Colorado PUC and potential rules to protect rural ratepayers
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is revamping its entire rulemaking process. And one of the most important issues it is considering – how to incorporate more protections for rural electric cooperatives and their customers into the oversight process – could impact one of the biggest and most influential co-op G&Ts in the country.
Currently, much of rural Colorado, from the Eastern Plains to the West Slope, is served by rural co-ops that are under long-term contracts to buy all but 5 percent of their power from Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
Despite its monopoly on rural electricity, however, unlike investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy, Tri -State is not subject to any sort of oversight to ensure that the nearly 1 million customers of rural co-op customers it serves in Colorado are getting a fair deal for the electricity they buy. One New Mexico co-op has already left Tri-State after determining that even after paying a $37 million fee to buy out its contract, it would still achieve lower rates and lift major restrictions on local development of clean energy projects. Another co-op in Colorado is proceeding down the same path because of dissatisfaction with Tri-State and a lack of any oversight to address issues.
What the PUC will be considering is whether it should exercise its authority and no longer exempt Tri-State from its jurisdiction, the argument being that without a watchdog to oversee things like the rates it charges and its resource planning, Tri-State will continue to operate in a way that harms rural Colorado. Without checks and balances to Tri-State’s stranglehold on power generation, sales and transmission, the gap between what rural co-ops and urban areas pay for electricity will only grow wider and opportunities for developing local wind and solar projects will be lost. Without expert oversight and pressure to adapt to changing energy markets, Tri-State will continue to be overly reliant on coal and rural parts of the state will miss out on the benefits of participating in the booming clean energy economy.
The PUC will begin hearing testimony on its proposed rules revisions on Monday, April 29. It has scheduled a day for public comment on Wednesday, May 1. There will be a number of member-owners from rural co-ops served by Tri-State attending, testifying that the PUC should subject Tri-State to the same rules as other Colorado utilities. The hearings start at 9 a.m. MDT in Hearing Room A at the PUC, 1560 Broadway, Suite 250, in Denver. The docket number is: 19R-0096E Amendments to Electric Rules.
If you cannot attend in person, the PUC livestreams its hearings. You can access the webcasts here: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/webcasts
Tri-State serves the following 18 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado:
1. Delta-Montrose Electric Assoc. based in Montrose
2. Empire Electric Assoc. based in Cortez
3. K.C. Electric Assoc. based in Hugo
4. Gunnison County Electric Assoc. based in Gunnison
5. Highline Electric Assoc. based in Holyoke
6. La Plata Electric Assoc. based in Durango
7. Morgan County REA based in Fort Morgan
8. Mountain Parks Electric based in Granby
9. Mountain View Electric Assoc. based in Limon
10. Poudre Valley REA based in Fort Collins
11. San Isabel Electric Assoc. based in Pueblo
12. San Luis Valley REC based in Monte Vista
13. San Miguel Power Assoc. based in Nucla
14. Sangre de Cristo Electric Assoc. based in Buena Vista
15. Southeast Colorado Power Assoc. based in La Junta
16. United Power based in Brighton
17. White River Electric Assoc. based in Meeker
18. Y-W Electric Assoc. based in Akron
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