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CEO of electric cooperative dismisses “doom and gloom.” But he does outline a future after Tri-State that will be more complex.

 

At the annual meeting of United Power, it seems that the only way you didn’t win a door prize was because you left early. I did (slip out the door early), but not before hearing what Mark Gabriel, the chief executive, had to say.

Seemingly in response to what Duane HIghley had said the week before at Tri-State, he said this: “A lot of the conversations that I hear when I go to industry events revolve around insurance for reliability, reliance, and, of course, affordability. Let me tell you, those are watchwords every day, and we focus on those in operating your cooperative.

“There is a lot of doom and gloom sometimes – ‘Oh, we’re worried about what the future looks like.’ But I can assure you that when I think about it, I’m excited about where the future is.”

As he had in an essay published in Energy Central a few days prior, Gabriel talked about a “quiet revolution in localized grids.” His central thesis was that the time of building giant new power plants or stringing big transmission lines will not be the first option. Energy solutions must quickly become more localized and flexible.

“By the way, this will empower you as members help monetize the investments you make in what is becoming a shared energy economy,” he said.

“A distribution utility like United Power really stands at the crossroads of a changing energy industry,” said Gabriel. This new ecosystem of electrical generation and demand “must be agnostic to what the inputs are.”

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Gabriel’s remarks were interspersed with videos, including a segment with Jeff Frim, the chief executive of Golden Aluminum, a rolling mill located in Fort Lupton that produces products for food and beverage packaging. His company uses a lot of energy, he said, and they want to convert from natural gas to electricity. “United Power can help us be successful by being that partner,” he said.

Gabriel’s essay went deeper: “Coupled with the increasing need for capacity and the move to community choice aggregation, the only solution in the short and medium-term will be to improve the efficient creation and deployment of electronics at the edge of the grid.

“The hyper-localized movement to this new electricity paradigm has occurred in a disjointed and often unrecognized fashion. It represents both a significant societal opportunity and major threat to the thinking and operations of the electricity enterprise. In the current electric industry, the idea of anchoring based on a simple generation-to-transmissions-to-distribution model creates a system where the edge of the grid, local generation and control are not seen as a viable alternative to large-scale systems. Yet, it is happening under the radar in many indirect and direct ways.”

This is not to say that more transition is not needed and also large-scale generation – including investments in small-modular reactors. “This is not to say that market expansion into the West, rebuilding the AC/DC ties across the Western and Eastern grids, and development of grid-scale controls should not occur,” he wrote. “They must. However, given the immediate needs for grid resilience and reliability, attention should be paid to the growing power of hyper-localization.”

And when United leaves Tri-State in 2024?

Top: Mark Gabriel, chief executive of United Power, delivers remarks at the cooperative’s annual meeting on April 12. Photo/Allen Best

 

Allen Best
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