The Electric Cooperative Industry: Alden ONE Meets Joint Use Challenges 

Posted by Ashley Little on March 5, 2024

The Electric Cooperative Industry: Alden One Meets Joint Use Challenges 

Roy M. Palk, who has worked with electric cooperatives since 1970, is enthusiastic about the opportunities in the rapidly changing technological landscape.

When Roy M. Palk started working in electric cooperatives in 1970, the cable television boom was just around the corner. When it arrived, small mom-and-pop cable companies emerged to serve customers in many of the same areas covered by the co-ops. Often, they sought permission to use electric utilities’ field infrastructure, and the modern age of joint use asset management began.  

Palk, who remains an active and engaged member of the co-op community as president of New Horizons Consulting, has seen the players change and multiply. Decades ago, smaller companies started to merge and larger CATV companies began to acquire them. The home computer revolution began. Fast forward a bit and cellular telephones emerged. The demand for fiber-optic bundling skyrocketed. Phones became portable computers. Electric co-ops, with their extensive infrastructure, were essential partners for telecoms and other service providers that needed access to their rights-of-way and field assets.

As the number of attachments on utility poles and applications for permitting and right-of-way sharing multiplied, managing these joint use assets became more complicated for the utility industry, Palk says. “Now you have, in some cases, fiber. You have cable television. You have telephone. So you likely have three or four or five attachments on one pole.” 

While some co-op officials may have seen the flurry of new joint use activity as a burden, many, like Palk, viewed them as ways to help supply their communities – the same ratepayers who own the co-ops – access to all the benefits of the ongoing revolution in communications and computing technologies. 

As the landscape grows more crowded and complex, it’s important for electric cooperatives to find partners that enhance efficiency, make data useful, and help make sense of it all. For Palk, Alden Systems, with its business process automation software for joint use, Alden ONE, is that kind of partner.  

Growing Challenges for Electric Utility Asset Management 

Even the co-op executives who, like Palk, welcome the community benefits of rural broadband expansion and improved communications, recognize the serious challenges that come with a more active joint use environment. They include: 

  • Ensuring the utility co-op’s need for safety and compliance with government regulations isn’t compromised by the attachers’ need for speed in deploying new equipment.

  • Accurately tracking the number and location of attachments to the co-op’s poles and other assets.

  • The expense and coordination of the make-ready work that comes with an increased number of pole attachments.

  • The need to keep joint use contracts up to date to cover all the possibilities. Palk frames the issue this way: “Do you roll over new service into a new contract, or do you try to put that existing contract around that new service? Will it be applicable?"

  • New legal issues to resolve. For example, some easements across private property were created strictly for electric service, Palk says. The established right-of-way may not cover additional services. Potential disputes with new service providers are another source of possible legal questions.

  • Difficulty obtaining new right-of-way. In the 1930s, Palk says, private property owners were understandably eager to get electricity and were happy to cooperate. The mood has changed, he says. “Not everyone wants a new powerline or new fiber line or gas line or anything like that across their property.” In the past, “getting right-of-way was a piece of cake, and now that’s not always the case.”

  • Coping with bootleg, unpermitted attachments. “There are some companies that will just go out and attach to your pole, and you don’t know it’s there,” Palk says. With the right data and contractual language, electric cooperatives will be in a better position to apply retroactive billing for any unauthorized attachments on their poles.

  • Staying prepared for the rapidly evolving impacts of AI.

Smart Moves for Utility Asset Owners  

Effectively meeting the challenges of an increasingly complex joint use environment in the utility industry requires electric co-ops to establish standardized processes and approaches. Alden ONE, a flexible software solution for utility joint use asset management, makes it easier to do that through business process automation and enforcing consistency. Alden ONE helps electric co-ops with: 

  • Efficient data management.

    Co-ops can collect more data than ever before — but proper organization is necessary to turn that data into useful business intelligence. Alden ONE’s dashboards are an ideal way to track, analyze and communicate about assets, rates, mapping, revenue, accounting, and engineering, among other categories. “It’s a rolling system,” Palk says. “The software builds as the system builds and it helps answer questions to partners and attaching companies.”
  • Monitoring attachments and tracking project progress.

    Accurate records of the number, location, permitting status, and condition of attachments to utility poles, especially during the ongoing rural broadband rollout, are essential to administrative efficiency and revenue protection. Unlike investor-owned utilities (IOUs), electric co-ops don’t have stockholders. Tight cost controls and accurate revenue collection mean cost savings for a co-op’s customer-owners, Palk says.
  • Fostering collaboration among stakeholders.

    Information managed through Alden ONE can seamlessly be shared among utility asset owners, attaching companies, engineering firms, construction firms and other partners as needed, as well as among internal departments within a single entity. And the software saves massive amounts of time on tasks such as generating reports for internal use or for external regulators.
  • Managing risk and ensuring plant safety.

    A co-op must stay on top of joint use asset management to ensure their field assets meet safety standards. “You can’t have a good defense to an accident by saying, ‘I didn’t know about it,’” Palk says. “Because you’re dealing with a facility that can fail, that can kill people. It’s not like selling shoes or ice cream. You’re selling electricity.”

Trends and Opportunities for Electric Co-ops

As important as it is to meet today’s challenges, employing the best technology is about more than that. It’s also about being in a position to take advantage of opportunities. Having the right attitude in leadership is crucial for a co-op, Palk says.

"That means keeping an open mind to new opportunities, not fighting the inevitable,” he says. “It’s the question, do you want to be on the train, or do you want to be in front of the train?”  

Palk says being on the train could mean being ready to deploy new mapping systems, satellite technology, or more advanced drones when the time is right. It also means using sophisticated data analysis to anticipate needs, plan future investments, and predict when assets will need replacing. 

A major trend for co-ops is playing a larger role in deploying fiber through various partnerships. Palk has seen two or more co-ops – sometimes across state lines – join forces to form a third-party fiber company. Other models include electric co-ops directly buying into fiber companies or partnering with telecoms to extend fiber networks.

“The more you can scale anything, the cheaper the incremental cost is,” Palk says. Benefits include lower administrative costs, better purchasing power and more attractive deals with vendors. 

The Electric Grid: The Future is Now 

Palk says one of the biggest changes in recent years has been the ongoing transformation of the electric grid from a one-way street to a two-way street, thanks to the growing adoption of smart technology not only by utilities but also by homebuilders and homeowners.

Smart meters on homes have helped enable two-way power flow, with consumers gaining the ability to put unused power back on the line. For ratepayer-owned co-ops, these efficiencies could result in significant savings.

Unlock Potential with Alden ONE: Business Automation Software for Joint Use

Palk says that as co-ops venture forward through the changes, challenges, opportunities, and partnerships that utility joint use projects present, they should consider working with a credible company like Alden Systems to streamline the process. 

Through automation, Alden ONE saves time and brings clarity and control to joint use asset management for utilities.

“Alden Systems has good people,” Palk says. “They have knowledgeable people. They have a malleable service. It can change. The software can accommodate different situations, and it could be applied to different utilities.”


Co-ops are concerned with building trust among leaders, consumers, and partners, he says, and “co-ops like to deal with people they know are confident and are trustworthy.”

With visibility into important data and better business intel, you'll be ready for what’s next. To learn more about how Alden ONE can help your electric cooperative standardize and automate processes, and align key joint use stakeholders around common goals, schedule a 1:1 meeting.

New call-to-action