ACCESS to Solar for All

Written by Brittnee McCabe, Intern

Today we speak with Nick Shoemaker as he tells us a little bit more about the ACCESS Program and its impact on Norman Public Schools. The last time Nick joined Autumn on our podcast, he discussed our partnership with Norman Public Schools and the solar farm that provides power to them. As solar energy continues to gain popularity across the nation, OEC is determined to find ways that our members can benefit.

Nick is OEC’s Manager of System Engineering. He serves as the head electrical engineer and oversees all of the grid design for OEC as well as overseeing all of the codes, both civil and electrical. 

On this episode, Nick dives in to share a little bit more about the ACCESS Program with us. 

“ACCESS stands for Achieving Cooperative Community Equitable Solar Sources. This is a project through our national organization, NRECA. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association oversees talking between all the cooperatives in us and currently, five other leader cooperatives are doing renewable energy resources projects, “Shoemaker states. “And we are collaborating with one another, with the NRECA, with a long list of technical partners, and then through a grant that we all received through the Department of Energy, doing research on how we can bring solar, solar development, and the benefits of solar too, to LMR, which is a government term that stands for low to moderate income consumers.”

Although solar can introduce a lot of risk, Nick believes that the ACCESS Program will help to find more creative ways for people to take on that risk as well as lower some of the barriers surrounding solar like cost.

“We’re trying to find innovative and cost-effective ways for people to be involved with solar and solar access. In short, you know, kind of reducing those barriers to entry. You could put solar on your house and that is definitely one way to get solar, but that’s a very large barrier to entry for most people. So, we are thinking of other ways that we can utilize solar resources and have people have different levels of access to it and receive the benefits of that without having to just upfront a bunch of money.”

Not only does this program help shed some light on the benefits of solar power, but it will provide students and community members a chance to see, hear and feel this creation of energy and is a phenomenal way to engage people, especially about STEM related topics. The ACCESS Program can show everyone that solar power is not just something in a book, but instead an amazing teaching opportunity as well as a fantastic way to provide power to the communities that surround us. 

To learn more, listen to the latest episode of The Current Buzz here: www.okcoop.org/the-current-buzz-podcast.

Rolling Blackouts, the SPP, and the Future

Written by Brittnee McCabe, Intern

2021 has been nothing short of an eventful year already, especially with the recent extreme cold weather, rolling blackouts, and the dire need for answers. On this episode, Autumn McMahon teamed up with CEO, Patrick Grace once again to discuss what happened during Winter Storm Uri as well as all of the factors that contributed to the problems many members of our communities faced. 

There are many questions that arose during this storm, but some of the most important ones to discuss now include, “Why was electricity demand so high?”, “What was happening on the generation side?” and “Who is SPP and why was their role so important?”. 

Patrick discusses some of the reasons why electricity demand was so high, “The further south you go, the more you have all electric homes who use electricity to heat their homes instead of natural gas, and that was the case for almost all of Texas. According to the EIA, our region, the West South-Central region which includes Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, 53% of households use electricity as its primary heat source.”

In conjunction to this, Daniel Lofland, an OEC employee explained this situation in more latent terms, “Keeping a house at 72 degrees when it is -5 degrees outside is equivalent to cooling a house to 72 degrees when it is 150 degrees outside.” Patrick also explains that it is easier to remove heat from a home than it is to add heat because you need to create a heat source to provide that warm air. So, when thinking about why this weather caused such a higher load, most of it relates to the number of homes that are using electricity to keep their homes warm.  

On the generation side of things during this storm, the problems faced were mainly related to how the cold weather impacted the generation of electricity. Many of the plants that generate electricity run on natural gas, which in turn can create problems like freezing pipelines which affects how much natural gas can be moved to continue to power these facilities. Since we are in the Southwest Power Pool, we can normally import power from our neighbors to the North, East or West of us and use some of the power they have to help us. 

For instance, when it is really hot here in Oklahoma, it is usually not that hot in North Dakota, so we can import more power from that region to help us power our air conditioning units here to help alleviate the heat. But since every area surrounding us was also facing the same weather, it was hard to be able to import power from other locations, which created a problem for these generation plants, which in turn led to the conversations about rolling blackouts. 

Unfortunately, these rolling blackouts weren’t being called by electric cooperatives like OEC, but instead by SPP, also known as Southwest Power Pool. The SPP is a regional transmission organization, and Patrick provided us with a great explanation of what SPP controls. 

“They are the air traffic controller of the power grid system for these 14 states. They don’t own the transmission, they don’t own the generation, they don’t own the load, just like the aircraft controller doesn’t own the sky, the airplane, or the airport, they just are in charge and federally mandated to make sure everybody operates safely and reliably. They have to make sure that not only there’s enough generation to meet the projected load over the long term, but also how the transmission lines will get the power from one place to another, or wherever needed.”

“Oklahoma historically has some of the lowest power cost in the country. And that is, in large part due to the fact that we are part of the Southwest Power Pool, and we have access to everyone’s generation,” Patrick states, “If we had not been a part of the Southwest Power Pool, we still would have had rolling blackouts, because there’s some co-ops in Far Eastern Oklahoma that aren’t part of the SPP, but that the system, whether the SPP is the one pulling the levers, or if you’re doing it yourself, you couldn’t meet it.” 

Although this storm may be in the past now, OEC is using this situation to learn for the future. Patrick explains more in our podcast some of the plans OEC has in place to better protect our members and hopefully prevent rolling blackouts in the future. 

To learn more about this storm, SPP, and OEC’s plans for the future, listen to the latest episode of The Current Buzz here: www.okcoop.org/the-current-buzz-podcast.

Concern for Community

Written by: Brittnee McCabe, Intern

On our last podcast episode, Autumn McMahon was gifted with a first-time guest on The Current Buzz, Brianna Wall. Brianna is the Creative Director at OEC and has been working with OEC for the past 14 years. Brianna and Autumn discussed the 7th Cooperative Principle, Concern for Community, and the impact it has had on Brianna and her community.

The 7th Cooperative Principle, Concern for Community, dates back to when cooperatives were first created by farmers in 1930. They came together and saw a need to gain federal aid to create cooperatives today as we know them while also supporting their community.

“I believe that it is very important to be involved in our communities and to continue to build the trust that we have with our communities. It shows that we are there for them and support them, and in return, they support us,” Wall states. “Cooperatives are local. Our members are our neighbors, teachers, and often sit beside us at church which helps create a sense of community. Cooperatives must continue that, especially today.”

For Brianna, community means so much to her. She currently serves many different organizations, including the Pioneer Library System Foundation, Norman Regional Health Foundation, Moore Public Schools Foundation, as well as the Moore Chamber of Commerce.

She has served on the Pioneer Library System Foundation board of directors since 2018. The Foundation supports the Pioneer Library System with educational programming, STEM activities, adult education programs and more. It serves citizens across three counties, all of which are also served by OEC — the two go hand-in-hand. One of the biggest fundraisers that the Pioneer Library System Foundation holds each year is its Touch-A-Truck at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds. At the fundraiser, OEC provides a truck, equipment and linemen to promote education, especially about electricity.

Brianna is a representative of Moore for the Norman Regional Health Foundation. The Foundation supports the Norman Regional Health System by giving employees opportunities to further their education, funding departmental grants like specialized chairs for chemo patients, and more.

A foundation that Brianna supports more closely to home would be the Moore Public Schools Foundation. As a new member to its board of directors, Brianna is a resident of Moore and has a kindergartener in Moore Public Schools. She has had the opportunity through the Foundation to support teachers, students and school sites.

“We are so lucky here in Moore to have so much support for our educational community, so I just love continuing that.” Wall shared.

If you think Brianna couldn’t be involved any more than she already is, she yet again proves us wrong. Brianna is a key part of the Leadership Moore program for the Moore Chamber of Commerce.

“I love the Leadership Moore program because it highlights all the good things in the community. When you think of Moore, you just think it is a retail hub and a place that attracts tornadoes. This program opened my eyes to the many great people here that make it feel like a small town. There is so much history here and I love organizing a program that promotes the history and community of Moore as well as the nonprofits that are housed here in Moore and the people they are serving. It’s a lot of fun all the way around!”

To learn more, listen to the latest episode of The Current Buzz here: www.okcoop.org/the-current-buzz-podcast.

 

 

OEC Fiber: Meet (some of) the Team

Written by Brittnee McCabe

On last week’s podcast, Autumn McMahon had the great opportunity to sit down (virtually) with a few members of our OEC Fiber Team. David Goodspeed, CEO of OEC Fiber, Creative Director Kayla Brandt, and Manager of Plant Construction Joe Torres spoke candidly about their passion of their work and their funniest memories.

The team shared heartwarming stories about building OEC Fiber, talked briefly about the task of taking high-speed internet where no one else will, and left us with some key take-aways about the OEC Fiber difference.

“We wanted to do OEC Fiber differently. We wanted the process to be different and we wanted to treat people differently. We sort of were like Baker Mayfield when he planted the flag on the field. We said that we were here, and we were going to change how we are accessible,” said Goodspeed. “Everyone who signs up for services receives a card from me about a week later and I tell them that if they have any questions or problems, that they can reach out directly to me. No one else will offer the product or service that we provide to our members. Everyone on our team cares so much and sometimes we never take a day off because we want to help everyone.”

For Torres, it is the team unity that makes the difference.

“I work with amazing people at an amazing company. We have so much unity and we are all supporting the same idea, which is helping people.” Joe is originally from Lexington, Oklahoma, and loves how OEC Fiber is growing to reach our rural communities to bring them the best internet they deserve. “I think what we are doing here is great because we are helping so many people, especially in rural areas here in Oklahoma. We are changing lives, even though it’s only with high-speed internet and I’m glad I get to be a part of it. Not only are we good, but we are always improving.”

Brandt underscored the exceptional customer service of OEC Fiber.“With OEC Fiber, we strive to be accessible to everyone and have someone on the line immediately who knows what is going on, who cares, and is local and wants to provide the best service possible. We have had subscribers who have written us that they loved our call center and our team. They always felt like they had a great experience with contacting us and how easy it was to get questions answered or get their problems fixed…we all pride ourselves with going above and beyond. We are small but we are mighty. We push the boundaries every day with what is possible with OEC Fiber”.

To learn more and listen to the latest episode of The Current Buzz here: www.okcoop.org/the-current-buzz-podcast.

 

OEC Announces New Solar Partnership with Norman Public Schools

A new solar farm will feature a unique partnership between OEC and Norman Public Schools, which will reduce the school district’s energy costs and provide educational opportunities for students.

Construction on the solar farm will begin soon and conclude by the end of 2020. When complete, the 15-acre, 2 megawatt solar farm is expected to generate the equivalent of nearly 30 percent of the school district’s total energy usage.

The partnership also features a Renewable Science Education Center, where students can visit the solar farm and learn about electricity, energy and careers in related fields. The project also aligns with the City of Norman’s Ready for 100 initiative, which calls for the city to be fueled 100 percent by renewable energy by 2030.

The solar farm will be located at 60th and Robinson in Norman and will feature 7,208 panels. The property is owned by Norman Public Schools and OEC will lease a portion of the land to construct the solar farm and an associated road to the facility.

Update 6/5/2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates: June 8, 2020

As we have responded to COVID-19, we have been ever-focused on our members’ needs. We have worked hard to ensure that you have access to reliable electricity without fear of financial hardship. As we move forward, we will be resuming disconnects in July. Please note that we are extending flexibility in our payment arrangement policies during this time, and our friendly member service associates are ready to help you every way we can.

Custom, Flexible Payment Arrangements

We have worked hard to ensure that you have access to reliable electricity without fear of financial hardship. We want to partner with you today and every day.

Budget Billing

Sign up for Budget Billing today to manage your household expenses and plan for seasonal fluctuations in your bill. Benefits of Budget Billing:

  • More predictable monthly bills
  • Minimal monthly usage fluctuation
  • Click here to enroll.

Time of Use Rate

This is a perfect rate for those who are able to shift energy use between summertime weekday peak hours.  On-peak hours are between 3 and 7 PM Monday through Friday between June 1 and August 31, excluding July 4. Learn more here: https://okcoop.org/staging2/time-of-use-rate/ 

Other Financial Assistance

Other assistance may be available to you through the following organizations:

 

#EVMoment: “Fall” into and Electric Vehicle (EV)

We love the cooler temperatures of fall, but what does that mean for our electric vehicle. Watch this video to see how our #OECEV handles not just in cooler temperatures, but in the rain.

EVs: Our Energy Expert’s Final Take

In closing, here are a few more thoughts I had while driving the EV car. One thing about the car that was noticeably different for me was the fact that the rearview mirror looks like it magnifies well. The cars in the mirror appear to be closer than they are. It made me think my eyes were playing tricks on me! It took some adjusting, but once I was used to it, it wasn’t a problem.

Two other thoughts:

  • The radio didn’t seem to affect the battery at all.
  • The heating and air conditioning are big energy users, but the car makes up for it elsewhere.

If you are considering purchasing an EV in the future, please reach out to Daniel at Daniel.Lofland@okcoop.org and he would be happy to provide you with any additional information.

Deck My Ride, Episode 3: Long and Short of It

Wondering if an electric vehicle is right for you? We illustrate the versatility of these powerful little vehicles.

Electric Vehicles Recharge Themselves

If you are anything like me, then a top priority of car safety is the braking system. Many EVs have regenerative braking. You may be asking yourself, “what is regenerative braking?” It is a simple concept that allows the battery to gain a little extra electricity.  Basically, when you take your foot off the gas pedal, it begins to put energy back into the battery of the car. There is also a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel that when depressed, applies a harder “braking” but is regenerating more electricity than if you were just coasting or pressing the brake pedal.

For instance, when you are coasting, the dash indicates that 5-6kws are going back into the battery. When you compare that number to a standard braking system, you can see the numbers increase to 15kw-30kw. But with the regenerative paddle on the steering wheel, I saw numbers as high as 60kw going back to the battery.

This brings up something I think is cool. Throughout my whole trip, I only touched the brake pedal one time. There is a brake pedal, just like in a traditional car, but once you get comfortable using the paddle you can see how much more energy is going back to the battery and it becomes somewhat of a game! The paddle will bring you to a complete stop. Not only are users anticipating less maintenance on their vehicles versus a standard Internal Combustion Engine, but the brakes could last forever! Okay, maybe not forever, but the brakes could potentially last over 200k miles! Either way, it is for sure an improvement from a standard, gasoline-powered vehicle.

If you are considering purchasing an EV in the future, please reach out to Daniel at Daniel.Lofland@okcoop.org and he would be happy to provide you with any additional information.

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