Renewables Could Save Electric Cooperative Members $600M, RMI Says

by | Aug 27, 2018


(Photo: The Rocky Mountains viewed from Loveland, Colorado. Credit: Paul L Dineen, Flickr Creative Commons)

Electric cooperative members in the US Mountain West can save $600 million through 2030 by transitioning to renewable energy technologies, a new case study analysis from Rocky Mountain Institute found.

RMI studied Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative utility that provides power to more than 1 million consumers in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

The report, called A Low-Cost Energy Future for Western Cooperatives, concluded that integrating more renewables into the co-op’s supply mix rather than continuing to operate legacy fossil-fuel power plants would produce enormous savings. Last year coal accounted for approximately half of Tri-State’s generation, according to RMI.

“RMI compared the cost of continuing to operate a typical coal plant at a historical run rate to the cost of retiring that facility and purchasing renewable energy and capacity at current market prices,” the independent nonprofit said. “The option that integrates more renewable energy resources would result in costs equivalent to about $32 per megawatt-hour versus about $40 per MWh for the option that relies on the coal plant — a 20% reduction in operating costs.”

Tri-State criticized the study. “RMI’s case study does not have the detailed inputs, complex models and technical expertise necessary to forecast the association’s future costs,” the co-op’s public statement read. “Tri-State’s resource planning process factors in the resources, loads across 43 member distribution systems, transmission constraints, reliability factors, and resource and fuel costs to credibly forecast and compare resource scenarios.”

Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications and public affairs for Tri-State, added that the co-op already takes advantage of renewables. At the end of last year, 30% of the energy consumed within the association came from renewable resources.

“Tri-State’s renewable portfolio can power the equivalent of a half a million rural homes,” said Boughey. “Still, we recognize the important role for other resources, including our coal resources, to ensure reliability and deliver low costs.”

RMI principal and study coauthor Mark Dyson told Utility Dive that he and his colleagues had given Tri-State a draft of the study and reached out to the co-op several times between April and August to discuss the work.

“The rapid cost declines in renewable energy projects present utilities in the West with an unprecedented opportunity,” Dyson said in RMI’s description of the report. “The falling costs of these technologies compared with the costs of fossil-fuel assets allow operators to deliver lower energy bills to their customers without sacrificing reliability, all while cutting emissions, reducing risk and supporting economic development in local communities. They deserve a hard look.”

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