Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale power provider serving rural utilities in Colorado and three other states, has reached a settlement with several parties on a plan aimed at cutting costs for ratepayers and setting ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will consider Tri-State's electric resource plan.
The plan charts the sources the Westminster-based power provider will use to generate electricity for its 42 member electric cooperatives through 2026. The proposal drew praise from environmental groups that previously have criticized Tri-State for relying too much on coal.
"It's exciting when utilities and clean air advocates find themselves on the same page about what needs to happen to reduce pollution and save customers money," Sarah Snead, with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado, said in a statement.
About two years ago, Tri-State announced what it called its "Responsible Energy Plan," which included significantly boosting renewable energy sources, closing its coal plants and slashing greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations.
The plan that will go to state regulators commits Tri-State to reducing emissions from its electricity sales in Colorado by 80% in 2030, based on 2005 levels. In the near term, the company says it will cut emissions by 26% in 2025, 36% in 2026 and 46% in 2027.
A 2019 state law requires utilities to map out how to cut carbon dioxide emissions associated with the power it sells by 80% from 2005 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
"Tri-State has come a long way. This important agreement marks the first time Tri-State is committing to near-term, enforceable reductions in climate-changing greenhouse gas pollution," said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based conservation group.
As part of its shift to more renewable energy, Tri-State has closed coal plants in Colorado and New Mexico, plans to retire more and is adding eight wind and solar projects to its system, enough renewable energy to power 850,000 homes.
Tri-State expects that 70% of the power for Colorado members will come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
While acknowledging Tri-State's progress, Eric Frankowski, executive director of the Western Clean Energy Campaign, said the company hasn't committed to retiring its stakes in coal-fired plants in Arizona and Wyoming.
"The plants are expensive to run, so Tri-State should be looking at ways to remove them as resources to save their member co-ops money," Frankowski said in an email.
Two of Tri-State's member electric associations that left the cooperative complained about the utility's rates and what they said was a failure to move more quickly toward renewable energy. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Montrose left in 2020 and the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos left in 2016.
Tri-State's members had an opportunity to make their voices heard during the development of the utility's new resource plan, Jeff Wadsworth, president and CEO for Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Fort Collins, said in a statement.
"We are encouraged by the plan's environmental aspects as well as its recognition of the importance of reliability and affordability to our members," Wadsworth said.
Tri-State said it will complete a 4% wholesale rate reduction for its members in March. The first 2% of the reduction was implemented in 2021.
In addition, the company said it will start exploring ways to assist communities in northwest Colorado as the area prepares for the closure of a coal plant in Craig by 2030.
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