A Responsible Energy Plan

By Duane Highley, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association CEO

Since 1985, my family has come to Colorado to rest, recharge and rediscover one another. The rugged landscapes and rugged people inspired us, and over the years it came to feel like home.

And now it is.

As Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s chief executive officer since April of this year, I am proud to finally call Colorado home. As an engineering intern beginning my career at a Missouri cooperative in the 1980s, I never imagined I would have the privilege of working in the great Western states of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico that Tri-State serves as a power supplier.

There’s no better time to be a member of an electric co-op, and no better place to be than here in the West. The rapidly changing electric utility industry and vibrant not-for-profit cooperative business model are creating opportunities to better support the communities we serve.

Tri-State’s board of directors, which represents each of our members’ co-ops, recognizes this and refined our mission statement recently. The core of our mission remains the same, but we’re simplifying and clarifying our focus. Tri-State’s mission is to provide our member systems a reliable, affordable and responsible supply of electricity in accordance with cooperative principles.

The words reliable, affordable and responsible are important. Reliability of electric service remains our first priority, followed closely by the affordability of power. We’ve added the word “responsible,” and while this is not a new concept for co-ops, we want to highlight the importance of being responsible to our members, our employees and our environment.

In the spirit of our mission, our board of directors also has directed the development of our Responsible Energy Plan. The plan will detail how Tri-State will be an increasingly clean and flexible power provider and will set goals and pathways to comply with state regulatory requirements.

Our plan will ensure the reliability and affordability of Tri-State’s wholesale power system and, importantly, strive to lower our wholesale rates to members while maintaining Tri-State’s strong financial position.

We’re off to a strong start. Today, nearly a third of the energy consumed by our members is from emission-free renewables. Tri-State’s wholesale rates are stable and we continue to refund capital credits to our members.

As a co-op, we’re working closely with our member co-ops to ensure the Responsible Energy Plan benefits each and every consumer-member. Former Gov. Bill Ritter and the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University are helping us engage stakeholders who have an interest in making our transition a success.

We’ve already taken meaningful actions and will have more specifics about the Responsible Energy Plan as it’s developed in the coming months. Right now, we’re reviewing new renewable energy projects and, earlier this year, we announced two projects that will increase our wind and solar power by 45%.

Importantly, a contract committee of our membership is reviewing how Tri-State can offer more flexible contract options for our members who would like to generate more renewable power locally.

We will comply with new carbon reduction and resource planning requirements passed by the Colorado legislature this year, and we have taken steps to ensure our wholesale rates are applied equally for all of our members by seeking federal rate regulation.

The Responsible Energy Plan also will help us understand the impact on our existing facilities and employees. We know there will be change, and we are committed to working with our employees and communities through these transitions.

The changes ahead create opportunities to serve our members reliably, affordably and ever more responsibly within our proven cooperative business model, and working together with our members, I know we will inspire a bright future.

Duane Highley became CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in April. Tri-State, a member of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, supplies electric power to 18 of Colorado’s 22 distribution cooperatives, as well as 25 other electric co-ops in Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska.