Last May, I had the privilege to attend La Plata Electric Association’s annual meeting, where I was humbled by the opportunity to share my vision for Tri-State’s transformation with LPEA’s membership. My message was that the members of Tri-State, including LPEA, were leading our cooperative to be a cleaner and more flexible power supplier.
I’d been the CEO of Tri-State for a month and a day, and little could I imagine the dramatic changes that were ahead for our communities and the power industry as a whole. Fast-forward to today, and I can confidently share with you the positive changes at Tri-State.
Allow me to first recognize the staff at LPEA, and our Tri-State teams in Durango and across the Western Slope, for their work to keep the lights on, support our communities and keep one another healthy and safe. The value of our not-for-profit cooperative business model is most evident in times of adversity, and your work together represents the best of our cooperative principle of concern for community.
Over the past year, Tri-State delivered on our commitment to be cleaner and more flexible, with a pace and intensity of change that is largely unheard of in the electric utility industry. As a member-owned co-op, we could not make such a rapid transition without the direction and support from our members, which makes our actions all the more meaningful.
Tri-State’s transition is aligned with LPEA’s goals for clean, competitive power. Our members, including LPEA, directed us on a path to greener energy. In January we announced our transformative Responsible Energy Plan with significant actions to increase renewable energy, decrease emissions and create much more flexibility for local renewables, all while striving to reduce our wholesale power rate.
By 2024, we’ll add eight additional solar and wind projects, bringing our total renewable energy projects to 15, and resulting in 50% of the energy consumed in our co-op family coming from emissions-free renewable resources. Three of these facilities will be in western Colorado, and through membership in Tri-State, LPEA will have one of the highest penetrations of renewable energy in the country.
Tri-State also will retire all of the coal facilities we operate, which will eliminate our coal emissions in Colorado by 2030. Our coal plant in New Mexico will close by the end of this year, and throughout this transition we will provide support for our employees and their communities.
To extend the benefits of a cleaner grid to consumers, with our members we’re bolstering our energy efficiency and beneficial electrification programs, including expanding electric vehicle infrastructure.
This is not just a green movement; it’s also an economic movement. By dramatically increasing our use of lower-cost renewable energy and with a strong focus on cost management, Tri-State’s wholesale rates have not increased in the past four years, and we forecast rates to remain stable or decrease in the next decade. In fact, our rate changes over the next 30 years are forecasted to be below the rate of inflation, meaning our rates in 2050 will be lower than today, in 2020 dollars.
Our members have created greater flexibility for the self-supply of power and more options for local renewable energy generation. Each member will soon have the option to switch their power supply contract to partial requirements, supplying up to 50% locally from an available total pool of 300 megawatts, in addition to current 5% self-supply contract provisions and a recently created option for an additional 2% for community solar.
Finally, our members came together to address how to provide any member who asks with the cost to terminate their power contracts early. This issue was thoughtfully addressed by our members, each of which are affected should a member be permitted to terminate their contract. Informed by the actions of our Responsible Energy Plan and new, more flexible contract options, together we developed a fair methodology, which has been filed with federal regulators for their review.
These changes have been made because each member, including LPEA, has a voice.
Our members’ innovative ideas are moving Tri-State forward.
Being a cooperative truly means being in it together, listening to each other and learning from each other. It’s how we approach our challenges and solve our problems together. And it’s a proven method to ensure that communities have access to reliable, affordable and responsible power.
We’ve delivered on our commitments over the past year, and we want to work with LPEA and our other members to continue moving forward together.
Duane Highley is chief executive officer of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a not-for-profit cooperative power supplier.