Colorado Co-op Innovators Recognized

Grid modernization and clean energy solutions are the focus of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, providing tools and resources to electric utilities to engage in forward-thinking change. Each year SEPA awards individuals and utilities which demonstrate this innovative thinking to advance clean energy and create replicable projects.

2020 Power Players Award finalists include Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission CEO Duane Highley and Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy.

Highley was nominated for the Individual Power Player of the Year award. This award recognizes an individual who demonstrates leadership and innovation “to significantly advance an integrative perspective of clean energy, DER, grid modernization and its value as a resource to meet the needs of their electricity consumers.” In his first year at Tri-State, Highley led the organization through transformational changes to produce cleaner energy. With its Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State has significantly expanded renewables, reduced emissions and increased flexibility for its member distribution cooperatives to develop more local renewable projects.

The Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year Award is given to an electric co-op that demonstrates leadership through innovation to significantly advance clean energy and grid modernization. Holy Cross Energy is a 2020 finalist for this award. In 2018, Holy Cross Energy adopted the Seventy70Thirty Plan, which established the goal for the co-op to attain 70% renewable supply by 2030. HCE is taking assertive steps to achieve this goal, including PPAs with a 100-megawatt wind project and a 30-MW solar project, both of which went online in 2019.

Co-op Assists with Solar Research

La Plata Electric Association in Durango is collaborating with Fort Lewis College, Teledyne Brown, Lockheed Martin Space and King Energy to develop a 2-megawatt solar garden at the Old Fort property south of Hesperus. This facility will generate electricity and provide students and faculty research opportunities.

This innovative use of atypical space for a solar development — a rocky and rural landscape — will lend itself to infrastructure research, according to a news release by FLC. Researchers will test various solar installations and establish new industry options for areas that aren’t flat or graded. The Old Fort’s location is in LPEA’s remote service territory, but not close to current infrastructure. This will take additional research to get the solar park’s energy connected to the grid.

Solar Leads Future Co-op Growth

Electric cooperatives will see an acceleration of growth in renewable resources over the next three years primarily led by large solar projects, according to a July business and technology advisory published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Colorado’s electric co-ops are contributing to a large portion of this national trend with many local solar and renewable projects. Recent projects include:
• A 101-kilowat solar garden at Gunnison County Electric Association headquarters in current construction
• Highline Electric Association’s 1.5-megawatt Riverview Solar project
• Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s 110-megawatt Dolores Canyon solar project, projected to be online in 2023.

Today, the co-ops’ renewable portfolio is diverse. All electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, and therefore cannot utilize federal tax credits other utilities use to keep costs lower for renewable project development, so they work with others to get the job done. Of the 10.1 GW of co-op renewable capacity, more than 8.6 GW are under power purchase agreements rather than owned.