Printed in the Durango Herald May 23, 2019

The push for local, renewable energy

The La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) Board election on May 2 has transformed the Board of Directors into a strong majority of forward-thinking individuals who advocate for local, renewable energy. This is a reflection of the growing demand, as expressed by our community, for clean energy that is supplied at the local level. Why would a group like Local First work on energy issues? Here’s why: the Local First mission takes into account the triple bottom line as a non-profit alliance of locally owned, independent businesses and organizations working together to build an economy that values people, the planet, and prosperity for everyone.

We have founded our organization and programs on the “Local Living Economy Blocks” that are essential to a thriving community: for example, energy, community capital, transportation, local government, creative arts, agriculture, education and health. Our Power Local campaign addresses economic “leakage” in our community. For example, LPEA is sending approximately $70 million a year out of the local economy to Tri-State Generation & Transmission when that money could be recirculating within our community and creating jobs. The more we produce here with our abundance of sunny days at lower and stable rates, the more we prosper as a community. 

However, at this time we are prevented from taking advantage of our locally produced power generation opportunity because LPEA is bound to a 40-year contract with Tri-State that limits our local generation to 5% of our total power. Our neighbor electric coop, Kit Carson in Taos, which recently exited its contract with Tri-State, will have 40% of its total power coming from locally generated solar power by 2022 with lower rates that will be fixed for 25-30 years. We, too, can recognize the win-win for the community that comes from providing clean, locally generated solar power. The ratepayers win, our local solar installers win, our environment wins, and our economy wins as we become more attractive to business with low and stable electric rates.

A key first step we can take to help move us down this road is to support the LPEA Board of Directors in continually requesting (prior requests have been denied) Tri-State to significantly raise the 5% limit and allow us to generate much more clean power locally. We can also set goals as a community to begin down the path of achieving local, renewable energy goals.

A year or more ago, nonprofits, businesses, and community leaders, including Local First, began working together to explore solutions for our local, renewable energy future. One of those solutions starts with the City of Durango by joining over 30 U.S. cities in adopting local, clean energy goals for the future. In October 2018, this collaborative approached the City and asked them to support a goal of 100% of the City’s community-wide energy needs being met with renewables by 2050, with 80% of electricity generated locally by 2030. We presented 111 business and 1,000 citizen signatures in support of this resolution.  

The City has yet to adopt this goal; however, thanks to our forward-thinking Board of Directors, LPEA was the first electric cooperative in Tri-State to adopt the long-term strategic goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent from 2018 levels by 2030, while keeping its cost of electricity lower than 70 percent of its Colorado rural electric cooperative peers. LPEA adopted this goal in January 2019. Now is the time for the City of Durango to meet LPEA’s goal by setting its own local, renewable energy goal and for the City and LPEA to work together to act on the clear request from our community to support local, clean power.

Meanwhile, thanks to a bill that was passed on the final day of the Colorado legislature’s 2019 session, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will now require Tri-State to submit its resource plan for Commission approval. Along with a separate climate bill that also passed the Colorado legislature last week, the changes mean that Tri-State will now be required to develop a plan to significantly reduce the carbon pollution of its coal-heavy energy mix.

Positive change is happening all around us. Local First continually steps out in front on the most critical issues that affect our business community, and the community at large, to help promulgate positive change as quickly as possible. We know that time is of the essence, and we must work together as a community to build an economy that strives not in spite of, but because of its strong commitment to the environment.

Monique DiGiorgio is managing director of Local First in Durango. Contact her at