Energy, Utilities & Mining

This story has been updated with comments from United Power spokesman Troy Whitmore.

WESTMINSTER — Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. said it will draw at least half of the energy it sends to member power cooperatives from renewable sources by 2024.

In a press conference also attended by Gov. Jared Polis Wednesday, the Westminster-based power generator said it would build two wind farms and four solar farms in Colorado and New Mexico to generate an additional gigawatt of energy for its 43 member co-ops in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said the plan puts the company at the forefront of the shift away from fossil fuels.

“Membership in Tri-State will provide the best option for cooperatives seeking a clean, flexible and competitively-priced power supply, while still receiving the benefits of being a part of a financially strong, not-for-profit, full-service cooperative,” he said at the conference.

Tri-State previously said it would retire its New Mexico coal plant by the end of the year, and retire all of its coal operations in Colorado by 2030.

The partial shift away from non-renewable sources of power comes amid ongoing disputes among Tri-State, Brighton’s United Power Inc. and La Plata Energy Association Inc. (LPEA) at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The two co-ops filed suit in November, claiming Tri-State is refusing to give them permission to explore deals with other power suppliers and effectively holding them hostage while it tries to become a federally regulated entity.

Tri-State has maintained it cannot release United and La Plata while other co-op customers revise the rules for terminating contracts.

United covers some portions of eastern Longmont and Erie in Boulder County, Broomfield, portions of northeast Adams County and several cities in southwest Weld County. La Plata, based in Durango, covers that city, Pagosa Springs and a swath of southwest Colorado near the New Mexico border.

Those two co-ops made up almost 22 percent of Tri-State’s revenue in 2019.

In a statement, La Plata said it supports Tri-State’s push toward renewable energy, but said the power provider’s rules are preventing it from creating its own series of renewable energy sources to meet its local carbon reduction targets.

“While Tri-State’s future goal will help meet our carbon reduction goal, we do not yet know what the costs of its plan will be to our members and what LPEA’s role will be for producing local, renewable energy into the future,” said LPEA CEO Jessica Matlock.

Member co-ops are required to buy 95 percent of their power from Tri-State.

United Power spokesman Troy Whitmore said the cooperative is reviewing the details of Tri-State’s plan, but its release has no effect on the efforts to force an exit.

However, he said United is proposing changes to Tri-State bylaws to lower the 95 percent purchasing requirement for members as a compromise for co-ops that want to cancel their membership.

“We’re a founding member of Tri-State in 1952 and their largest component member,” he said. “We’d like to try and keep the Tri-State family together.”