For Immediate Release:
April 19, 2022
Resource plan for Colorado’s 2nd biggest utility makes strides in cutting CO2 pollution
But additional steps, like taking out-of-state coal offline, are still needed
DENVER – The long-awaited electric resource plan (ERP) for Tri-State Generation and Transmission became final Monday, marking an important step in efforts to cut climate-altering carbon pollution. But there are still significant improvements that are needed from Colorado’s second biggest utility in order to achieve climate protection goals.
“The final agreement that came out of the resource planning process is a testament to the hard work of a lot of really smart people and a shining example of what good oversight can result in,” said Mason Osgood, who lives in the small town of Ophir in San Miguel County. “This plan helps move Colorado in the right direction for meeting its carbon reduction goals and transitioning to clean energy. It’s good for rural communities across Colorado that are served by Tri-State members like San Miguel Power, which provides my electricity.”
There are 17 rural electric cooperatives in the Tri-State system in Colorado, and another 25 in New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. For most of its history, Tri-State operated with little to no oversight from state and federal regulators, no pressure from shareholders and no competition to drive innovation. All of which resulted in a stagnant system that was over-reliant on coal and failed to adapt to swiftly changing energy markets where clean energy is easily outcompeting fossil fuels economically as a source of electricity.
That changed in 2019, when the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 236, a measure that moved Tri-State’s resource planning process under the umbrella of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, similar to oversight of Xcel Energy that ensures power is provided reliably and affordably.
Tri-State filed its first draft resource plan with the PUC in December 2020, and over the next year, a diverse group of stakeholders participated in a back-and-forth that shaped the final plan. Through the work of the #TriHarder coalition, more than 100 public comments also were filed by rural Coloradans served by Tri-State member co-ops. The testimony and comments resulted in a settlement agreement in January that made significant improvements in the direction Tri-State is headed and how it will provide electricity to customers through 2030. Under the revised resource plan, Tri-State has agreed to:
Cut greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, 36% by 2026, 46% by 2027, and 80% by 2030. These targets are a significant improvement over Tri-State's previous portfolio: 9% cut by 2025;
Revise modeling to account for possible retirement of Unit 3 at the Craig coal-fired power plant earlier than 2029. Data shows the plant is expensive to operate, and new modeling could provide a stronger economic justification for closing it early and saving member co-ops money;
Expand highly cost-effective energy efficiency programs offered to member co-ops, which will result in even greater savings;
Revise modeling data on inputs such as social cost of carbon, allowing member co-ops to buy more renewables, up-to-date price forecasts for methane and coal, whose costs continue to climb, against wind and solar, which continue to fall. This could push Tri-State to be even more aggressive in its adoption of clean energy.
Employ more robust emissions accounting used by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division.
Develop a report on how to assist communities like Craig that will be hit hard economically by the closure of coal plants.
Missing from the resource plan, however, is any commitment by Tri-State to consider retiring its out-of-state coal assets. Tri-State owns 100% of Unit 3 (458 megawatts) at the Springerville plant in Arizona and 36% of Units 2 and 3 (around 410 megawatts combined) at the Laramie River coal plant in Wyoming. Both units are expensive to operate, yet Tri-State has not announced any plans to exit them.
“As long as Tri-State is burning coal, it’s going to cost co-op members like me more money than we should be paying for electricity, and that will be an obstacle to developing clean energy projects in rural Colorado communities,” said Sue Greiner, a Buena Vista resident whose power is provided by Tri-State member Sangre de Cristo Electric Association. “Tri-State deserves credit for the strides it has made in transitioning to clean energy, but clearly there is still a need for it to TriHarder.”
Now that the ERP is final, Tri-State will begin developing a request for proposals to solicit bids later this summer from prospective clean energy companies who may be interested in developing wind, solar and battery storage projects that will come online over the next four years to meet the generation resource mix approved in the plan.
TriHarder.org is an informal network of member-owners from 12 Tri-State co-ops, including La Plata, Empire, United, San Miguel, Mountain Parks, United and Poudre Valley and organizations like We Own It, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Western Colorado Alliance and Sierra Club. We are conservatives, progressives, business owners, individuals, rural and urban ratepayers who share a common interest in moving Tri-State to accelerate its transition to clean, affordable and reliable energy.