The closure of Colorado coal-fired powerplants is freeing up water for thirsty cities — The #Colorado Sun

Craig Station is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, behind Comanche station at Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Colorado Sun (Ann Imse):

Large electricity generators use lots of water to cool their coal-fired plants. As those units shut down, expect to see battles heat up over how the massive amounts of water can be repurposed.

Any newfound source of water is a blessing in a state routinely stricken by drought and wildfire, where rural residents can be kept from washing a car or watering a garden in summer, and where farm fields dry up after cities buy their water rights.

State water planners long assumed that the amount of water needed to cool major power plants would increase with the booming population. Planners in 2010 predicted that, within 25 years, major power plants would be consuming 104,000 acre-feet per year of their own water. The Colorado Sun found that their annual consumption will end up closer to 10% of that figure.

The 94,000 acre-feet of water that major power plants won’t be consuming is enough to cover the needs of 1.25 million people, according to figures included in the Colorado Water Plan of 2015. (That’s counting water permanently consumed in cities, and not counting water consumed by agriculture and certain giant industries, or water returned to rivers through runoff and wastewater treatment plants.)

Already, water once used by now-defunct power plants is flowing to households, shops and factories in Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder and Palisade, because the local water utilities owned the water and supplied the plants. When the plants closed, the cities just put their own water back into municipal supplies, officials in those cities said…

In Pueblo, Black Hills Energy shut down a 100-year-old, coal-then-gas-fired power plant downtown. After decommissioning stations 5 and 6 near the Arkansas River in 2012, Black Hills donated the water to public use. Water that once cooled the plant now flows in the Arkansas through the city’s Historic Riverwalk, where gondoliers paddle and picnickers gather in the sun for art and music. Renowned Denver historic preservationist Dana Crawford has partnered with a local developer on plans to revive the art deco power plant as an anchor for an expansion of the Riverwalk, with shops and restaurants.

In Cañon City, water that cooled the closed W.N. Clark power plant is going down the Arkansas River as well, Black Hills Energy spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said. It is likely being picked up by the user with the next legal right in line.

The San Miguel River on the Western Slope is gaining some water from closure of the coal power plant in Nucla — at least temporarily until Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns the plant, finishes the tear down and reclamation, which requires some water. Spokesman Mark Stutz said Tri-State has made no decision on what to do with the water rights after that, but “we will listen to the input of interested stakeholders.”

Major power plants’ water consumption peaked in 2012 at about 60,000 to 70,000 acre-feet. It has dropped to about 47,000 acre-feet now and will fall further to about 27,000 acre-feet over the next 15 years, just from closures already announced. By the time the last coal plant closes, major power plant water consumption will have plummeted to about 10,000 acre-feet…

In the past 10 years, 13 coal power plant units in Colorado have shut down. Another 10 will close by 2036 or much earlier. The remaining four units are under review by their owners.

The last gas power plant built in Colorado was in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. All new power generation in Colorado since then has been renewable…

In the past 10 years, 13 coal power plant units in Colorado have shut down. Another 10 will close by 2036 or much earlier. The remaining four units are under review by their owners.

The last gas power plant built in Colorado was in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. All new power generation in Colorado since then has been renewable.

Transmission towers near the Rawhide power plant near Fort Collins, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Technology has driven down the cost of wind and solar, and they now can provide power at a lower price per kilowatt-hour than coal-fired power in Colorado. Even accounting for the need to store electricity, bids to provide renewable energy have come in lower than the cost of coal-fired power.

Closure dates have been accelerating. Utilities are running scenarios on how they could shut down the last four coal-burning units in Colorado not already set for closure. They are Xcel Energy’s Pawnee in Brush and Comanche 3 in Pueblo, Platte River Power Authority’s Rawhide 1 near Wellington, and Colorado Springs Utilities’ Ray D. Nixon unit 1 south of the city.

Emissions controls and customers’ climate concerns are also driving the change, utility officials said.

For example, Platte River Power Authority already expects to be 60% wind, solar and hydro by 2023, and its board said it wants to reach 100% by 2030, spokesman Steve Roalstad said. A public review process started March 4 to discuss how best to achieve that. Closing the coal plant at Rawhide and even the adjacent gas plants by 2030 are options, but not certain, he said.

Early closing dates set for other coal plants could move up. PacifiCorp, a partial owner of three coal power units in Craig and Hayden in northwest Colorado, is pushing its partners, Tri-State and Xcel, for faster shut-downs. It wants to move more quickly to cheaper renewables…

As more power plants close in coming years, much of the water no longer needed will be water owned by the power companies themselves. Many were reluctant to talk about their water rights in detail.

Water court records show Xcel owns water from wells all over the metro area, and draws from Clear Creek. Xcel also owns 5,000 to 10,000 acre-feet in the Colorado River. That water is diverted to northern Colorado through the Colorado-Big Thompson tunnel under the mountains.

Xcel did say it is holding onto its water rights for now. It has been cutting its water purchases from cities, switching to its own water as power plants close.

On a smaller scale, Tri-State is now switching its J.M. Shafer power plant in Fort Lupton from city well water to its own water rights, city administrator Chris Cross said.

Water court records show another example of what can happen to utility-owned water: Xcel wants to use some of its Clear Creek water rights at a hydroelectric plant above Georgetown that is being renovated to produce more megawatts.

Some water might become available for other uses as more Xcel coal plants close, spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said…

Closure of the power plants could open up arguments over where that water should go instead, explained Erin Light, state water engineer for the northwestern district.

“Every water right is decreed for an amount, a use and a place of use,” Light said. With the power plant gone, utilities can try to sell their rights, but other water users may dispute that in court.

Xcel, for example, owns 35,000 acre-feet of conditional water rights in reservoirs in the Yampa Valley that have never been built, she said. But “conditional” means the company gets the water only if it is actually needed, she explained. So when the Hayden power plant closes in the 2030s, Xcel would have to go back to water court to change the use or sell the rights, she said.

“Those conditional water rights become a lot more speculative if they are not operating a power plant,” she said. “Arguably, they would lose their conditional rights.”

Legislators are sufficiently concerned about speculators making money on Colorado’s water shortage that in March they passed Senate Bill 48 asking water officials to give them suggestions on how to strengthen current law against it.

#California: Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project update #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Screen shot from EagleCrestEnergy.com video

From The Los Angeles Times (Sammy Roth):

Steve Lowe gazed into a gaping pit in the heart of the California desert, careful not to let the blistering wind send him toppling over the edge.
The pit was a bustling iron mine once, churning out ore that was shipped by rail to a nearby Kaiser Steel plant. When steel manufacturing declined, Los Angeles County tried to turn the abandoned mine into a massive landfill. Conservationists hope the area will someday become part of Joshua Tree National Park, which surrounds it on three sides.

Lowe has a radically different vision.

With backing from NextEra Energy — the world’s largest operator of solar and wind farms — he’s working to fill two mining pits with billions of gallons of water, creating a gigantic “pumped storage” plant that he says would help California get more of its power from renewable sources, and less from fossil fuels…

Pumped storage hydro electric.

At Eagle Mountain, one of several abandoned mining pits would be filled with water, pumped from beneath the ground. When nearby solar farms flood the power grid with cheap electricity, Lowe’s company would use that energy — which might otherwise go to waste — to pump water uphill, to a higher pit.

When there’s not enough solar power on the grid — after sundown, or perhaps after several days of cloudy weather — the water would be allowed to flow back down to the lower pit by gravity, passing through an underground powerhouse and generating electricity…

The Eagle Mountain plant wouldn’t interrupt any rivers or destroy a pristine landscape. But environmentalists say the $2.5-billion facility would pull too much water from the ground in one of the driest parts of California, and prolong a history of industrialization just a few miles from one of America’s most visited national parks.

Lowe rejects those arguments, saying his proposal has survived round after round of environmental review and would only drain a tiny fraction of the underground aquifer.

The project’s fate may hinge on a question with no easy answer: How much environmental sacrifice is acceptable — or even necessary — in the fight against climate change?

Click here to read the EIS.

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership awarded grant for #solar project — The Pagosa Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The dome greenhouse gleams in the Sun at the center of the park. To the right is a new restroom and on the far left is the Community Garden. Along the walk way is a small paved amphitheater like space for presentations and entertainment. Photo credit The Pagosa Springs Journal.

From The Pagosa Sun:

The La Plata Electric Asso- ciation (LPEA) Board of Directors voted at its meeting last week to award the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) $13,000 from its Renewable Generation Funds Grant program to support a solar installation to generate electricity for the GGP site in Centennial Park.

Projects were selected based on visibility to the local community, level of innovation, and the potential to blend renewable technologies with educational elements and community engagement.

Grant monies are sourced from LPEA’s Local Renewable Generation Fund — an opt-in fund to which LPEA members can contribute to support the development of renewable energy generation projects in the service territory.

For more information on the program, LPEA members should call 382-3505.

Leaked report for [JP Morgan] says #Earth is on unsustainable trajectory #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA

From The Guardian (Patrick Greenfield and Jonathan Watts):

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document.

The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.

The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas.

JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.

Its report was obtained by Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, and has been seen by the Guardian.

The research by JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray says the climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.

“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” notes the paper, which is dated 14 January.

Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. It says most estimates of the likely economic and health costs are far too small because they fail to account for the loss of wealth, the discount rate and the possibility of increased natural disasters.

The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

The investment bank says climate change “reflects a global market failure in the sense that producers and consumers of CO2 emissions do not pay for the climate damage that results.” To reverse this, it highlights the need for a global carbon tax but cautions that it is “not going to happen anytime soon” because of concerns about jobs and competitiveness.

The authors say it is “likely the [climate] situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly more so than in any of the IPCC’s scenarios”.

Without naming any organisation, the authors say changes are occurring at the micro level, involving shifts in behaviour by individuals, companies and investors, but this is unlikely to be enough without the involvement of the fiscal and financial authorities.

Cash-strapped farms are growing a new crop: #Solar panels — Grist #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and Michael Lehan discuss solar panel orientation and spacing. The project is seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

From Grist (Maria Gallucci):

The Kominek family farm is a green expanse of hay and alfalfa in northern Colorado. The family has planted and raked crops for half a century, but as yields declined over recent years, the farm began losing money. In late 2017, Byron Kominek went looking for more profitable alternatives, including installing solar panels and selling electricity to the utility. But Boulder County’s land-use codes made it difficult to use their 24 acres for anything but farming.

So the Komineks found a compromise: a solar array with plants growing beneath, between, and around rows of photovoltaic panels.

Construction is slated to begin this spring on a 1.2-megawatt solar array on the Kominek farm. Some 3,300 solar panels will rest on 6-foot and 8-foot-high stilts, providing shade for crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale, and beans on a five-acre plot. Pasture grasses and beehive boxes are planned for the perimeter…

If successful, the project could serve as a model for other cash-strapped farmers, by transforming underperforming fields into potentially money-making hubs of clean energy and fresh food.

Xcel Energy, the state’s biggest utility, has agreed to pay for each kilowatt-hour delivered from the Kominek’s solar array to the grid. Their neighbors can buy into the project, too. Participants invest in a percentage of the array, then receive credits on their monthly utility bills. Their investment also helps defray some of the farmers’ upfront construction costs.

The vegetables will be sold through a community farm-share program, which allows neighbors to invest in the project in exchange for boxes of produce.

This marriage of agriculture and solar photovoltaics — known by the awkward name “agrivoltaics” — is an emerging niche within the broader solar power industry.

In the United States, less than 5 megawatts’ worth of solar arrays have crops planted beneath them, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL. That’s barely a speck of the country’s 71,300 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The farm-plus-solar sector is relatively bigger in Japan, where the concept first emerged over a decade ago. Hundreds of projects now exist, including a 35-megawatt solar array that hovers over fields of ginseng, herbs, and coriander.

Proponents say that this approach could allow for widespread renewable energy development without displacing much-needed land for food. Recent studies suggest that it could lead to more efficient energy and crop production by creating a cooler, moister microclimate.

In a recent test in Arizona, scientists compared crops planted under solar panels with those grown in direct sunlight. They found that total fruit production for red chiltepin peppers was three times higher on the plots under the panels, and cherry tomatoes doubled production. Some of these plants used significantly less irrigation water, in part because the shaded soil retained more moisture. Solar panels placed with plants were also substantially cooler during the day — and therefore operated more efficiently — than the usual ground-mounted arrays, according to the study last year by NREL and the Universities of Arizona and Maryland.

A project in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, delivered similarly promising results. Early field tests showed that Swiss chard, broccoli, and similar vegetables produced about 60 percent more volume compared to plants beneath a full sun.

Screenshot from Jack’s Solar Garden website February 18, 2020. Click on the image to visit the website and sign up to purchase solar energy.

Kominek’s project, called Jack’s Solar Garden, will provide more opportunities to study agrivoltaics. NREL, in nearby Golden, Colorado, plans to track how plants and panels perform together in Boulder County’s hot, dry climate. “If the structures help keep in moisture, and we have less evaporation, we’ll need less water to grow the same amount or even more [crops],” said Jordan Macknick, the lead energy-water-land analyst for NREL.

Macknick leads NREL’s low-impact solar initiative along with biologist Brenda Beatty. Since 2015, researchers have developed more than 25 sites around the country that combine solar panels with food crops, native vegetation, or pollinator-friendly plants.

Jack’s Solar Garden will be the biggest of the group and the first to include all three types. NREL is also adding solar projects in Puerto Rico, including one on a coffee plantation and another one on pasture lands for cattle.

“We’re really just at the very beginning of understanding the benefits of agrivoltaics and what they could mean not only for the energy sector but also for the agricultural sector,” Macknick said.

China connected the world’s largest floating solar power plant in central Anhui province to its power grid in early June 2017. The solar farm will generate electricity for 15,000 homes. Photo via Science.HowStuffWorks.com

Agrivoltaics, also called “solar sharing,” first took off in Japan in 2004, after an engineer, Akira Nagashima, developed a stilted steel structure that raises panels 10-feet high. Available land is scarce in Japan, a country with ambitious targets for developing renewable energy. (Not coincidentally, floating solar arrays — which sit atop irrigation ponds and reservoirs — also got their start in Japan, in 2007.) Recently, Nagashima has begun studying how shade-intolerant crops might fare beneath solar arrays. His research team recently found that corn yields slightly improved in a solar-sharing system.

Beyond research sites, however, pairing corn and other cash crops with solar may present significant challenges. On existing plots, smaller tractors can navigate the narrow spaces between rows of panels. But combine harvesters and other industrial equipment are too wide and bulky to fit through the gaps. Most crops grown beneath panels must be picked by hand. The work is manageable at the scale of a community garden, but it can be grueling, back-breaking work at an industrial scale. Farmers are developing machines to pick strawberries, melons, and tomatoes, which also might bump against the panels.

For farms big and small, a lack of rural infrastructure remains a “key impediment” to boosting adoption of agrivoltaics, said Chad Higgins, an associate professor of biological and ecological engineering at Oregon State University. Power lines and electrical equipment might not be equipped to handle the addition of solar power. Roads and communications networks likewise might need to be expanded to support far-flung operations, he said.

Still, if farmers and engineers can address such hurdles, the potential for agrivoltaics is immense, given how much of the planet’s land is devoted to agriculture.

Platte River Power Authority sets public sessions on energy options — The Loveland Reporter-Herald #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Transmission towers near the Rawhide power plant near Fort Collins, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

From the Platte River Power Authority via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Platte River Power Authority will hold public focus group meetings as the power provider works to update the plan that details how it will continue to deliver electricity to customers in Loveland, Estes Park, Fort Collins and Longmont as it moves toward more renewable resources.

Platte River will hold sessions in each of those four communities, facilitated by Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation, to receive input from residents and business owners as it updates its Integrated Resource Plan. A new such plan is produced every five years, using input, technology and best practices to lay out a mix of power sources.

This plan is being completed in 2020, one year early, because the power provider’s board of directors decided to pursue a 100% carbon-free energy mix by 2030. Currently, about 30% of the energy delivered by Platte River is carbon-free, a number that will increase to 50% by 2021 with new wind and solar power sources and could reach 60% by 2023, according to a press release.

Jason Frisbie, general manager and CEO, said in a press release that Platte River made significant progress on this updated plan last year and is now looking for input from businesses and residents regarding the “energy future of Northern Colorado.”

The meetings are scheduled for 6-8 p.m. on each of the following dates:

  • March 4, 17th Avenue Place Event Center, 478 17th Ave. in Longmont.
  • March 5, Ridgeline Hotel, 101 S. St. Vrain Ave. in Estes Park.
  • March 11, Embassy Suites, Devereaux Room, 4705 Clydesdale Parkway, Loveland.
  • March 12, Drake Centre, 802 W. Drake Road, Suite 101, Fort Collins.
  • To attend a focus group, RSVP to 970-229-5657 or online at cpd.colostate.edu/events/platte-river-power-community-focus-groups/

    Tri-State CEO says wholesaler’s clean energy transition will pay dividends — Energy News Network

    The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Energy News Network (Allen Best):

    The Colorado generation and transmission co-op announced a major renewable expansion it thinks can save money.

    Duane Highley arrived in Colorado last year with a mission: Transform one of the nation’s heaviest coal-based wholesale electricity providers to something different, cleaner and greener.

    As the new chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Highley began meeting with legislators and other state officials, whose general reaction was of skepticism and disbelief, he recalled.

    “‘Just watch us,’” he says he answered. “We will deliver.”

    Last week, Highley and Tri-State took a step toward that goal by announcing plans for a major expansion of renewable generation. The power wholesaler will will achieve 50% renewable generation by 2024 for its Colorado members, up from 32% in 2018. Unlike its existing renewables, much of which comes from federal dams, Tri-State plans six new solar farms and two more wind farms.

    With continued retirement of coal plants, Tri-State expects to achieve 70% carbon-free electricity for its Colorado customers by 2030. Those customers represent two-thirds of the wholesaler’s demand across four states.

    “The prices of renewables have fallen dramatically in the last 10 years,” Highley said in an interview with the Energy News Network. Solar and wind have dropped “significantly below the operating costs of any other project. It gives us the headroom to make these changes,” he said, adding that he expects downward pressure on rates for member cooperatives.

    The politics and the economics of clean energy have aligned. “It helps us accelerate the ride off coal,” Highley said. The temptation, he added, was not to wait, but rather to announce the shift sooner, before details had been lined up.