A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) finds that Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association could save its member co-ops over $600 million through 2030, by taking advantage of low cost renewable energy resources and shifting away from its reliance on coal fired power plants. Moreover, the report shows that if Tri-State fails to cut costs and continues to rely on its higher cost coal plants, the generation and transmission association will face increased risks, including losing electricity sales because of defection by its member co-ops, as well as by those co-ops’ members.
The RMI report compares the costs of each of Tri-State’s coal fired power plants – broken down by the costs of fuel, fixed operations and maintenance costs, and variable operations and maintenance costs – to the range of bid prices for new wind and solar energy in Colorado that Xcel Energy received this year in response to it Colorado Energy Plan proposal. Even after adding costs for expanding transmission and other integration costs to bring those new renewable energy resources online, it costs more to keep running Tri-State’s coal plants than it would to add new renewable energy.
The Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) board of directors is urging members to support a proposal that would change the electric cooperative’s articles of incorporation, to support DMEA’s efforts to end its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
DMEA posted a video and background information on its website to explain the proposed changes, and the reasons the board of directors is recommending that members vote yes this October to support the proposal. According to DMEA:
The revisions do three general things. First, they modernize and streamline language (which in some cases been in place since 1938). Second, they allow DMEA to take advantage of being governed by a newer Colorado cooperative law (called the Colorado Cooperative Act). Third, they give DMEA more financial flexibility by allowing it to issue capital stock to non-members.
Those new financing options could be a first for electric cooperatives. DMEA says, “While we are not aware of any electric cooperatives that have issued capital stock to non-members, many other types of co-ops have,” including major agricultural cooperatives like Sunkist, Oceanspray, and Land O Lakes.
DMEA will host a series of town halls next month about the proposed changes, and members will receive ballots the last week of September. DMEA members can cast their vote by mail, or in person at an October 16 meeting.
“When you have a co-op that’s willing to step up and invest in their own generation, and particularly clean generation, that should be supported.”
New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich highlighted frustrations about Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s limits on local renewable energy projects, during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday focused on “Rural Energy Challenges and Opportunities.”
Senator Heinrich noted that one electric cooperative in New Mexico ended its contract with Tri-State, in order to pursue more local solar energy projects, and he asked a representative of Basin Electric (which sells power to Tri-State) about Tri-State’s policies that have limited electric cooperatives in New Mexico from pursuing more than 5% of their power needs from local sources. Senator Heinrich's comments are shown in this video, and transcribed below.
Fraser, CO - The town of Breckenridge passed a resolution last week establishing a goal to power the community with 100% renewable electricity by 2035. Breckenridge joins other Colorado towns and cities that are pursuing 100% renewable energy, including Pueblo, Boulder, and Nederland. Aspen achieved its 100% renewable energy goal in 2015, while other towns and cities including Denver and Durango are also considering renewable energy goals.
The responses from the utilities that serve those Colorado towns and cities show that these 100% renewable energy goals are helping push the region toward a cleaner electricity grid, achieving a broader impact than sustainability goals that remain within the boundaries of a municipality. That’s consistent with a new report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which argues that cities should focus their sustainability efforts on four strategic areas for maximum impact. First among those four strategic areas is using their position as major electricity consumers to help decarbonize the electricity grid:
While cities may believe they have little influence over the grid mix, in fact, they often represent a major portion of any local electric utility’s customers, potentially giving them significant leverage to shape the emissions profile of the electricity consumed within their metropolitan area. Still, capturing this opportunity will not be easy, and cities cannot do it alone. Utilities and regulators must play a central role in ensuring the overall mix of renewables is appropriately balanced at a system level and that critical components such as energy storage are in place to ensure grid reliability. Nevertheless, cities have an essential role to play by setting clear decarbonization goals, aggregating demand for renewables, promoting energy efficiency, and shifting more urban energy consumption to electricity (especially in transportation and heating).
Lowering the emissions intensity of the electricity grid is an especially impactful way that municipalities in the Rocky Mountain region can advance their sustainability goals, because the region’s grid is more dependent on coal, and therefore more carbon intensive, than other parts of the US. But as these Colorado towns and cities seek to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, they face varying challenges in working with the different utilities and electric cooperatives that sell electricity in Colorado. Colorado towns and cities are served by two investor owned utilities, 29 municipal utilities, and 22 rural electric cooperatives, according to the Colorado Energy Office
Let’s look at four Colorado municipalities pursuing renewable energy goals, each with a different electricity provider: Breckenridge, Pueblo, Aspen, and Durango.
Plans move forward for a floating solar array in Jackson County, while Mountain Parks Electric considers its own solar projects.
Walden, CO - In Jackson County, the town of Walden’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously this week to build a solar array that will help power the town’s water treatment plant. Jim Dustin, the Mayor of Walden, said at the Mountain Parks Electric August board meeting that the project “will be unique in Colorado – it will be a floating array.” Dustin said the cost of the 50 kilowatt solar array will be covered by lower electricity bills over the next decade or two.
At the electric cooperative’s August 10 board meeting, Mountain Parks Electric board members and staff also discussed their own solar energy efforts. Among the solar projects that Mountain Parks Electric is considering is a collaborative effort with other electric cooperatives in the region and the Rocky Mountain Institute. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, solar developers have responded with offers that would deliver solar energy at a price of about 4.5 cents/kilowatt hour, less than the cost of electricity and transmission from coal fired power plants that participating electric cooperatives currently pay.
Delta Montrose Electric members vote for new financing options, supporting a potential buyout of Tri-State contract
Poudre Valley Electric requests Tri-State policy changes and fuel mix study
Holy Cross Energy plans to shift away from coal, aiming for 70% renewable energy
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Colorado Energy Plan approval will mean new renewable energy investments in rural Colorado
Report: Tri-State could save $600 million by shifting from coal to renewable energy
Delta Montrose Electric seeks new financing options to end contract with Tri-State
Wind energy jobs in rural Colorado attract bipartisan support
Colorado Energy Plan analysis shows switching from coal to renewable energy will boost jobs and local tax revenue
Poudre Valley Electric and Xcel Energy Colorado President win national awards from Smart Electric Power Alliance
Latest coal plant subsidy proposal could hit electricity bills in the West
Moody’s report: “High quality renewable resources” could help Tri-State and Basin Electric navigate rising carbon transition risks
Senator Heinrich highlights “frustrations in New Mexico” with Tri-State’s limits on local solar
Moody’s report shows Tri-State’s coal plants are more expensive than new renewable energy
Tri-State’s limits on local energy development are a growing problem for co-op members
Governor Hickenlooper discusses Tri-State at the Climate Leadership Conference
Bids for Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan include a proposal for the world’s largest battery
New wind and solar power in Colorado is now cheaper than existing coal plants
Companies' 100% renewable energy goals are getting results in Colorado
What does cheap solar mean for electric cooperatives?
Colorado towns and cities are helping push utilities to embrace renewable energy
How are electric cooperatives navigating the transition from coal to cheap clean energy?
Blocked from building more solar projects, United Power shifts to community batteries
Economic reality sets in for Tri-State efforts to expand the Holcomb coal plant
Solar projects in the works in Grand and Jackson counties
Mountain Parks Electric grapples with solar