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Power lines through Huerfano, part 1

How Tri-State and San Isabel control local energy

by Susan Simons

HUERFANO- On August 18, Tri-State Generation and Transmission will hold two meetings to get input from the public about their plan to partner with Excel Energy to construct a transmission power line from Walsenburg to Alamosa.  The stated purpose of the power corridor is to bring more power into the San Luis Valley and to construct lines that will eventually move power generated by renewable sources from rural areas into main power grids. 

    The meetings will be at the Community Center in Gardner in the morning and at the Community Center in Walsenburg later in the afternoon.  The issue for Tri-State is to get local approval.  The issue for local landowners is to locate the transmission line away from residential, environmental, and mining interests.

    What is Tri-State and what does it have to do with the energy past, energy present, and energy future of Huerfano County?

    Tri-State is the power wholesaler to 44 rural electric co-ops in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska.  San Isabel Electric Association (SIEA), our supplier of electricity, has a long-term power purchase contract with Tri-State. 

    The Rural Electric Co-op system was started in the 1930’s by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

    Roosevelt decided that electricity was a right that should be available to all who wanted it.  Loans were made available to rural areas to form co-ops which would bring power to farms and ranches that urban utilities would not or could not serve.  At present, there are 864 rural co-ops like SIEA in the U. S. and 66 power wholesale operations like Tri-State.

    San Isabel Electric Association was formed between 1938 and 1940.  According to the SIEA website, “The history of San Isabel Electric and its formation is one of self help, people banding together to provide a service to themselves that no one else would furnish.”  SIEA speaks of itself as a consumer-owned public utility with 20,000 consumer-owners in seven counties of southern Colorado.  SIEA provides reliable power at reasonable rates and is active in all the communities it serves providing employment, services, and scholarships.  However, it is not an independent supplier because it must conform to its power purchase agreement with Tri-State.

    How has Tri-State affected the energy past  and energy present of Huerfano County?  Tri-State provides electricity at a low cost but requires member co-ops to buy from them.

    Because it has a contract with our local co-op stating that we must buy power from Tri-State on their terms, to a large extent, Tri-State has determined the cost of electricity to the county and the energy mix of our electricity. 

    According to a July 6 article in High Country News, Tri-State’s energy mix is 72 percent coal, 13 percent hydroelectric, and 1 percent renewable.  The average mix nationally for utilities is 49 percent coal, so Tri-State and SIEA rely heavily on coal for power.  The contract also limits the amount of energy local co-ops can own and control to five percent of their energy load.  In addition, local coops must agree to sell back to Tri-State, at prices set by Tri-State, any energy they produce beyond five percent of their load.  In general, this discourages local co-ops from trying to produce their own energy locally and it especially discourages local interest in developing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal.

    One stated purpose of the proposed transmission lines is to encourage local production of energy from renewable sources, but Tri-State policies to date have not encouraged the local production of energy from renewable sources.  

    The public meeting on August 18 is primarily about the location of the proposed transmission lines, but these larger questions will be in the background.  Tune in next week for a look at what Tri-State may have to do with the energy future of Huerfano County.  For more information on the proposed transmission corridor, look at the following at websites: or


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