La Plata Electric Association could gain new flexibility to buy renewable energy after a recent vote of its wholesale energy supplier this week.
LPEA and 42 other electric co-ops collectively own electricity wholesaler Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Those member owners voted 42-1 in favor of creating new classes of membership in Tri-State, said Ron Meier, LPEA’s manager of engineering and member relations. The new classes could allow co-ops, including LPEA, to purchase less than 95 percent of their power from Tri-State.
A 5 percent cap on the amount of power LPEA can purchase from outside renewable sources has concerned residents who want to invest in more green power because it is falling in price and better for the environment.
LPEA board member Bob Lynch voted in favor of the bylaw change at the Tri-State meeting on behalf of LPEA. He is optimistic the change and a new seemingly more open-minded CEO at Tri-State could lead to opportunities for LPEA to pursue more renewables, he said.
“I think it opens possibilities,” he said.
However, the new bylaw language is vague. It is unknown how the new classes might be structured, he said. For example, it is unknown how much power a co-op would be required to buy from Tri-State under the new classes of membership.
A contract committee is expected to start meeting this spring to determine what the new classes of membership in Tri-State might look like, said Lee Boughey, spokesman for Tri-State.
The bylaw change is also expected to allow new members, such as municipalities, to join Tri-State and buy some of their power from the wholesaler, according to a statement from Tri-State.
Board member Guinn Unger said the vote could provide some flexibility, but it is too soon to know how much benefit LPEA could see.
Even if LPEA could adjust its contract requirements under the new membership classes, it is possible LPEA would have to pay Tri-State for the percentage of power it no longer planned to buy from the wholesaler, he said.
“I think it’s much too early to figure there is some great benefit to LPEA,” Unger said.
One of the existing co-ops that could benefit the most is United Power Cooperative near Denver. The co-op is growing fast and may be interested in continuing to purchase the same amount of power from Tri-State and invest in renewables to meet new demands for energy, he said.