Polis and Tri-State

Gov. Jared Polis gathers with officials at the Colorado Capitol Wednesday to talk about a renewable energy plan put for by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association formally announced Wednesday the news that broke last week at the state Capitol.

The outfit that supplies rural electric co-ops is going green, after weathering for years the perception by some members and environmental critics that it was resistant to renewable energy in favor of coal. Now it's aiming to give up coal as a source of energy.

The company rolled out its Responsible Energy Plan Wednesday, with Gov. Jared Polis and the state's most significant green interests backing the move. Polis spoke of Tri-State's move during his State of the State address last Thursday, after the announcement was initially made that morning to close its remaining coal-fired power plants in Colorado and New Mexico.

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"We're also excited to work with Tri-State to allow its 17 member co-ops across the state to generate more renewable energy locally," Polis said in his State of the State address. "We want communities to have the option of reaping the benefits of more clean, low-cost local energy generation, and with talks underway, we're hopeful that significantly more local flexibility will be finalized by April of this year.

Tri-State is vowing to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2024, and Polis ran for governor promising to work toward 100% renewable energy in all of Colorado by 2040, so the two goals align. The company spoke Wednesday of the benefits of a clean power grid.

Eight renewable energy projects with member cooperatives will help Tri-State reach that goal, lowering energy costs, creating renewable energy jobs and reducing air pollution, Polis said. Tri-State vowed not to pursue coal in the future.

"It is a bold step to protect the future of the planet we all must inhabit," Polis said in his State of the State address.

Tri-State called Wednesday's renewable energy announcement its "most transformative change" in the association's 67-year history. Tri-State supplies 43 co-ops in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

“Our cooperative and its members are aligned in our transition to clean power,” Tri-State chairman Rick Gordon, a director at Mountain View Electric Association in eastern Colorado, said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, we’re poised to become a new Tri-State — a Tri-State that will provide reliable, affordable and responsible power to our members and communities for many years to come.”

Tri-State said Wednesday that since 2009 it has contracted for 15 utility-scale wind and solar projects, plus small hydropower projects. 

Tri-State has been under public and political pressure to step up its renewable game, and now it has delivered, at least on paper with its new plan, green energy proponents said Wednesday.

“Tri-State is making big commitments to clean energy that finally have it catching up to other utilities in the Southwest and setting the bar for Generation and Transmission cooperatives across the country,” Emily Gedeon, conservation director for the Colorado Sierra Club, said. “As the G&T moves forward in its plan, we look forward to a transition from all fossil fuels to renewables, stabilization of rates for rural co-op members, and robust measures to support the communities transitioning away from coal.”

The Sierra Club provided a statement from Joan May, a San Miguel Power Association member.

“Tri-State has spent so long dictating how co-ops receive power, but there is hope that co-op members will have an active role in new renewable energy generation with the G&T moving forward," May stated. "A shift from coal to clean energy can create jobs, boost local revenue, and make rural Colorado communities leaders in clean energy.

“That cannot happen unless Tri-State decides to share the benefits of this new clean energy future with all of its co-ops.”

"Tri-State’s plan signals a welcome and important shift toward a clean, lower-cost energy future,” said John Nielsen, director of the Clean Energy Program for Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, adding that the move would be a more environmentally sound way to power the grid.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Tri-State to develop ways to achieve further carbon reductions and increased energy efficiency, while also seeking ways to help coal-reliant communities transition to new economic opportunities,” he said.

Others agreed there's more to do. 

Howard Geller, executive director of the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project,  said the plan neglects conservation.

“The coal plant retirements and new renewable energy projects announced by Tri-State are big steps in the right direction," Geller said. "But more should be done if Tri-State is to truly respond to the threat of catastrophic climate change in a responsible manner. In particular, Tri-State should greatly expand the energy efficiency programs it implements together with its member cooperatives. Doing so would save consumers money on their electric bills and further cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

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