I think it’s time to talk about the 800 pound gorilla that sits in your local electrical co-op’s board room. It’s called Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State is a co-op of the 43 co-ops in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Tri-State’s task, is to provide affordable, reliable electrical power to those 43 co-ops, and it was set up such that one of each of the 43 co-ops would have one of their board members represent that Co-op on the Tri-State board. However that local co-op board members, responsibility, is to the Tri-State board first.
When coal was king in producing electricity, this Co-op system worked, but Coal is no longer the king and neither should Tri-State continue to wear the crown. Why do I state that? Because the cost of Tri-State’s electricity today cost 28.5 percent more than X-cel energy‘s, a for-profit owned corporation. X-cel energy is closing down it’s expensive, dirty coal powered plants and rapidly switching to renewable, wind and solar. In fact X-cel projects producing 55 percent renewable electricity by 2022 and 80 percent by 2030.
While Tri-State claims to be 30 percent renewable, that figure hasn’t really changed over the past 20 years. 20 percent of Tri-State’s power is from Lake Powell and Glen Canyon dam, and it cost Tri-State two cents a kilowatt hour. 10 percent is produced from various renewables, which cost about 3.5 cents a kilowatt hour. So while Tri-State charges your Co-op 7.65 cents a kilowatt hour, the real cost of the 70 percent fossil fuel mix is about 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour, as the fossil fuel cost are being subsidized by the far less expensive 30 percent renewable produced electricity.
If you look at your co-op electric bill, you’ll find that about 40 percent is paid to your local co-op, while 60 percent is the cost of Tri-State electricity,. So 40 percent stays in your co-op community, and 60 percent leaves to Westminster, Colorado, Tri-State’s headquarters. In Socorro Co-op‘s case, $5.6 million stays, 8.4 million leaves, our local community. In the Jemez Mountain Co-op, $19 million stays and $28 million leaves.
So why do I refer to Tri-State as the 800 pound gorilla. Co-ops were founded on its members owning the co-op, i.e. if you pay an electric bill to your co-op, you are a voting member. Co-ops were set up to be a transparent organization, with the Co-op board being your neighbor’s who are voted to a board position by you and in turn Tri-State is supposed to be organized and run under the same democratic principles. Unfortunately many of the local co-op board’s, lack some transparency, or a lot, and Tri-State definitely lacks a lot.
For example, Tri-State has borrowed $3.3 billion, yes that’s a B, to build coal generation plants, coal mines, and transmission lines, etc. That’s $3.3 billion that each of us co-op members are responsible to repay. While the $3.3 billion Tri-State debt is a known, it took the La Plata, Colorado, co-op board to dig out the fact that Tri-State is not paying down the debt load. Your local co-op board several years ago, signed a new Tri-State contract which added 10 years onto the previous contract. So now in 2050 co-op members will still be responsible for the $3.3 billion debt.
A number of the co-ops are looking at following Kit Carson co-ops lead and paying off their share and buying out of their Tri-State contracts.
Unfortunately Tri-State has been unwilling to give each of the 43 co-ops a reasonable buyout cost. Instead, Tri-State’s, Randy, tells us, we have to stick together.
The main reason co-ops want to buy out, it’s simple. As I stated previously, Tri-State power costs are too high, the contract with the co-ops only allows a co-op to produce 5 percent of their load for themselves and Tri-State controls how much locally produced solar or wind by a co-op will be credited back to the co-op. So let’s look at the latest Solar Renewable energy costs. City of Albuquerque/ PNM, 30 MW solar array, two cents a kilowatt hour. 8 MW Kit Carson Co-op Solar array, 2.7 cents a kilowatt hour. Last years X-cel wind, 1.8 cents a kilowatt hour. Remember Tri-States 70 percent dirty coal to the co-op, overall, cost 7.65 cents a kilowatt hour.
Unfortunately, as stated above, Tri-State has rigged our co-op’s ability to take advantage of the tremendous renewable cost savings that our local co-op could now pursue. Our local co-op’s have huge fixed infrastructure cost, that we have to pay for, and I for one, don’t want our co-op employees taking pay cuts to keep those cost in check. Those cost will continue to increase. However the good news is that renewable energy, continues to decrease in cost and is now less than half the cost to produce electricity than from dirty expensive coal and is on par or cheaper than natural gas. And do I really need to bring in the billions we are now spending on the climate catastrophe, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, loss of agricultural crops, etc. Our local co-op needs to join with its fellow co-ops to firmly put the 800 pound gorilla behind bars, so that each co-op can pursue developing renewable energy, the local jobs and property taxes that renewals create, and put money back into members pockets and our local businesses.
One last question, Tri-State, where did the $37 million, Kit Carson paid to Tri-State (us) to terminate its contract, go?
That’s the definition of transparency.
Oh yeah, you committed to not raise our electrical rates for three years. That’s almost up. Then what? That’s the other looming question. Renewals can be locked in for 25 to 30 years. Let’s move forward, take back control and save money.