Building solar and wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging coal and nuclear generators in parts of the U.S., according to financial adviser Lazard Ltd.
Take wind: Building and operating a utility-scale farm costs $30 to $60 a megawatt-hour over its lifetime, and that can drop to as low as $14 when factoring in subsidies, according an annual analysis that Lazard’s been performing for a decade. Meanwhile, just keeping an existing coal plant running can cost $26 to $39 and a nuclear one $25 to $32.
Two years ago, “what was interesting to us was the lifetime cost of renewables on an energy basis reached parity with conventional resources in a bunch of geographies in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Mir, head of the North American power group at Lazard. “Now, what we are seeing is that renewable technologies on a fully loaded basis are beating” existing coal and nuclear plants in some regions.
The report by Lazard, whose estimates are widely used in the power sector as benchmarks, comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is vowing to stop the “war on coal” and put America’s miners back to work. Hundreds of power plants burning the fuel have shut in recent years amid escalating competition from natural gas, wind and solar. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed rewarding coal and nuclear plants with extra payments for their dependability, touching off a national debate over the country’s future power mix.
“We still need, in a modern grid, fuel diversification and a diverse generation stack,” Mir said. “So someone has to think hard about how to organize this transition.”
Xcel decision fortifies calls for 100 percent renewables
The Sierra Club has been pushing Durango to commit to 100 percent locally produced and renewable electricity by 2050.
The argument of petitioners, reports the Durango Herald, is that in addition to cutting carbon emissions, the local, renewable energy would create local jobs and stabilize energy rates as the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise.
The petition in Durango fits in with a broad pattern across the country of calls for municipalities to embrace goals of 100 percent renewables during the next few decades. In Utah, for example, Salt Lake City, Moab, and Park City have all embraced that goal. In Colorado, so have the Front Range communities of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Pueblo.
That goal no longer seems so far-fetched. Major, investor-owned utilities have been rapidly investing in renewables not because they have to, but because of tumbling prices for wind, but also solar. Cost of utility-scale storage has also started sliding.
Last week, Colorado’s largest utility, Public Service Co., a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, announced that it would seek approval of state regulators to retire two coal-fired generating plants at Pueblo, which began operations in 1972 and 1974. The retirements, if approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, will mean Comanche I and II will be retired a decade earlier than previously scheduled.
Xcel wants to replace the lost power with some natural gas-fired electricity but mostly with renewables, with up to 1,000 megawatts of wind and 700 megawatts of solar. It wants to move fast, too, to take advantage of federal tax credits that are scheduled to expire in 2020.
Cost to consumers will stay the same or more likely go down, explained David Eves, the utility’s president of Colorado operations. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are a bonus.
After the switch, Xcel expects its will be at 55 percent in carbon-free generation. This year, it will be completing conversion of a coal-fired power plant in Denver to natural gas. It had also converted a plant in Boulder last year.
Xcel delivers power to Colorado’s Summit County, where Breckenridge elected officials recently heard from a local group that wanted a commitment to 100 percent renewables, first in city operations and then a few years later in the community at large. Town officials weren’t ready to commit, lacking a clear path to achieve these goals. This was a week before the Xcel announcement.
Mark Truckey, a town planner in Breckenridge who is a member of the local 100 percent group, called the Xcel announcement “huge.”
“This has to speak volumes about how the cost is coming down,” he said. Yet he concedes it’s not exactly clear how Breckenridge can achieve what his group advocates.
In Utah, it’s the same story. Rocky Mountain Power last week reached a deal with solar advocates about a transition. The utility, which serves Park City, has a plan for adding more wind generation from southern Wyoming and upwards of 1,000 megawatts —the equivalent of a giant coal-fired power plant—in solar generation from Utah.
It used to be that renewables came with a price premium. As the Xcel and Rocky Mountain Power cases illustrate, that has changed. Aspen also proves the case.
Aspen Electric was an early adopter. The utility serves half to two-thirds of Aspen. More than a decade ago it invested in two wind turbines in Nebraska. It has also invested heavily in hydroelectric. As a municipality, it is also eligible for electricity from the giant dams of the West.
Several years ago it was able to achieve 100 percent renewables. Despite the renewables—or maybe because of them—residential customers in Aspen pay 20 percent less per kilowatt-hour than co-op members such as those serving Durango.
The rest of Aspen, including the ski area, gets its electricity from Holy Cross Energy. If moving briskly toward renewables, Holy Cross still gets a substantial amount of its electricity from another coal-fired power plant at Pueblo. Although news as of 2010, it increasingly looks archaic.
Solar panels have become abundant on rooftops. Even so, solar delivered just 2 percent of Colorado’s electricity in 2016. Solar energy proponents expect that will change. Costs of panels have declined 64 percent in the last five years, points out the Summit Daily News, citing the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association. Too, utilities like Xcel, Rocky Mountain Power, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are increasingly investing in giant farms of solar panels.
Tri-State provides electricity for the co-operatives that serve the Colorado mountain towns of Winter Park, Grand Lake, Crested Butte, and Telluride. The power for Durango also comes from Tri-State through La Plata Electric Association.
Last year, 53 percent of Tri-State’s electricity came from coal, although 27 percent came from renewables, and more is coming on line all the time, says Lee Boughey, spokesman. He points to 75 megawatts of wind generation from southeastern Colorado that will go on-line later this year.
About 4 percent of Durango’s power comes from local renewable sources, but a major solar plant on the Southern Ute reservation has also been added, reports the Durango Telegraph.
Can Durango get to 100 percent renewables, as the Sierra Club petition seeks? La Plata hasn’t said no, although there are many challenges. Most illuminating is a white paper from the co-op’s chief executive, Mike Dreyspring. The paper describes the evolution of markets that will allow slow-cost electrons from renewable sources to be moved around the grid to match demands. That other changes are poised to disrupt old business models—including the centralized power generation of the last half of the 20th century.
Locally produced power, called distributed generation, “shifts the balance sheet risk from owners of central station bulk power generation assets to DG owners,” the paper says. “The traditional, vertically integrated electric utilities that adapt to this changing market place will financially thrive.”
Another way of saying this is that yes, the train is out of the station. It’s just a matter of accommodating the new renewables. Whether 100 percent renewables is possible is a discussion for another day.
“A growing number of organizations and institutions are interested in solar, and it’s not necessarily about sustainability,” said Henderson, who also is the president of the board of directors of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), a trade group for the state’s solar sector.
“They’re seeing the opportunity to reduce operating costs and impact the bottom line,” he said.
To that end, COSEIA has organized the Clean Energy Means Business Corporate Summit, to be held Nov. 7-8 at the History Colorado Center in downtown Denver.
The two-day summit is aimed at executives and energy management professionals interested in using clean energy to lower operations costs and support sustainability efforts.
“You can go renewable and reduce your operating costs, but people are surprised by that. They want to learn more about it,” Henderson said.
Since 2012, businesses in the U.S. and Mexico — including IKEA, Google, Apple, Kaiser Permanente, 3M and Microsoft — have purchased nearly 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy supplies, according to the Business Renewables Center in Boulder, part of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide
U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.
Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.
Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.
The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.
But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.
“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”
That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”
The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.
In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.
Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.
A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.
To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.
He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”
Here’s a report about religious groups in Colorado and New Mexico working to abate the climate crisis from Sarah Tory writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Last year, [Pastor Jim Therrien] joined the Interfaith Power & Light campaign, “a religious response to global warming” composed of churches and faith communities across the U.S. Since 2001, the network had expanded its membership from 14 congregations in California to some 20,000 in over 40 states. The group provides resources to churches and other faith communities for cutting carbon emissions — helping install solar panels, for instance, and sharing sermons on the importance of addressing climate change.
Therrien says he is merely “following the Scripture.” In the process, however, he has joined a growing environmental movement that brings a religious dimension to the problem of climate change…
Here at his hardscrabble New Mexico parish, Therrien continues to practice what he preaches. On a hot day in July, he herded 28 visitors into the mission’s two white vans for a drive out onto the Navajo Nation. The group, mostly Easterners, ranged in age from 8 to over 60 and had traveled to the Lybrook mission as part of a weeklong fact-finding trip. Like Therrien, many were members of the Church of the Brethren, a Protestant denomination with a history of activism. More recently, their focus had shifted to environmental issues — especially climate change.
“It’s concerning that our government is pulling back from what we should be focusing on,” one of them, Jim Dodd, told me. Recently, the giant Larsen Ice Shelf had broken off from Antarctica, and Dodd was worried. “Villages already at sea level are going to get flooded,” he said.
Leading the group was David Radcliff, director of the New Community Project, a Vermont-based organization. “It’s a fairness issue for the rest of God’s creatures,” he told me. Radcliff has led “learning tours” around social and environmental justice issues for church groups, most recently, to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Radcliff, a small, wiry man with an intense blue gaze, wore a white T-shirt with a very long slogan on the back. “Earth is a mess,” it said, and “God’s not amused.” If you aren’t satisfied, it added, “do something about it.”
For Radcliff, discussing the facts of climate change isn’t enough. That’s where religion comes in. “At a certain point, you have to talk about the consequences, and past that it becomes a conversation about morality,” he said. Take moose in the Northeast: They are dying from tick infestations exacerbated by a warming climate, caused by humans taking more from the Earth than they need, he said. “We are stealing from other living things.”
Meeting this demand with fossil fuels will be increasing dif cult as reserves become depleted. More important, we know that massive burning of fossil fuels damages our environment. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, provide an inexpensive and clean alternative to burning fossil fuels.
To prepare the next generation for this change, Kristin Hentschel, Pagosa Springs Middle School sixth-grade science teacher, orga- nized a Renewable Energy Day.
This project was funded by a $1,000 grant from the Foundation for Archuleta County Education (FACE).
The 120 sixth-grade students were divided into eight groups which visited eight renewable energy projects. Parents and com- munity scientists manned each of the eight stations.
At the end of the day, the stu- dents wrote about their experiences…
“I liked all the stations. This was perfect.” — Daniel B.