Looking back at a busy, challenging — and rewarding 2012

2012 marked Tri-State’s 60th year as a cooperative power supplier in the West. Suffice to say that during that time, the Westminster-based G&T has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the early ’50s from what was essentially its role as contract administrator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation with almost no physical assets and only a handful of employees.

In July, Tri-State added the 17-member staff at J.M. Shafer Generating Station to its workforce and later that month dedicated the plant in honor of the former general manager.

In July, Tri-State added the 17-member staff at J.M. Shafer Generating Station to its workforce and later that month dedicated the plant in honor of the former general manager.

Today, that former small co-op enterprise has grown to a four-state, consumer-owned power supplier with more than $4.2 billion in assets, in excess of 1,450 employees working for Tri-State and its subsidiaries, a fleet of diverse generating stations and approximately 5,200 miles of transmission line serving a membership of 44 electric distribution systems that extend over a 200,000 square-mile service territory.

Looking back on the past year’s accomplishments, a significant amount of staff time was devoted to extensive studies, discussions, analyses and preparation for a Jan. 1 rollout of Tri-State’s redesigned rate structure and collateral load shaping products that are aimed at delivering added value to the membership as a whole.

Tri-State’s maintenance groups and contractors undertook a long list of improvement projects on the association’s network of transmission, substation and telecommunications sites throughout the service territory.

The long-awaited Nucla-Sunshine transmission project was completed last fall after three years of construction.

The long-awaited Nucla-Sunshine transmission project was completed last fall after three years of construction.

Among those projects were significant progress on the ongoing Delta County Transmission Improvement Project in western Colorado, the upgrade of the 79-mile, 230-kV Big Sandy-Lincoln-Midway line in eastern and southern Colorado and the long-awaited completion of the 51-mile, 115-kV Nucla-Sunshine line and ancillary substations in southwestern Colorado.

On the power production side, favorably priced blocks of replacement power — secured by Tri-State’s marketing group — allowed plant employees to extend their planned outage timelines during the “shoulder” (fall and spring) months. As a result, plant crews and contractors at Escalante, Craig and Nucla stations accomplished significantly more than the typical year of both critical and non-critical path projects at the association’s baseload generation fleet.

During a 9-week outage at Escalante Station, extensive critical projects were completed, including the construction of this new cooling tower.

During a 9-week outage at Escalante Station, extensive critical projects were completed, including the construction of this new cooling tower.

Tri-State added a new plant workforce to its employee ranks in 2012, when the 17-member staff of the former Fort Lupton Generating Station (acquired by Tri-State at the end of 2011) became employees of the renamed J.M. Shafer Generating Station on July 1. In a related event, Tri-State also formally dedicated the plant in honor of J.M. Shafer, a former Tri-State general manager and highly regarded industry veteran, on July 11.

At year-end 2012, Tri-State added to its renewable energy portfolio. On Dec. 6, the association began receiving up to 67 megawatts of power under a 20-year contract from the Colorado Highlands Wind project. The 5,200-acre wind farm site is located approximately six miles north of Fleming, Colo., in the service territory of Tri-State member co-op Highline Electric Association.

In other developments, the looming cloud of a member rate protest in New Mexico became a reality in 2012, which, in part, means the long-term efficiencies and flexibility that Tri-State has matured over the years for the benefit of all its members is being challenged. At the same time, Tri-State’s board is on record in being fully committed to protecting the G&T’s ability to effectively govern its operations.

Although the region’s mild weather and lower energy prices contributed to somewhat less than anticipated member energy sales and revenue, Tri-State did record a positive year in 2012, having met all of its financial goals. The G&T remains on solid fiscal footing, which was affirmed by achieving an “A” rating from the Fitch financial group.

A fast-track 10-month construction schedule allowed the Colorado Highlands Wind project to be brought on line a few weeks ahead of schedule, on Dec. 6, 2012.

A fast-track 10-month construction schedule allowed the Colorado Highlands Wind project to be brought on line a few weeks ahead of schedule, on Dec. 6, 2012.

In other positive financial news, Tri-State directors authorized, at the December board meeting, a total of $10 million in capital credits to be refunded to the membership by January 2013, marking the 24th consecutive year that the board has approved a capital credits disbursement to the eligible member systems.

Environmental regulatory issues continued to be a major topic of concern for Tri-State and virtually all electric utilities in the nation that rely on coal for the production of electricity. The EPA’s proposed MACT (maximum achievable control technology standards) rules alone could cost billions of dollars annually in additional emissions controls at hundreds of generating facilities across the nation.

With the support of its board, Tri-State is working on multiple fronts to protect its assets and its membership’s right to affordable and reliable power in the years ahead.

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