News Briefs

State Co-ops Mourn Death of Scenic Rivers Lineworker

Electric cooperatives from across the state filled the streets of Gays Mills with bucket trucks Saturday, September 9, in honor of Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative lineworker Derrick Heisz, 45, who died Thursday, August 24, when he came into contact with an energized line. Co-op bucket trucks from 20 Wisconsin co-ops were part of the funeral procession.

According to the obituary, Heisz “was a beacon of creativity, selflessness, and spirited adventure throughout his 45 years.” The 1996 Brodhead High School graduate “traveled across the U.S., restoring power to hundreds of thousands of people and working on major storm damages. His work, often involving the hanging of high-voltage electrical transmission lines from helicopters, was a testament to his fearlessness and commitment to service.”

Heisz is survived by his parents, five siblings and their families, and many extended family members and friends.

PSC Gives Co-ops Priority in Funding Program

In a win for Wisconsin electric cooperatives, the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin cited input provided by WECA and Wisconsin electric co-ops in shaping the formula of what the $10.24 million Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program will look like.

Under federal guidelines, Wisconsin is required to award 24% to smaller utilities. WECA urges the PSC to prioritize smaller utilities, including co-ops, as they are not contenders for most funding programs, and the commission agreed. The PSC voted 3-0 to award 75% of the funds to smaller utilities, or $7.3 million, an increase of $4 million from what is required.

“I took the comments from the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association and the other co-ops, I took those comments to heart,” said PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq in proposing the increase. “When you look at the footprint of our small co-ops and the associated cost with trying to make their system more resilient, I think that they need more money. And this is our opportunity to provide that money now.”

WECA Submits Comments in Support of Nemadji Trail

WECA President and CEO Steve Freese submitted comments to USDA Rural Development, Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in support of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center (NTEC).

The plant is a $700 million 625-megawatt “renewable enabling” combined-cycle natural gas plant, planned for construction in Superior, which will have the ability to ramp up quickly when wind and solar resources cannot meet demand. It will be innovation-ready for partial hydrogen refuel, as emerging technologies develop, which would meet the criteria in the EPA’s pending power plant emissions-reduction rule.

“NTEC will be an ‘always available’ critical capacity resource in a time where resource adequacy in MISO is declining significantly,” Freese wrote.

The project was announced in 2017 by Dairyland and project partner, Minnesota Power, to accommodate expansion of renewable energy without risking reliability. Basin Electric Power Cooperative joined as a third partner in 2021. The last day to submit comments was September 10.

Biden Touts Clean Energy Policy at Milwaukee Factory

President Joe Biden made a stop at Ingeteam in Milwaukee recently to talk about clean energy accomplishments on the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Ingeteam manufactures wind turbine generators and reports it has added 150 new jobs to the area since it opened in 2011. The company is expanding to manufacture electric vehicle chargers.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a $7.5 billion federal investment to build a network of electric vehicle chargers.

“This company concluded that it was an opportunity for them as well,” Biden said. “And now they’re making fast-charging EV chargers here in America, right here in Wisconsin.”

Holtan to Represent WECA on State Safety Council

Riverland Energy Cooperative’s Tim Holtan will represent WECA and the state’s electric cooperatives on the newly created Wisconsin Damage Prevention Council. The council works with contractors, landscapers, plumbers, homebuilders, utility workers, and other professional excavators to promote safe digging practices and highlight the importance of utilizing Diggers Hotline services.

Prior to Holtan’s recent promotion to general manager at Riverland, he was the operations manager and had direct oversight of the co-op’s Diggers Hotline responsibilities.

DOE Announces Funding Competition

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced an opportunity for electric cooperative, municipal, and small investor-owned utilities to compete for nearly $9 million and cybersecurity technical assistance through the Rural and Municipal Utility Cybersecurity (RMUC) Program’s Advanced Cybersecurity Technology (ACT) 1 Prize Competition. The ACT 1 Prize is the first in what will be a series of prizes from the RMUC Program.

According to DOE, there will be three increasingly competitive phases in the ACT 1 Prize that will challenge eligible utilities to identify risks, implement solutions to harden systems against threats and improve overall cybersecurity. In the first phase, competing utilities will define their need for technical assistance, describe existing resources, and express their commitment to improving cybersecurity.