Changing Times, Changing Co-ops

(L-R) Mary McLaury, Sheldon C. Petersen, Beth Looney and Todd Culley discuss industry transformation at NET 2017. (Photo By: Cyrus Crossan)

(L-R) Mary McLaury, Sheldon C. Petersen, Beth Looney and Todd Culley discuss industry transformation at NET 2017. (Photo By: Cyrus Crossan)

SAN DIEGO—The old electric co-op just ain't what it used to be.

"Today you can get on Facebook and you'll see some new product that was invented that wasn't here last week. Things are changing that fast and I think we need to be ready for this," said Todd Culley, CEO of Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia, Missouri.

"We're seeing an increase, at an exponential rate, of renewable technologies—solar, wind—at our members' homes and businesses. But I don't know that we're designing our systems to handle and move those types of loads," Culley said during a panel on "The CEO Perspective on Industry Transformation" at Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives' NET 2017.

Integrity of the grid is on the mind of Sheldon C. Petersen, CEO of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC).

"We are the ones that have the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the operation of the grid, even though it's being opened up for power flows from many, many different directions," Petersen told the Jan. 30 panel at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

Petersen sees a time in the near future where "we as an industry are going to have to step up and say, 'We recognize there's a transition in our business. We recognize and support the development of further renewable resources. But at least for a period of time we need to recognize it can't all be solar.' "

Beth Looney, president and CEO of PNGC Power in Portland, Oregon, said the advent of renewables coming onto the system means that "what you need more than anything is flexibility."

"I see the future as less baseload and more flexible resources," said Looney. As for long-term plans at PNGC, "I'm thinking about peakers. I'm thinking about reciprocating engines." She said a good forecast is "absolutely critical," adding "your lights depend on it."

And the panel was bullish on the future of electric cooperatives.

"I love the co-op business model and think it is the only way to go for our industry," said Looney. "The amount of creativity that can come out of a co-op cannot be stifled."

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