An electric power cooperative could save over half a billion dollars by transitioning away from coal to renewables by 2030. That’s according to an independent analysis of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association portfolio. The association, however, criticized the report as lacking in expertise.
A renewable energy-focused non-profit, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), used public data and regional benchmarks to learn how Tri-State could benefit from switching away from fossil fuels. The electric cooperative currently serves 43 member co-ops in four states with several in Wyoming.
Mark Dyson, co-author of the report, said now is the time to switch from coal for several reasons.
“The current environment of low-interest rates lowers the cost to members of purchasing new wind and solar contracts,” he said.
Dyson added there’s also a tax incentive nationally for new wind and solar projects if construction begins before 2019. Dyson and co-author Alex Engel ran several scenarios to learn how increasingly affordable renewables would stand up to coal. They're looking specifically at a full-scale transition by 2030.
"What we found was that the operating cost of the coal plants that provide over half of their energy is significantly higher than the prices available from regional benchmark procurement processes.”
That's a fancy way of saying renewables. Dyson’s report found Tri-State could save about $600 million, which he said would also benefit consumers. 30 percent of electricity consumed by co-op members already stems from renewable energy, according to Tri-State. It also released a statement in response to RMI’s report saying the report lacked details to accurately forecast costs, but that it would invite the environmental group to contribute to 2019 integrated resource planning.
Based on the press release, Dyson was of the opinion that Tri-State seemed to broadly agree with the report and didn’t expressly disagree with RMI's conclusion. Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications and affairs for Tri-State, responded they do not broadly agree. He said, "a cost assessment of various scenarios requires detailed inputs and complex, hour-by hour production cost models to be run. RMI did not attempt to run this type of analysis."
Rocky Mountain Institute’s report was partially funded by the George B. Storer Foundation, which provides financial support for Wyoming Public Media.