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Tri-State CEO touts co-op’s clean energy transition

Duane Highley

The clean energy transition of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is in sharp focus these days, given the rapid pace of our transformation and the opportunities ahead for electricity consumers. I could not be prouder of our cooperative’s role in the transition, which is driven by and for La Plata Electric Association and 41 other member electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts.

We’ve steadily accelerated the implementation of our Responsible Energy Plan that we announced with Gov. Jared Polis in January 2020. Remarkably, 50% of the energy consumed in our cooperative family will be from renewable sources in less than three years, growing to 70% clean energy by 2030. With the first of eight new renewable energy projects online earlier this year, in April 2021, 37% of the electricity our members use was from renewable sources.

Our greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing fast, with our Colorado emissions set for an 80% reduction by 2030. These emissions reductions are driven by a massive increase in renewable sources and the retirement of our remaining Colorado coal-fired power plant units in Craig between 2025 and 2030. We retired our Nucla coal plant in Southwest Colorado in 2019, and our New Mexico coal plant in 2021. We are supporting our employees and their communities through this transition.

We’re focused on increasing the use of electric vehicles, more efficient heating and cooling solutions, and other electric technologies that let every consumer play a part in a cleaner, lower-cost energy system.

Our wholesale rates are decreasing, with a 2% reduction in March 2021, and another 2% decrease is less than a year away. As a result, some of our members are lowering their retail rates or increasing the return of capital credits. With a “green energy dividend” driven by nearly 3,000 megawatts of low-cost clean energy in development or identified in our 2020 electric resource plan, and by managing our costs, we are focused on being even more competitive and affordable.

The record winter storm in February saw some electric utilities short of power, and energy prices skyrocketed even for some distribution co-ops outside of the storm’s path that were served by other power suppliers. During that weather event, Tri-State had sufficient power for our members and protected consumers from rate increases. I am also thankful for our employees, including your neighbors across Southwest Colorado, who safely and tirelessly work to keep the lights on including during challenging events.

Our members now have the flexibility to self-supply even more of their power requirements. We recently completed our first self-supply “open season,” when our members identified their interest in self-supplying more power, and we are working through the regulatory process to implement this new option. Members can keep all of the benefits of Tri-State membership while also taking on more of the responsibility of securing of up to 50% of their power locally if they wish.

As a cooperative, we know the value of working together. Tri-State is focused on the cost savings and clean energy benefits that come from participation with other power suppliers in a regional transmission organization that will further increase our ability to economically and reliably integrate more wind and solar power. Already, 80% of Tri-State’s load is in some form of an organized power market.

Tri-State’s delivery of flexibility with cleaner and lower-cost power while ensuring reliability and energy security are part of what makes Tri-State membership a unique value in a changing and uncertain power market. We are proud of the member-driven changes that will serve you well for years to come.

Duane Highley is chief executive office of Tri-State Generation & Transmission.

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