- Who Are We?
- What is IREA?
- Why are we having an election?
- Why is this election important?
- But don’t solar and wind only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing?
- But aren’t batteries pie-in-the-sky?
- How will batteries save so much money?
- But aren’t batteries dirty themselves?
- Why does IREA have a coal plant?
- Can my bill drop immediately?
- What’s the challenge to switching to cheaper energy for the other nearly 60%?
- Who are our candidates?
- Which district am I in?
- When is the election?
- Who can vote?
- Does IREA treat me like I am an owner?
- How has IREA punished member/owners?
- Is IREA secretive compared to other utilities?
- Does IREA ask its member/owners for their opinions in major decisions?
- Is there a way for me to take advantage of the falling price of solar energy without putting it on my roof?
- Can power lines cause wildfires?
- Is there a financial risk for all member/owners of IREA?
- What can be done?
Who we are?
We are volunteer IREA member/owners advocating as part of Change IREA, also known as EnergyFreedomColorado.com. The group exists for one reason: To elect three new directors who will switch IREA to cheaper, cleaner energy, sooner.
What is the IREA?
IREA is a cooperative that provides electricity to an area stretching nearly from Buena Vista across the southern metro area and Douglas County to Bennett and beyond. It is the largest electricity distribution co-op in Colorado.
Why are we having an election?
Because IREA is a co-op, every customer with a meter is an owner. We vote on the seven members of the board of directors. Three seats are up for election this spring. We are running candidates in these three Districts 3,5, and 7.
Why is this election important?
Your electric bill ought to be starting to decline, and it’s not. The cost of utility-scale solar has dropped dramatically, and is now 43% of the cost of coal power from IREA’s plant. The cost of wind energy has dropped even further, to 40% of the cost of IREA coal power. Your electric bill should be showing these declines. It is not, because incumbents White and Dozier stuck us with a $320 million debt for a coal plant that is too expensive to operate and so unreliable that it was completely off-line for more than a year in 2020-2021. Voting for change at IREA means choosing fresh ideas for moving IREA faster from expensive coal to cheaper, cleaner renewables, backed up by utility-scale batteries.
But don’t solar and wind only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing?
Not true anymore. Technology has cut the price of utility-sized batteries, so that solar and wind can be stored when they are plentiful, and used later. The capital investment in wind and solar is so low that utilities can overbuild the plants by a factor of 2 or 3 so that even in winter or on cloudy or low wind days, the plants can still maintain adequate power production with minimal battery backup. Unlike coal-fired plants, solar and wind farms can easily be turned off or reduced in capacity if the batteries are full and power demand is low. Major utilities around the country, including XCEL and Holy Cross are relying on wind and solar for increasing parts of their energy portfolio.
But aren’t batteries pie-in-the-sky?
No, U.S. utilities already have ordered 33 gigawatts (33 billion watts) worth of energy storage, including batteries. United Power in Brighton has installed utility-scale batteries that it expects to save $1 million a year.
How will batteries save so much money?
Electricity now must be produced in the exact amount being used at the moment. That ranges from an average of 350 megawatts to a peak of 550 megawatts at IREA. Today, that means 200 megawatts worth of power plants are needed to provide electricity only occasionally. Some of those power plants only operate on a few of the hottest days in the year. With battery storage, we will need fewer costly power plants.
But aren’t batteries dirty themselves?
“Batteries” include storage systems such as Xcel’s Cabin Creek reservoirs on Guanella Pass. Water runs from the top reservoir to the lower reservoir through a hydro plant, producing electricity when needed. When there is excess energy at night from wind or during the day from sun, that electricity is used to pump the water back from the lower reservoir to the upper. It’s just water, going ‘round and ‘round. Other kinds of energy storage are developing rapidly. True batteries for utilities can be made of heavy, safer materials because they don’t have to be transported, like an electric car battery. Moreover, there is a growing market for re-using electric vehicle batteries that still have 70% life left for utility-scale storage.
Why does IREA have a coal plant?
In 2005, AFTER Colorado voted overwhelmingly to order utilities to begin switching to renewables, White and Dozier were on the IREA board when it voted to build one of the last coal plants in America. It is the Comanche III plant in Pueblo. IREA owns 26%. The rest is owned mostly by XCEL with a small share owned by Holy Cross. Both XCEL and Holy Cross have committed to transition off of coal power but IREA still plans to keep Commanche III running for at least another 50 years.
Can my bill drop immediately?
White, Dozier and Graf have IREA locked into two contracts with Xcel. One, for 30-40 % of IREA’s power, expires in 2025. New directors of IREA could start planning and contracting for solar, wind and energy storage to replace the more expensive power purchased from Xcel, and new directors might negotiate an earlier end to the contract.
What’s the challenge to switching to cheaper energy for the other nearly 60%?
White and Dozier were on the board when IREA contracted for the coal plant. The contract says the coal plant must operate. It can’t simply be shut down, until Xcel wants to shut it down. The other problem is that IREA still has $320 million in debt on a coal plant that is too expensive to operate, compared to solar, wind and batteries and storage. New directors will think creatively about finding a way out from under that debt. New directors might be able to find a way out of that contract because Xcel has already said it wants to be carbon-free by 2050. Colorado’s governor wants the coal plants shut down by 2040. Some studies say it would be cheaper to shut down coal sooner. Solar and wind continue to drop in cost. We believe new leadership and fresh thinking on the IREA board will result in decisions that will benefit the member/owners.
Who are our candidates?
They are community leaders with outstanding experience. Click on the Candidates Link on the Home Page for their bios.
Which district am I in?
You can look on the IREA map and type in your address. Click on this url address to take a look - https://ireagis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=83a355ad85fc443288bbfdc882141b55
When is the election?
The ballots are mailed on March 25, so please vote and mail your ballot as soon as you receive it. Ballots must be received in the mail by April 23.
Who can vote?
Each meter gets a vote. The person on the bill needs to sign the ballot. You can call IREA and change or add to the person on the bill if you like.
How can I help?
Commit to vote, contact friends, volunteer or donate. Go to EnergyFreedomColorado.com and sign up. Even if you are simply committing to vote, please let us know. We can send you an email when the ballots are sent. We won’t sell your information.
Where does my donation go?
The primary need is printing and mailing postcards.
PUTTING MEMBER/OWNERS FIRST
I am not just a customer, I’m a member/owner of IREA. Does IREA treat me like I am an owner?
IREA is run with the company’s interests foremost, not the member/owners’ interests first. The company has instituted punitive rates on certain customers; discriminated against women member/owners; failed to provide cheaper and cleaner alternative power to customers that want it; and refused to share critical information with owners. It also has failed to help member/owners transition to electric vehicles by providing charging stations, particularly along the long-dead zone of U.S. 285 from Denver to Buena Vista.
How has IREA punished member/owners?
IREA board members White, Dozier, and Graf voted to discriminate against owner/members with a punitive rate for customers who install rooftop solar on their houses. In 2015, they created a “load factor adjustment” or “demand charge” only on customers with rooftop solar. Such demand charges on residential users is extremely unusual and considered punitive. When utilities are regulated by a public utility commission, such charges are usually denied. In Massachusetts, when the PUC agreed to the charge, the state legislature overruled it and made such charges illegal. In Kansas, the state supreme court recently ruled that the residential demand charge by the main electric utility (Evergy) was discriminatory against solar owners. (Ironically, Evergy’s demand charges were much lower than IREA’s and only applied during peak hours, while IREA’s demand charge applies 24/7/365.) In Nevada, NV Energy’s demand charge caused the #1 rooftop solar installation industry in the U.S. to collapse until it was reversed. One member/owner who has this punitive rate listed on his bill has calculated it is a $1,000 a year penalty. The average solar rooftop owner should expect to see at least a $500 yearly penalty, much worse if the owner charges an electric vehicle overnight, something which IREA claims that they encourage. New directors could ensure that IREA does not punish members/owners for any reason.
IREA further fails to compensate rooftop solar owners fairly by only paying a small fraction of the rate they charge other members for any annual excess production. IREA says that it will only pay the “avoided cost” of any excess energy, but calculate that avoided cost using the average generation cost of energy, not including the capital investment of generation and not using the cost of the last kWh purchased during that time period, which is always the most expensive. Without that solar energy entering the grid, IREA would have to pay for that energy at the most expensive rate, not the average rate.
IREA complains that it has to pay XCEL or other providers for peak demand power that it wants to pass on ONLY to rooftop solar owners, yet IREA does not compensate those owners for the peak power production they supply to IREA, especially during the summertime peak loads from air conditioning.
At a recent IREA annual meeting, a woman member/owner was denied entrance because her husband was the person named on the bill instead of her. Only after she complained loudly enough to draw a crowd of member/owners who could not believe what they were hearing did management allow her into the meeting. IREA has been known to put the husband’s name on the bill, even if the wife called to start the service – which meant the husband became the owner instead of the wife. We don’t know if this practice has stopped. But unless the account names have been corrected (or simply put in both people’s names), discrimination against women is continuing.
Is IREA secretive compared to other utilities?
IREA does not provide owner/members with the kind of detailed reporting required by law for stockholders of publicly traded companies. IREA does not provide a management report on risk factors, as the law requires for companies with stockholders. If it did, IREA could not claim it is in excellent financial shape, when in fact it has $320 million in debt on a coal plant that no one will buy. In addition, if IREA were a municipal utility, it would have to comply with the Colorado Open Records Act. That law requires governments to make signed contracts and all financial information available to the public. Utilities like Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are subject to this law. New directors could open IREA records to ensure better management and prevent corruption, which thrives in secrecy.
Does IREA ask its member/owners for their opinions in major decisions?
IREA is installing new smart meters now, without asking members what information they want from these meters. All the public information on this project emphasizes what is good for the company, not for members who want more control over their energy.
IREA is planning to change to very complex new rates after the installation of the new meters. It has not asked members if they want this. The rates have the potential to hurt people with electric ovens, electric vehicles, and others. New directors could ensure that member/owners get a say in such major changes.
Is there a way for me to take advantage of the falling price of solar energy without putting it on my roof?
IREA promised that member/owners could buy into community solar three years ago and that still has not happened. Community solar would allow member-owners to buy into a utility-scale solar project, either by purchasing equipment or paying a price-per-kilowatt. This is done elsewhere by people who don’t want to install rooftop solar because they plan to move, live in a rental, can’t cut the trees shading the roof, etc. New directors could ensure that members/owners are offered this choice.
IREA touts the Victory utility-scale solar facility it has built as an example of its adoption of renewable energy. It should be noted that the facility only produces 12.5 kW of power compared to the 18 kW of power provided by member rooftop solar systems. Only in 2021 has the 80 kW solar facility in Bennett come on line. So, until a few weeks ago, members with rooftop solar were providing the majority of renewable energy within IREA. Any other renewable energy claimed by IREA came from energy purchased from XCEL or other providers.
Can power lines cause wildfires?
Yes. In California, Pacific Gas and Electric has been determined responsible for 17 of the 24 major wildfires in 2017. And it just filed for bankruptcy in the face of billions of dollars in lawsuits for allegedly causing the fire that destroyed Paradise, a town of 27,000, just a few months ago. Power line equipment can fail and send out sparks that ignite our grasses and trees -- especially in this continuing drought in Colorado. IREA has the risk of causing major wildfires that wipe out whole neighborhoods of member/owners’ homes.
Is there a financial risk for all member/owners of IREA?
Yes. Pacific Gas and Electric was facing $2.5 billion in liability for the damages its power lines caused in 2017. And it faces another $7 billion in claims for the fire in Paradise if the fire investigation turns suspicion into liability. A major wildfire caused by IREA could be deadly not only to member/owners’ lives and homes but to IREA finances.
What can be done?
Options are many. Potentially dangerous equipment can be more aggressively replaced. Surveillance equipment like heat sensors or cameras can be installed, so that a fire can be reported instantly. California is even weighing the possibility of ordering power lines shut off in high winds due to the danger.
Right now, IREA doesn’t even talk about this risk with member/owners.