Did you know that Colorado’s electric cooperatives provide service to customers in every single county besides Denver, and their territory covers over 70% of the landmass in the state? What happens to our electric co-ops directly affects over a million and a half consumers, and indirectly impacts us all. Right now, we have an opportunity to set rules that would clean up our air while keeping rates low for energy consumers. Read on for what’s going on and how you can make sure your voice is heard!

First of all, what’s a rural electric co-op anyways?

If you live in Colorado and don’t get your electricity from Xcel or a local municipality, there’s a good chance your power comes from an electric co-op. Co-ops are different from most electric providers in that they are owned and run by the customers.

Most co-ops in Colorado (18 out of 22, in fact) buy their power from Tri-State, a generation and transmission association that has members in five states. Co-ops have a reputation for being rural, but Tri-State’s two biggest members, United Power (based in Brighton) and Poudre Valley Electric (based near Fort Collins), are located in big population centers, and there are other co-ops up and down the Front Range.

Unfortunately, Tri-State member co-ops are locked into restrictive, expensive contracts that force them to buy 95% of their energy from Tri-State, limiting local development and economic growth. Tri-State is also heavily reliant on coal for power; out of all the electric power producers in the country they are the single worst emitter of carbon dioxide per unit of energy created.

As the cost of renewables plummets and the cost of coal skyrockets, Tri-State members are paying high rates for dirty power: a lose-lose situation.

Fortunately, change could be on the horizon:

What’s going on?

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is holding a rulemaking now through October 15th about Tri-State’s long-term resource planning process.

Every few years, Tri-State has to submit an Electric Resource Plan (ERP), which is a long-term energy plan that helps regulators and utilities decide where and how to invest resources for electricity. An ERP aims to combine technical analysis with public participation to ensure a low-cost, reliable, and environmentally responsible electric supply.

Historically, Tri-State has not been required to file ERPs in the same way that investor-owned utilities (like Xcel) have. A new state law passed this spring now requires the PUC adopt new rules to hold Tri-State’s ERP to higher standards.

The PUC’s rulemaking regards those rules and they are soliciting public comments through October 15th.

Why does it matter?

Tri-State’s ERP will fundamentally affect electric ratepayers (i.e., customers like you!) for years to come. If we have to buy 95% of our electricity from Tri-State, we need them to take their long-term planning seriously.

Tri-State has high rates, a looming debt problem, and has consistently failed to invest in clean energy—if we want affordable, sustainable energy in Colorado we need the PUC to hold them to higher standards.

Specifically, we are asking the PUC to:

  1. Require that Tri-State evaluates the cost of existing resources to ensure that they are appropriately calculating the risks and costs of its expensive coal fleet
  2. Require that Tri-State accounts for the health and environmental impacts of carbon emissions from its power plants
  3. Require that Tri-State include a workforce transition plan when proposing to retire an electric generating facility

What can I do?

We need Colorado energy consumers to tell the PUC that they support strong rules regarding Tri-State’s ERP so we can all have affordable, responsible electricity.

Click below to get tips and instructions for making a comment at the PUC. It only takes a few minutes, and your voice will ensure clean, affordable electricity for Colorado!


Katie Pellicore is the energy and climate organizer at San Juan Citizens Alliance. San Juan Citizens Alliance advocates for clean air, pure water, and healthy lands—the foundations of resilient communities, ecosystems, and economies in the San Juan Basin. Learn more at sanjuancitizens.org.