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Colorado’s biggest battery a ‘gamble’ co-op decided it needed to make

PHOTO BY Allen Best / Energy News Network

WRITTEN BY Allen Best

United Power’s project has stoked tensions with its power wholesaler, which capped members’ storage capacity.

Jerry Marizza likes to think the Colorado electric cooperative he works at learned a lesson with solar power.

“We had the attitude that it was too expensive — nobody would do it except the rich greenies,” said Marizza, coordinator for United Power Cooperative’s new energy program. “Well, we were dead wrong.”

And so Marizza spoke with a sense of humility but also determination as he led visitors on a tour of the co-op’s new battery storage project about 30 miles north of downtown Denver. The 16 lithium-ion batteries total 4 megawatts and 16 hours of storage, making the project the largest in the state. It will likely remain so until Xcel Energy completes installation of 275 megawatts of battery storage by late 2022.

“If we don’t do this stuff, our members will, and we will need to learn after the fact about all this,” Marizza went on.

United Power sees the Tesla PowerPack ESS batteries as the sort of low-risk gamble that it is well-positioned to take and should take. The co-op has 87,000 metered members, from homes in the foothills to fast-growing towns and cities north and east of Denver. The oil and gas industry is responsible for a third of the co-op’s load and most of the growth, a 50 percent increase in eight years.

The electrical distribution cooperative’s embrace of batteries, though, has been stoking tensions with its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which adopted a policy last summer capping the amount of battery storage members are allowed to have on their systems.

A sign inside the chain-link fence surrounding United’s project contains an inside joke directed at the wholesale provider: “Battery Storage Project Serial #0001.” Tri-State, the joke goes, would never have a new technology project with serial No. 0001. Its chief executive, Mike McInnes, didn’t disagree when confronted with that statement at the Colorado Rural Electric Association conference in October.

“I hate to be a trendsetter. It’s just not in my DNA,” he said. Tri-State’s strategy, he added, was to “enjoy the benefits, but not the bruises” by waiting until the industry has “worked out the wiggles” of batteries. “If we go slow, we can provide a much better product and much less volatility as far as the rates go, and much less risk for our members.”

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Marc Donaldson's picture
Marc Donaldson on January 14, 2019

It would be great to know how the coop plans to use the batteries: solar power storage, backup for transmission/generation outages, etc.  And future updates on the project would also be welome to learn how the batteries are performing and what benefits have been realized.

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