As any seasoned cooperative industry member will tell you, no two co-ops are the same, but they all spring from the same tree. Though they’re all governed by the same principles and spurred forward to address the same needs, differing regions and circumstances give birth to unique challenges and applications of problem solving.
Today the Meridian Cooperative would like to shine a light on our friends at Fall River REC, a co-op historically serving the farmers and ranchers of the gorgeous mountains and plains running across parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Their beautiful service territory includes marvels like the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Mountains, Jackson Hole, WY, and the Grand Targhee ski resort. Drawn by these natural attractions and more, new members from all over join this community every day, with the Teton Basin area currently composed of 50% new residents.
Remarking on this natural beauty and the wide variety of people it attracts, Fall River CEO Bryan Case smiles brightly. “We haven’t done a great job keeping [the area] a secret,” Bryan jokes, “Most recently people have discovered southeast Idaho and all the beauties that are here. [We’re still] mostly rural but with many new people moving into our area, which bring different perspectives which is good for growth.”
Meeting the needs of such a rapidly expanding community across such a sprawling and geographically diverse territory isn’t easy, but Fall River knocks the job out of the park.
Today, Fall River’s smart grid contains 205 miles of transmission line, 25 substations, and five hydroelectric facilities. Their unique geographical situation also allows Fall River to claim the distinction of being a 95% carbon-free operation, with 84% of their power coming from hydroelectric sources, 10% from nuclear, and 1% from wind. They purchase the remaining 5% of their power in the market, making the 100% carbon-free designation just out of reach for the co-op, but they do provide Members who want to be 100% carbon-free with renewable energy credits as well as the option to pay a bit more for 100% hydroelectric power.
If Fall River seems like a shining city on a hill, its largely due to their community’s rapid growth and the co-op’s careful financial management and strategic investments. In their quest to provide whatever is needed for their Members, Fall River built a fiberoptic backbone into their smart grid through which 5 different telecom vendors provide retail internet services to the community. In addition, Fall River also owns a fast-growing propane business that their Members surely appreciate.
Fall River has also marked 2022 as its third consecutive year being named as one of Idaho’s Top 100 privately owned businesses. Bryan chalks this up to the co-op’s financial health, stating” Ten years ago, we were not in a good fiscal position with only 26% equity. Today, we are at 47% and have also been able to make substantial investments in our infrastructure, including our smart grid and a new hydroelectric station.”
Like many other co-ops across the country, Fall River is also doing their part to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in their service area, with programs like Tesla Take Home and ChargeWest.
“We learned that the Tesla programs were much more successful than those using a Chevy Volt.” Bryan says, “So, we bought a Tesla, and offered 15-minute test drives. Now, we offer a 3-day lease and it is completely booked! This program helps us understand the true impact and usage of EVs within our service area. Our engineers have an app that downloads all the data from the Tesla. It’s a ton of data that will help us in our planning. For example, we’ve learned that, in cold temperatures, the average range is reduced by half.”
ChargeWest is an undertaking by Fall River and a coalition of western states to create an intermountain network of level 3 fast-charging station for electric vehicles. They plan to have these stations every 50 miles along the corridor. The equipment has been ordered and they hope to begin construction on the project by June to have the network fully operational by July.
For Fall River, success has been a product of the type of careful analysis and planning only community-first leadership can reach. As new Members joined the community and bolstered the co-op, Fall River returned that value and more to the community in kind. In closing, Bryan offers the words that made up his personal leadership philosophy: Listen, learn, then lead.
“So many of the great ideas we implement come from our employees. My job is to listen to these ideas, learn from them, and support their opportunity to lead.”