Federal hydro projects intertwined with Tri-State’s history

Editor’s note: The following article is based on a recent educational  session provided by Tri-State staff to the association’s board of directors on the important role that the Western Area Power Administration and  federal hydropower plays in helping Tri-State provide affordable power to its member systems.

Glen Canyon Dam and hydroelectric facility near Page, Ariz.

The evolution of federal hydroelectric generating facilities is intertwined in the nearly 60-year history of Tri-State. From the time in 1952, when 26 electric co-ops and public power systems formed Tri-State until the early 1970s, the G&T essentially functioned as a non-operating utility delivering power produced at federal hydro facilities to its membership.

But, that would all change by the late 1970s and early ’80s, when Tri-State’s membership growth required further investment (beyond hydropower) in major baseload generating facilities such as Craig and Laramie River stations.

In 1977, the Western Area Power Administration was formed as one of the nation’s four power marketing administrations under the U.S. Department of Energy to oversee the power marketing and transmission responsibilities previously managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

As cooperatives, Tri-State and its members are legally qualified as “preference” customers of the federal power administrations, giving them first option to purchase this comparatively low-cost power derived from hydroelectric dams that are still owned and operated by the Bureau and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The power that Tri-State purchases from Western is generated primarily from the Loveland Area Projects and the Salt Lake City Area Integrated Projects. A major component of the Salt Lake Integrated Projects is the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP).  The four major facilities of the CRSP are Glen Canyon in Arizona, Flaming Gorge in Utah, Navajo in New Mexico and the Wayne Aspinall units in Colorado.

By far, the largest resource from which Tri-State receives federal power is the impressive 710-foot-high, 1,356-megawatt Glen Canyon Dam that, when completed in 1966, created a sizable body of water from the flow of the Colorado River known as Lake Powell.

Yellowtail Dam in southwestern Montana is another source of Western's hydropower generation.

Western’s vast service area covers 1.3 million square-miles in 15 states over which they own and operate more than 17,000 miles of transmission line and 306 substations.  Tri-State has transmission service and partnership agreements with Western to utilize this system to provide service to many of its members.

Through this integrated transmission system between Tri-State and Western, the G&T maintains more than 230 delivery points on Western’s transmission system and interfaces with its federal power partner at 54 of Western’s substations. Tri-State is also a partner with Western in communications, with shared microwave and fiber-optic capability across the region.

In 2011, Western’s surplus of hydropower helped mitigate some of Tri-State’s rising power costs and it is anticipated that this federal power partner will continue to play a key role in Tri-State’s mission of providing affordable power to its 44 member systems.

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