In 2006, directors of Delta-Montrose Electric were asked to commit to the middle of the 21st century to a coal plant to be built in the Kansas prairie. They had a different vision. More slowly, that wholesale provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, created a new vision, too, forced by the upheaval in the world of energy that is just now beginning.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission reached agreement on an exit fee with one of its 43 member co-operatives, Delta-Montrose Electric. But what that figure is will remain a secret until next May 2020, when the sheets are formally split.
Questions were sharp, anger barely concealed, as Colorado PUC commissioner Frances Koncilja grilled a lawyer representing Tri-State Generation and Transmission on Friday morning about Tri-States decision a few days prior to seek regulation by a federal agency, possibly bypassing Colorado.
Colorado legislators scold Tri-State about an effort to move rate regulation to Washington —which would also let a federal agency determine the fair and reasonable exit fee for Delta-Montrose Electric, bypassing the Colorado PUC.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission managers propose federal review over rates, which they say make sense given the G&T’s four-state operating area. But Delta-Montrose Electric, which is embroiled in a divorce dispute with Tri-State, see another motive.
In Colorado, Paonia remains a coal town, even if several mines have shut down. But those gathered at the Engage energy conference recently were looking to a future beyond coal. Many innovations are underway, said speakers, and more are afoot, with excitement clearly palpable.
Tri-State Generation & Transmission boasts of having the most solar generation of any G&T in the United States. But whether it’s shifting to renewables adn allow enough local generation has become a central issue with several of the 43 member cooperatives.
Kansas last year finally awarded a permit for a coal-fired power plant to serve customers in Colorado mountain towns and elsewhere, but it will never get built. As twilight arrives in the era of large, coal plants closes, its an open question whether wholesale suppliers will remain relevant for rural America.
The business model for Tri-State Generation & Transmission is in the cross-hairs as Durango-based La Plata Electric Association studies its long-term options.