Southwest Colorado’s power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, a utility widely criticized for its coal-powered electricity generation, plans to join a new market that is expected to support the development of more renewable energy.
The new real-time energy market, Western Energy Imbalance Service, will launch in 2021 and allow electricity to be dispatched to all the participating utilities every five minutes.
“It enhances reliability, provides the lowest cost options and allows for the effective integration of wind and solar resources, which are intermittent,” said Lee Boughey, spokesman for Tri-State.
Tri-State is owned and governed by 43 electrical cooperatives, including La Plata Electric Association.
The energy within the market will be dispatched through an automated system that will send the cheapest energy first, said Jennifer Gardner, senior staff attorney with Western Resource Advocates.
“Because renewable energy is so cheap, more often than not, it is dispatched first, meaning that utilities are able to use all (or most) of their renewable energy generation when it’s available, rather than only using some of it and curtailing the rest,” she said, in an email to The Durango Herald.
Energy markets across large geographical areas can help ensure renewable energy sources back each other up, she said. For example, if the wind is not blowing in Colorado, perhaps the sun is shining in Arizona.
Utilities planning to participate in the service currently operate in Colorado and Wyoming. But additional utilities could join.
Energy markets, also known as power pools, can increase demand for renewable energy and help utilities justify building more solar and wind installations over time, Gardner said.
It is likely that coal-produced power will struggle to compete in this market because it is more expensive than renewable sources of energy, she said.
LPEA CEO Jessica Matlock said Tri-State has not released much detail about the energy market so she could not say what costs might associated with it and how it might affect rates for Archuleta and La Plata county residents.
Matlock worked for utilities in Washington that explored joining a power pool. The cost to update computer systems to allow power to be dispatched was in the millions, she said.
She also has not received details about the mix of renewable, coal and gas-powered electricity that will be dispatched through the new energy market.
“Tri-State has not articulated to the members what it actually means,” she said.