Our Cooperative Response to COVID-19 with Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State
Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, sits down with our host, Bazi Kanani, to discuss how his cooperative has responded to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across our cooperative family, amazing work is being done by our members as business practices have pivoted in an effort to tackle challenges related to COVID-19. As part of this series, Bazi Kanani interviews CEOs from our member cooperatives and public power districts to discuss how they are responding during this difficult time.
Tri-State serves power to 43 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts across four states. As CEO, Duane discusses how we have overcome challenges related to COVID-19. From initial preparation, to the acquisition of PPE and the continued community support, Duane discusses how the cooperative family has been able to find ways to demonstrate Concern for Community during this pandemic.
To learn more about what Tri-State-State is doing in our communities, watch the video below.
Read the Interview Transcript Here
"I want to give a shout-out to our local cooperatives and public powered members because they have been on the front lines in their local communities and really engage with them, their employees, alongside with our employees, really working to support their communities." - Duane Highley, CEO
Bazi: Delivering power to well over a million consumers in largely rural areas across four states, for the team at not-for-profit power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, times of crisis magnify the importance of their mission.
In this series, we're learning more about how cooperatives are responding to the viral pandemic while making sure vital electricity is something their members can count on.
Joining this video call is Tri-State-State CEO, Duane Highley and Duane, given the critical importance of the work you do there at Tri-State providing electricity, has this pandemic caused any interruption or could it, to that work?
Duane: I'm really delighted to share that our employees, through their efforts, have been so diligent in their response to this crisis I don't have any concerns at all about the reliability of the grid. They've been executing on a pandemic plan that was on the books even before this started. So, earlier in February, they were already taking actions and now as we speak today, we're actually at the phase where we're starting to move towards safe re-integration of our employees.
Bazi: It's definitely a relief to hear that. Then during the pandemic, getting protective gear for employees has been a problem, a challenge across the nation. Things like face masks or hand sanitizer. How's that been going for you?
Duane: So, we earlier on had established relationships with our state and federal partners. We have weekly coordination calls with each of them and, in particular working with at the federal level, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy. And through all those connections, we were able to resource 75,000 disposable face masks so that our employees can return to work more quickly.
Because of the strength of our cooperative network, working together, one of our members found a resource for two tons of hand sanitizer. And said, "You know, I can get it, if you can find a place for it tomorrow." So, we found some space in a warehouse and we were able to share that thing with our local cooperative members.
Bazi: Super helpful, I'm sure. So, at Tri-State, you provide electricity to 43 co-ops who then distribute that to their communities. How else have you or your members been able to try out and find ways to support their communities during this pandemic?
Duane: I'm really grateful that you would ask about that because we live by the seven cooperative principles. One of which is, concern for community and as a co-op in our local communities, we do take a lot of resources from those communities and we wanna make sure we're giving back in the same way.
One of our early outreach was to the state governors at the states in which we operate and we were able to assist each of them with their own unique COVID relief efforts through donations. In addition, I want to give a shout-out to our local cooperative and public powered members because they have been on the front lines in their local communities and really engage with them, their employees, alongside with our employees, really working to support their communities.
Bazi: Earlier this year Duane, Tri-State launched this ambitious new initiative, the Responsible Energy Plan. That's a major push into more renewable energy. It includes the construction of eight solar and wind projects in your member service territories. So, how is that being affected? Will this pandemic affect any of those plans?
Duane: Now, the pandemic has certainly created new challenges for us but we're still moving forward aggressively to complete all eight of these projects. It's not just a green movement for us, but also an economic movement because by completing these projects, we're gonna actually put downward pressure on electric rates and help people save money on their electric bills. In total, we're looking at 1,000 megawatts of new renewable capacity which represents a billion dollars of new investment in our rural communities. Really important now, at the time of these extreme economic impacts that are coming as a result of COVID.
So in, addition, we've targeted those communities that are gonna be impacted by the loss of coal jobs and we're intentionally putting renewable projects there. This is actually putting hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax base in place that will help those government entities replace the loss of tax base that occurs when coal plants go away.
Bazi: Duane Highley is the CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Thanks for your time today.
Duane: Thank you.
COVID-19 Community Response
As a family of electric cooperatives and public power districts, our distribution members reach consumers at the end of the line, many of whom have been directly impacted by COVID-19. To learn about our response, how our members are responding and the amazing work being done in communities across the West, watch our videos and read the articles here.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 46 members, including 43 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.