The Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association's board, Westminster, Colorado, approved a comprehensive resource development plan aimed at providing its member electric cooperatives with a reliable, cost-efficient source of power well into the future. The primary components of the plan include several phases of constructing new baseload generating facilities along with related transmission infrastructure – all of which are needed to meet current and projected load growth in the region.

“We’re in the business of keeping the lights on for our member systems and their consumers,” said Tri-State executive vice president and general manager J.M. Shafer. “We’ve successfully carried out that mission for over 50 years. However, in order to continue to meet the ever-increasing demand for electricity, we have to invest now in additional generation and transmission resources. The demand for electricity has simply outgrown the capability of our existing facilities.”

Tri-State provides wholesale power to 44 electric cooperatives and public power districts throughout parts of Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. The member distribution systems, in turn, supply electricity to more than 543,000 meters, or a population of approximately 1.2 million.

“Across our system we’re experiencing an annual load growth of about 4%, which translates to 100 MW of added power needed every year,” Shafer said. “Our long-range forecasts project that trend to continue; we estimate the need for an additional 1,600 megawatts of power by 2020,” he said.

Due to the steady load growth, along with a two-week stretch of hot, dry weather, Tri-State set a series of new member peak load requirements in mid-July – topping out at just over 2400 MW, which broke its previous high set in 2003 by about 200 MW.

“We were able to successfully meet several all-time record peaks on consecutive days over that period of time because our baseload power plants performed at maximum capacity and efficiency, while at the same time we were operating all of our natural gas-fired peaking stations for significant amounts of time,” Shafer said. “But we’re now in a situation where all of our facilities are maxed out and we need to add to our power production and delivery portfolio. In total, our long-range plan calls for approximately 1,800 megawatts of new generating capacity to be built at two separate sites over the next 15 years.”

Tri-State is in the process of finalizing an agreement with Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, a Hays, Kansas-based wholesale power supplier, under which Tri-State will lead a two-unit expansion effort at Sunflower’s existing single-unit, coal-based power plant in Holcomb, Kansas. At the same time, Tri-State will pursue the development of a coal-based generating project in southeastern Colorado – an effort that the association first began exploring a couple of years ago. All necessary transmission facility infrastructure related to the generation projects – including new transmission lines and upgraded substation capability – will be studied concurrently.

“We are committed to using the best available control technology at these planned facilities. We have an abundance of high-quality coal in this part of the country and we have the ability and the science to use it efficiently and cleanly,” Shafer said.

“The decisions made by our board of directors today will benefit the region’s consumers for years to come,” Shafer said, “in the form of long-term, reliable, affordable electric power. It’s not unlike the situation we were in about 30 years ago when the system’s demand for power outgrew the capacity and we invested in the development of our existing power plants in Craig (Colorado) and Wheatland (Wyoming). Those facilities have proven their worth many times over since they came on-line, just as I’m sure our new facilities will once they’re built.”

Tri-State is not in a unique position compared to other electric utilities across the nation or in this region. The Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which monitors the reliability of the electric system in 14 western states, recently issued a report indicating that even with several capacity and transmission improvement projects currently underway in the region, utilities could soon fall short of meeting the growing demand for electricity.

“Despite a slight increase in proposed new generation during the past year, reported generating capacity additions in the region may not be sufficient to reliably supply the forecast firm peak demand and energy requirements throughout the assessment period (2005-2014),” the WECC report said.