Tucked in the mountains of Glacier Country in Northwest Montana, Flathead Valley’s grand landscapes and unspoiled freshwater lake attract recreationalists year-round. Legendary, small-town hospitality appears even in unexpected ways — like the local electric cooperative’s participation in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.
With 48,000 members, Flathead Electric Co-op is the second largest electric utility in Montana. Yet it maintains the cooperative spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. When granted the opportunity to help consumers reduce their energy use during periods of peak demand and save money on their monthly power bills, Flathead put its members’ needs and interests first.
Flathead is one of 11 electric utilities, five technical firms and a major university participating in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. It’s the largest project of its kind in the United States, spanning five states and 60,000 metered customers. The purpose of the project is to test key functions of a future smart grid and move the nation closer to establishing a more efficient and effective electric grid. The $178 million project is funded by each utility participant with matching funds from the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Bonneville Power Administration is contributing $10 million, also matched by DOE.
With the project in its fifth and final year, Flathead is planning for further investment in some of the technologies it has tested. The utility is also teaching others what it has learned.