Ritter and Highley: Colorado’s Tri-State has a bold new renewable energy plan

A dramatic shift is occurring in our nation’s electricity supply, and nowhere is this shift happening more quickly than in the West. With the recent release of its Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a not-for-profit wholesale electricity cooperative, is taking bold steps to lead the transition into this new energy economy.

Last July, Tri-State’s board of directors, which represents each of its utility members, initiated the development and now is leading the implementation of the cooperative’s Responsible Energy Plan. As part of that process, Tri-State leaders approached the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University with their vision for a future of delivering reliable, affordable and responsible power through lower emissions, more renewable energy, new opportunities for member flexibility, and by extending the benefits of a clean grid to rural energy consumers.

CNEE helped lead an advisory group comprised of representatives with different backgrounds and interests from across the states Tri-State serves. Together, the group, Tri-State and CNEE identified pathways by which the cooperative could preserve financial stability for itself and its members while meeting state clean energy goals. With the good-faith contributions of the advisory group, a shared enthusiasm for collaboration, and robust discussion of both current realities and innovative new ideas, Tri-State was able to integrate meaningful input into its Responsible Energy Plan.

Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan outlines ambitious but actionable commitments and challenging but attainable goals that will make it possible for the cooperative to implement its energy transition while maintaining stable to lower rates for its members. One key feature of the plan is Tri-State’s addition of over 1 gigawatt of wind and solar resources so that, by 2024, 50% of the energy its members use will come from renewable resources. Tri-State will also reduce 90% of the carbon emissions from generation it owns or operates in Colorado by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. In addition, the Tri-State board has allocated nearly $2 million for its members to install electric vehicle charging stations throughout their service areas, and last week announced they will be increasing their contract flexibility to significantly expand opportunities for member self-generation. While members have had the option to self-generate up to 5% of their individual energy demand since 2000, they will soon have the option to collectively self-supply an additional 10% of the entire Tri-State system.

While Tri-State’s plan details the cooperative’s path for its energy transition, we know that it is not the end of the road. There is more work to do and there are many challenges ahead. Among these is the need to support the employees and communities that have long-served the region by producing affordable and reliable electricity. Tri-State has already committed $5 million to the New Mexico communities affected by the closure of the Escalante coal power plant at the end of this year. Working together with state officials, community leaders, the private sector and others, Tri-State and CNEE are committed to developing additional solutions that ensure employees and communities get the assistance they need for the just and equitable transition they deserve, today and in the future.

The cooperative spirit that brought Tri-State, CNEE and the advisory group together to work across interests is proof of what we can accomplish when we work together to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities. While the energy transition will have its challenges, we are confident that by working together we can make it a success. We look forward to working with all parties in the months and years ahead to realize the benefits a clean grid has to offer.

Bill Ritter is the former governor of Colorado and the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy. Duane Highley is the CEO of Tri-State.

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