La Plata Electric Association is negotiating with its wholesale energy supplier to help bring more solar power to the region.
LPEA can purchase only 5 percent of its total energy from independent renewable energy producers. The co-op is committed to buying the rest of its energy from its wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, until 2050. But LPEA and Tri-State are in talks that could allow companies to build solar arrays in the region by selling power directly to Tri-State, said Ron Meier, manager of engineering and member relations at LPEA.
“We are hopeful we are making headway with Tri-State,” he said. He could not give an estimate for when a deal might be reached.
“We would like it to happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
If a deal is reached, Tri-State would purchase power from the solar array developers and pass cost of that power directly along to LPEA, Meier said. The cost for the solar power would likely be higher for LPEA upfront, but over time, LPEA would see cost-savings from the array, he said.
Such a deal would help boost the regional economy by allowing solar companies to build arrays here, he said.
If Tri-State and LPEA can reach a deal to jointly purchase renewable power, it would be the first agreement of its kind between a co-op and Tri-State, he said. An existing policy allows for deals like this.
Companies interested in building solar arrays in the area have another route; they can become a qualifying facility under a federal act that requires local co-ops to purchase their power. At that point, LPEA could exceed Tri-State’s 5 percent cap, he said.
Small-scale facilities that rely on wind, solar, biomass, hydro or geothermal sources to generate power can meet the federal guidelines.
To help solar projects move forward, LPEA is researching the best locations for solar arrays to connect to the co-op’s electrical grid, he said. Only certain locations on the grid have the equipment to accommodate solar arrays producing 10 to 20 megawatts of power, he said. By comparison, LPEA consumes 150 megawatts of power at peak-times in the winter, he said.
“We’re looking at can the grid support the injection of power and how much could it support,” he said.
LPEA could contract with multiple companies to build solar arrays after locations are identified and Tri-State’s requirements are met, he said. LPEA could also buyout of its contract with Tri-State in order to purchase additional renewable power.