Farmers do want clean, affordable and reliable energy
March 29, 2019
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has a rich history of assuring family farmers and ranchers have a voice and opportunities to make their life's work of producing food and fiber better. RMFU has and continues to be a leader in the cooperative movement.
Now, we are speaking up because our electricity costs under Tri-State Generation & Transmission (Tri-State) are simply getting too expensive — and we're not sure Tri-State is getting the message.
At RMFU, and for just about anyone who relies on their rural electric cooperative that's part of the Tri-State system for electricity, we want competitive, stable and low-cost electric rates. Tri-State has an opportunity to recommit itself to those principles in its upcoming electric resource plan in front of state regulators, and we hope they do so.
Tri-State is an essential partner in our rural communities and on our farms and ranches, so the folks at corporate headquarters in Westminster, Colo., need to make sure the company is financially and operationally sound. Tri-State's long-term ability to provide low-cost, reliable energy to RMFU members and all our agricultural producers is critical to the long-term viability of farm and ranch families, as well as rural communities.
Still, we're worried that they just don't get it. Farmers and other agriculture producers work on razor thin margins. On average, 7 percent of a farmer or rancher's budget goes toward energy costs. Our family farmers and ranchers deserve a competitive and fair price for electric energy just like other customers and they shouldn't be at a disadvantage for being in rural communities served by member-owned electric cooperatives. When we hear that other electricity providers like Xcel Energy offer much lower rates, we wonder why and puzzle over how Tri-State could make more programs and policies available for our local electric cooperatives to lower our rates.
We know the cost of renewable energy is dropping as technology and critical mass both work to make it more affordable and accessible. Xcel's plan to shutter two aging, costly coal plants and replace that generation with renewable energy was purely economics — the company's decision to add new resources in the forms of wind, solar, and even batteries was made because the cost of such generation are much cheaper. And these new resources would be located on our farms and ranches, providing landowners with significant lease payments that supplement their income and bolster our local tax base and economy, both of which are reliant on agriculture. We should encourage more renewable energy development and integration across Tri-State's territory — it not only lowers rates but provides local economic development that many parts of rural Colorado need.
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To be fair, Tri-State did recently announce two new renewable energy projects, but it seems to be in response to one of its member-cooperatives filing its intent to leave Tri-State to pursue more cost-effective, local generation. Other member cooperatives also are continuing to push and negotiate with Tri-State so they can pursue other options to provide clean, affordable, reliable electricity to their customers. We encourage Tri-State to act boldly and make sure they serve the needs of locally owned rural electric service cooperatives and rural communities.
The costs of renewable energy continue to fall, yet some of the coal plants that Tri-State owns are becoming more costly to operate and maintain. Tri-State should look for ways to retire or move away from these expensive assets — a process that could save its members up to $600 million dollars, a recent study found.
As Tri-State begins planning for what will be in its 2019 Electric Resource Plan, RMFU encourages our farmer and rancher members to weigh in. We encourage Tri-State to engage local leaders, businesses, farmers and ranchers and others to listen to what we would like — clean, affordable, reliable electricity.
At the end of the day, we want the power to come on. Farmers and ranchers depend upon electricity for much of what we do. We also want to keep working the land, providing food for the table, and support diversification of our local rural economies. We need clean, affordable and reliable electricity from our cooperative and we ask Tri-State to help us do just that. We stand ready and willing to partner with Tri-State in these efforts to keep agriculture in business. ❖
— McCall is president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, a progressive, grassroots organization representing more than 20,000 farmer and rancher members in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.
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