Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides electricity to Southwest Colorado, announced a major shift this week in the way it plans to meet customers' demands for electricity.
In the near-term, the energy supplier plans to expand energy-efficiency programs, make investments in renewable energy and increase natural gas capacity, said Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Tri-State, during a phone interview Friday.
In the long-term, Tri-State will consider building a nuclear power plant in southeast Colorado, he said.
It is a marked difference from four years ago when the energy supplier announced plans to pursue three new coal-fired power plants, Boughey said.
The shift comes amid a changing regulatory climate.
There is a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to state and federal regulatory policies as they pertain to energy and the environment, Boughey said. Tri-State wanted to take time to understand the new direction and policies and evaluate the benefits and risks of new approaches, he said.
Tri-State is a wholesale power supplier to 44 member rural electric distributors in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. One of its members is La Plata Electric Association, which distributes electricity to residents and businesses in Archuleta, San Juan and La Plata counties.
Each of the 44 members has one representative on Tri-State's board of directors. During the last four years, board members' attitudes have changed about renewable energy, and Tri-State's management team has changed, said Greg Munro, chief executive officer of LPEA.
"They have come a long way in the last three or four years of looking at things differently," Munro said.
"It used to be, 'OK, the only thing we can do is build a coal-fired power plant,'" he said. "They're not looking at that any more."
Instead, Munro said, Tri-State is delving into energy efficiency and smart-grid technology, and working with the members on renewable-energy and energy-saving programs.
Harry Goff, LPEA's representative to Tri-State, could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
At Tri-State's annual meeting this week, Gov. Bill Ritter thanked the Tri-State board for its contribution to a "new energy economy."
"You deserve a lot of credit for making efficiency, renewables and new technology investments a high priority as you look for better ways to provide affordable and reliable electricity to your rural customer-owners," Ritter told the board members, according to a news release from the governor's office.
Tom Compton of Hesperus, who is on the LPEA board of directors, said he is excited about Tri-State's new direction, but he hopes energy prices stay low while the energy supplier expands its fuel-resource base.
"I think they're looking in the right direction considering the lay of the land at this time," Compton said. "I certainly encourage them to keep going that direction the best they can."
Among Tri-State's plans:•Tri-State and Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar have entered into an agreement to develop a 30-megawatt, 500,000-panel solar photovoltaic power plant in northeastern New Mexico. Construction is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2010.
•Contracting for 220 mega-watts of natural gas-based capacity in eastern Colorado.
•Adding consumer incentives for purchasing certain Energy Star-rated appliances.