Lowdown on Tri-State and LPEA

To the editor,

In mid-April you will receive an LPEA Board Director ballot in the mail with your LPEA bill. Please use it to vote for clean energy candidates Rachel Landis, Guinn Unger and newcomer Doug Fults. As an LPEA member-owner familiar with the new clean energy market, I am grateful for this Board’s thorough analysis and measured progress toward cheaper, cleaner electricity. The LPEA Board’s majority are directors who won their seats based on their commitment to this. Please help keep this great team together by voting the incumbents back in.

There are multiple reasons why our provider Tri-State’s wholesale electricity is more expensive than open market power. Here are some primary ones:

The average percentage of coal used by American utilities has dropped from roughly 50 percent to 27 percent, beginning around 2007 – that’s when cheaper natural gas became widespread. While utilities migrated first to gas, then to renewables as their price dropped, Tri-State’s electricity has remained around 55 percent coal-generated. Tri-State’s generation relies so heavily on coal that in 2019 it ranked third most carbon-emitting per unit of electricity, of the largest 100 domestic electricity producers (according to M J Bradley – Benchmarking Air Emissions.)

Wind, natural gas and solar compete as the cheapest fuels in widespread use, within a penny of $.02/kWh even with battery storage included. Coal costs about twice as much (over $.04/kWh) guaranteeing us high wholesale rates from Tri-State. Multiple market studies have shown potential savings from replacing coal plants with solar and wind, and Tri-State member co-ops have requested cleaner power. Nonetheless Tri-State has steadfastly resisted shifting away from coal.

Why, you ask? Tri-State owns considerable coal assets, and since no one buys coal or coal plants any more, those assets are “stranded.” So Tri-State may as well burn as much coal as possible, right?

Then last year, the Colorado Legislature wisely mandated that every utility selling in our state create a “Responsible Energy Plan,” with enforceable milestones toward 100 percent clean energy. That’s when Tri-State suddenly became a “green producer” –on paper, anyway – with bold talk about future large renewable projects.

Tri-State will save money by building renewables, it’s true. But their savings won’t lower our rates. They’ll go to service Tri-State’s $3.5 billion debt, which continues to grow because Tri-State has been paying very little principal. Our Tri-State contract (until 2050!) allows unlimited wholesale rate increases, and even Tri-State forecasts their own rates to keep rising until then. No wonder LPEA is not the only Tri-State member co-op seeking alternatives.

The solar arrays that Tri-State talks about building in La Plata County would provide some jobs, which is good. But if we remain with Tri-State, LPEA will keep sending around $70 million out of our local economy for high-priced electricity, which is a shame. We’d miss a prime opportunity to build our own solar, pay off the cost within 8-10 years at rates still cheaper than Tri-State’s, then receive near-free electricity for the remaining life of the panels (which last around 25 years). This would lower our rates even further, support our local economy and create well-paying careers. Plus, we’d be much more energy-independent and safer from cyber attack and natural disaster. More reliable, cheaper, cleaner energy through community ownership is what cities are rapidly moving to across America (see Sierra Club Ready for 100).

I applaud the LPEA Board for doing their homework to find a path to cheaper prices and clean energy. Please re-elect incumbents Guinn Unger and Rachel Landis, and elect newcomer Doug Fults.

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango