Expanding LPEA solar power not an easy task

Tri-State contract sets 5 percent power cap

La Plata Electric Association board members, besieged for years with pleas, requests and demands they use more local renewable energy, in a work session Thursday heard from two experts about solar-energy systems.

Joy Hughes and Jim Hartman offered their expertise as consultants.

Hughes is founder of the Solar Garden Institute that helps communities develop solar gardens. She currently is working on projects in Aurora, Saguache and Jefferson County.

Hartman is vice president for strategic development at the Clean Energy Collective. The firm situates solar arrays and operates and maintains solar systems. It has partnerships, including Colorado Springs Utilities and Poudre Valley REA.

LPEA board members have talked over the years about how to increase the use of local renewable energy.

But the cooperative, one of 44 power providers that buy electricity from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, is constrained by its contract.

Member cooperatives can develop a maximum of 5 percent of their power outside Tri-State. LPEA is near that limit

The vast portion of LPEA alternative energy comes from solar, with the remainder from wind and hydro.

The board is looking at land near the new Iron Horse substation west of Ignacio for its first solar farm. Nothing is settled.

In anticipation of the Thursday work session, the board approved a resolution at its regular meeting Wednesday asking the Tri-State board of directors to exclude solar gardens from the 5 percent cap on renewable energy.

Tim Woolley, the Tri-State assistant general counsel, said the 5 percent regulation requires careful consideration.

Tri-State has to gauge how member independence affects the association’s bottom line.

“We have to be careful not to allow our revenue to erode,” Woolley said. “We have to be able to pay our notes.”

LPEA appears to have a little wiggle room, Woolley said.

“It sounded like there is a little room to work on projects,” Woolley said.

Woolley said it’s not known if the federal Rural Utilities Services would be comfortable with loosening the 5 percent regulation.

“The two presentations (Hughes and Hartman) can help us figure out how to do solar projects,” Indiana Reed, an LPEA spokeswoman said. “Now, the board has to figure out how to make it work with Tri-State.”

daler@durangoherald.com

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