Everyone knows the success of the Rural Electrification Administration and its contribution to making America the industrial power that it is today. Founded in the 1930s, the REA was possibly the most successful of the government sponsored programs that arose out of the New Deal.
Today it's a different story. While the local electric co-operatives continue to provide a service to their communities, they are prevented from implementing creative solutions to modern issues such as energy efficiency, load leveling programs, and distributed generation. When the rural co-ops banded together to create generation and transmission associations (G&Ts), they unwittingly created unregulated monopolies, if not in principle, certainly in practice. The G&Ts became the self-serving behemoths they are today by siphoning off local dollars to support unregulated growth.
Tri-State G&T is a huge organization spanning four western states. It provides reliable wholesale electric power to 44 member co-operatives, 24 of which are in Colorado. Their accomplishments are impressive, and why not? Member co-operatives sign 40-plus-year all-requirements power contracts by pledging their assets to the G&T. Well before these contracts are set to expire, the co-ops are "encouraged" to extend them to cover increased debt service. It's like the Hotel California, "You can check out, but never leave!" If a co-op asks to leave, the G&T sets the terms of the exit where-by all equity earned by the co-op is forfeited. If the G&T ever finds itself in financial trouble, their government lenders have the right to raise rates on the member co-ops to make the G&T whole again, essentially eliminating the possibility of bankruptcy. Could any business run under these favorable terms, fail? Can you run your business where money is no object?
Now, what has all this bought the rural consumer? Xcel Energy is a publicly traded power provider. It pays share holder dividends, taxes, and it has a 30% renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Tri-State is a not-for-profit, has a 10% RPS, yet Xcel has lower wholesale rates. Tri-State says that they are a friend of coal, yet their new A37 rate disproportionately increases the electrical costs imposed on your local coal mines and other large industrial users. With this kind of track record, is it time to end government assistance to Tri-State? When people say that they trust Tri-State over the state Legislature, are they telling you that your electric bill doesn't matter to them?
Rural Colorado deserves better. The governance structure at Tri-State needs to be overhauled, as does its rate-making policies. Member co-ops should be allowed to develop competitive generation resources within your communities. Crony-capitalism needs to give way to market-based principles. If the Tri-State board cannot or will not find ways to rectify this situation, the state Legislature should work to mandate solutions. Tri-State should be allowed to fix the situation, yet time limits should be put in place. Rural Coloradoans deserve no less.