wilderness with snowy mountains in background

Taking Electricity to New Heights

Posted: February 1, 2021
Mark Hayden
Mark Hayden, GM

Periodically, we host a critical internal meeting, which we refer to as MEC’s Strategic Planning Session. This two-day meeting is held at an offsite location and is attended by myself, our Board of Trustees, department heads and other key leaders at the Cooperative. This meeting sets the stage for the year ahead. These two days, present an opportunity for leadership to ask challenging questions, strategize departmental projects, prioritize company goals and engage in necessary conversation about the future of the Cooperative and our industry. Central to all of these discussions, is a desire to anticipate, and plan for, our members’ future wants and needs.

You may recall that we surveyed a randomly selected portion of our membership last summer. The 2020 Member Survey was one of many tasks assigned during last January’s Strategic Planning Meeting. Our goal was to poll our membership, and ask for feedback on important topics, that would help us to start, stop, continue or plan for, a variety of services and offerings at the Co-Op.

The 2020 Strategic Planning Meeting spurred another hot topic, which was discussed in great detail, and has since been a focus of MEC’s Energy Specialist, Dan Rogers. Electric vehicles (EVs), have been steadily increasing in popularity, and experts anticipate a surge in demand over the next 10-15 years. The demand can be attributed to the increasing mileage-range that EVs offer, as well as the forecasted decrease in purchase price. When compared to a traditional car, powered by gasoline, EVs cost less to drive and maintain. It is for these reasons, that it’s a mere matter of time before you or your neighbor have one parked in the garage.

Replacing gasoline, with electricity, as a primary fuel source, means that garages are becoming “fueling” stations. As an electric provider, MEC needs to understand how the widespread adoption of EVs, will potentially impact the cooperative, our power supplier, and of course, the end-consumer (you). In addition, we want to be an EV resource, when members are considering how to fit an EV into their commuting lifestyle and budget. If you visit our website, you’ll see that we recently launched a section dedicated to EVs, which allows visitors to explore EV models that are currently on the market, compare operating and maintenance costs to traditional vehicles and learn more about how federal EV tax incentives work. As EV technology continues to evolve, MEC will be working to keep our members in-the-know, while also providing or expanding on, existing services.

Another technology we discussed, and are in the process of exploring, is battery energy storage. Thanks, in large-part, to EV companies like Tesla, lithium-ion batteries are improving in quality, while simultaneously decreasing in cost. Because of these improvements, utility-scale battery storage is not only possible, but it can also serve as a cost-effective option. Large battery installations are currently being used across the country, to support renewable energy sources, reduce peak demand and provide stored-energy during power outages. Developers around the world, are imaging communities, using solar panels and large batteries, to generate and store energy. These are referred to as microgrids. MEC is committed to the exploration of a battery energy storage system to reduce system peaks, in turn, reducing power costs for our members. As we look to the future, there is no doubt that large-scale, battery energy storage will play a significant part in modern electric grids.

While we routinely explore new technologies, we remain committed to the existing partnerships, technologies and services we currently offer. MEC will continue to support and promote our subsidiary, Energy Partners (EP), and the essential propane service they provide to Western Montanans. Additionally, our Community Solar Program, will continue to afford members with an opportunity to purchase the output of one or more solar panels, without the added cost of installation and maintenance.

As you can see, MEC is dedicated to setting the bar high, or rather, taking electricity to new heights. We routinely strategize on ways to do this, by honing in on advanced technologies, selecting key projects and expanding services, with a goal of improving the everyday lives of our members and communities.