Congratulations to Tri-State Generation and Transmission for announcing the early retirement of two coal plants and one mine. The two plants being closed are the Escalante Station in Prewitt, New Mexico by the end of 2020, and the Craig Station and Colowyo mine in northwestern Colorado by 2030. Tri-State has plans for supporting affected employees and communities.
These are significant actions as part of Tri-State’s new Responsible Energy Plan. The majority of Tri-State’s energy portfolio is made up of coal investments. Tri-State’s CEO, Duane Highley says, “The low costs of renewable energy and operating cost reductions help to counterbalance the cost to retire our coal assets early.”
Tri-State Generation and Transmission is the regional cooperative that Sangre de Cristo Electric Association and 42 other electric cooperatives belong to. Tri-State has been slow to embrace renewable energy and only allows their member coops to generate 5 percent of their own energy. This 5 percent limit has caused several of their member cooperatives to petition to leave Tri-State. All of the Tri-State member cooperatives have contracts with Tri-State, and in order to leave, each electric coop must buy out their contract. So far, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in New Mexico and Delta Montrose Electric Cooperative in western Colorado have successfully left Tri-State. Several others would like to leave in order to generate their own renewable energy. Tri-State’s new Responsible Energy Plan promises more flexible contracts to allow their member coops more options for generating their own energy. It is unclear what those contracts might look like.
In addition, the state of Colorado is moving to require that Tri-State be governed by Public Utility Commission rules (cooperatives historically have been exempt from PUC regulations), to make Tri-State more accountable to their members and more competitive with their power prices.
Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan is a great beginning toward re-inventing itself and coming into alignment with the rest of the country. But there are several additional coal plants in the Tri-State portfolio that will need to be retired before Tri-State can achieve a clean energy portfolio. Hopefully, Tri-State will also continue to increase transparency with their members, be more responsive to the desires of their members, and show more interest in the communities that constitute their membership. Keep trying, Tri-State!