Tri-State keeping pace with Colorado’s rapidly changing energy industry
A Q&A with Tri-State about how new rules and regulations are impacting operations
For the Craig Press
Editor’s Note: Sponsored content brought to you by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association
Tri-State announced the development of its Responsible Energy Plan in July. When completed, the plan will guide its transition to a cleaner energy portfolio, while ensuring reliability and increasing cooperative member flexibility – all with a goal to lower wholesale rates.
What are some of the major state and/or federal issues facing Colorado’s energy industry right now?
Tri-State: Perhaps the most significant issue facing Colorado’s energy industry is reducing emissions from coal-based power plants. New and existing requirements will impact Tri-State’s and others’ generation facilities in the state; however, we do not yet know the scope or the timing of the impacts (more on that below).
What are some specific pieces of legislation that have impacted Tri-State recently?
Tri-State: in 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed, and Gov. Jared Polis signed, new carbon reduction legislation (HB 1261), and comprehensive utility legislation (SB 236) for the state. The carbon reduction law sets statewide goals, including reductions of 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050 (when compared to 2005 levels).
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) will promulgate rules for the new carbon reduction law, and the AQCC rulemaking process has not yet begun. The comprehensive utility bill (SB 236) gives the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) more authority over Tri-State’s resource planning. Tri-State has and will continue to comply with all state environmental, renewable energy and resource planning requirements.
How is this affecting your business, workers, communities, economies, etc.?
Tri-State: Tri-State is rapidly changing to increase flexibility for our members, and to develop a cleaner resource portfolio. One of the key components of our Responsible Energy Plan (REP) is to help understand the options we have to transition in a way that ensures reliability, keeps electricity affordable and is done in a responsible manner.
As the state transitions to a cleaner economy less reliant on fossil fuels, many rural energy-producing communities may be left out and need support to transition their economies. While responsible means transitioning to a cleaner grid, Tri-State believes it also means to find ways to help those communities impacted by the transition.
How is this changing future plans Tri-State has in place? What kinds of revisions are necessary?
Tri-State: Nearly a third of energy consumed within our member cooperatives already comes from renewable resources, and we are striving to add significantly more in the coming years. The goal of developing the Responsible Energy Plan is to identify the steps Tri-State needs to take to provide reliable, affordable and responsible energy for our member cooperatives, in compliance with state law.
Are there any misconceptions about Tri-State that you’d like to clarify?
Tri-State: It’s important to recognize our cooperative business model. Tri-State is made up of and serves the needs of our 43 member cooperatives and public power districts. Each of our members owns and governs Tri-State, which shapes and sets the course and direction of Tri-State through our board of directors (made up of representatives from each of our 43 members). As a cooperative, Tri-State operates as a not-for-profit and returns any excess margins to it members in the form of patronage capital. We don’t have shareholders, we have members.
What’s the focus of Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan?
Tri-State: This year, Tri-State already has made significant progress by laying the foundation for our REP:
- We engaged with former Gov. Bill Ritter and the Center for the New Energy Economy to facilitate a broad stakeholder engagement process that will help develop key elements of our Responsible Energy Plan that can be publicly supported by non-profit, not-for-profit, government, and research groups;
- We issued our sixth request-for-proposals for renewable energy projects, to dramatically grow our existing 475 megawatts of utility-scale solar, wind and other renewables;
- We reformed our contract committee following the board’s April change to our bylaws, and they are reviewing changes to the contract to allow greater flexibility for members;
- We added our first non-utility member, MIECO, to formalize a beneficial partnership with a natural gas provider;
- We are centralizing our rate regulation under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which will bring stability and predictability to the association as we undertake our rapid and comprehensive transition;
- We joined the Southwest Power Pool’s Western Energy Imbalance Service (WEIS) market, to manage costs and take the first step toward a potential regional transmission organization (RTO), which successfully operate in other parts of the U.S.; and
- We have launched negotiations with potential solar and energy services providers that could make community-scale solar, energy storage and electric vehicle infrastructure more accessible to our members.
What would you like your members to understand about these changes?
Tri-State: Our members set the course and drive the direction of the association. A good example is the recent adoption of a new mission statement, which our board approved. It states our purpose is to provide a reliable, affordable and responsible supply of electricity in accordance with our cooperative principles. Another example, is our membership is considering contract changes that create more flexibility for local renewable generation.
What else do you want readers to know?
Tri-State: Readers should know that we appreciate all of the support from our employees and the community, and we will keep everyone informed. The energy industry is changing rapidly, and so too is Tri-State. In just the past several months, we’ve issued an RFP for renewable resources, added a new non-utility member, come under jurisdiction by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and joined an energy imbalance market. As more information is available, we will ensure that we communicate with our employees and our communities.