Tri-State and Wind Energy: Past, Present, and Future
Along with others around the world, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. is taking the opportunity today to highlight its growing wind energy portfolio on Global Wind Day, a time to exchange information, reflect on developments over the past year and discuss the future of the wind energy industry.
For Tri-State, wind power has become and will continue to be an integral component of the not-for-profit wholesale power cooperative’s generation portfolio, as it continues to advance its landmark Responsible Energy Plan. In fact, Tri-State’s resource planning has identified its next major wind resource, a facility intended to be located in the Wyoming/Nebraska planning region for completion in early 2026.
The project would continue Tri-State's successful efforts to support the development of wind resources on behalf of its 42 member cooperatives and public power districts, as the seventh major wind project on its system since 2010.
“Tri-State has continued to make progress in our energy transition while remaining reliable and affordable. With this new wind project, we are helping meet the goals of our members for cleaner energy, while remaining resilient,” said Tri-State CEO Duane Highley.
By 2025, Tri-State forecasts that 50% of the electricity used by its members will come from clean sources, including wind, Highley noted. Upon completion of this latest wind farm in 2026, Tri-State will have almost 900 megawatts of wind-based power operating on its system.
Tri-State’s Modern Era of Wind and Renewable Developments
Tri-State's earliest wind power efforts involved purchases from other utilities.
In 1998, the cooperative began purchasing power from a Wyoming wind site under an interim agreement with PacifiCorp. A year later, Tri-State signed a 15-year agreement to purchase energy from Platte River Power Authority’s wind farm near Medicine Bow, Wyo. Tri-State had also received wind generation as a member of Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Prairie Winds program.
Tri-State’s swift journey to develop its own wind resources, however, began just over a decade ago, when the price of renewable projects (although still expensive) reached a level that the not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative could pursue for its members, through power purchase agreements with third-party power developers.
In July 2009, Tri-State announced its first significant, large-scale wind project, through a power purchase agreement with a subsidiary of the Duke Energy Corp., for the 51-megawatt Kit Carson Windpower Project in Kit Carson County, Colo. The historic announcement took place on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol with Gov. Bill Ritter and other political and energy industry officials.
“(Tri-State deserves) a lot of credit for making efficiency, renewables and new technology investments a high priority as you look for new and better ways to provide affordable and reliable electricity to your rural customer-owners. We all know how tough an economy this is, but the brightest and most encouraging activity continues to come from the New Energy Economy, and this is just the latest exclamation point to that fact,” Gov. Ritter said at the time.
In subsequent national messaging at the time found in The Wall Street Journal, Tri-State noted that “cooperatives have a unique and important role in spreading the benefits of renewable energy across the diverse rural communities they serve. Cooperatives are developing the diverse renewable resources found throughout the West.”
In November 2010, the Kit Carson project achieved commercial operation – for the first time in the generation and transmission cooperative’s 57-year history – Tri-State added dedicated wind generation. The Kit Carson Windpower Project is in the service territory of member K.C. Electric Association.
It took only two more years, however, for the next project to supply wind to Tri-State, with the addition of the Colorado Highlands Wind I and II in Logan County, Colo, which added another 94 megawatts when put into commercial operation in late 2012 and 2013. The wind farm is in the service territory of member Highline Electric Association.
Awards and Recognition for Early Wind and Member Programs
The addition of these two projects in such a brief period led the U.S. Department of Energy to name Tri-State as the 2014 Wind Cooperative of the Year. The agency also honored Tri-State member San Isabel Electric Association (SIEA) as the wind distribution cooperative of the year for 2014, for SIEA’s development of the Huerfano River Wind Project south of Pueblo, Colo., in August 2013.
In fact, part of DOE’s recognition of Tri-State in 2014 included acknowledgment of Tri-State’s first-of-its-kind national program among generation and transmission cooperatives to incentivize the development of more than 40 distributed generation projects, at that time, located within Tri-State’s members’ service territories, including the Huerfano River Wind Project.
Of the program, Tri-State noted in The Wall Street Journal that “a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not work in the rural West, so Tri-State developed a renewable energy incentive program that supports a wide range of community-based projects. Co-ops are quickly developing their locally available resources, helping bring new energy jobs to their communities.”
Tri-State’s Wind Generation Doubles, and Doubles Again
Tri-State more than doubled its wind capacity in July 2016 with the completion of the 150-megawatt Carousel Wind Farm in Kit Carson County, Colo. The facility is in the service territory of member K.C. Electric Association.
Tri-State added another 75 megawatts of wind with the completion of Twin Buttes II Wind in December 2017 in Prowers County, Colo., in the service territory of member Southeast Colorado Power Association.
As fast-paced as these additions were, Tri-State greatly accelerated the addition of renewables, including wind, with the January 2020 announcement of its landmark Responsible Energy Plan.
Tri-State again nearly doubled the wind capacity on its system in 2021. That year saw the addition of the 104-megawatt Crossing Trails Wind Farm in April in Kit Carson and Cheyenne counites of Colorado, followed by the largest single project to date on the Tri-State system with the addition of the 200-megawatt Niyol Wind Energy Center in November. Crossing Trails also is in the K.C. Electric member service territory, while Niyol is in the member Highline Electric Association’s service territory.
With a proposed new wind farm planned in 2026, 85 megawatts of existing solar-based power generation, existing hydropower resources and an anticipated 735 megawatts of planned solar power generation to be energized by the end of 2025, Tri-State anticipates being able to access more than 2,300 megawatts of renewable generation by the end of 2026.
Future Developments, Organized Markets and the IRA
Tri-State is developing its next electric resource plan, which will consider the acquisition of new generating resources for the 2026-2031 timeframe.
Also central to the continued reliable integration of renewable resources is the development of a regional transmission organization, or RTO, in the West, which will help Tri-State and other utilities more efficiently integrate resources like wind energy, which can vary depending on the weather.
Tri-State is working with other utilities and transmission providers to advance an RTO, and currently participates in two energy imbalance markets, which help to manage resources including wind, support reliability and lower costs. Part of Tri-State’s eastern service territory already is in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) regional transmission organization, where wind resources are significant; wind provided 37.5% of energy in SPP regional transmission organization in 2022.
Provisions That Advance Investment in Rural Communities
Tri-State also anticipates that the cooperative provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, and its ability to take advantage of new federal funding and rules for cooperatives, will play a significant role in the future of wind and deployment of other clean energy resources.
Tri-State advocated for specific provisions that advance investment in rural communities, including the direct payment of renewable energy tax credits to not-for-profit electric utilities, and funding to support cooperative investment in clean energy.
The provisions create greater opportunities for implementation of Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan, which includes the rapid addition of clean energy resources, steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, advancement of beneficial electrification technologies and participation in organized power markets in the West.
“As a leader in the cooperative energy transition, Tri-State led efforts among stakeholders to advocate and engage with policymakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that these policies and programs, which are the most impactful to electric cooperatives since the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, quickly and effectively expand investment in the rural communities and ensure a just transition in the changing energy economy,” Highley said in a May 2023 news release.
“Together, we can drive investment, bolster jobs and preserve the reliable, affordable power that drives rural prosperity. With today’s announcement implementing specific programs, Tri-State will vigorously pursue funding that supports reliable, affordable and responsible power,” Highley said.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 45 members, including 42 electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.