WHEATLAND – The Platte County commissioners hosted a special meeting Jan. 26 and called upon Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association CEO Duane Highley to address concerns about a report generated that published the fact the Laramie River Station – Basin Electric Power Cooperative was scheduled to be retired.
The meeting was open to the public and offered a Zoom format to those who could not attend in person. Following a presentation by Highley, there was a question and answer period for both the commissioners and the public.
“Tri-State is a wholesale, nonprofit power supply cooperative that sells power, generates and transmits power to 42 electric cooperatives,” Highley said. “Our job is to make reliable and affordable power for all those coop members across four states.”
Tri-State, according to Highley, sells electricity to coops in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Although the area they cover is over 200,000 square miles, the number of people within that area is 1.4 million.
“There’s a lot of change going on in the electric utility business these days,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us to change our power supply from what it’s traditionally been based on fossil fuels. We are basically a coal-based utility, but we are becoming less and less of that over
To say the pressures are intense would be an understatement. The call to go green has now permeated every nook and cranny of this country. When a company such as Tri-State services both red and blue states and those states at times tend to work against each other due to the color of its political skin, the middle ground it has to walk can be tricky at times.
“If you look at the states we serve in, New Mexico and Colorado are very green oriented states and they are looking at getting green energy faster,” Highley said. “Wyoming and Nebraska, not so much and not quite so fast as far as their change in the transition. But then we also have changes in the federal government that we can anticipate seeing increased pressure because of the new administration. The Trump administration kind of put a pause on that progression, but now the Biden administration, they have announced their intent and their desire to eliminate coal generation by the year 2035.”
Acting in the absence of federal legislation to advance green energy, in 2019, New Mexico enacted the energy transition act and required 50% renewable energy by 2030 and the Colorado law required the elimination of carbon emissions for utility companies by 80% by the end of the decade.
“For Tri-State that means we had to eliminate all the coal we operated in New Mexico and Colorado,” Highley said.
Last year, Tri-State had to close a power plant in New Mexico and another power plant in Colorado, which also had a coal mine associated with it will close down in three phases, 2025, 2028 and 2029. That leaves Tri-State with Springerville Station in Arizona and Laramie River Station, which they still would have ownership of coal.
“As part of the law that was passed in Colorado, Tri-State was required to file an energy resource plan with the public utility commission,” he said. “That filing was due Dec. 1 of last year. In that plan we had to evaluate a number of scenarios. In the process of doing that modeling we submitted the plan Dec. 1 as required and it shows that between now and 2030 Tri-State needs to adhere to Colorado’s law of reduction of carbon emissions.”
Because of that regulation, Highley said that there were two plants that will have to be shut down and the amount of energy that is brought in from Laramie station is going to have to be reduced. Right now, Colorado does not make the energy, but it consumes it, similar to California.
“In order to meet the carbon reduction scenarios that Colorado has called for, we will not be able to import as much energy as we get toward the end of this decade,” he said. “And after 2030 our modeling showed that we would have less and less ability to bring that energy into the state and it showed in a very important file that the Laramie River Station Unit would be retired in 2033. Now that is not an accurate word that was chosen for the report and we will be filing a supplemental report with the Colorado public utilities commission to clarify what we meant.”
In creating the model, Tri-State’s assumption was that they would not be able to take the energy created out of Wyoming.
“The clarification is that we wouldn’t be able to take energy, not that we are retiring the plant,” Highley said. “I think it was very unfortunate that the report was issued with the word ‘retirement’ in it. That was not a good choice of words and was not an accurate choice of words. Tri-State is a minority owner of the Laramie River Station, we own 27% of the plant so we can’t make a decision and would not make a decision to retire unilaterally and it would have to be a joint decision of the owners of the plant if that would be elected to be done. And obviously it’s not happening today and it would not happen for many years if such a decision would be made.”
That being said, Highley also said that pressures to go completely green are increasing and not going away any time soon. He also said that the restrictions are being augmented and accelerated through legislation. He mentioned that perhaps the station could be refurbished for green energy, but at this time, none of the equipment that is used in current manufacturing could be crossed over and used for green energy manufacturing. He also stated that whereas now, a plant that employs 200 people would be able to function in a green energy scenario with just five employees.