Tri-State provider faces loss of Montrose utility
Cooperative upset by rates, lack of use of renewable power sources
The move by a Montrose-based electric cooperative to buy out its contract with wholesale energy provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is the latest effort by Colorado utilities to cut reliance on fossil fuels and boost the use of renewable energy.
The Delta-Montrose Electric Association said it intends to end its contract with wholesale power provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission to take better advantage of the falling costs of renewable sources. Delta-Montrose filed a complaint with state regulators that the fee Tri-State wants for letting the cooperative out of its contract is unreasonable and discriminatory.
Brighton-based United Power, the largest member cooperative in Tri-States’ fourstate service territory, is taking a different route to resolve its issues with rates and the demand for more renewable energy. United Power, whose service area includes southern Weld County and Denver’s northeast suburbs, has proposed a change in the bylaws that would allow the cooperatives to buy an undetermined percentage of their power from other sources.
“Many of our members are asking for more of a mix of renewables,” United Power spokesman Troy Whitmore said Friday. “The purpose is to get a more active conversation going with Tri-State.”
The hope is to discuss a possible change in the bylaws during Tri-State’s annual meeting in April, Whitmore added.
Tri-State, based in Westminster, generates and transmits power to 43 member cooperatives in four states: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. The cooperatives, which include United Power and Delta-Montrose Electric Association, in turn provide electricity to their members, including businesses and households.
Tri-State has been criticized by some cooperatives it serves and renewable-energy advocates for relying too heavily on coal at
a time when the costs of wind and solar energy are falling and concerns about climate-changing emissions from fossil fuels are increasing.
“We believe this is in the best interest of our membership. That’s our bottom line,” Virginia Harman, the Delta-Montrose cooperative’s chief operating officer, said of the complaint filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Delta-Montrose has been talking to Tri-State for more than a decade about ways to stabilize its rates, which have jumped 56 percent since 2005, Harman said.
The cooperative’s complaint says Delta-Montrose wants to develop more local, cost-effective renewable energy resources but Tri-State hasn’t been receptive. It has objected to a 5 percent limit on the amount of energy that Tri-State members can generate on their own.
Tri-State will have 20 days to respond to the formal complaint by Delta-Montrose, and the Public Utilities Commission will decide how to proceed, spokesman Terry Bote said.
“We are disappointed that (Delta-Montrose) has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal. Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter,” Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said in a statement.
Regarding the proposal by United Power, Boughey said in an email that engagement between TriState’s members on their contract is not surprising and the board of directors “regularly considers the contract to ensure the association meets the needs of its members. These discussions continue.”
Tri-State’s wholesale rates have remained stable four of the last five years, won’t increase next year and are forecast to remain stable in the years to come, Boughey added. In addition, 30 percent of TriState’s power comes from renewable energy sources and the association is currently negotiating to add more renewable sources.
“We acknowledge that Tri-State has added renewables,” Whitmore said.
The problem, added Whitmore, is that United Power pays roughly 28.5 percent more than adjacent customers of Xcel EnergyColorado and the fear is the gap will continue to grow. That’s a big disadvantage when communities served by United Power are trying to attract businesses to the area, he said.
United Power members also want to increase the amount of renewable energy sources used and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Whitmore added.