Despite undisputed evidence that hastening the transition to clean energy is the least expensive and most beneficial path forward, Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s plan for future generating capacity keeps it unnecessarily hooked on coal and natural gas, a move that concerns co-op members who have to buy its electricity.
“It’s extremely troubling,” said Emily Golden, who lives in Durango and gets power from Tri-State member co-op La Plata Electric Association. “We already have to pay more for our electricity than others because of Tri-State’s continued over-reliance on coal and gas, and to hear that we’re stuck doing that for another 7 years when there are cheaper options doesn’t make any sense.”
Tri-State, like other large utilities in Colorado, is required to lay out a roadmap for how it plans to generate the power required to reliably serve its member co-ops in the most cost-effective way possible through an electric resource planning, or ERP, process overseen by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Tri-State provides power to 17 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, along with 25 others in New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska.
After more than two years of in-depth deliberations that included sophisticated modeling exercises and input from dozens of stakeholders, Tri-State on Monday filed its final ERP laying out its electricity generating resources for the next several years.
The ERP calls for adding 200 megawatts of new windpower in 2026, to be built in Wyoming or western Nebraska, which will help Tri-State meet and actually slightly exceed its goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But the plan also keeps the last unit of Tri-State’s coal-burning power plant in Craig open until 2029.
Tri-State’s own data and recent assessments both show that there are significantly less expensive alternatives.
The justification Tri-State uses for this decision hinges on several questionable modeling assumptions that tilt the scales in favor of keeping Craig Unit 3 open as long as possible rather than replacing the output with lower cost wind or solar projects. The suspicious modeling inputs include:
• Low-balling the cost of keeping the Craig plant;
• Creating an “extreme weather” scenario in which Tri-State says it won’t get any power from its wind or solar projects and won’t have access to any power purchases from the market for a period of 2 weeks, a situation that has no grounding in reality;
• Requiring the 450 MW that Tri-State gets from all three units at the Craig plant to be replaced with 4,000 MW of new clean energy projects;
• Minimizing the impact of three of its co-op members leaving in 2024 and 2025. United Power’s departure alone will cut demand for Tri-State power by about 20%;
• Underestimating the benefits of using battery storage as a source of energy.
“It’s not fair to people in rural communities in Colorado who already struggle to make ends meet for Tri-State not to do everything in its power to make electricity more affordable,” says Rebecca Busic, who lives in Dolores and gets power from Tri-State member co-op Empire Electric Association. “We know that investing in wind and solar projects has the ability to lower our costs, so why deprive us of that benefit? We deserve better.”
Recent data from policy think-tank Energy Innovate show that electricity generated by the Craig plant is 62% more expensive than power from solar projects in the region would cost.
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.
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