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Tri-State plans to boost renewable energy, cut emissions

Judith Kohler, The Denver Post

The headquarters of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is shown on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Westminster, Colo.

Calling it transformative, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association released a plan Wednesday intended to boost renewable energy sources to 50% of its fuel mix by 2024 and cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 90% from its Colorado electric sales by 2030.

The announcement of the utility’s “Responsible Energy Plan” follows news last week that it will close all its coal plants and a coal mine in New Mexico and Colorado earlier than anticipated.

Tri-State plans to close the Escalante Station in northwest New Mexico by the end of this year. It intends to close its operations at the Craig Station plant in Craig and at the Colowyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030. About 600 employees will be affected. Tri-State said it will work with the workers, communities and state officials on retraining and other ways to try to blunt the impacts.

The Westminster-based utility that provides wholesale power to a total of 43 member cooperatives in Colorado and three other states has come under growing criticism for its use of coal at time when costs of wind and solar have dramatically dropped and concerns about climate change have intensified.

While Tri-State has been adding renewable energy projects, officials acknowledged the plan to add eight wind and solar projects across its territory, enough for 800,000 homes, is a big step.

“We’re now at a point where we’re poised to become a new Tri-State,” said Rick Gordon, chairman of the Tri-State board of directors.

Gov. Jared Polis joined Gordon and Tri-State managers and members of its member electric cooperatives at the state Capitol for the announcement. He commended Tri-State for “its forward-looking leadership.” Polis said there had been questions about the utility’s future because of disagreements with some of its largest members over increasing the use of renewable energy and members’ ability to generate more of their own  electricity.

Some of the members have expressed frustration with Tri-State’s electric rates and the pace of adding renewable energy. Another point of contention is the 5% cap on the amount of power individual electric co-ops can generate on their. Members have approved a change in the bylaws that would raise the cap, but the details haven’t been worked out.

The Kit Carson Electric Association in Taos, N.M., paid $37 million in 2016 to break its contract with Tri-State. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association has reached an agreement to end its contract.

And United Power in Brighton, Tri-State’s largest member, and the La Plata Electric Association in Durango have asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to direct Tri-State to say what it would take to buy out their contracts. Tri-State says the PUC doesn’t have jurisdiction in the matter.

Troy Whitmore, United Power’s government and regulatory relations officer, was on hand for Tri-State’s announcement. He praised the plan as innovative and progressive, but said for now, United Power will continue with its complaint at the PUC.


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