Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the energy supplier for Southwest Colorado, announced Thursday it will close its coal-fired power plants in Colorado and New Mexico by 2030, a move that would help La Plata Electric Association sharply reduce its dependence on carbon energy.
LPEA approved a goal last year to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% from 2018 levels by 2030, while keeping its rates competitive. The goal seemed tough to achieve because LPEA is contracted to buy 95% of its power from heavily coal-invested Tri-State until 2050.
Tri-State’s decision to close its Escalante Station near Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020 and the Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030 also would help both states reach carbon-cutting goals.
With the closures, Tri-State will cut its coal emissions in Colorado and New Mexico by 100%, according to a news release.
“That’s a great step at the big picture level,” said Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit that has advocated for greener power.
“I think it confirms what we have been saying for the last few years, which is the days of coal are numbered. ... There are much cheaper and more appealing ways to generate electricity,” he said.
The Colorado Legislature approved a measure last spring to cut emissions 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, based on 2005 pollution levels.
The closures also will cut LPEA’s reliance on coal because the co-op receives about 53% of its power from Tri-State’s coal power plants, according to LPEA data.
Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said he expects the plan will not increase the rates co-ops pay for electricity because the cost of green energy has declined.
“We continue to see dramatically reducing costs for wind and solar in our region,” he said.
Details about Tri-State’s transition to renewable energy are expected next week.
LPEA CEO Jessica Matlock said the local co-op was not involved in the Tri-State plan, and she could not say whether LPEA would be involved in generating renewable energy to replace the coal power.
LPEA is interested in how much renewable power is generated in Southwest Colorado because it is cheaper than traditional power and would support the local economy.
“If Tri-State is serious about turning the corner, we want to see concrete action towards this plan and a reassessment of how they engage with its own members. We want to be a partner,” she said.
LPEA’s representative on the Tri-State board did not share the plan with LPEA because it was discussed in executive session, Matlock said.
LPEA has considered buying out its contract with Tri-State and increasing its ability to purchase and develop renewable power for years. In November, it asked the state Public Utilities Commission to determine how much it would cost to leave Tri-State. LPEA plans to continue to explore a buyout, Matlock said.
At the same time, Tri-State is working on an option that could allow co-ops such as LPEA to contract with Tri-State for less than 95% of their power and provide them with flexibility to generate local renewable power, Highley said. The new contract option could be finalized in April, he said.
“I am encouraged by the activity that has been going on between us,” he said.