The Western Way, a conservative think tank that works on environmental issues, has compiled numbers that suggest cooperative energy prices are way too high for rural Colorado customers.
A number of Colorado co-ops are eyeing an exit from Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which sells electricity to 43 rural networks in the West.
The Western Way study, co-authored by former Colorado state Sen. Greg Brophy, said Tri-State isn't reaping the savings of falling natural gas prices or renewable energy — "but rural consumers remain tied to electric cooperatives that are not capturing these market competitive energy solutions."
Tri-State picked apart the report.
"From time-to-time we see third-party reports authored on our business with various degrees of misrepresentations and misunderstandings, whether unintentional or otherwise," according to a statement from spokesman Lee Boughey.
"This paper demonstrates fundamental misunderstandings of Tri-State, our business model and the electric utility industry."
Brophy's report alleges Westminster-based Tri-State Generation & Transmission is charging 212 percent more for electricity than other Western energy wholesalers.
He asserts that from 2000 to 2016, Tri-State raised its rates 12 times, an increase of 103 percent, to pay off billions in debt.
“Advances in technology and changes in energy markets are driving lower cost solutions for most electricity consumers — but rural consumers are being left out,” Brophy said in a statement.
“Rural economies are already facing economic challenges and the prospect of ever-increasing electricity rates for rural citizens and small businesses has become a critical problem that requires the immediate attention of state and local leaders.”
The full report, called "Rural Energy at a Crossroads," is available by clicking here.
The company pushed back in a lengthy response to Colorado Politics.
"Tri-State’s margins are raised as an issue, and their narrative does not understand the cooperative business model," Boughey stated. "Co-ops in general, and Tri-State specifically, set margins as low as our board’s financial goals policy allows, so that we do not over collect from our members, who we serve at cost."
He added, "To mischaracterize our margins in this way is highly flawed, especially its claims about the utility's debts."
Boughey said it's a capital-intensive industry and Tri-State relies primarily on "low-cost" financing, rather than equity, to capitalize its infrastructure, which is set by members who elect the board.
He said the report's numbers on power costs are "deeply flawed."
"Fundamentally, it’s not ... apples-to-apples to compare ... wholesale energy costs (however inaccurate) to our wholesale rate, which includes energy, capacity, transmission and a wide range of products and services, delivered into our members systems," Boughey said.
He said nearly one-third of the association's energy last year came from renewable sources.