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PUC declares jurisdiction over Tri-State

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A major ruling Feb. 14 by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) set the stage for the commission's review of an allegedly unreasonable and discriminatory charge demanded by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (Tri-State) from Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA).

Last year, DMEA filed a complaint asking the PUC to rule that Tri-State's demanded exit charge is unreasonable and to establish a "just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory" charge as required by Colorado public utilities law.

Tri-State asked the PUC to dismiss DMEA's complaint in a filing last month, arguing the PUC was powerless to protect DMEA and its 28,000 retail customers from Tri-State's charge. On Feb. 14, the PUC confirmed that it does indeed have jurisdiction to review the charge.

"The commission is right to reject Tri-State's claim that it can force rural Coloradans to pay whatever Tri-State wants when co-ops like DMEA exercise their right to leave the association," said DMEA board president Bill Patterson. "This ruling moves us one step closer to an exit charge that ensures DMEA pays its fair share to Tri-State's remaining members -- but no more. It also prevents Tri-State from restricting DMEA's access to more local power and holding our members captive to higher rates that hurt local economic development."

DMEA's decision to bring a complaint against Tri-State before the PUC has received broad statewide support, with key entities, elected officials and stakeholders supporting the PUC's jurisdiction over Tri-State. The Colorado Energy Office, which represents Gov. Polis and the state on energy issues, asked the PUC to exercise jurisdiction and decide the case. Additionally, more than 60 Colorado state legislators sent a bipartisan letter to the PUC in support of DMEA, and dozens of individuals, trade industry groups, municipalities and non-governmental organizations have filed comments supporting DMEA.

In addition, two large Colorado electric cooperatives, United Power and La Plata Electric Association, support DMEA's complaint. United is a founding member of Tri-State and is the largest of Tri-State's 43 members. La Plata, headquartered in Durango, is Tri-State's third largest member. United and La Plata are unaffected by today's jurisdiction ruling over Tri-State.

Like every other Colorado distribution cooperative, they are subject to a separate law that limits PUC regulation.

"This is a significant ruling and confirms that no wholesale electricity supplier -- not even Tri-State -- is above the law," said DMEA's chief executive officer Jasen Bronec. "Tri-State talks about its 'core principle' of 'voluntary and open membership' in public. But its legal filings say that the Tri-State board can stop members from exiting by setting abusive charges with zero oversight."

The PUC is expected to issue a written decision on its jurisdiction in the coming weeks, and the parties will testify at a June hearing. The PUC's determination of a just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory exit charge is expected later this summer.

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DMEA, PUC, Tri-State
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