The Department of Energy (DOE) recognized San Isabel Electric Association Inc. and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association as the 2014 Wind Cooperatives of the Year at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) TechAdvantage 2015 Conference and Expo .
The 14th annual awards, presented in Orlando, Florida, honored Tri-State in the generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative category and San Isabel for wind energy development by a distribution cooperative. The two power providers were selected by a panel of experts from the wind industry, utilities, government, national laboratories and cooperatives.
Years of data inform San Isabel development
Located in Pueblo, Colorado, San Isabel Electric Association (SIEA) is a leader in wind power development in the state dating back more than a decade. In 2004, the co-op installed an anemometer to assess the wind potential in Huerfano County. Then-Under Secretary of Agriculture Tom Dorr and Gigi Dennis, state director for the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program, were among those attending a public outreach meeting SIEA held to demonstrate how the tower worked. When the tower was completed, state and local officials gathered for a “tower-raising” event at the site to celebrate the project’s energy and economic development potential.
In the following years, data from the tower assisted with educational research and renewables development in the area, leading to the commissioning of SIEA’s Huerfano River Wind Project in 2013. The 8-megawatt (MW) project now supplies 5 percent of San Isabel’s annual kilowatt-hour requirements. As the largest community-owned, distributed-generation wind facility in the region, Huerfano River required extensive analysis and unique protective relay schemes to ensure that it would not affect the bulk electric system of Tri-State, SIEA’s wholesaler.
San Isabel is now partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for a demonstration project using remotely controlled water heaters and electric thermal storage units to absorb the intermittent wind power. “These solutions can help to break down the integration barriers for smaller scale distributed energy projects,” said San Isabel General Manager Reg Rudolph. “I am proud of the leadership San Isabel has shown in developing this project, creating a working model for others to follow.”
Learning while growing renewable portfolio
Although Tri-State has been purchasing wind power since 1998, the G&T’s first experience pursuing a utility-scale wind project came in July 2009. The 51-MW Kit Carson Wind Power Project, located in the service territory of Tri-State member KC Electric Association, gave Tri-State valuable experience in new procurement and contracting processes, as well as integrating a variable resource.
That experience enabled Tri-State to rapidly acquire new wind resources, including 67 MW from the Colorado Highlands Wind (CHW) Farm in 2012, and another 24-MW expansion of CHW in 2013. Tri-State plans to add 150 MW from the Carousel Wind Project near Burlington, Colorado, in 2016 after the completion of a major transmission line. The G&T is currently evaluating a short list of renewables project submitted through a 2014 request for proposal to bring on an additional 20 to 150 MW in the coming year.
To give its member systems the opportunity to participate in community-based renewables projects, Tri-State has an innovative program to incentivize project development within members’ service territory. To date, Tri-State members have 42 projects in place or under development, including SIEA’s Huerfano River Wind Farm.
“Including hydropower, renewable energy has been integral to our operations since the company’s founding,” noted Tri-State Senior Vice President of Energy Management Brad Nebergall. “With our commitment to investing in new technologies and operating responsibly, we are at a point today where over 20 percent of the energy we provide our member systems comes from wind and other renewable resources.”
Honoring wind development
Western’s Renewable Resource Program, in partnership with the DOE Wind Program and NRECA, created the Wind Cooperative of the Year Award to recognize electric cooperatives for their effort to bring the benefits of wind energy to their customers. Wind power supports more than 50,000 jobs across the country, provides cost-competitive, clean energy to cities and communities and helps to eliminate more than 115 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Western congratulates San Isabel Electric and Tri-State for their commitment to making wind power part of their portfolios. Their leadership demonstrates that with a little creativity and a lot of determination, clean, renewable energy is an option now available to both large and small cooperatives.