Tri-State looking at asking federal energy agency to set its electric rates

Less than a month after a new Colorado law took effect that requires state approval of Tri-State’s plans, the wholesale electric power provider is looking at placing itself under federal regulation.

Westminster-based Tri State Generation and Transmission Association is talking with its board of directors about having its rates regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The federal agency regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce.

Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said in an email Friday that FERC would regulate only the association’s rates. State regulation of the utility’s resource plans and other requirements wouldn’t be affected, he said.

“As Tri-State is rapidly transitioning to become increasingly flexible and increasingly clean in our vision for a 21st Century generation and transmission cooperative, it benefits our membership to have a consistent environment for rate regulation,” Boughey said.

However, House Speaker KC Becker of Boulder, one of the sponsors of the legislation requiring more state oversight of Tri-State, said being regulated by FERC would be a big change for Tri-State’s 43 rural electric associations. Participating in FERC proceedings “is neither quick, nor inexpensive nor clear.”

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Placing Tri-State under FERC’s regulation would leave it up to a federal agency in Washington, D.C., to set rates for rural communities in Colorado and elsewhere, Becker said. “I think it’s interesting that that seems to be the preferred alternative right now,” she said.

Although Tri-State said FERC would deal only with the utility’s rates, Becker said rate-making and natural resource planning are connected.

Tri-State’s board of directors, made up of members from rural electric associations across four states, would have to approve submitting to FERC’s jurisdiction. The board now oversees regular rate matters.