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State could boost its charge over energy resource planning

Colorado Public Utility Commission, the state governing board that oversees public utility companies, is reviewing its governing rules and possibly seeking to expand its jurisdiction over energy resource planning in Colorado. A PUC docket dated Jan. 30 targets Mountain View Electric Association’s energy provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Daryl Edwards, MVEA member services manager, said if the rules are amended, Tri-State’s creation of new energy resources would become subject to PUC authority.”This is about losing local control of a very important piece of what we do,” Edwards said. If PUC adopts new rules regarding cooperative transmission and generation associations, Tri-State would have to submit regulations on resource planning, which includes building new coal, nuclear or hydroelectric plants, to the PUC, he said.MVEA, a member-owned power supplier serving Falcon and the Colorado eastern plains, partners with 43 other co-ops in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming to form Tri-State.Lee Boughey, Tri-State senior manager of communications and public affairs, said Tri-State is governed by a democratically elected 44-person board of directors – one representative from each of the distribution co-ops it serves. The directors’ primary interest is to keep co-op members in mind and direct Tri-State to provide competitive energy prices to the rural communities they serve, Boughey said.”Expanded regulation would erode rural Coloradans’ local, democratic control over their not-for-profit electric co-ops’ power supplier and replace it with the regulatory authority of three appointed officials in Denver,” Boughey said. “The move by the PUC is unwarranted given the progress Tri-State and its members are making in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable generation. We’re moving in the direction the commission (PUC) would want us to.”Tri-State already integrates renewable energy sources into their energy mix and is working to increase the percentage. Boughey said Tri-State announced in late March that they are partnering with First Solar Inc. to develop a 30-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant in northeastern New Mexico. According to the press release on the project, the solar plant will generate enough energy to provide electricity for 9,000 homes and help Tri-State displace carbon-dioxide emissions. Boughey said the project will be completed by late 2010.Beyond losing local control of resource planning for the co-op, he said PUC regulation will increase energy rates. “If regulation increases, there is increased cost to meet the regulations,” Boughey said. “Costs are passed along to the member systems and then on to consumers.”PUC’s authority to regulate the system is questionable because it crosses state borders. “The increased regulatory costs associated with expanded jurisdiction would be shared by Tri-State’s entire system,” Boughey said.Terry Bote, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies public information officer, said no changes in PUC rules have occurred. The investigation is designed to collect comment from interested parties before the PUC reviews and potentially revises their rules.According to a PUC press release, Tri-State submits a plan to the PUC every four years on how it will meet the projected future demand. In 2002, a previous commission adopted rules indicating they would decline to review or approve Tri-State’s resource plans, including decisions on whether and how to construct new transmission lines and power plants.The PUC docket number 091-041E 2 shows the 2002 commission concluded it was inappropriate to subject Tri-State to PUC approval regarding resource planning because the commission lacks rate jurisdiction over Tri-State and does not have the inherent incentives of member-owned associations, such as Tri-State, to correctly assess their needs.The present review of the 2002 decision has been motivated by changes in the energy landscape. “These (changes) include concerns about climate change, the increased availability of renewable energy, the higher costs of power generation and the need for more energy efficiency,” according to the press release.In a released statement, PUC Chairman Ron Binz said, “(We) are, in effect, starting a conversation with Tri-State, consumers, power producers and environmental interests about how to solve together the challenges we face.”Boughey said the Tri-State Board unanimously opposes regulation by the PUC. Because a review of power generation in Colorado will impact all Tri-State consumers, statewide organizations in New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming have also passed resolutions opposing Colorado PUC’s expanded jurisdiction.MVEA general manager, Jim Herron, urges MVEA members to take action to stop the PUC from expanding their authority. In a letter posted on the MVEA Web site, Herron asked members to send comments to PUC via a link at”Ask the PUC to continue to respect the value of local control and the cooperative business model, along with the fact that Tri-State and its members, including MVEA, are working proactively to develop responsible resource plans that keep electric service economical and reliable for rural consumers throughout the state while protecting our environment,” Herron said in his letter.PUC received comments until April 6 from various groups, including environmental organizations and electric associations. The comments are posted at under Docket 09I-041E. “If people want to read those and respond to the issues raised by the comments, they can,” Bote wrote in a follow-up e-mail. The PUC will accept reply comments from individuals until May 18, he said.Deborah Skillicorn, member services specialist, said response from MVEA members has been good. She has seen positive effects with letter-writing campaigns like the one launched in the late 1990s over deregulation. “It makes a difference,” Skillicorn said.

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