This spring, Colorado legislators passed groundbreaking decarbonization bills, setting goals for climate pollution reduction. House Bill 19-1261 calls for 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. Xcel energy supported and was actively involved in drafting the legislation. Another bill set an 80 percent emissions reduction standard for Xcel by 2030. Colorado’s emissions reduction standards will be implemented by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission with rulemaking due in 2020.

A suite of five bills aimed at growing Colorado’s electric vehicle market included aggressive electric vehicle standards became law, requiring 6 percent of all light-duty vehicles sold in the state in 2025 to be zero emission, and creating incentives for automakers and consumers that will collectively reshape electricity demand in the coming years.

And Colorado passed seven additional bills that will lead to a future of opportunity for electricity provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission to shift from its outdated, expensive and polluting coal-powered model. Tri-State has historically escaped the attention of state lawmakers, but SB 19-236 placed Tri-State under the rulemaking authority of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the first time, meaning that Tri-State will now work with the PUC to develop its Electric Resource Plan, which details the what, where, when and why of its generation and transmission decisions. SB 19-236 also requires the PUC to write rules that will require Tri-State to calculate all the costs of their electricity development, including the financial, environmental and social costs.

Unless you are off the grid, if you use electricity in San Juan, Ouray or San Miguel counties that power comes from our cooperative, San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), which distributes power that it purchases from Tri-State. Tri-State limits the amount of energy we create on our own, which forces all the Tri-State coops to keep purchasing expensive, dirty coal power from Tri-State. Our neighbors to the north in Delta Montrose Electric Association territory are in the process of exiting Tri-State to pursue cheaper, and more locally produced power. Our neighbor coop to the south, La Plata Electric Association, has also begun to explore cleaner, cheaper, more local alternatives to Tri-State. And in August, SMPA took the bold step of initiating a power supply study to see if there are options for us beyond Tri-State.

Here on the Western Slope, we’re also completely reliant on a clean environment for the health of our economy and for the health of our citizens. We must take an active role in reducing carbon emissions from power generation, and we cannot do that while we are beholden to Tri-State, which is still primarily generates electricity from polluting coal.

When Tri-State was formed in 1952, it was the only option for powering the rural West. But times are changing quickly in the energy world and rural Coloradans deserve the same opportunities for clean, local, affordable energy that the rest of the West enjoys. We need Tri-State to change, too, or more and more coops will seek cleaner, cheaper, local alternatives to Tri-State. 

Pete McKay

San Juan County Commissioner