“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.”
By Joe Smyth | email@example.com | @joesmyth
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.
Senator Heinrich: You know, one of the frustrations in New Mexico with some of our member co-ops with Tri-State has been the limitation on how much renewables they can bring on, particularly in a distributed fashion within their own service territories. And so we’ve literally had, because Tri-State limited co-ops to 5% solar penetration, for example, we’ve had recently a member co-op elect to leave, because they wanted to be responsive to their own customers who wanted to see that number dramatically increase. Is that a practice that Basin also engages in, and what are your thoughts on it?
Basin Electric representative: So Tri-State has its own set of policies and approaches to issues like that, Basin does as well. We do have all requirements contracts with our members, the basic principle upon which we’re founded is that we all throw in together, and we all do for the whole. Sometimes that works directly to your advantage, sometimes it does not. There’s sort of a cooperative element to the cooperative structure. The challenge that we face, and I won’t speak for Tri-State, but the challenge that we face sometimes is that there are desires to do developments that don’t necessarily meet a specific need that we have today, and so there’s a little bit of, are others willing to subsidize an investment that maybe doesn’t have to be made at this point in time? Or in a technology that others might say is not as cost effective as the other options out there? I think that’s the debate and the conversation, and I think that’s what you’re referring to.
Senator Heinrich: Obviously there’s an interstate piece to this as well, but at a time when the rest of the state was moving towards portfolio standards that were substantially higher, there’s a lot of view in the state that 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.
As more co-ops in New Mexico and Colorado pursue cheap solar projects and approach Tri-State's 5% limit on local renewable energy projects, more elected officials have been highlighting this growing problem.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper discussed the issue at the Climate Leadership Conference in Denver last month, saying, “as more people speak out on this, I think there will be more pressure on Tri-State to at least accommodate those co-ops that feel they can have cleaner energy at a lower cost.” Hickenlooper also said, “I think at a certain point Tri-State is going to either be part of the team or they’re going to really face some withering criticism from the public.”
In January, Durango Mayor Dick White wrote on op-ed about the difficulties the community faces in pursuing renewable energy projects, because Tri-State “severely limits local renewables” as part of its contract with La Plata Electric Association. La Plata Electric members are voting for board candidates over the next few weeks, and the co-op’s relationship with Tri-State has emerged as a major issue in the election. The Durango Telegraph published responses from La Plata Electric board candidates to questions about local renewable energy development, and also asked, “Do you think LPEA should pursue a buyout of its contract with Tri-State?”
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