SAN DIEGO—Whether a key account is big or small, electric cooperatives can serve them better and respond more effectively if they get to know how their businesses operate and how they can help when problems arise.

During the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives NET Conference, co-ops’ key account managers and energy managers from businesses in co-op territories discussed the economics of power delivery and the importance that service reliability plays in the survival and growth of commercial accounts.

“We had a small information technology firm that used about 50 kilowatt-hours of load,” said Mike Stafford, manager of business and government relations for Owen Electric Cooperative. “They requested somewhere between 4 and 8 megawatts of power and they wanted it available in about six months.”

The Owenton, Kentucky-based co-op counts craft distilleries, manufacturing facilities, a NASCAR raceway, a theme park and retail distribution centers among its key accounts. But this particular account located in a modest business park needed a lot of power.

Stafford said the IT firm does data mining and has installed hundreds of small electronic devices that locate, analyze and tabulate bitcoin cryptocurrency transactions conducted outside of traditional banking processes for a percentage fee.

“They’ve got somewhere between 500 and 600 of these units in their facility,” said Stafford. “They’ve expressed a desire to bring many more online.”

The facility occupies two small suites in a 12,000-square-foot business park and now uses upward of 800 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. Owen EC projects monthly demand from the operation could soon top 1 MWh per month.

“We’ve always associated large loads with large buildings,” Stafford told the NET Conference audience. “They can fit 500 kilowatts, a megawatt or even 2 megawatts [of demand] literally in a space the size of a conference room.”

Stafford said future growth by the bitcoin mining operation could require additional upgrades to co-op equipment. The growth has also led to rate discussions with the account holder, who competes with other cryptocurrency operations abroad and may face lower operating costs.

"A unique load doesn’t have to be a small load,” Galen Creekmore, key accounts manager for Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, told the NET Conference audience, adding that members can see their needs grow or change over time. The Lovingston, Virginia-based distribution co-op serves about 20 craft breweries located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

“Small operations rely on me more than some of our larger accounts,” said Creekmore. “It’s important to know what their load shape is going to look like.”

Creekmore told the audience that the electricity needs of wineries, breweries and distilleries can vary, and that co-ops should consider factors like refrigeration, environmental controls and whether bottling and labeling operations are conducted on site.

A key accounts representative can anticipate problems that might require upgrades, Creekmore added. Growth and the opening of ancillary operations like restaurants, gift shops and banquet halls can significantly increase demand or tax transformers or other hardware at a site.

Nikki Pfannenstiel, manager of member services for Sunflower Electric Power Corp, noted the impact of a popular craft brewery and restaurant served by a member co-op in Beaver, Kansas, where the population is 30 people.

“On Friday and Saturday nights the population more than triples because there’s cold beer and steaks,” said Pfannenstiel.

The Hays, Kansas-based generation and transmission cooperative provides power to six distribution co-ops and 14 municipal systems.

Several gas industry customers located near Cimarron River Generation Station, one of its older natural gas-based generation facilities, have prompted investment in the 5-MW plant’s aging infrastructure near Liberal, Kansas. The plants refine and package or ship natural gas products for regional and national distribution.

“If they lose power during this process they have to shut down their whole operation, take it back down to zero and start again,’ said Pfannenstiel. “They can’t pick up where they left off.”

Sunflower has built and improved substation facilities serving the area. A substation owned and controlled by a local distribution co-op also enhances service reliability.

“The level of redundancy is there because Cimarron River Station may not always be generating power but it doesn’t mean those customers don’t need energy,” said Pfannenstiel. “We still have a way to get them the megawatts that they need.”

The G&T also works with its distribution co-op members on ways meat processors, dairies and other large agricultural producers can benefit from energy use strategies.

“The animal agriculture business represents 10 to 15 percent of our overall load at its peak,” said Pfannenstiel. “The beef industry has national energy managers who are pretty sophisticated and they want to have relationships with the co-ops that serve them.”

Sunflower has quarterly conference calls and meets at least once annually with beef industry energy managers to discuss rate structures and other issues that are common to electric co-ops and beef producers.

“A lot of our dairies are looking at supplementing their energy use with wind energy,” said Pfannenstiel. She added that good key account relationships with producers in those industries provide opportunities to discuss loads, rates and renewable power integration issues.

Read More NET Conference Coverage:

Experts: Falling Prices Are Driving Up Interest in Battery Storage

Co-ops Are Preparing for More Consumers, Businesses to Embrace Electric Vehicles

The Go-Slow Approach: Electric Co-ops’ Broadband Advantage