A Colorado Rural Electric Co-op Provides Renewable Energy Part I

Dec. 13, 2018

Audio with Steve Beuning, vice president of power supply and programs for Holy Cross Energy in Colorado. MP3 2.7 MB. Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:52.

An electric cooperative in Colorado aims to provide the rural area it serves with cleaner, renewable energy. Holy Cross Energy is a rural electric cooperative that provides power to 55,000 members in rural Colorado. The co-op recently adopted a new clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goal. By 2030, Holy Cross Energy will use renewable energy to supply at least 70% of the power provided to co-op members, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with its power supply by 70% from 2014 levels, and accomplish both of these goals with no increase in the cost of power supply.

Steve Beuning, vice president of power supply and programs for Holy Cross Energy, says the effort is member-driven.

"Our members want more compassion for the impact we humans are having on the planet. In a recent survey, over 80% of our members expressed support for environmental responsibility initiatives, including renewable supply and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, which we create whenever we burn stuff to make electricity. In particular, our members supported the concept of more renewable energy. About 65% of them said that they would support that even if it involved increased costs in power supply."

To accomplish this goal without seeing increases in cost of power supply, Buening says the cooperative is taking a multi-pronged approach.

"One of the things we are doing is helping our members site their own solar generation at their homes and businesses. We have some of the most generous rebate programs in the country. We’re also siting larger systems of solar arrays on the local grid that we operate at Holy Cross. And we’re also evaluating options for new large-scale wind and solar assets on the bulk-level grid where an economy of scale can really pay dividends for the cost of renewable energy."

Given the initiative is a member-driven effort, he says response to the plan is positive.

"We’ve gotten statements of support and congratulations both from individual customers and also from county and municipal governments in our footprint that have environmental goals of their own. One of the things that's a dividend of the utility greening its supply is all of the downstream users of electricity benefit in their environmental initiatives as well."

He says Holy Cross being a non-profit cooperative helps it better focus on serving the needs of its members, which in this case, request cleaner energy.

"We tend to be willing to facilitate services that our members want as a win-win, instead of just looking at a business arrangement through the lens of a lost investment or a corporate earnings impact. Obviously we’re a business, but our motivations are different because of our member-ownership."

Learn more about the benefits of renewable energy to rural, farm, and ranch communities at NREL.gov.