2019 Year in Review: Our successes
The past year brought many exciting advancements to San Luis Valley REC and Ciello.
Some of the 2019 highlights include the following: a SCADA upgrade was completed at three substations; this will help keep electric operations, dispatch and fiber online during transmission outages. Following a design, bid and contract process for underground powerline trenching/conduit replacement, 1.2 miles of underground primary wire in the Baca Grande and .5 miles in Casita Park were replaced. This replacement will improve reliability in the area.
Staff determined the facilities needed and staked a three-mile line rebuild for a large load customer in Center; the crew built this in a narrow window showcasing our commitment to members. In addition, improvements were made to our mapping (GIS) to help readability and reduce outage time.
Ciello continued to expand throughout 2019, as the network is now well over 10,000 passings (potential connects), and we have roughly 4,400 accounts. Numerous software and hardware upgrades were completed in 2019. More than 700 Colorado Central Telecom accounts were converted to the Ciello network over the last two years. Our wireless network continued to grow, with over 80 wireless sectors deployed.
Other upgrades included an essential software program that helps troubleshoot Internet issues when customers call in for technical support. We upgraded our backup power in our Network Operations Center giving us much more reliability during outages and weather-related events.
Fiber to the home deployment was completed in the Pearl/Hermit Lakes areas as well as the area around Santa Maria. Additional fiber was installed in the general area around Freemon’s Store in Creede as well, and fiber was placed to the top of Agua Ramon.
Nearly 1,150 installs were completed during 2019. Fiber placement was finished on the west half of Monte Vista, as well as in some areas on the north side of town. It was also placed in the area around the Monte Vista Airport, and additional fiber was installed in various parts of Alamosa.
A new rate structure was rolled out in April for SLV REC, causing concern and confusion among some members. The new rate structure introduced a demand rate to residential customers.
While demand has historically been a component of irrigation and large commercial customer rates, residential customer energy and demand use has transformed in recent years making a residential demand charge practical. With LED lights, smart thermostats, electric cars, solar, battery energy storage, demand-flexible water heaters and countless other new technologies, residential consumption patterns can vary greatly between homes. A demand rate structure more fairly distributes the costs to customers for their impact on the electric grid.
Following a complaint filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, new interim rates went into effect on Dec. 1. The biggest change in the interim rates was a reduction in the demand charge and an increase in the kwh charge. The interim rates will be effective through April 1, 2021. In the meantime, we’ll continue to provide opportunities for members to learn more about the new rate structure and provide feedback.
The year also saw personnel changes, as new faces joined our team and old faces moved on to new adventures. Customer service welcomed Nate Pacheco, Vanessa Tapia and Davine Atencio, and Kelby Maestas transitioned out of the office to telecommunications as a technician. Network Engineer Dave Mixa retired from the REC following 20+ years of service; Swapnil Modak came to us all the way from Mumbai, India, as network engineer to take Dave’s place. Ernesto Villalba, formerly a telecommunications technician, joined Swapnil in the office as a network specialist. La Jara area Serviceman Ruben Heredia took on the role of the Monte Vista area serviceman, and in October, Kevin McCarroll returned to the REC as the La Jara area serviceman. Frank Henningsen joined the REC team as a utility locator. Jennifer Alonzo stepped in as the new marketing and sales coordinator, and Jeff Smith transferred from working as a contractor for Ciello to one of our in-house telecommunication technicians.
Wade Lockhart was welcomed to the board as the member-at-large director, taking over for Mike Rierson, who spent 20 years on the board.
Following our commitment to community, we hosted an engineering intern, who was a local youth headed to college to study engineering. Other community involvement continued throughout the year as well. Employees took part in several career fairs and safety days, introducing students to positions available in the co-op world and presenting electric demonstrations. Once again, we were able to take part in the Creede Balloon Festival with the Touchstone Energy Cooperative balloon; we also lit up Truck 1001 to roll through downtown Alamosa in the annual Christmas Light Parade. REC and Ciello helped sponsor many Valley events and continue to work toward building our communities.
With 2020 starting off strong, we want to take a moment to thank all of our members and customers for being a part of a successful 2019.