Sumer Shaikh, firstname.lastname@example.org, 774-545-0128
DENVER, CO -- Today, Tri-State Generation and Transmission announced its intention to close two coal plants and one coal mine ahead of schedule. Tri-State will retire the Escalante coal plant in New Mexico in 2020 and units 2 and 3 at the Craig coal plant in Colorado sometime before 2030; Craig 1 is already scheduled for retirement in 2025. Tri-State also announced early closure of the Colowyo coal mine in Colorado.
While a step in the right direction, today’s announcement neglects key concerns from its member cooperatives, including: the 5 percent cap on co-op generated electricity, a decarbonization plan similar to those proposed by other utilities in the region, and a robust plan for economic transition in its coal communities. The announcement comes three days after 92 business owners from 10 Tri-State cooperatives delivered a letter to the Board of Directors asking Tri-State to commit to 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030.
Tri-State charges its 43 co-ops in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Nebraska more than 20 percent above average retail electricity rates to service its $3 billion dollar coal debt. A 2019 study found that customers could save over $1 billion if Craig 2 & 3 were replaced with wind power by 2023, the third and first most expensive coal units in Colorado, respectively. Further savings could be realized by retiring the other half of Tri-State’s coal, including $424 million from Tri-State’s Springerville 3 in Arizona.
Tri-State’s resistance to replacing its expensive coal fleet with clean energy, and allowing more local control of electricity generation, has caused co-op member unrest over the last few years. Colorado’s Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) and New Mexico’s Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) already left Tri-State, and La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) and United Power are currently seeking buyouts from their contracts.
Anna McDevitt, Senior Campaign Representative at the Sierra Club said, “From member co-op unrest, to the poor economics of coal and environmental policy pressures, Tri-State can no longer ignore the benefits of retiring its coal and replacing it with local, clean energy.”
These savings do not account for the societal costs of burning coal, from environmental damages to public health expenses. While other Colorado utilities have made carbon-free commitments, including Tri-State’s own Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, Tri-State has fallen behind. "This is a step in the right direction but this plan isn't enough. I run a business that manufactures skis in Telluride that relies on snow and cold, winter weather conditions,” said Pete Wagner, CEO & Founder at Wagner Custom. “I want to see bolder action from Tri-State to combat climate change by retiring more coal and going renewable. It's the right thing to do for Colorado and its winter recreation industry."
In addition to savings from shifting to renewables, clean energy generated by co-ops would support local jobs and revenue growth. However, cooperatives remain locked into inflexible contacts that limit local generation to 5 percent.
“We’re disappointed that Tri-State declined to allow for any participation by the member owners of the rural electric cooperatives, like La Plata Electric Association here in Durango, in the creation of this plan,” said Mark Pearson, Executive Director at San Juan Citizens Alliance. “It fails to incorporate the desires of cooperative members to benefit from locally-owned renewable energy in communities like ours with abundant solar and renewable resources.”
“Tri-State’s “Responsible” Energy Plan will be irresponsible without a full transition away from all its Western coal by 2030 and a robust plan for worker and community transition. These coal retirement announcements show real progress, but Tri-State still has far more to do when it comes to member transparency and democracy, committing to decarbonization , and providing impacted communities with the tools needed for a just transition,” said McDevitt.
For more information, visit TriHarder.org
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.