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Posted: July 01, 2010

State of the state: utilities

Tri-State aims to keep energy affordable for rural customers

Mike Cote

Westminster-based Tri-State Generation is undergoing a shift toward renewable energy, thanks to mandates in Colorado and New Mexico.

Tri-State supplies power to 18 member electric cooperatives in Colorado, 12 in New Mexico, eight in Wyoming and six in Nebraska, serving nearly 1.5 million people.
This interview with Tri-State's Lee Boughey, senior manager for communications and public affairs, was edited for space and clarity from an interview also available as a podcast at cobizmag.com. (Look for part 1 of this conversation, which appeared in June, at www.cobizmag.com.)

ColoradoBiz: Tri-State made national headlines in October 2007 when a coal-fired plant it proposed to build with Sunflower Electric was rejected by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which cited concerns about greenhouse gases. What's the outlook for the project and what do consumers need to understand about the future of coal?

Boughey: The project was held up for a number of years and is now moving forward again with our partner utility in Kansas. We're trying to balance the risks that come with different technologies and trying to work with our membership to make the best decisions about how we'll provide them with a long-term fuel supply.

We have a modern, efficient, clean-burning coal fleet, and coal is a major contributor to how we deliver reliable, and most importantly, affordable electricity. What Tri-State is looking at now is how we can continue to preserve coal as an option. With the last round of efficiency improvements within our coal fleet, we're generating - with no increase in fuel use or emissions - enough extra power to power the equivalent of about 10,000 homes.

In addition, we're working with partner utilities in the Electric Power Research Institute to demonstrate clean-coal technologies. We've had a successful project wrap up in Wisconsin and are working on another project in West Virginia that is demonstrating how clean-coal technologies, carbon capture and sequestration technology can work.

With the Colorado Geological Survey, the Utah Geological Survey, a number of other private partners and the U.S. Department of Energy, we're beginning a sequestration assessment study in northwestern Colorado approximate to our Craig power plant. We're going to look at the ability to safely and permanently store carbon dioxide underground.

ColoradoBiz: Duke Energy is building a $100 million wind farm on the Eastern plains of Colorado and will sell the power to Tri-State. How will this project help Tri-State meet its Colorado state mandate to increase its use of renewables?

Boughey: Both in Colorado and in New Mexico there is a mandate on our member cooperatives to have 10 percent of their energy come from renewable energy resources by 2020. We are working very closely with our membership on a number of different ways to ensure that we can support their local renewable energy goals while providing them with the renewable energy they need to meet state mandates.

At the utility scale we have the wind project. It's a 51 megawatt project just outside of Burlington, Colo. That's a partnership with Duke Energy; and that should be online at the end of the year. Already about 13 of the turbines are up, and they're continuing with construction.

In northeastern New Mexico, we've also partnered with First Solar and the Southern Co. to develop a 30 megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant that will also be done by the end of the year. It's going to be among the largest projects in the country, and it's the largest solar cooperative project in the world.
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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