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Rural Electric Co-op Member Owners and Advocates Demand Tri-State Embrace Clean Energy Future
Tri-State, which serves 43 distribution co-ops in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming, is heavily reliant on coal, has substantial debt related to its previous buildout of coal and gas plants, and is facing increased pressure from its members to give them far more flexibility in developing local renewable projects to serve members’ electricity needs.
“New wind and solar in Colorado and New Mexico is now cheaper than continuing to run existing coal plants, so one way or another, the transition to clean energy will only accelerate,” said Joe Smyth, a member-owner of Mountain Parks Electric, which buys power from Tri-State. “If Tri-State policies continue to limit member co-ops from reducing costs with local renewable energy and storage projects, then co-op members will work with other partners to pursue those opportunities.”
“As a member-owner, I am concerned that rural cooperatives are not moving fast enough toward renewable energy,” said Susan Permut, a Monument, CO resident and customer of Tri-State member of Mountain View Electric. “The climate crisis is real and the economics of energy are changing so quickly. We need leadership at Tri-State to help us address these issues as quickly as possible, before it becomes too costly to both our environment and our pocket books.”
“It’s time for Tri-State to get in line with the reality of our climate crisis and the availability of affordable renewable energy,” said Karen Conduff, a member-owner of Poudre Valley Electric Association, which buys power from Tri-State. “More importantly, it’s time for Tri-State to start working with its members to develop local renewable energy that promotes economic prosperity.”
The welcome basket included a letter signed by more than 3,300 members of Tri-State co-ops and members of western advocacy organizations. It also included: craft beer brewed in Colorado; a Rockies baseball cap; a copy of a 2018 analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute showing that Tri-State could save its members $600 million or more by switching coal to clean energy; sunscreen and sunglasses for the 300-plus days of sunshine Mr. Highley can expect; New Mexico green chile; and complimentary lift tickets provided by Aspen Skiing Co.’s sustainability office, as an example of the clean energy that large commercial users such as ski resorts demand from their power providers.
“Energy independence is the key to economic sustainability in the rural American West,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director of Santa Fe-based organization, WildEarth Guardians. “With affordable, distributed renewable energy generation becoming more available by the day, it’s critical that Tri-State empower its rural electric co-op members to invest in wind, solar, and storage and ensure their prosperity. This means Tri-State needs to get serious about moving away from costly coal and embracing a rural renewable revolution.”
“Across Colorado and the region, communities are finding renewable energy provides lower cost power, it keeps rates stable, and it creates local jobs that many rural communities need,” said Anna McDevitt, Organizing Representative at the Sierra Club. “With new leadership, Tri-State has an opportunity to shift from high-cost coal and develop low-cost, clean energy for the families and businesses it serves. We, along with thousands of Coloradans and New Mexicans, are looking to Mr. Highley to do the right thing by his customers and keep rates affordable in the rural West by moving away from coal.”
Informed of the welcome package in advance, a Tri-State official responded with an offer of a future meeting with the new CEO, which the group welcomes. Mr. Highley’s new position will put him face-to-face with some of the nation’s most cutting-edge efforts to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, including carbon-free commitments and legislation in Colorado and New Mexico.
The text of the groups’ welcome letter is as follows:
Dear CEO Highley,
Welcome to the West! We, the undersigned, as members of Western communities impacted by Tri–State‘s over-reliance on fossil fuel generation, hereby call on Tri–State to immediately take steps to lower electricity rates, develop clean energy, and empower economic development in the rural American West by making plans to retire its coal plants no later than 2030.
As our communities face climate crisis, we are concerned that Tri–State continues to rely heavily on coal-fired electricity generation, expecting us, as rural Westerners, to shoulder the costs of increasingly expensive fossil fuels despite the reliably declining price of renewable energy. Tri–State‘s rates have increased 56 percent over the last decade and a recent report found Tri–State could save rural consumers $600 million by shifting from coal to low cost renewable energy. Tri–State must retire its coal plants no later than 2030, and take immediate steps to develop cheaper, cleaner, local energy now.