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PSREC finds ways to meet changing needs

Trish Welsh Taylor
Staff Writer
9/21/2011

“It’s been an incredible year in the energy business,” said Dave Roberti, 2011 president of the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (PSREC) board of directors. He was speaking at the Sept. 10 annual board meeting and membership gathering. “But we are not going to be able to rest on our laurels.”

Roberti was referring in part to the challenge of meeting the state requirement to get back down to 1990 levels of emissions by 2020 and to have 33 percent of sales and generation be from renewable energy sources. Qualifying energy sources include wind, solar and co-generation. Energy generation from large hydroelectric facilities does not qualify.

Roberti said he saw “long-term societal benefits and improvement in jobs” from the change, but that in the short term, it’s a challenge and prices will move upward. PSREC management made it clear their goal is to see that as prices for energy rise, members get some choices in how to meet their electrical needs.

Using less energy is still the cheapest way to expand the amount of energy available in the system. Higher prices might act to encourage conservation of use. The principle of conservation of use was on display at the PSREC sponsored trade show, where lots of energy solutions for saving and making energy were being demonstrated in the yard of the PSREC main office, just west of Portola.

The main business of the meeting was the re-election of two incumbents: Tom Hammond of District 6 (Herlong) and Chris Miller of District 7 (Janesville, Milford, Edgemont and Leavitt areas). Other board members are Bill Robinson, of Doyle; Ole Olsen, of Graeagle; Dan Kenney, of Sloat; and Mike Moore, of Maybe.

PSREC is a member-owned electric distribution utility providing electrical power and related services to more than 6,600 member/owners in Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties in California and portions of Washoe County in Nevada.

PSREC puts out a monthly magazine, Ruralite, and operates a full service website. For those not getting news from the two media resources, the meeting provided a lot of information.

Broadband

In 1934, PSREC began its mission to bring to the region a technology that was missing: electricity. Without electricity, people and enterprises here could never have competed with the rest of California or the nation. PSREC was initiated, as were rural electric cooperatives all across the nation, to wire up their membership.

In the 21st century, the equivalent technology is broadband. Fast, reliable Internet connection and information streaming will allow the communities that PSREC serves to be competitive.

The consensus of the PSREC community seems to be that this could turn out to be as big as when the co-op brought electricity here.

Three people received public recognition for their constant work and dedication in securing the grants that will make broadband possible for this region: Lori Rice, Jennefer Hollar and Judy May. They were the day-after-day force that pushed the grant process to a happy conclusion. General Manager Bob Marshall said, “They got frustrated but they didn’t stop. They got it done.”

PSREC has now accepted the grant award totaling $13.7 million to build the fiber system from Reno to Susanville and Quincy. The grant is from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency inside the Federal Commerce Department, and is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also called the Stimulus Fund.

PSREC also received a matching grant of $1.7 million from the California Advanced Services Fund as part of the project.

One hundred sixty-nine miles of new fiber are planned for a network that will deliver broadband at speeds between 45 megabytes per second and 10 gigabytes per second. The fiber optic lines will be laid out to anchor institutions including seven government facilities, two community colleges, two health care providers and High Desert State Prison.

After those lines are set in place, commercial enterprises can purchase access to the increased capacity. Lines to those enterprises will be spliced in at hubs along the main lines. That’s when homeowners will get access to broadband. Frontier and AT&T are likely examples of commercial providers.

Big businesses will be able to consider setting up shop in this region once broadband is established. Telecommuting will be possible. Long distance education will be easier. Even education at the bricks-and-mortar schools will be improved.

For example, Kristy Warren, principal of Portola High, has prepared a state-of-the-art computer lab that can be fully functioning the first day of broadband connection to the school. Portola High students will take a leap forward in educational opportunities.  Everyone in the computer lab (with about 30 stations) can be individually doing tutorials and research while classroom computers are able to stay online without interruption.

Power capacity

The Fort Sage Transmission Line, planned to run from Reno up 395 to Hallelujah Junction, and then to Quincy and Susanville, has achieved all the necessary permits. The line now waits only for plans on how to proceed. Funding will come from PSREC general funds.

The Fort Sage Transmission Line is necessary prior to any hefty increase in local renewable power production, such as would be achieved with the Black Mountain Wind Project. Added energy, green or otherwise, still has to be transmitted and requires the additional capacity that the 120-kilovolt Fort Sage Transmission Line can provide. The current lines are at capacity carrying 69 kilovolts.

The green light from permit processes is therefore a big part of the “incredible year.” The future ability to achieve 33 percent renewable energy is a little closer. But the timeline is yet to be established for the Fort Sage project.

The heftier capacity of the Fort Sage Transmission Line also makes it possible for PSREC to import renewable source energy from Nevada. As green power goes, Nevada is cheaper than California. If importing green energy becomes part of the puzzle for meeting the requirements for 2020, the Nevada connection will help hold costs down.

Plus, the eastern oriented lines will act as a backup in case there is a problem with the Pacific Gas and Electric lines that come through the Canyon and Quincy. Marble Substation in Sierra Valley is already one backup.

Jim Rice and Greg Lohn were applauded for their work on the permit process for the Sage Project.

Satellites

WildBlue service should be getting better too. ViaSat is expected to launch a new satellite Oct. 15 that has 20 times the capacity of the satellite currently serving the region. The new satellite will not serve the local area, but it will take traffic off of the “local” satellite through which WildBlue channels the area’s usage. That will free up space and increase speeds.

Speed, renewables, capacity, options: these are the solutions PSREC plans to bring to the co-op community’s need to be as modern and competitive as the best parts of the nation.

 


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