Co-op bucks power supplier with stance on renewables bill

A bill that would require rural electric associations to boost the amount of power they generate from renewable sources is under vehement challenge by the association set to be most affected, Tri-State Transmission and Generation.

But the only cooperative in the immediate region that gets its power from Tri-State views SB252 as a potential opportunity to expand its own portfolio of renewable power generation.

The board of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association recently passed a motion to support the bill, but only if it were amended to allow local co-ops like DMEA to generate some of the renewable power themselves.

“It looks like (SB252 is) going to pass, one way or the other. So we might as well get it changed if we can, so that it does benefit Colorado rural areas,” DMEA board President Nancy Hovde said.

“If this bill were to allow us to self-generate up to 50 percent of (the newly mandated renewable energy), then we would support the bill,” she said.

The bill requires rural cooperative electric associations to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from 10 percent. The standard would still be below that already required by investor-owned utilities. Those utilities must head toward a 30 percent renewable energy standard.

The measure passed the House and Senate despite vigorous opposition from Republicans. Lawmakers rectified differences on Wednesday, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Supporters of the new renewable requirement, including House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, have touted the potential benefits to the state if the measure is passed, saying it would bring jobs in wind and solar to rural parts of Colorado.

But Hovde said she was concerned that the bill in its current form didn’t require new renewable generation to happen here.

“They could build (a facility) in Wyoming, and then charge us two percent more for the power. So we’re getting none of the local economic benefits,” she said.

DMEA is set to launch two hydroelectric projects in the next couple of months, but it has eyes on another source of renewable energy — tapping trapped coal-bed methane in mines found in its service area.

SB252 actually expands the definition of renewable sources to include coal-bed methane. It also includes synthetic gas produced by “pyrolosis” on municipal solid waste, another potential way DMEA could generate renewable energy, Hovde said.

“We could very likely cost-effectively develop that here locally and keep the money local,” she said, adding that the upcoming hydroelectric projects could save DMEA $1 million this year.

“They scream (about) cost, but it doesn’t always cost more — just like we’re proving locally,” Hovde said about Tri-State’s primary protestation to the bill.

Officials with Tri-State have testified that the bill could cost them between $2 billion and $4 billion.

Complicating DMEA’s position is the co-op’s long-term contract with Tri-State, which caps the amount of electricity DMEA can generate locally at just 5 percent. Hovde said its new projects “bring us right up to our 5 percent.”

DMEA wanted an amendment to SB252 that would have relieved it of that 5-percent cap on local generation.

Tri-State spokesman Jim Van Someren said the association supports local renewable projects at its member co-ops “through board policies that are already in place.” But he stressed the overall damage it believes SB252 will have, with or without the amendment DMEA is pushing.

“(SB252 is) not going to have any benefit. It’s going to be a huge detriment to the rural economy — regardless of where the power is generated,” he said.

As to how Tri-State might approach meeting the new renewable standard if it becomes law — whether in-state or out of state — he said, “It would be such a huge undertaking that I can’t even speculate as to how we would begin approaching it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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