As renewable energy becomes more affordable to produce, local energy cooperatives are looking for ways to get out of their costly contracts with coal-reliant energy providers.
One such organization, the New Mexico-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, recently ended its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for this very reason.
According to a report in High County News, one reason it was cheaper for Kit Carson to exit its $37 million contract with Tri-State is because its new energy supplier, Guzman Renewable Energy Partners, agreed to pay the exit fee.
The Delta-Montrose Electric Association, also concerned with saving money, won a battle with Tri-State last year when it challenged the electric wholesaler’s ability to charge a “lost revenue” penalty to the cooperative for purchasing electricity from renewable projects instead of from the wholesaler. DMEA has renewable energy resources through a hydroelectric project along the South Canal in Montrose, and a Community Solar Array.
If the name Tri-State sounds familiar, that is because this region’s local energy cooperative, San Miguel Power Association, is also one of its members.
In May, the SMPA board announced its own decision to put pressure on Tri-State in an effort to expand its renewable energy portfolio.
Following on the heels of a request from the La Plata Electric Association to Tri-State, the SMPA board is asking for permission to self-generate up to 10 percent of its power through “local distributed or renewable generation.”
Under the current contract, SMPA is only allowed to pursue up to 5 percent.
Board president Rube Felicelli said, “This says to Tri-State that we want to do more, and we want you to raise the cap on local renewables.”
The board is also requesting that Tri-State, in cooperation with SMPA, “investigate options for building a utility-scale renewable energy distribution generation facility and/or electrical storage project in the West End” as a way to mitigate the economic impacts of Tri-State’s announced closure of the Nucla power plant and New Horizon Mine, the resolution states.
According to SMPA spokesman Alex Shelley, the requests were submitted in the form of resolutions to Tri-State leadership, and are under review.
SMPA has pursued renewable energy through solar arrays in the past, in both Paradox and Norwood, but Shelley said there is interest in additional solar arrays.
“There is a wide range of sites where it could exist,” Shelley said.
“But we are not 100 percent sure we want to do something like this, unless it is important to members and unless members are willing to invest in making something like that happen.”
As a way to prove to Tri-State that there is tangible support for more renewable projects, SMPA, along with Telluride Mountainfilm and EcoAction Partners, has initiated a Community Solar Power Pledge, which asks members to provide their contact information to SMPA if they are serious about the co-op pursuing another community solar array.
“It would send a message to Tri-State, because here is a list of individuals who are memberowners of our cooperative, and by extension, owners of Tri-State, who want this. And so that begins to carry some weight,” Shelly said.
“If people feel strongly about moving forward with more renewables … we need to hear from them because it is important that it be kind of (from the) grassroots (up).”
Unbeknown to Shelley, members had already begun to mobilize their support for renewable energy in the form of a petition.
Chris Arndt, a Telluride resident and co-founder of the Pinhead Climate Institute, started the petition as a way for members to formally request “that Tri-State expeditiously shift to clean power in procurement, development and transmission.”
The petition asks the SMPA board to deliver a copy of the document to Tri-State’s Board of Directors at the association’s annual meeting, which takes place next week.
(Arndt said the petition complements the requests being made by SMPA’s board to Tri-State, and that Felicelli had signed the document.)
One way in which the petition differs from the board resolution is that it asks Tri-State to completely remove the arbitrary cap on procuring local energy rather than raising it to 10 percent, according to Arndt.
“There is a sense that Tri-State can do more in terms of either generating clean power or procuring more clean power,” he said.
“On the one hand, we have great resources to take advantage of,” but Tri-State has been slow to adapt these new energy options.
“We would like them to move more quickly.”
As of press time, the petition had received 167 signatures online. Arndt said that many more signatures have been collected via several paper copies of the petition.
Shelley said the petition is evidence of the community support that SMPA has been trying to gather for its solar pledge.
“It seems like these two (initiatives) have maybe started on their own and meet in the middle. They are pushing for the same things,” he said.
In response to the resolutions, Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said that the Tri-State board members will take into consideration the requests.
“Like SMPA, Tri-State recognizes there are benefits to local renewable and distributed generation projects, including economic development,” he said.
Boughey went on to point out that in 2016, 26 percent of energy delivered to Tri-State members was derived from renewable sources, and that the company’s renewable energy portfolio has expanded by 470 megawatts since 2008.
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