy Data System” you can navigate the Department of Energy’s interactive map to see which states spend the most and least money on energy per person.

color-coded map of U.S. showing energy consumption

How much energy states use

DOE also has an interactive map that highlights how much energy each state consumes.

You can see how varied energy costs and consumption are throughout Western’s service territory.

Looking at your state’s energy statistics, what do you think?

Wind generates awards

Western’s service area is in the heart of our Nation’s renewable energy potential. Nine of the 10 windiest states in the Nation are in our geographic footprint. So it makes sense for Western to partner with the Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America initiative to present awards to public-owned utilities and cooperatives for their leadership in promoting wind energy development.

On Feb. 22, East River Electric Cooperative in Madison, S.D., received the Wind Cooperative of the Year Award for generation and transmission cooperatives at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association TechAdvantage Conference in New Orleans.

East River, a Western customer serving eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota, earned the award by creating a model for community-based, locally owned wind development that relied on South Dakota citizens rather than large equity investors.

Also, Western and DOE’s Wind Powering America initiative are currently accepting nominations for the 2013 Public Power Wind Award in partnership with the American Public Power Association.  Nominations are due March 25. See the news release for more information.

This is the eleventh year for the Public Power Wind Award and the twelfth for the Wind Cooperative of the Year Award. You can see the year-by-year progression on installed wind capacity in the United States in an animated map on Wind Powering America’s website.

When ‘zero’ is the best you can do!

Two people hold a framed safety vest

Acting Administrator Anita Decker, left, accepts a safety vest from Maintenance Manager Will Schnyer, Feb. 20, at the RMEL workshop. The vest is signed by all the Western employees who helped restore power in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in late October 2012.

We want 100 percent efficiency and 100 percent reliability at Western; but the one category we always want to see zeros in is accidents and injuries.

Safety is part of the job, planning and culture at Western. From senior and direct managers to office and field workers, employees know how important it is for everyone to go home at the end of the day.

The long days Western crews put in helping with the restoration efforts in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy were no exception. “All together our guys worked more than 18,500 hours in the 10 days we were out there,” said Will Schnyer, a maintenance manager out of Montrose, Colo. “That’s like one person working 40 hours a week for almost 9 years! And our crews did it without a single accident or injury.”

To celebrate the success, all 91 Western employees who responded to the call after Hurricane Sandy signed a safety vest. Schnyer presented the vest to Western’s Acting Administrator Anita Decker at RMEL’s “Electric Utility Emergency Response—Hurricane Sandy and Beyond” workshop, Feb. 20, 2013.

“We appreciate all the support we received while we went to restore the power system in New Jersey,” said Schnyer. “Our success is really marked by our safe working record. We are really proud of that record and of our team.”

“I’m honored to be recognized by the Hurricane Sandy responders,” said Decker, “but I’m truly most proud of what it represents in regard to the collective safety of each and every person involved.”

How do you recognize your employees’ safety efforts or achievements?

Helping Federal agencies in their quest to get “green”

To help our Nation meet its environmental targets for renewable energy generation the U.S. Department of Energy, Western Area Power Administration and Federal Energy Management Program announced Feb. 14 the 2013 renewable energy certificate (REC) solicitations to Federal agencies interested in meeting their renewable energy goals and mandates, improving the environment and supporting national energy security.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, RECs represent the environmental aspects of energy generated by renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass or landfill gas, physically delivered into the electric grid.

For more information and to participant in this solicitation, download and complete the Statement of Intent for Federal Agencies to Purchase Renewable Resources

On March 14, 2013 at 11 a.m. MST, the partnering agencies are hosting a 45-minute webinar covering the key requirements and steps associated with this REC purchase. Register for this event at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/436724072.

Construction work starts on ED5-PVH Project

3 employees work in a trench on substation footer

Employees with Tri-Technic Inc. prepare footer for an ED-5 Substation retaining wall, Feb. 11, 2013.

Construction work started on a project that will connect renewable energy south of Phoenix, Ariz., to a major trading hub. This is the first major construction step for the Electrical District No. 5 – Palo Verde Hub Project.

“It’s great to see that construction work has started on this important project,” said ED5-PVH Project Manager Todd Rhoades. “Hurricane Sandy and the recent northeast blackouts really highlight how important our energy infrastructure is to our everyday lives. This project is an investment in improving our system in the desert southwest area.”

Western awarded the construction contracts in fall 2012. These projects are being funded through Western’s Transmission Infrastructure Program.

What benefits do you see from projects like ED5-PVH in support of the utility industry?

Employees volunteer, cheer for students, science

When you work in an administrative capacity or for a support function at Western, you can feel quite removed from the technical side of the business, quite removed from Energy, quite removed from Science. At least, that’s how I sometimes feel working in Public Affairs.

Members of the winning Helena A Team, Katie Chamberlain, Thomas Culver, Mark Sargent and Joe Whitney, ponder a question on their way to winning the Big Sky Regional Science Bowl Feb. 2, 2013.

But every year, Western employees, regardless of their position have a chance to get just a little bit closer to the science of it all, through volunteering at one of six regional Science Bowls, hosted by Western’s regional offices.

Employees from across Western’s service territory volunteer as judges, timers, runners and announcers. In an enthusiatic email to employees at our Corporate Services Office, Colorado River Storage Project Management Center Manager Lynn Jeka shared, “I have served as a volunteer scorekeeper for the Southern Colorado area [Department of Energy] High School Science Bowl…since joining DOE in 1996. It never ceases to amaze me how extremely bright and talented these high school students are.”

She went on to encourage other employees to volunteer and joked about how intimidating the rapid-fire science and math questions could be.

On Feb. 2 Helena High School took first place for the third year in a row, beating 27 other teams, at the Big Sky Regional Science Bowl in Montana while Ridgeview Classicals Schools Team 1 from Fort Collins, Colo., won the Rocky Mountain Science Bowl, beating 22 teams from Colorado and Nebraska. Both winners will advance to the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C., April 25-29.

Western will sponsor two more regional science bowls in February and two more in March. Stay tuned to read about the winners.

How well do you think you’d fare answering questions about biology, chemistry, earth science, space science, math and physics?

EMF: How close is too close?

E.M.F. Three little letters that strike terror into many hearts, but why?

EMF testing

Donna Shay, a Colorado citizen, asked Western to conduct an electric and magnetic field reading at her cabin that sits just outside a 115-kilovolt transmission line’s right-of-way. EMF readings determined about 1 milliGauss of exposure near her front door.

Mostly, it’s because we don’t understand electric and magnetic fields, or EMF.

The truth is people come into contact with these fields every day. EMFs occur naturally, like the magnetic field caused by currents deep inside Earth’s molten core. Manmade fields are also created by common appliances and equipment we depend on every day, like talking on a cell phone or heating up lunch in a microwave.

At Western, our high-voltage transmission lines and substations give off EMF, which sometimes concerns landowners with lines over and near their property. To help allay concerns, Western’s electrical engineers will test landowners’ EMF exposures from our transmission lines on request. Read more »

In a battle of knowledge, students excel to national competition

Putting science and mathematics to the test, high- and middle-school students spend late winter and early spring competing at regional competitions for top honors at the Department of Energy National Science Bowl at the end of April  in Washington, D.C. 

Throughout Western’s territory, our employees sponsor and volunteer for the regional Science Bowls in hopes that one of our local high school and middle school teams takes the top honors at the national level. Western employees volunteer as judges, timers, runners and announcers.

Starting Feb. 2 with the Big Sky Regional Science Bowl in Billings, Mont., and Rocky Mountain RSB in Ft. Collins, Colo., Western participates in six regional bowls.  The Arizona RSB is scheduled for March 2 in Glendale, Ariz. Still to be schedule are the Sacramento, North Dakota and South Dakota RSBs.

Southline environmental analysis moves forward

Environmental review and analysis of transmission line projects is an iterative process. A project is proposed; the proposal is reviewed; alternatives are developed; comments are solicited and considered; revisions are made. Then the process repeats.

The Southline Transmission Line Project  provides a great example. The Bureau of Land Management New Mexico  and Western  are co-lead agencies preparing the environmental impact statement for the project. The BLM recently completed meetings with Federal, state and county agencies as part of the process of developing alternatives for the project.

These meetings were an opportunity for the agencies to review the preliminary alternative routes being considered by the BLM and Western for the project and identify concerns and issues with any of the alternative routes. Input from the agencies will be included in the final alternatives development report and keeps the environmental analysis moving forward on schedule.

The BLM and Western expect to complete a draft EIS later this year. That’s when the public will have a chance to review and comment on the draft EIS. Those comments will then be considered as the agencies develop a final EIS.

Have you ever wanted to know more about the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process and how Federal agencies analyze projects? Here’s a chart that shows the steps in the process. You can also learn more in the NEPA section of the Department of Energy’s website.

Rim Rock Wind Farm achieves commercial operation

A wind turbine

A Rim Rock Turbine generates energy in Montana. (Photo by NaturEner)

Western’s Connections blog first shared that the Rim Rock Wind Farm’s planned to interconnect through the Montana Alberta Tie Limited transmission line (a project supported through Western’s Transmission Infrastructure Program) in a post last Jan. 10, 2012. Even though Western’s involvement with MATL was completed last fall, the wind farm announced another milestone yesterday.

NaturEner publicized Jan. 10 that the commercial operations of its Rim Rock Wind Farm near Kevin, Mont., started Dec. 28, 2012. Read more »