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PUC Ponders Clean Energy Plan for CO's #2 Utility

July 16, 2009

Colorado's Public Utilities Commission will hold a hearing today on how much control it should exert over energy planning for the second-largest supplier of power in Colorado. Tri-State Generation and Transmission has operated primarily without PUC oversight, and recently announced plans to pursue new wind and solar energy projects to meet minimum state renewable energy requirements. But some say meeting those minimum mandates won't be enough to help Colorado attain its full clean energy potential.

Ron Lehr is a former PUC commissioner and attorney who will be representing the American Wind Energy Association at today's hearing. He says investing in more homegrown renewable energy instead of new coal plants would benefit all Coloradans.

"Urban customers get what they want, which is stable price, and the rural areas get a tremendous boost in economic development from building up these projects."

Steve Szabo of Niwot is a ratepayer with Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, one of Tri-State's member cooperatives. He says he wants to see Tri-State develop more renewable energy because of a 2008 USGS study of Wyoming's Powder River Basin, which indicates the region's price of coal could quadruple in coming years.

"Fifteen years from now, we won't be able to afford the coal because of the cost to excavate it and get it on trains and get it down to burn it."

Eventually the fossil fuels used for electricity will run out, adds Szabo, and Tri-State and other utilities should start getting ready now by pursuing more renewable options.

"It takes time to get renewable energy going so we can have that 24-hours-a-day, basically."

A plan to build a new coal-fired power plant near the Colorado-Kansas border has met opposition from clean energy supporters. Tri-State has said it's the best way to meet growing demand now, but maintains they remain open to all forms of energy production and increased efficiency. Lehr says he hopes the PUC will find a way to encourage all utilities in the state to develop renewable energy as part of a larger coordinated effort. Westminster-based Tri-State serves a total of 44-member cooperatives including 18 in Colorado. Commissioners could choose to continue with its hands-off approach to Tri-State, fully regulate it, or some level in between.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - CO