Guzman LPEA offer is good energy

To the editor,

In recent LPEA Board elections, a rising tide of voters elected a 9-3 majority in favor of pursuing cheaper, cleaner energy. Thank you, LPEA Board, for performing your obligation by diligently researching our options. Here’s context: our local electricity, which currently comes from wholesale provider Tri-State, costs about 40 percent more than open market electricity. We pay premium prices for coal, which is easily the dirtiest fuel source.

Tri-State does purchase renewable energy, which somewhat dilutes its smoky mix. But about 90 percent of Tri-State’s own production is from coal, earning Tri-State generation the awful distinction of “most carbon released per unit energy, of the top 100 U.S. electricity producers.” Coal is poisonous, as anyone can attest who has directly inhaled its toxic, gagging smoke. Our bodies know immediately.

But reading the breakdown of coal emissions gags one even more. Mercury is a highly active neurotoxin that causes birth defects and cancer, even in minute quantities: 1/70th of a teaspoon makes the fish inedible in a 25-acre lake. Domestic electricity generation from coal spreads more than 45,000 pounds of mercury in a very fine mist throughout our atmosphere and environment. No wonder so many of our lakes and rivers are contaminated and so many of our children are displaying abnormal development and health problems.

Coal generation is by far the leading source of particulate matter, which is alone considered to be the fifth leading ambient cause of death (2015 EPA-funded study) due to its role in multiple deadly heart and lung syndromes. The list of coal toxins goes on – arsenic, cadmium, nitrous oxide – confirming coal to be a concentrated poison  awaiting combustion and release to the wind.

Let’s count it up. About 1 pound of coal is burned to generate a kilowatt of electricity. Roughly, LPEA uses .95 billion kilowatts per year, of which 58 percent is coal-generated. That means that we at LPEA are responsible for the burning of about half a billion pounds of coal per year. That’s a lot of poison released into our air.

Here’s good news: Tri-State recently received a major offer from Guzman Energy, an open market provider. Chris Riley, president of Guzman, said they would “finance the early shutdown of (three Tri-State owned) coal plants, giving Tri-State a substantial cash infusion, in the vicinity of a half-billion dollars, and we would replace the (coal-based) portfolio with in excess of 70 percent renewables.” These three coal plants generate about half of Tri-State’s coal generation (roughly 800 megawatts). Guzman would replace that generation with 1.2 gigawatts of new renewable energy projects.

Many Tri-State members are praying that the deal goes through. Besides getting away from toxic coal, here are more reasons. Rocky Mountain Institute reported that if Tri-State shifted from coal to renewables, it could save up to $600 million by 2030. Guzman’s energy is cleaner and its rates are substantially cheaper than Tri-State’s coalbased costs. So Tri-State’s savings with Guzman could be passed on to members.

For those aware of the environmental disaster created by coal plants, here’s more good news. Part of Guzman’s offer would cover the high costs of dismantling and remediating the three coal plants and could even assist communities affected by early retirement of the units. Guzman is able to make such a generous offer and still make a profit because renewable energy has become so amazingly cheap.

Guzman’s deal would also financially strengthen TriState, which owes $3.4 billion, most in endless revolving debts. And it would solve compliance with new renewable energy portfolio laws in Colorado and New Mexico, which dramatically impact 80 percent of Tri-State’s electricity sales. To survive, Tri-State must make rapid, revolutionary changes in its coal-heavy operations.

Here’s reason five – or is it six? – to want the deal. Allen Best’s Energy News article notes that Guzman would “help Tri-State’s member co-ops build smaller but more dispersed electricity generation” which would “help local communities benefit by using local labor and resources.”

This is one of the issues LPEA member-voters overwhelmingly responded to in recent elections. Currently, LPEA sends $70 million per year out of our area to support jobs in Denver and elsewhere. Guzman’s local industry support keep many of those dollars and jobs here. We need that.

Please ask your LPEA director to urge Tri-State to hold its nose and make the jump.

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango