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Posted: November 02, 2009

Top Company: energy/natural resources

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc.

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Think of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association as a kind of smorgasbord of innovation in a new-energy era.

Solar: In partnership with Solar Inc., the Westminster-based, nonprofit wholesale energy provider is developing one of the world's largest photovoltaic solar power plants. The sprawling, 30-megawatt, 500,000-panel plant now rising from cattle country between Springer and Cimarron, N.M., should be operational in 2010, providing power to some 9,000 homes.

Wind: Tri-State and Duke Energy are building a smaller scale, 34-turbine, 51-megawatt wind farm in Kit Carson County on the plains of eastern Colorado.

Green power and energy efficiency: For more than a quarter of a century, Tri-State has rewarded consumers with cash back for energy efficient practices - with $1.8 million paid out in 2008 - which has resulted in savings of some 73 megawatts of demand and 80,000 megawatt-hours in energy used.

Environmental stewardship: The association has developed a far-reaching greenhouse-gas management road map and was the first utility to be recognized under the state health and environment department's Colorado Environmental Leadership program.

"All that is actually part of the core values of what we've been doing since the inception of the company," said Tri-State Executive Vice President/General Manager Ken Anderson.

But ask Anderson why the 57-year-old company, which provides power to 44 rural cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming has returned money to its members for 20 straight years while increasing assets, operating revenue and sales, and he's quick to answer.

"It's because we've been focused on our primary mission ... which has been and will continue to be to provide a reliable, cost-effective supply of electricity," he said.

That means, of course, providing electricity from coal-fired plants at a time when greenhouse-gas and climate-change concerns have led some to criticize coal power, which accounts for about half of the nation's energy production.

But Anderson said coal isn't going away.

"Renewables are fine products, especially as they become more cost-effective. But they are not there 100 percent of the time," he said. "And you can't idle a work force just because the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining."

If anything, Anderson said, as America moves away from oil-powered transportation and industry, coal will be needed more than ever, to generate electricity for those purposes.

"And if people truly wanted to address carbon, they'd encourage (the construction of) brand-new coal facilities to displace the old facilities quickly," he said. "There would be a 16 percent reduction in our carbon footprint just to swap them out."

-- Clay Evans

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