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LPEA renewable energy goal faces uncertain future

Vote changed in favor of avoiding rate increase

La Plata Electric Association’s desire to increase its purchasing power of renewable energy has been stymied because other electrical co-ops do not want to change the required contract.

LPEA has almost reached its 5 percent renewable-energy limit, but many other co-ops have not pursued renewable energy.

LPEA board members voted unanimously in April to negotiate to increase its ability to purchase more renewable energy, but the idea failed to gain traction at a Tri-State committee meeting July 12.

Kohler McInnis, a board member, voted to increase how much renewable energy co-ops can purchase from 5 percent to 10 percent in April.

“I think we have demand for doing it, and it makes sense,” he said Friday.

But at the July contract committee meeting, McInnis voted against the change, because he said it could increase prices for customers.

The final decision will be made by the Tri-State board, which McInnis also serves on. It could consider the renewable cap issue in September, said Ron Meier, LPEA manager of engineering and member relations.

Renewable energy was a priority topic in the run-up to the May LPEA election, which generated more participation and interest than in past years.

At the Durango Climate March attended by hundreds, outgoing LPEA board member Jeff Berman called on the crowd to make sure the co-op pursues more green energy. McInnis said he supports increasing the renewable energy cap, but as a member of Tri-State’s contract committee he has a fiduciary duty to make decisions that are best for Tri-State.

La Plata Electric is one of the 43 co-ops that are members of Tri-State, a wholesale power generator and transmitter.

If co-ops bought more renewable energy, it could reduce demand for power that Tri-State generates, at a time when there is an over supply of electricity.

An increased cap may force Tri-State to sell the excess power, and it could potentially lose money on the open market, former board member Joe Wheeling told The Durango Herald in April.

Co-ops could be asked to pay more to make up for the money lost, Wheeling said.

Managers of co-ops that are not pursuing renewable energy are worried Tri-State would increase their rates, McInnis said.

“Anytime that you have a reduction in your sales and your revenues, your per-unit fixed costs will always go up,” McInnis said about Tri-State.

More co-ops are starting to pursue renewable energy; 22 are approved to purchase it, he said.

McInnis thinks this trend will increase pressure to raise the renewable-energy cap .

McInnis asked the committee to consider the issue next year instead of waiting two years, because the industry is changing fast, he said. The Tri-State board will consider the request, Meier said.

Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said in an email that Tri-State board members are encouraged to communicate their co-op’s positions as issues are deliberated.

“When a Tri-State director considers an issue, the director takes both the co-ops’ interests and all of the Tri-State members’ interests into account,” he wrote.

The July meeting was McInnis’ first contract committee meeting. He was elected by his fellow board members to represent LPEA on the Tri-State board after Wheeling lost his bid for re-election in May.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

Sep 20, 2021
Tri-State denies request to increase renewable purchasing power
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