In dual announcements Tuesday, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association said it has named a new CEO and is adding its fifth utility-scale wind farm in Colorado.
Westminster-based Tri-State, which serves member electric cooperatives in Colorado and other states, has named Duane Highley as its new CEO. Highley, the current president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., will start April 5.
He will succeed Mike McInnes, who is retiring.
In a separate announcement, Tri-State said it plans to install a 100-megawatt wind farm in eastern Colorado, which it said will boost its total power from wind in Colorado to 471 megawatts.
Tri-State has come under fire from some of its member associations and renewable-energy advocates for relying too much on coal at a time when the costs of wind and solar energy are falling and concerns about climate-changing emissions from fossil fuels are increasing.
But Tri-State says nearly a third of its power comes from renewable sources.
McInnes said in a statement that Tri-State has “worked to address the challenges of an ever-changing industry” while staying true to its mission.
Rick Gordon, Tri-State board chairman and president, commended McInnes for his work and said the energy supplier is “well-positioned for the future.
“As CEO, (Highley) will work with our board of directors to advance a strong vision for the association’s future,” Gordon, said. “He has spent the past 35 years working with two financially strong cooperatives and demonstrates leadership collaborating with members, key stakeholders and public officials.”
Highley said in a statement that the Tri-State board, members and staff will work to “bolster what remains our key focus – serving the needs of our members so they can deliver on their promise to rural communities across the West.”
McInnes joined Tri-State in 2000 and became executive vice president and general manager in March 2014. The board changed his title to CEO in 2015.
Before working for Tri-State, McInnes was executive vice president and general manager of Plains Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative in Albuquerque, N.M.
Tri-State supplies wholesale power to 43 member electric associations in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska.
Tri-State’s new wind project is a joint effort with EDP Renewables to install a 104-megawatt turbine farm about 20 miles south of Seibert in eastern Colorado.
The Crossing Trails Wind Farm, expected to start operating in 2020, will produce enough electricity annually to supply on average more than 47,000 rural Colorado homes, Tri-State said in a news release. It will be in the service territory of the K.C. Electric Association.
Critics of Tri-State have noted plans by Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, to shut down some of its coal plants early and produce more electricity from renewable sources. Late last year, Xcel started operating the Rush Creek Wind Project, a 600-megawatt wind facility in Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson and Lincoln counties that can produce enough electricity for about 325,000 homes.
In January, Tri-State announced it was doubling the power it will get from solar energy with the 100-megawatt Spanish Peaks Solar Project north of Trinidad.
Tri-State is also reducing its coal-generating capacity, spokesman Lee Boughey said in an email.
“We have retired our capacity in the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico, and will retire Nucla Station by the end of 2022 and Craig Station Unit 1 by the end of 2025,” Boughey said.
“They’re absolutely taking steps in the right direction. Kudos to them,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “But we’re just not seeing the bold moves” on reducing the use of coal.
Nichols added that Tri-State isn’t addressing its members’ concerns about the economics of coal compared to the declining costs of wind and solar.
Tri-State’s mix of energy sources has been a point of contention with some of its member cooperatives. In 2015, the Taos, N.M.-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative paid $37 million to break its contract with Tri-State, citing rising electric rates and a desire to use more renewable energy sources.
The Delta-Montrose Electric Association wants to buy out its contract with Tri-State in part because its rates have increased 56 percent since 2005. The Montrose-based association asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in December to intervene, saying the exit fee Tri-State wants is “unjust, unreasonable, and discriminatory.”
Tri-State responded in January with a lawsuit asking the Adams County District Court to clarify the Delta-Montrose association’s obligations under its contract and the state public utilities commission’s jurisdiction in the dispute.