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Tri-State Generation tries to balance coal use with alternatives

JUDITH KOHLER

DENVER – A Colorado-based electricity wholesaler that has drawn fire for its reliance on coal is trying to balance its approach by building natural gas and renewable energy projects.Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association said Wednesday that it’s soliciting a proposal for a 250-megawatt plant that will likely be gas-fired. The Westminster-based power supplier also plans to seek proposals for a renewable energy project later this year.Tri-State, which sells power to 44 electric cooperatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska, has been assailed by environmental groups for developing coal-fired power plants. A report last December by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates contended that Tri-State’s own data showed it didn’t need all the power that would be produced by three proposed coal plants and argued the company was speculating on oil shale development taking off in western Colorado.Spokesman Jim Van Someren said Tri-State has modified its expansion plans, first announced in 2005, for a number of reasons.”We’ve definitely shifted gears,” Van Someren said. “We’re definitely taking what I would describe as a balanced approach.”John Nielsen of Western Resource Advocates said he believes Tri-State scaled back its immediate plans for more coal-fired plants because there are other ways to meet near-term needs.”I think the reality is they’re still primarily looking to develop new coal-fired resources to meet the vast majority of their needs,” Nielsen said.But Nielsen said he thinks Tri-State is hearing from electric cooperatives that want to go a different direction, including developing homegrown renewable energy.Van Someren acknowledged that Tri-State is responding to concerns from the cooperatives. New laws in Colorado and New Mexico requiring utilities to get a certain amount of their power from renewable energy sources are also behind some of the changes.The Colorado law requires the smaller electric cooperatives to get 10 percent of their electricity from such renewable sources as wind by 2020. The law applies only to retail power but affects Tri-State by extension because the cooperatives buy nearly all their electricity from the wholesaler.Tri-State still plans to build a 700-megawatt coal-fired plant near Holcomb, Kan., but has indefinitely postponed plans for a second unit there and a third in southeastern Colorado. Tri-State officials say a gas-fired plant and a renewable energy plant, both planned for Colorado, will delay the need for more coal plants.The 250-megawatt plant might be a combined-cycle gas-fired plant, which captures and recycles the heat. Van Someren said the plant could work in tandem with such variable renewable energy sources as wind.The renewable energy project is expected to be about 50 megawatts in capacity.Tri-State is also working on building up to 1,000 miles of transmission lines in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.Nielsen said Tri-State could do more to improve energy efficiency. He added that while a 50-megawatt renewable energy project is “a start,” it’s considerably smaller than other utilities’ projects.”Tri-State serves some of the windiest territory in the country,” Nielsen said.


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