Tri-State provider faces loss of Mon­trose util­ity

Co­op­er­a­tive up­set by rates, lack of use of re­new­able power sources

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ju­dith Kohler

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.

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