Craig – Moffat County’s elected officials continue to rip a bill now making its way through the Colorado House of Representatives that would require Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to increase its renewable energy portfolio to 25 percent by 2020.
This week, Moffat County Commissioners Chuck Grobe and Tom Mathers raised numerous concerns with the bill, which they said targets Tri-State, its 18 member cooperatives in Colorado and their in-state customers.
Grobe is a former 20-year employee of Tri-State who retired shortly after his election to the Moffat County Commission in November.
Tri-State encompasses 44 member electric distribution centers in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico and provides power to more than 1.5 million residents.
Because it is a cooperative, Tri-State customers elect board members to provide oversight of the company, Grobe said. One representative from each member distribution center serves on Tri-State’s board of directors.
“That’s one thing that I think aggravates” the state lawmakers, Grobe said. “Because Tri-State is not regulated by Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, they can’t control what they do, but that’s just my opinion.”
The bill would require the cooperative to provide the Public Utilities Commission with regular updates on its progress as it builds infrastructure to meet the new renewable energy mandate, Mathers said.
But that might be a moot point, Mathers added, because there isn’t anything in the bill to penalize Tri-State if they don’t meet the new renewable energy mandates by 2020.
Furthermore, the bill doesn’t necessitate the renewable energy be created in Colorado and would allow Tri-State to purchase energy from renewable sources outside the state if it is unable to build enough infrastructure to meet the mandate.
“You’re not promoting Colorado jobs. You’re promoting jobs in other states where you can buy power to meet the mandate,” Mathers said. “This bill provides no advantage to businesses in Colorado or promoting our economy.”
Perhaps the greatest injustice, Grobe said, is the fact hydroelectric power is absent among the bill’s list of approved sources of renewable energy.
Hydroelectric power plants are similar to coal-fired plants in the sense that electricity is created by spinning a turbine. Unlike a coal-fired power plant, which uses heat to produce steam that spins the turbine, hydroelectric plants use running water.
It’s a no-brainer on a number of levels, Grobe said. With all of the dams and reservoirs in Colorado, half of the infrastructure is in place, and retrofitting a dam with an electrical generator is more cost effective than building wind or solar farms from scratch.
“And not only that, you can produce hydro 24 hours a day,” Grobe said. “Wind and solar are only effective if the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.”
According to Tri-State’s 2012 annual report, 22 percent, or 807 megawatts, of its total generating capacity comes from renewable energy sources, including hydropower.
Tri-State operates eight hydroelectric dams. Six of those, which are capable of producing more than 300 megawatts of electricity annually, are in Colorado.
“If hydro were included in this bill, Tri-State would already be exceeding the 25 percent renewable energy requirement,” Grobe said. “If passed, Tri-State will effectively be generating 40 percent of its power from renewables.”
That would be higher than the 30 percent renewable energy mandate for Colorado’s investor-owned utilities, which also has a deadline of 2020.
It’s an unreasonable demand that feels almost personal, Grobe said.
“Tri-State is destined to fail to meet the mandates of this legislation, and for what?” Grobe said. “Maybe those Front Range guys just feel they need to penalize us for living in the country.”
The bill’s sponsors – Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village – did not return calls seeking comment.
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