#Colorado’s top #energy stories in 2020 — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #JustTransition

Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 2020, the raft of bills passed by Colorado legislators in 2019 began altering the state’s energy story. Too, there was covid. There was also the continued movement of forces unleashed in years and even decades past, the eclipsing of coal, in particular, with renewables. Some Colorado highlights:

1) Identifying the path for Colorado’s decarbonization

Colorado in 2019 adopted a goal of decarbonizing its economy 50% by 2030 (and 90% by 2050).

The decarbonization targets align with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that climate scientists warn must occur to reduce risk of the most dangerous climatic disruptions.

In September 2020, the Colorado Air Quality Control Division released its draft roadmap of what Colorado must do to achieve its targets. The key strategy going forward is to switch electrical production from coal and gas to renewables, then switch other sectors that currently rely on fossil fuels to electricity produced by renew able generation. But within that broad strategy there are dozens of sub-strategies that touch on virtually every sector of Colorado’s economy.

A core structure to the strategy is to persuade operators of coal-fired power plants to shut down the plants by 2030, which nearly all have agreed to do. It’s an easy argument to make, given the shifted economics. The harder work is to shift electrical use into current sectors where fossil fuels dominate, especially transportation and buildings.

It’s a lot—but enough? By February, environmental groups were fretting that the Polis administration was moving too slowly. During summer months, several members of the Air Quality Control Commission, the key agency given authority and responsibility to make this decarbonization happen, probed both the pace and agenda of the Polis administration.

This is from the Jan. 5, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at bigpivots.com

ohn Putnam, the environmental programs director in the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, and the team assembled to create the roadmap have defended the pacing and the structural soundness, given funding limitations.

Days before Christmas, the Environmental Defense Fund filed a petition with the Air Quality Control Commission. The 85-page document calls for sector-specific and legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s called a backstop. The proposal calls for a cap-and-trade system of governance, similar to what California created to rein in emissions. New England states also have used cap-and-trade to govern emissions from electrical generation. In this case, though, the emission limits would apply to all sectors. EDF’s submittal builds on an earlier proposal from Western Resource Advocates.

“The state is still far from having a policy framework in place capable of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the pace and scale required—and Colorado’s first emissions target is right around the corner in 2025,” said one EDF blog post.

This proposal from EDF is bold. Whether it is politically practical even in a state that strongly embraces climate goals is the big question, along with whether it is needed. All this will likely get aired out at the Air Quality Control Commission meeting on Feb. 18-19.

Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

2) Coal on its last legs as more utilities announce closures

It was a tough year for coal—and it’s unlikely to get better. Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Colorado Springs Utilities both announced they’d close their last coal plants by 2030. Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority had announced plans in 2018.

That will leave just a handful of coal plants operated by Xcel Energy puffing, but who knows what state regulators will rule or what Xcel will announce in 2021. It has a March 31 deadline to submit its next 4-year electric resource plan.

Meanwhile, Peabody, operator of the Twentymile Mine near Steamboat Springs, furloughed half its employees in May, partly because of covid, and in November announced it was considering filing for bankruptcy. If so, it will be the second time in five years.

It was an image from Arizona, though, that was iconic. The image published in December by the Arizona Republic, a newspaper, showed three 750-foot stacks at the Navajo Generating Station at Paige beginning to topple.

3) How and how fast the phase-out of natural gas?

Cities in California and elsewhere have adopted bans on new natural gas infrastructure in most buildings. Several states have adopted bans against local bans. Colorado in 2020 got a truce until 2022.

But the discussion has begun with a go-slow position paper by Xcel Energy and heated arguments from environmental hard-hitter Rocky Mountain Institute. It’s insane to build 40,000 new homes a year in Colorado with expensive natural gas infrastructure even as Colorado attempts to decarbonize its economy, Eric Blank, appointed by Polis in December to chair the PUC, told Big Pivots last summer. The PUC held an information hearing in November on natural gas.

State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, sponsored a bill that would have created a renewable natural gas standard, to provide incentives to dairies and others to harness their methane emissions. The bill got shelved in the covid-abbreviated legislative session. Expect to see it in 2021.

But even without the incentive, Boulder in July completed a biogas conversion project at its sewage treatment plant. It was the fourth such project in Colorado in the last several years.

Rich Meisinger Jr., business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, explains an aspect of the coal economy to Gov. Jared Polis in March. Photo credit: Allen Best

4) Colorado begins effort to define a Just Transition

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis spent the first Friday in March in Craig and Hayden, two coal towns in northwest Colorado. Legislators in 2019 created an Office of Just Transition. The goal is to help communities and workers in the coal sector affected by the need to pivot to cleaner fuels create a glide path to a new future. No other state has the same legislative level of ambition.

There are many places in Colorado where the impacts of this transition will be felt, but perhaps no place quite as dramatically as in the Yampa River Valley of northwest Colorado.

Polis and members of the Just Transition team created by legislators spent the afternoon in the Hayden Town Hall, hearing from disgruntled coal miners, union representatives, and local elected and economic development officials. That very afternoon, the first covid case in Colorado was reported.

Legislators funded only an office and one employee. That remains the case. Some money will have to be delivered in coming years to assist workers and, to a lesser degree, the impacted communities. As required by law, a final report to legislators was posted in late December.

Legislators will have to decide whether the task force got it right and, if so, where the money will come from to assist workers and communities in coming years.

Meanwhile, in Craig, and elsewhere, the thinking has begun in earnest about the possibilities for diversification and reinvention. But it will be tough, tough, tough to replace the property tax revenues of coal plants in the Hayden, Craig, and Brush school districts.

For more depth, see the first and second stories I published on this (via Energy News Network) in August.

The question driving the upcoming investigation is whether Xcel customers, who represent 53% of electrical demand in Colorado, would be better served by shuttering this coal plant well ahead of its originally scheduled 2060-2070 closing.

Work got underway in October 2020 for a massive solar farm that will satisfy nearly all the power requirements of the Evraz steel mill. Photo credit: Allen Best

6) Work begins on giant solar farm that will power steel mill

In October, site preparation work began on the periphery of Pueblo on 1,500 acres of land owned by Evraz, the steel mill, for a giant 240-megawatt solar farm. Keep in mind that nearby Comanche 3 has a generating capacity of 750 megawatts. Commercial operations will begin at the end of 2021.

Evraz worked with Xcel Energy and Lightsource BP to make the giant solar installation happen. The company expects the solar power to provide nearly all of its needs. See artist depiction on page 15. See August story.

7) A new framework for oil and gas and operations

Colorado’s revamped oversight of oil and gas drilling and processing continued with a new legislatively-delegated mission for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: protecting public safety, health, welfare, and the environment. The old mission: fostering development.

Guiding this is a new 5-member commission, only one of whom can be from the industry. The 2019 law also specified shared authority over oil and gas regulation with water and other commissions to also have say-so. And local governments can adopt more restrictive regulations.

The specifics of this came into sharp focus in November with 574 pages of new rules adopted after 10 months of proceedings, including what both industry and environmental groups called cooperative and collaborative discussions.

The new rules simplify the bureaucratic process for drilling operators, require that drilling operations stay at least four blocks (i.e. 2,000 feet) from homes; old regulations required only a block. The new rules also end the routine venting of natural gas.

The new rules likely won’t end all objections but the level of friction may drop because of the rules about where, when, and how.

Both idle fleet pickup trucks and drilling rigs were abundant in Weld County in June, 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best

8) Covid clobbers the drilling rigs and idles the pickups

Oil prices dove from near $60 a barrel in January to $15.71 in May. All but 7 drilling rigs in Colorado’s Wattenberg Field had folded by then, compared to 31 working a year before. Covid-dampened travel had slackened demand, and supply was glutted by the production war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Unemployment claims from March to November grew to 8,425, compared to 30,000 direct jobs in 2019. The full impact may have been 230,000 jobs in Colorado, given the jobs multiplier. Dan Haley, chief executive of Colorado Oil and Gas Association, at year’s end reported cautious optimism for 2021 as prices escalated and vaccines began to be administered.

Covid slowed the renewable sector, too, causing Vestas to announce in November it would lay off 185 from its blade factory in Brighton.

9) Utilities mostly hold onto empires—for now

Xcel Energy got a big win in November when Boulder voters approved a new franchise after a decade-long lapse while the city investigated creating its own utility. Black Hills Energy crushed a proposed municipal break in Pueblo. And Tri-State Generation & Transition stalled exit attempts by two of its three largest member cooperatives, Brighton-based United Power and Durango-based La Plata Energy, through an attempt to get jurisdiction in Washington D.C.

But there was much turbulence. Xcel lost its wholesale supplier contract to Fountain, a municipality. Canon City voters declined to renew the franchise with Black Hills. And Tri-State lost Delta-Montrose, which is now being supplied by Denver-based Guzman Energy, a relatively new wholesale supplier created to take advantage of the flux in the utility sector. Low-priced renewables have shaken up the utility sector – and the shaking will most certainly continue as the relationship between consumers and suppliers gets redefined.

10) Two utilities take lead in the race toward 100% renewables

Xcel Energy in December 2018 famously announced its intent to reduce carbon emissions from its electrical generation 80% by 2030 (as compared to 2005 levels), a pledge put into law in 2019. In 2020, nearly all of Colorado’s electrical generators mostly quietly agreed to the same commitment.

Meanwhile, several utilities began publicly plotting how to get to 100%. Most notable were Platte River Power Authority and its four member cities in northern Colorado. Holy Cross Energy, the electrical cooperative serving the Vail-Aspen, Rifle areas, announced its embrace of the goal in December. CEO Bryan Hannegan said the utility sees multiple pathways to this summit.

A fast-charger for electric vehicles can now be found near the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. Photo credit: Allen Best

11) Gearing up for transportation electrification

You can now get a fast-charge on your electric car in Dinosaur, Montrose, and a handful of other locations along major highways in Colorado, but in 2021 that list will grow to 34 locations.

Colorado is gearing up for electric cars and trying to create the infrastructure and programs that will accelerate EV adoption, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, now the No. 1 source, while delivering hard-to-explain-briefly benefits to a modernized grid.

Also coming will be new programs in Xcel Energy’s $110 million transportation electrification program approved by the PUC just before Christmas. It creates the template going forward.

Now comes attention to medium- and heavy-duty transportation fleets. Easy enough to imagine an electrified Amazon van. How about electric garbage trucks?

Colorado and 14 other states attempted to send a market signal to manufacturers with a July agreement of a common goal of having medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold within their borders be fully electric by mid-century. Of note: Other than Vermont, Colorado was the only state among the 14 lacking an ocean front.

Many await arrival of the first Rivian pickup trucks in 2021, while Ford is working on an electric version of its F-series pickup.

12) Disproportionately impacted communities

The phrase “disproportionately impacted communities” joined the energy conversation in Colorado in 2020.

In embracing the greenhouse gas reduction goals, in 2019, state legislators told the Air Quality Control Commission to identify “disproportionately impacted communities,” situations where “multiple factors, including both environmental and socio-economic stressors, may act cumulatively to affect health and the environment and contribute to persistent environmental health disparities.”

The law goes on to describe the “importance of striving to equitably distribute the benefits of compliance, opportunities to incentivize renewable energy resources and pollution abatement opportunities in disproportionately impacted communities.”

Specific portions of Air Quality Control Commission meetings were devoted to this. What this will mean in practice, though, is not at all clear.

A version of this was previously published by Empower Colorado. IT was published in the Jan. 5, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.

Say hello to The Land Desk newsletter from Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace

From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

https://landdesk.substack.com

I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.

For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

  • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
  • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
  • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
  • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
  • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.

I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.

How Holy Cross Energy intends to deepen penetration of renewables — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #solar

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Six home battery among strategies to contour demand around intermittent resources

On the cusp of deep penetration of renewable energy that most would have thought impossible just a decade ago, Holy Cross Energy has now started working to contour demands around those intermittent renewables.

Consider the six Tesla Powerwall battery packs installed in recent months in the homes of Holy Cross Energy members. They look vaguely like sleek, slender, and small refrigerators. They serve a similar purpose, storing a perishable, renewable energy, to be tapped when demand peaks.

Peak demand in the Holy Cross service area between Vail, Aspen, and Parachute typically occurs during winter evenings. If tests in coming months bear out expectations, Holy Cross hopes to have 100 more batteries installed among its 55,000 metered members by the end of 2021.

Power+, as the pilot project is called, is among several programs launched by Holy Cross Energy to juggle demand to better match supplies of renewables.

This transition to clean energy has been accelerating. In 2019, renewables were responsible for 44% of electrical generation consumed by Holy Cross members. By the end of 2022, renewables may have delivered more than 70% of electricity for the year.

The biggest single stride will come from a wind farm near Arriba, located about 120 miles east of Denver along Interstate 70. This wind farm will deliver 100 megawatts for Holy Cross, enough to supply a third of total demand. It’s slated for completion by New Year’s Eve 2021. Hunter Solar, a solar installation near Bennett, 35 miles southeast of Denver, will deliver another 30 megawatts by July 2022.

Construction of a 5-megawatt solar farm near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is expected to begin when the snow melts next spring, with service beginning next summer.

The three projects together will get Holy Cross to 70% renewables of annual energy production in 2022.

Next comes the work to reach 80%. Holy Cross expects to hit that level by the end of 2024—and perhaps even 85%.

And this just in: a press conference on Monday, Dec. 14, for “a special announcement regarding the next chapter in HCE’s commitment to a clean energy future.”

In early 2020, Holy Cross invited proposals for new electrical generation. This time, it said, it favored local sources. Too, the projects needed to lower costs, with the savings to be transferred to Holy Cross customers.

That invitation yielded 51 proposals. Among the first chosen was a 4.5-megawatt solar array to be constructed near the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus, between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Several other projects chosen have not been announced pending final scrutiny of contract details.

In deciding which projects to pursue, Steve Beuning, the vice president for power supply and programs at Holy Cross, describes several considerations:

Steve Beuning. Photo via The Mountain News.

First, does the new generating source create a situation of over-supply? “Over-supply is when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and our members aren’t using much energy,” explains Beuning.

An office building sitting empty is costing somebody lots of money. Ditto for a rarely used wind farm or solar array. Construction is not cheap, even if the wind and sunshine are free. Best is when demand can take full advantage of all renewable resource production.

Second, does the proposed solar farm or other resource clash with the utility’s existing contract with Public Service Co. of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy? Xcel is a major provider of electricity for Holy Cross. The contract, which was initiated in the early 1990s, specifies the circumstances under which Holy Cross can substitute supplies against those contractually committed to Holy Cross by Xcel.

“What we don’t want to do is buy energy twice,” says Beuning.

Third, what Impacts will occur to the delivery system of Holy Cross? Will the electrical wires already strung accommodate the new energy? A related but more abstract consideration has to do with reliability. How does this new generation affect grid stability? For example, will the loss of generation cause the lights to flicker or, worse yet, cause your computer to crash—causing you to lose that document you had slaved on for an hour but forgot to save!

One solution to this need to maintain steady deliveries may be through development of autonomous, local, so-called micro-grids. The Power+ program from Holy Cross is an example of a micro-grid that helps a single retail customer. In the future the concepts behind this program could be expanded to cover multiple customers with backup supply.

Power+ is one among several programs that seeks to buffer these rough edges between demand by consumers and new renewable energy supplies. Take Power+, the program that will put Tesla batteries into homes. During times of oversupply, they provide storage for consumption later, when renewable production is less but demand may be more.

Holy Cross offers incentives for those participating, but other members benefit, too, as the storage allows members, not just those houses with batteries, to take full advantage of lower-cost renewable energy.

Peak Time Payback, another voluntary program, also works at the fulcrum of supply and demand. Those members participating agree to get messages that request deferring electrical demand. Participants could then choose to delay using their washers and dryers during the evening, Presidents’ Weekend or some other time when Vail and Aspen are bustling and everybody is getting ready to watch the latest Netflix offering. The same thing can be achieved during a time of hot weather by moving the thermostat of an air conditioner up a few degrees, to reduce electricity use.

The intent of this program is to shave peak demand, typically during two or three hours blocks. This averts the need for Holy Cross to buy electric capacity on the open market at its most expensive moments. Participating Holy Cross members can, to the extent they alter their demands, benefit from preferred rates.

GreenUp, another pilot program, provides the flip-side to Peak Time Paybacks. It is premised on the fact that there are blocks of time when wind and solar forecasters predict an abundance of renewable energy. Again, there are financial incentives, but this time inverse to those intended to shave peak demand. In this case, consumers are encouraged through lower costs to actually use electricity when its plentiful.

“We will make the decisions to trigger the program based on our forecast for wind and solar, and the member would make the decisions about any behavior changes to access the reduced rates,” says Beuning. “We will communicate the program timing through a text or e-mail.”

Other utilities offer similar demand-side management programs in an effort to contour supplies with demands more efficiently. It made sense even when most electricity was generated by burning fossil fuels. Deepening penetration of intermittent renewables will require even greater juggling of demand.

The arrival of electric cars and other vehicles will pose both additional challenges but also offer opportunities for optimizing the balance between supplies and demands.

Holy Cross in recent years has gained a national reputation for innovation and boldness. Platte River Power Authority, which serves four member cities along the northern Front Range, has also started to turn heads.

In 2018, both Colorado utilities adopted ambitious goals for 2030. Holy Cross was first, with its target of 70% renewables and 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in its generating portfolio by 2030. Just a few months later, Platte River Power Authority adopted a resolution calling for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

Now, the two utilities face many of the same challenges, as do other utilities. Platte River’s directors noted that 10 conditions would have to be addressed to achieve its 2030 target. Among those conditions is the need for matured battery storage technology along with steep cost declines.

Another is for a regional transmission organization, or RTO. An RTO enables more efficient access to the electric grid and pairs demands with renewables across a broader geographic area. The idea of improved dispatch and transmission is to allow Colorado and California to work more in tandem, along with Utah and Arizona and other states. An alternate idea would have Colorado sharing energy and demands with states in the Great Plains and their bounteous supplies of wind.

Integration of geographically diverse markets will give Holy Cross greater flexibility, says Beuning, allowing it to deepen the penetration of renewable energy. Think of using California sun to heat water in the late afternoon, or Colorado wind helping address the evening reduction in solar generation in the desert Southwest.

Twenty-five years ago, changes were few from year to year. Now, they’re happening at an almost blinding pace.

The race is on toward 100% carbon-free electricity, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

A new era for Tri-State — The Mountain Town News

Laramie River power plant at Wheatland. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Colorado’s second biggest electrical utility will soon identify its path to 80% reduced emissions by 2030. Surely this map will include Arizona and Wyoming.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission last week promised to deliver what Colorado wants, an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. As for how it will deliver on that pledge, it remains a bit of a mystery.

Less coal production, obviously. More wind and solar, ditto. And, as has been highlighted in recent filings, more transmission to get electricity from renewable sources to its 16 member co-operatives in Colorado.

But how exactly?

For that, a more definitive answer will likely have to wait until Dec. 1 and perhaps beyond. That’s when Tri-State is scheduled to deliver an electric resource plan to state regulators. This plan is to explain in detail how it intends to procure electricity in coming years for its Colorado cooperatives. Colorado’s co-ops together account for about two-thirds of Tri-State’s demand across a four-state area.

Tri-State is Colorado’s second largest utility based on the amount of electricity it delivers in the state. In 2019 it delivered 38% as much electricity as compared to Xcel.

This electric resource plan will be a first for Tri-State. The utility has never been directly regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. SB 19-236, one of the many laws passed by Colorado legislators in 2019 to complement new economy wide carbon reduction targets adopted in the same session, makes it clear that the PUC has jurisdiction over Tri-State’s resource planning activities. A September filing by the Colorado PUC staff asserted that the “overriding concern” in evaluating Tri-State’s plan is how the utility “can meet Colorado’s emissions reduction cost effectively.”

Foundational to Colorado’s efforts to decarbonize its economy 50% by 2030, with even deeper cuts by mid-century, is removing carbon emissions from the electrical sector and then using electricity for other uses now fulfilled by fossil fuels in the transportation, industrial, and building sectors.

The 2019 legislation laid out an explicit requirement of 80% emissions reductions of Xcel Energy, which had by then agreed to do so. The state’s authority over other utilities, however, is more fuzzy.

In recent months, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, has secured commitments from Platte River Power Authority, the wholesale provider for four municipalities along the Front Range, and also Colorado Springs Utilities. This commitment by Tri-State binds the overwhelming majority of Colorado electrical production to the emissions reductions identified by legislators.

A smaller utility, Holy Cross Energy, has adopted a more restrained goal of 70% by 2030 but is almost certain to hit that target within the next year.

Tri-State announced in January it would close its Escalante coal plant in New Mexico this year. It did so in September. 2019 photo/Allen Best

Tri-State in January announced it would close the Escalante coal plant in New Mexico this year, which it did in September, and that it would have all the three units near Craig that it operates closed by 2030.

Still, Tri-State has a long, long way to go. Baseline modeling done by the utility in advance of its Dec. 1 filing showed a 34% reduction in Colorado in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 as compared to a 2005 baseline.

Last week, after Tri-State’s announcement, Tri-Harder, a new coalition of Tri-State members, issued a statement. Speakers were cautious in their praise.

“Telluride can’t meet its carbon reduction goals unless Tri-State takes the lead on carbon reductions, so we’re thrilled with this news,” said Todd Brown, mayor pro-tem of Telluride. “I hope this means that Tri-State will invest in local, clean energy in our communities so that our local economies can benefit as well as the climate.”

Wyoming and Arizona

With Colorado Gov. Jared Polis rubbing virtual elbows, video-conference style, Tri-State chief executive Duane Highley took questions about his utility’s pathway.

Highley said the utility will be adding thousands of megawatts of new generating capacity in wind and solar and expects to be at 50% renewables across its entire system by 2023; in 2019 it was about 30%, about the same as Xcel.

But what will it do about imported power into Colorado? Tri-State imports power to meet needs of Colorado consumers from the Laramie River Station at Wheatland, Wyo., and from the Springerville 3 plant in Arizona. Tri-State is a minority owner in the Laramie River Plant but owns all the output from the unit at Springerville.

Highley said that Tri-State will diminish the power from the Wyoming plant over time, but did not give a time line.

The PUC staff report in September pointed out that aside from natural-gas generation, almost all the other carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 are from these out-of-state coal units.

“According to Tri-State, there are no provisions for modification or early termination” of the contracts” and Tri-State “has not analyzed such an action. The staff report went on to say that the resource planning review before the PUC “may include clear evidence that for Tri-State to meet its cumulative Colorado GHG reduction obligations, it cannot continue to serve Colorado load (demand) using those out-of-state resources.”

Tri-State, in an Oct. 2 filing, said it is developing several scenarios as part of its planning. “These scenarios will address the social cost of carbon on a system-wide basis, as well as specified carbon reduction goals in the state of Colorado,” the filing said. “These scenarios include aggressive levels of renewable energy additions and energy storage, allow for demand-side management, limit thermal additions, allow for retirement of existing resources, and incorporate either base or low-load forecast.”

What its load—the demand for its electricity—will be could be impacted by changes in the oil-and-gas sector, as Tri-State is a major supplier to oil-and-gas fields, but also the potential for existing cooperatives to leave or transition to partial requirements, Tri-State says.

In other words, there are a lot of uncertainties about just how much electricity Tri-State will need.

Another electric resource planning process will commence in 2023, not long after the current one is settled.

This is from the Nov. 20, 2020, issue of Big Pivots, which chronicles the great energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Sign up for copies at BigPivots.com.

Electric resource plans are wonky but rigorous things. Xcel Energy and Black Hills are required to file them. In addition to the filings of the utilities, laying out their plans and answering questions, intervening parties, including environmental groups, independent power producers, and the Office of Consumer Counsel, chip in statements, sometimes lengthy. Printing out all the filings in some of these cases can cost you a box of paper. The plans can drag on for years. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, the job is completed and then begins from the other side again.

The Tri-State filing will be a first for the utility itself. It will also be the first time for any resource plan since state legislators adopted the suite of energy laws in 2019. None was more expansive than SB 19-236, which reauthorized existence of the PUC but also delivered new criteria for how commissioners are to evaluate plans by utilities.

One example: The lengthy bill—it runs 64 pages—specifies that the commission must establish the cost of carbon dioxide emissions produced by electric generation resources, starting at not less than $46 per ton. The rate must be escalated based on the work by the federal interagency working group. This is called the social cost of carbon.

The PUC commissioners, at their weekly meeting on Nov. 12, ruled that Tri-State must use cost escalators in the models it submits for future electrical generation on Dec. 1.

Necessarily, the Colorado PUC will be examining Tri-State’s four-state operating system. Already, there are questions.

Reacting to Tri-State’s 80% announcement, Eric Frankowski, director of the Western Clean Energy Campaign, warned against any attempt to make this “an accounting exercise by shipping its expensive, dirty coal to its members outside of Colorado.”

Western Resource Advocates will also be watching carefully how Tri-State explains its accounting of greenhouse gas emissions in the review process.

Gwen Farnsworth, WRA’s senior energy policy advisor, says Tri-State’s announcement puts it at a better starting point for the electric resource plan in December as compared to the data provided by the utility earlier this year. That process before the PUC, she added, “provides a rigorous, evidence-based process to review Tri-State’s plan and emissions reductions claims.”

Tri-State’s cases will be different from the filing by Xcel Energy next March 1 in that the PUC has clear authority over setting rates in the case of Xcel. Tri-State sought oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because it operates in four states.

One important area is that of transmission. Transmission has been constructed in a piecemeal fashion in Colorado over the decades. This new push for rapid development of renewable generation calls for a more unified and systematic approach to thinking about both new resources and transmission, instead of considering them separately.

Transmission, too

Transmission was also the subject of Highley’s second significant announcement last week. He said Tri-State and four other power providers have sent letters committing to evaluate expansion of the Southwest Power Pool’s regional transmission organization, or RTO, into the West. The other utilities are Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Deseret Power Electric Cooperative, the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, and the Western Area Power Administration.

Duane Highley via The Mountain Town News

In essence, Tri-State has assembled buddies to challenge the more dominant idea in Colorado that the most logical way to realize benefits of managed markets will be to join with the California and other utilities in the West. Like Tri-State, generation and transmission associations, the one larger and the other much smaller, MEAN is a public power provider of many Colorado towns and cities.

For a deeper dive on RTOs and EIMs and other wonky stuff considered by utilities crucial to achieve deep penetration of renewables electricity, see Lower electricity bills in Colorado, and also Why Colorado needs an RTO.

Tri-State and WAPA — the distributor of electricity generated by federal dams in the West— in September 2019 announced they were forming an energy imbalance market with the aid of the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool. Xcel Energy and three partners—Platte River Power, Black Hills Energy, and Colorado Springs Utilities—three months later said they were doing the same but with the aid of CAISO, the California-created operator.

Creation of these imbalance markets is seen as a low-risk, low-reward investment in coordinating supplies, especially low-cost renewables, to meet demands. Highley has said that Tri-State can earn back its investment within three years. The far greater benefits will be found in an RTO.

A recent study by Vibrant Clean Energy found that a regional transmission organization, whether operated by SPP or by CAISO, could greatly benefit Colorado consumers, but concluded that the somewhat greater benefits were to be found with the alliance with California.

Asked about that study, Highley disagreed with the conclusion about CAISO but also said that whatever the regional alignment, there will be benefits of integrated transmission and scheduling to share wind, solar, and other resources across broader regions.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

@Boulder and @CañonCity have been going in opposite directions since the 1870s. They did so again in their utility franchise votes — The Mountain Town News

Skyline Drive at night Cañon City. Photo credit: Vista Works via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Beyond both being in Colorado and along the state’s Front Range, Boulder and Cañon City could not be more different. The differences go back to the state’s founding.

Cañon City had the choice of getting the state penitentiary or the state university. It chose the former, so Boulder got the latter.

In both cities, a franchise vote with the existing utility provider was on the ballot on Nov. 2. This time, they went in different directions once again. The fulcrum in both cases was cost, if the formula was more complex in the case of Boulder.

Boulder voters, after exploring municipalization for a decade, agreed to a new 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy. Xcel had continued to supply the city’s residents with electricity after the last franchise agreement lapsed in 2010.

The new agreement garnered 56% voter approval. Even some strong supporters of the effort to municipalize had agreed that the effort by the city to create its own utility had taken too long and cost too much money, more than $20 million, with many millions more expected. They attributed this to the power of Xcel to block the effort.

Boulder’s effort had been driven primarily by the belief that a city utility could more rapidly embrace renewables and effect the changes needed to create a new utility model. In short, climate change was the driver, although proponents also argued that creation of a city utility would save consumers in the long run. Consumers just weren’t willing to wait long enough.

Going forward, Boulder will have several off-ramps if Xcel stumbles on the path toward decarbonization of its electrical supply. The city will also retain its place in the legal standings, if you will, should that be the case. Also, Xcel agreed to a process intended to advance microgrids and other elements, although critics describe that as toothless. Undergrounding of electrical lines in Boulder will not commence anew as a result of the new franchise agreement.

Cañon City is Colorado’s yin to Boulder’s yang. Located along the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado, it has become more conservative politically even as Boulder has shifted progressive. In the November election, 69% of votes in Fremont County—where Cañon City is located—went for Donald Trump, who got 21% of votes in Boulder County

Economically, they walk on opposite sides of the street, too. The statewide median income in Colorado in 2018 was $68,811. Boulder County stood a shoulder above (and Boulder itself likely even more) at $78,642. Fremont County was at waist level at $46,296.

And along the Arkansas River…

Cañon City also went in the opposite direction of Boulder in the matter of its franchise. There were differences, of course. Boulder turned its back on municipalization in accepting a new franchise.

In Cañon, about 65% of voters rejected a franchise agreement with Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s second investor-owned electrical utility. The city council had approved it, but the city charter also required voter approval.

Unlike in Boulder, decarbonization and reinvention was not overtly among the topic points. Some people in Cañon City do care about decarbonizing electricity, says Emily Tracy, the leader of a group called Cañon City’s Energy Future, which she put together in January 2018. But the cost of electricity was the fulcrum and, she believes, a reflection of how the community feels about Black Hills.

The old franchise agreement with Black Hills expired in 2017. Tracy and other members of Cañon City’s Energy Future persuaded council members to put off a new agreement but failed in their bid to have a community dialogue.

“The power industry, the electric industry, are so different than they used to be, and we simply want the city to explore its options,” she says.

In stories in the Pueblo Chieftain and Cañon City Daily Record, city officials said they had evaluated options before seeking to get voter approval of the franchise.

Partially in play was the effort underway in nearby Pueblo to break away from Black Hills and form a municipal utility. The thought was that if Pueblo voters approved that effort, Canon City could piggyback to the new utility. The proposal lost by a lopsided May vote after a campaign that featured $1.5 million in advertising and other outreach by a pro-Black Hills group.

Black Hills rates are among the highest in Colorado. Tracy illustrates by citing those she pays to Xcel Energy in Breckenridge, where she has a second home.

“I pay 77% more for a kilowatt-hour of electricity for my house in Cañon City than I do to Xcel in Breckenridge,” she says.

This is from the Nov. 20, 2020, issue of Big Pivots, which chronicles the great energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Sign up for copies at BigPivots.com.

Opponents of the franchise renewal were heavily outspent in the campaign. Records that Tracy’s group got from the city clerk showed $41,584 in spending by Power Cañon City, the pro-Black Hills group, through mid-October. Tracy’s group spent less than $5,000, counting in-kind contributions. Tracy suspects that Black Hills didn’t entirely take the vote seriously.

Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Cañon City Council. Tracy hopes for more transparent discussion about the options.

But it’s all about the money.

“You take a poor community like Cañon City or Pueblo, then add in the fact that we’re paying the highest electricity rates in the state, and there’s no doubt it has an impact on families, businesses and attempts to do economic development,” says Tracy.

Frances Koncilja, a former member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has offered her legal assistance to Cañon City’s Energy Future.

As for why Cañon City wanted the state prison instead of the state university in the early years of Colorado’s statehood, keep in mind the times. Crime did pay for Cañon City in the 19th century, when few people had or needed college degrees. It was well into the 20th century before this shift toward greater education began.

How #RenewableEnergy Could Power Your State — The Revelator #ActOnClimate

Boulder Housing Partners with solar PV modules. Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

Some parts of the United States could easily generate 10 times their energy needs, according to a new report.

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.

And that’s just a start: The report found that there’s so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.

So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)

The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.

The Revelator spoke with Maria McCoy, a research associate at the Institute and report co-author, about what’s changed and how to turn all the potential into reality.

What’s changed in the 10 years since you last looked at the potential for instate renewable energy?

Maria McCoy. Photo: Courtesy of ILSR via The Revelator

There’s definitely been technology improvements in all the energy sources, but especially solar. Obviously there’s the same amount of sun, but the solar panels themselves have a higher percentage of solar photovoltaic efficiency. Most states, on average, had 16% more solar potential this time around than they did a decade ago.

And for the other technologies, it’s a matter of either more space being available or the technologies themselves improving. Wind turbines now can generate a lot more energy with the same amount of wind.

Where do you see the most potential?

There’s been a lot of development in offshore wind and I think it’s on the cusp of really becoming a big player in the clean energy field. But regulations, including at the federal level, have blocked it from happening at scale in the United States. Whereas in Europe there’s already some incredibly efficient offshore wind farms that are generating a lot of electricity. Those companies are just starting to move into the U.S. market.

But it’s onshore wind that has the biggest potential. Our research found that some states could generate over 1,000% of their energy with onshore wind if they really took advantage of it.

Your report didn’t consider the potential of large-scale solar. Why?

We looked at the potential of rooftop solar rather than large-scale solar because as an energy democracy organization, we’re really focused on distributed and community-owned energy. But it’s also because pretty much every state has enough capacity to completely be powered by large-scale solar. It just then becomes an issue of land-usage debates and other challenges.

Your research shows there’s a ton of potential for renewables across the country. How do we realize that potential?

Graphic: ILSR, Energy Self-Reliant States 2020 via The Revelator

Continued support for renewable energy is a big one. There are a lot of credits that are phasing out and without renewing those, it will make it a little bit tougher for the market.

We were looking at just the technical ability to produce the energy and not necessarily the cost effectiveness, but we did recognize in the report that the costs have come down. The cost of solar PV, for example, has dropped 70%. So this is not really a pie-in-the-sky goal. It’s definitely gotten a lot more feasible and many cities are already doing it or planning to in the near future.

I think the will is there and people want renewable energy, it’s just a matter of fighting the status quo. A lot of these utilities have been using the same business model for decades and they’re not really keeping up with where things are going and where the community wants things to go.

They’re holding on to their fossil fuel infrastructure and their business model that profits off building more fossil gas plants when solar plus storage is already a cheaper energy source for customers. And wind is very cheap. If utility regulators and state and national policy could hold these utilities accountable to serving the public, which is their job as regulated monopolies, we could finally get to see some of this potential becoming a reality.

Having the ability to generate energy locally and store it and use it locally will create jobs and provide a lot of resilience to the grid and communities. And with climate change, I think that’s becoming more and more important.

Was there anything that surprised you about your findings?

We definitely expected things to be better but I don’t know if we expected them to be this much better in 10 years. Seeing all this potential and these ridiculously high percentages — I mean, being able to generate greater than 1,000% of the electricity we need with renewables in some states is just a sign of how abundant clean energy is.

And it’s kind of sad, I guess, that some states aren’t even able to get to 25% or 50% clean energy goals in their renewable portfolio standards. I would hope that the train starts rolling a little faster.

And I hope our research can inspire others who think maybe their state doesn’t have a lot of renewable energy capacity in their area to realize that they do, and it could provide for all that they need and more.

Platte River Power’s 100% goal — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rawhide Energy Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Did Platte River Power just take a big step backward? Or was it big step forward?

The Sierra Club describes Platte River Power Authority as reneging on a commitment. Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who ran on a platform of 100% renewables by 2040, issued a statement applauding the electrical power provider for four northern Colorado cities with setting a new bar for electrical utilities.

Do you detect any dissonance?

Directors of Platte River representing its member cities—Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park—in December 2018 adopted a goal of 100% renewable generation by 2030. The 2018 resolution was hinged to a long list of provisos: if a regional transmission authority was created, if effective energy storage became cost effective, if…

You get the idea.

Platte River in recent months has been engaged in a planning process similar to what Xcel Energy does when it goes before the Public Utilities Commission every four years with updated plans for how it will generate its electricity.

Looking out to 2030, Platte River’s planners can see how they can get to 90% or above by 2030. That is, hands down, as good as it gets in Colorado right now. Aspen Electric in 2015 was able to proclaim 100% renewable generation. But that claim is predicated upon purchase of renewable energy certificates. Platte River’s goal goes further.

Steve Roalstad, who handles public relations for Platte River, says utilities in the Pacific Northwest with easy availability of hydroelectric power or those utilities relying upon nuclear power, can claim more. Not so those utilities, like Platte River, that have traditionally relied heavily on coal.

Rawhide, Platte River’s coal-fired power plant, has historically provided 60% to 65% of electricity to customers in the four cities. It’s being used less than it was. Platte River expects coal to provide 55% of Platte River’s power generation this year but less than 40% by 2023. The utility also uses “peaker” gas plants, to turn on quickly to meet peak demands, for 2% to 3% of annual generation.

Platte River plans another 400 megawatts of renewable generation in the next three years.

Still unresolved is the combination of technologies and market structures that will allow Platte River and other utilities to get to 100%. As backup, it has adopted a plan that could result in new natural gas generation, a technology called a reciprocating internal gas engine. That’s not a given, though. When exactly that decision will have to be made is not clear. Presumably it must be a matter of years, conceivably toward the end of the decade.

The Sierra Club issued a statement decrying the decision to use gas-fired generation as a place holder in the plans for 2030. In a release, the organization said the directors had “voted to build a new gas-fired power plant” and this decision “derails the utility’s 2018 commitment to 100% carbon-free power by 2030.”

Wade Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins and chairman of the board of directors for Platte River, dismissed the statement.

Platte River, he wrote in an e-mail, “is not pulling away from our 2030 commitment in any way.” He directed attention to the resolution passed by directors.

That resolution, beginning on page 169, insists that Platte River “will continue to proactively pursue a 100% non-carbon energy mix by 2030, seeking innovative solutions… without new fossil-fueled resources, if possible.” The resolution describes fossil-fueled resources as a “technology safeguard.”

In other words, Platte River thinks it can figure out a way to avoid this gas plant. But it’s impossible to know now.

That’s likely a realistic assessment. Nobody knows absolutely how to get to 100% today. Will cheaper and—very important—longer-lasting energy storage create the safeguards that Platte River and other utilities want?

Technology in the last 10 years has done amazing things in some areas. Solar prices dived 87% between 2010 and 2020 while wind prices plummeted 46%, according to FactSet. Battery prices are now following a similar trajectory, although nobody has solved the challenge of energy storage for days and weeks.

Other technologies—think carbon capture and sequestration—have yielded almost nothing of value, despite billions of dollars in federal investment.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine. To get on the mailing list, go to BigPivots.com

In Boulder, advocates of a municipal utility have cited the progress of Platte River in arguing that a separation from Xcel Energy would benefit that city’s decarbonization goals. See, Boulder’s fork in the road.

In Denver, the governor’s office issued a statement Thursday afternoon applauding Platte River.

“This is the most ambitious level of pollution reduction that any large energy provider in the state has announced, and it sets a new bar for utilities. Today’s decision will save Platte River Power Authority customers money with low cost renewables while maintaining reliability, and this type of leadership from our electric utilities is a critical part of our statewide efforts to reduce pollution and fight the climate crisis,” said Governor Polis in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

Switching from fossil fuels to renewables to produce electricity is crucial to Colorado’s plan to achieve a 50% decarbonized economy by 2050. If electricity is decarbonized, it can then be used to replace petroleum in transportation and, more challenging yet, heating of homes and water.

State officials have limited authority to achieve this directly. Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, cited Platte River as the only utility in the state to voluntarily commit to a clean energy plan to achieve the state’s goals. Others, however, likely will also, he said.

Platte River is Colorado’s fourth largest utility, behind Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

Why Colorado needs an RTO — The Mountain Town News

NASA image acquired April 18 – October 23, 2012 via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Speakers say regional transmission organization crucial to economic decarbonization of electrical supplies

If you’re interested in how Colorado will achieve its climate change goals, prepare to wrap your mind around the concept of an RTO, or regional transmission organization.

Colorado in 2019 set economy-wide carbon reduction goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Getting there will require electrifying many uses that now depend upon fossil fuels. Think cars and then trucks, but eventually houses, too, and more.

This only works if emissions are largely removed from the production of electricity. Colorado legislators in 2019 understood that. They set a target of 80% fewer emissions by 2030 among electrical utilities. They did not tell utilities how to get there.

On a September morning in which smoke was wafting eastward across the Great Plains from the wildfires in the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast, I sat in a cabin near Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy to hear representatives of Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities and one state legislator explain how they thought Colorado might get an RTO or its close relative, an ISO.

The former once again stands for regional transmission organization, and the latter an independent system operator. The function in both cases is much the same. These organizations pool electrical generation resources and also consolidate transmission.

Colorado currently has neither an RTO nor an ISO, although it has been talking about it for several years. Instead, the state remains composed of fiefdoms. These utilities do share electricity to a point, but the system is archaic, little more advanced than one utility calling a neighboring utility and asking if they have a little extra sugar to share.

Now think more broadly of Western states and provinces. There are wide open spaces, the stuff of calendars and posters. That’s the image of the West. The reality in which 80% or more of Westerners live lies in the dispersed archipelagoes of urban development: Colorado’s Front Range, Utah’s Wasatch Front, and Arizona’s Phoenix-Tucson, the mass of Southern California, and so on.

These islands define and determine the West’s electrical infrastructure. You can see them in the nighttime photographs taken from outer space, including this 2012 image from the NASA Earth Observatory/NOSAA NGDC. These 38 islands represent more-or-less autonomous grids, only loosely connected to the other islands and archipelagoes.

RTOs pool commitments and dispatch of generation, creating cost savings for participating utilities. An RTO also consolidates transmission tariff functions under one operator, resulting in more efficient use of high-voltage transmission.

In the 20th century, this pattern of loosely linked islands worked well enough. Each island had its big power plants, most of them coal-fired generation. The intermittency of renewables was not an issue, because there were few renewables. And, of course, there was less need for transmission. In keeping with the fiefdom theme, transmission providers levied charges for electricity that moves through those wires.

Much has changed. Renewables have become the lowest-cost generation. Prices of wind and solar, plus batteries, too, dropped 90% in the last 10 to 15 years. Utilities have figured out how to integrate wind and solar into their resource mix. Xcel Energy, in its Colorado operations, has used more than 70% of wind at certain times, for example.

Coal earlier this year remained the source of 40% of electrical generation in Colorado, but will decline rapidly in the next five years. Two coal-fired units at Pueblo, two in or near Colorado Springs, and one at Craig will cease production by 2025.

Beyond 2025, more closings yet will occur. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, Colorado’s second largest electrical supplier, will close the two remaining plants it operates in Craig by 2030. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, will almost certainly have closed additional units, either Hayden or Pawnee, conceivably both, by 2030. Platte River Power Authority also plans to shutter its Rawhide plant north of Fort Collins.

To take advantage of low-cost renewables but also ensure reliable delivery of electricity, utilities will have to do more sharing. That was the common theme of the webinar sponsored by the Colorado Rural Electric Association on Sept. 14.

A must for decarbonization

The subject of RTOs was “a very important topic, and one that the average voter knows absolutely nothing about, in my experience,” said State Sen. Chris Hansen, an engineer who has a Ph.D. in economic geography from Oxford University. He has been involved with most of Colorado’s most important energy legislation of recent years.

Chris Hansen via The Mountain Town News

Hansen pointed out that 80% of energy use in the West is aligned with decarbonization goals. He foresees a $700 billion investment in the next 20 years needed to reinvent electrical generation, transmission, and distribution across the Western grid, including British Columbia and Alberta.

“If we stay with 38 unintegrated grids, I just don’t think we can physically get there (to achieve climate targets) without a hugely expensive overbuild of wind and solar, and nobody wants that,” said Hansen on the webinar.

While decarbonizing the grid, an RTO will deliver strong economic benefits. “Just leave climate change aside for the minute—which is hard to do as fires rage across the West—we are looking at a minimum $4 billion in savings in the West if we have an integrated grid,” he said.

What’s the snag? As Hansen has pointed out, the smart phone took only two years from introduction into the market to broad adoption.

The short answer is that creating markets in the West is relatively new and this stuff gets very, very complicated, as was pointed out by Carrie Simpson, who looks after markets for Xcel’s Colorado operations.

She cited the devilish details involving charges on electricity transmission, how utilities make money, who makes the money and who doesn’t, and then a massive rejiggering of the electrical grid through invention of sophisticated software intended to deliver lowest-cost electricity while keeping the lights on.

Hansen was asked by webinar host Thomas Dougherty, an attorney for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, whether Colorado’s utilities might expect legislative direction in the coming session.

He prefaced his answer by pointing to the ability of an RTO or ISO to reduce needed reserves to ensure reliability. Currently, utilities need backup generation of 16% or 17%. With an RTO, said Hansen, that could be lowered to 10% or 11%. It’s like needing 9 pickups in your fleet instead of 10.

“You could easily take 5% out of reserve margins in Colorado,” he said. “That is worth more than $100 million dollars per year.”

“I think you will see the Legislature really try to push this, because there is so much at stake for the ratepayers,” Hansen replied.

Later, in an email interview, Hansen confirmed his plans to introduce legislation next winter that “will address both the near-term and longer-term issues in CO around transmission. I believe we need a clear policy direction for Colorado to join a well-structured RTO or ISO and transmission owners. To accomplish that goal, we may need incentives and disincentives for operators.”

Hansen also confirmed that he believes even existing coal plants are less foundational than they once were.

Why Tri-State needs it

Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, has practical experience in the benefits of regional markets. A veteran of 38 years in electrical cooperatives in the Midwest, he recalled being in Arkansas a few years ago when he drew on the power of the Midwest Independent System Operator, or MISO, to deliver wind power from Iowa during winter to Arkansas customers.

Duane Highley via The Mountain Town News

This enabled coal-fired power plants to be shut down. He called it “decommitting” of resources.

Tri-State must decommit coal resources in coming years to meet Colorado’s decarbonization targets. The utility, Colorado’s second largest, behind Xcel, has started shifting from coal. It closed one small plant in Colorado, at Nucla, in September 2019, and Escalante, in New Mexico, in September 2020. The three much larger units at Craig, of which Tri-State shares ownership with other utilities, will close between 2025 and 2030.

On the flip side, Tri-State is adding 1,000 megawatts of renewable generation before the end of 2024. That will get Tri-State to 50% renewables across its four-state operating area. It then has plans for more than 2,000 megawatts of additional renewable generation from 2025 to 2030.

That won’t be enough to get Tri-State to the 80% emission reduction by 2030 that Colorado lawmakers want to see. In preliminary filings with the PUC, Tri-State has not shown its cards about how it intends to get there. Environmental groups have started making noise. In a filing with the PUC, Western Resource Advocates pointed out that current plans will get Tri-State to only a 34% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

Crucial will be what Tri-State intends to do with its share of two other coal-fired power plants, the Laramie River Station in Wyoming and the Springerville plant in Arizona.

Highley, in the webinar, did not acknowledge the critique directly. He did, however, say that Tri-State needs an RTO to get across the finish line.

“We see a strong need for an RTO to get us past that 50% renewable level as we try to integrate larger and larger amounts of renewables,” he said.

Colorado and its neighbors in the Rocky Mountains currently operate bilateral markets. Highley described it as getting “on the phone and calling your neighbors. That’s sort of the way the West operates. It’s very inefficient,” he said.

This is from the Oct. 2, 2020 issue of Big Pivots. If you want to be on the subscription list, go to BigPivots.com

Utilities in Colorado in 2017 began getting together in an ad hoc organization called the Mountain West Transmission Group to talk about how to do it more efficiently. That effort fell apart in spring 2019 when Xcel pulled out. The company said the benefits weren’t obvious relative to the cost.

Tri-State, which delivers about roughly a quarter of electricity in Colorado, and Xcel, which has more than 60% of market share, have gone their separate ways. Both have led efforts to create energy imbalance markets, or EIMs. These are best described as the first step toward an RTO or ISO, with smaller risk and smaller rewards.

The first, small step

Only five months after arriving from Arkansas to chart a new course for Tri-State, Highley in September 2019 announced formation of an energy imbalance market, or EIM, in conjunction with the Western Area Power Authority, the federal agency that delivers electricity from federal dams. The federal government makes the low-cost hydroelectric power available to co-operatives and municipal utilities, but not to Xcel and other investor-owned utilities.

Think of an energy imbalance market, or EIM, as being like a 100-level class in energy markets. It is a low-cost, low-gain endeavor. RTOs are a graduate-level course.

With an EIM, utilities can share power, but on a somewhat limited basis. There is sub-hourly balancing, but not the day-ahead planning that begins to deliver big benefits.

“We wanted to get something going. It may not be the ultimate solution for the West, but we can recover the cost from the savings in three years. Maybe this is the first step toward an ultimate market or restarting the Mountain West conversation,” Highley said.

Graphic via The Mountain Town News

This new EIM will go on-line in February 2021 and will be administered through the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool.

Xcel and its three partners—Platte River, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Black Hills Energy—are looking west. Are you ready for more alphabet soup? They will have CAISO creating an EIM for them. CAISO stands for California Independent System Operator. It was established in 1998. An ISO, like an RTO, is motivated to produce efficiency. They’re often compared to air traffic controllers, because they independently manage the traffic on a power grid that they don’t own, much like air traffic controllers manage airplane traffic in the airways and on airport runways. CAISO has advanced services to utilities north and east. This, however, will not be an RTO.

Highley said that the “real prize will be getting the RTO,” and then he threw down a spade in the conversation.

“About 90% of transmission (in Colorado) is controlled by Tri-State and our partner, the Western Area Power Authority,” he said. “We are key to what happens regionally and not just in the state of Colorado.”

It’s been conventional wisdom that an RTO will look either east or west. There are problems in both directions.

Graphic via The Mountain Town News

One challenge is that of political control. Do you think for a second that Wyoming will allow control of its electrical grid in the hands of appointees of the governor of California? Colorado, which of late has aligned more comfortably with California in its politics, nonetheless has its own hesitancy about that sort of arrangement. It’s not a hypothetical example. California legislators in 2019 refused to put administration of CAISO into independent hands. In other words, the better acronym for CAISO would be CASO. Forget about Independent.

Tooting the horn

Highley, coming from Arkansas, toots the horn of the Southwest Power Pool. “It would make sense in some ways for us to help SPP to move west, and CAISO, of course, is moving east. Think of it like the great railroad days.”

The golden spike completing the transcontinental railroad was hammered down in the salt flats along the Great Salt Lake in 1869. Highley describes a different geography, with a fortune yet to be made – or costs reduced – depending upon who can get wind-generated electricity of the Great Plains to markets.

“There’s an extremely large amount of wind in SPP area that needs to go somewhere, and it has negative pricing now at some points in time. And they haven’t built all the wind that will be built in Kansas yet,” he said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for whoever manages the DC ties to better tie together the grids east and west. Everything east of those ties is currently managed by SPP,” said Highley.

The DC stands for direct-current. The DC ties provide portals between the Eastern Interconnection Grid and the Western Interconnection, which hum along not quite on the same tune and both on alternating current. (Surely you have experience with this part of the alphabet soup). Think of narrow gates along a very tall fence. There are eight such DC portals between Artesia, N.M., and Miles City, Mont. One is north of Lamar, Colorado. There are also two in the Nebraska panhandle.

The afternoon of the webinar, I drove to the one near Stegall, Neb., which is about 35 minutes southwest of Scottsbluff. How would I not? I had been hearing about this for near 40 years. You leave the valley of the North Platte River and its fields of corn and climb into the landscape out of a Remington painting. There was a flock of wild turkeys and then, just over the hill, the focus of all the electrical lines: the David Hamil Tie.

It’s owned and operated by Tri-State, but used exclusively to get electricity from the Laramie River Station at Wheatland, about an hour to the west, to its customers in the Eastern grid. I was neither thrilled nor disappointed by what I saw. An electrical engineer probably understood what was evident to the eye, but I did not.

There has been much talk about creating greater permeability between this giant electrical wall just beyond eyesight of the Rocky Mountains and the energy resources of the Great Plains. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was devoted to that idea, with the goal being to integrate greater quantities of renewables. It was called the Seams study, but it got smothered by Trump administration officials. It is likely to re-emerge.

“Yes, that study will be very helpful in guiding our policy discussions in this area, as will the DoE study being done by Utah on western grid options,” said Hansen in an e-mail after the webinar.

The David Hamil DC Tie in western Nebraska is one of eight portals between the Eastern and Western alternating current grids. Photo/Allen Best

Optimizing the east-west gates

These portals currently can accommodate transmission of 1,300 megawatts. Highley suggested – but did not go into details – about figuring out creating wider gates at these portals.

“Who best could manage those DC ties and optimize them than possibly SPP,” he asked rhetorically, referring to the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool.

(The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will host an information meeting devoted specifically to transmission on Oct. 22, and I would be shocked if this is not addressed. I also expect much discussion of the infamous Seams Study squelched by the coal-happy Trump administration.)

Highley said the real benefit of renewables will be realized by creating opportunities to move them east and west – and in different time zones. “The person who sits on the seams will have the opportunity to either make a lot of money or lower prices, however you look at it,” he said.

Much has been made about seams in Colorado (including a story I did that was published in March). “I do think there will be a seam somewhere,” Highley said. Too much has been made of seams, too much “fear” expressed. “If you look east of us, there are seams all over the place. This problem has been solved any number of times. We can figure this out, too.”

Carrie Simpson via The Mountain Town News

Simpson, representing Xcel, suggested a third option for an RTO, one that does not explicitly look either east or west but instead uses Colorado as a focal point. But, she said, Colorado alone cannot deliver the market efficiencies. The footprint must be somewhat larger, but she did not specify exactly how large.

When may Colorado become part of an RTO? That was the parting question, and all three panelists answered much alike,

“Five years might be a little quick, but I would love to see this happen in the 2025-2028 time-frame,” said Hansen.

Xcel’s Simpson largely agreed. “Five years may be a little aggressive, but I do think that the EIM will open up new opportunities for us to learn about our system and how we can interact with the rest of the West more efficiently.”

Tri-State’s Highley was the most sporting. He offered to bet a bottle of wine that a quicker pace can occur, delivering an RTO by the end of 2025.

“I will keep that wine bottle bet out there,” he said.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

Six Pathways to a Clean and #Green #RenewableEnergy Buildout — The Nature Conservancy #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From the Nature Conservancy:

Accelerating clean energy development is critical—here’s how we do it the right way.

We are at the beginning of an enormous global buildout of clean energy infrastructure. This is good news for climate mitigation—we need at least a nine-fold increase in renewable energy production to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But this buildout must be done fast and smart.

Renewable energy infrastructure requires a lot of land—especially onshore wind and large-scale solar installations, which we will need to meet our ambitious climate goals. Siting renewable energy in areas that support wildlife habitat not only harms nature but also increases the potential for project conflicts that could slow the buildout—a prospect we cannot afford. Building renewables on natural lands can also undermine climate progress by converting forests and other areas that store carbon and serve as natural climate solutions.

Fortunately, there is plenty of previously developed land that can be used to meet our clean energy needs—at least 17 times the amount of land needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But accelerating the buildout on these lands requires taking pro-active measures now.

Clean & Green: Pathways for Promoting Renewable Energy, a new report from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), is a call to action that highlights six ways for governments, corporations and lenders to promote a clean and green renewable energy buildout.

1. Get in the Zone: Identify areas where renewable energy buildout can be accelerated

Establishing renewable energy zones based on both energy development potential and environmental considerations can steer projects away from natural lands and support faster project approval—it’s a win-win for people and nature.

Learn More: TNC supports the identification of renewable energy development areas on U.S. federal lands and in New York state where development has community support and will have low impact on nature.

2. Plan Ahead: Consider habitat and species in long-term energy planning and purchasing processes

Governments and utilities make long-term plans to guide how they will meet energy demand and climate goals. They also establish purchasing processes for securing new renewable energy generation and transmission. When nature is considered in this planning and purchasing, renewable energy development can be directed to places that are good for projects and low impact for wildlife and habitat.

Learn More: TNC’s Power of Place project in the U.S. and renewable energy planning initiative in India are demonstrating how to integrate nature into energy planning processes.

3. Site Renewables Right: Develop science-based guidelines for low-impact siting

Siting guidelines help developers evaluate potential impacts to natural habitat and steer projects to low-impact areas. Such guidelines are even more effective when regulators and lenders set clear standards and expectations for their implementation.

Learn More: TNC’s Site Wind Right supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wind Energy Guidelines by showing the ample opportunities for developing wind resources in the Great Plains while minimizing impacts to grasslands habitat.

4. Choose Brownfields Over Greenfields: Facilitate development on former mine lands and industrial sites

Using former mines, brownfields and other industrial sites for renewable energy development can turn unproductive lands into assets, create jobs and tax revenue for local economies, and support goals for climate and nature. These sites can be ideal for renewable energy projects, as they often have existing transmission infrastructure and enjoy strong local support for redevelopment. It’s an approach that benefits communities, climate and conservation.

Learn More: TNC’s Mining the Sun work in Nevada and West Virginia demonstrates that developing solar on former mining lands can support renewable energy and local redevelopment goals.

5. Buy Renewables Right: Make corporate commitments to buy low-impact renewable energy to meet clean energy goals

Corporate sourcing of renewable energy is growing rapidly around the world. When companies buy renewable energy from projects that avoid impacts to wildlife and habitat, they can support their sustainability goals for climate and nature.

Learn More: TNC works with corporate members of the Renewable Energy Business Alliance to integrate low-impact siting considerations into procurement processes.

6. Invest for Climate and Nature: Apply lending performance standards to ensure renewable energy investments are clean and green

Financial institutions influence renewable energy siting through their environmental and social performance standards, due diligence processes, and technical assistance, all of which can require or incentivize developers to locate projects in low-impact areas.

Learn More: TNC works to strengthen the lending performance standards of multilateral development banks and private financial institutions.

The next energy frontier: “It’s crazy to be building 40,000 new homes a year with natural gas (Eric Blank)” — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

‘It’s crazy to build 40,000 houses a year’ with natural gas infrastructure in Colorado

In 2010, after success as a wind developer, Eric Blank had the idea that the time for solar had come. The Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant near Pueblo had just begun operations. Blank and his company, Community Energy, thought a parcel of sagebrush-covered land across the road from the power plant presented solar opportunities.

At the time, Blank recalled on Wednesday, the largest solar project outside California was less than 5 megawatts. He and his team were looking to develop 120 megawatts.

It didn’t happen overnight. They optioned the land, and several times during the next 3 or 4 years were ready give up. The prices of solar weren’t quite there and, perhaps, the public policies, either. They didn’t give up, though. In 2014 they swung the deal. The site made so much sense because the solar resources at Pueblo are very rich, and the electrical transmission as easy.

Comanche Solar began operations in 2016. It was, at the time, the largest solar project east of the Rocky Mountains and it remains so in Colorado. That distinction will be eclipsed within the next several years by a far bigger solar project at the nearby steel mill.

Eric Blank. Photo via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Now, Blank has moved on to other things. He wants to be engaged in the new cutting edge, the replacement of natural gas in buildings with new heating and cooling technology that uses electricity as the medium.

“There’s too much benefit here for it not to happen,” he said in an interview.

California has led the way, as it so often has in the realm of energy, with a torrent of bans on natural gas infrastructure by cities and counties. Fearing the same thing would happen in Colorado, an arm of the state’s oil-and-gas industry gathered signatures with the intention of asking voter in November to prevent such local initiatives. An intervention by Gov. Jared Polis resulted in competing parties stepping back from their November initiatives.

In Colorado, Blank sees another route. He sees state utility regulators and legislators creating a mix of incentives and at the same time nudging along the conversation about the benefits.

“It will happen because the regulators and the Legislature will make it happen,” he says. Instead of natural gas bans, he sees rebates and other incentives, but also educational outreach. “Maybe someday you need a code change, but to me public policies are in this nuanced dance. The code change is way more acceptable and less traumatic if it is preceded by a bunch of incentives that allow people to get familiar with and understand (alternatives) than just come in from the outside like a hammer.”

Blank says he began understanding the value of replacing natural gas about a year ago, when conducting studies for Chris Clack of Vibrant Clean Energy about how to decarbonize the economy. “This is just another piece of that. I think building electrification is the next frontier.”

And it’s time to get the transition rolling, he says. It just doesn’t make sense to build houses designed for burning natural gas for heating, for producing hot water and for cooking. Retrofitting those houses becomes very expensive.

“It’s crazy to be building 40,000 new homes a year with natural gas,” he says. Once built for natural gas, it’s difficult and expensive to retrofit them to take advantage of new technology. But the economics of avoiding natural gas already exists.

To that end, Blank’s company commissioned a study by Group14 Engineering, a Denver-based firm. The firm set out to document the costs using two case studies. The study examined a newer 3,100-square-foot single-family house located in Arvada, about 10 miles northwest of downtown Denver. Like most houses, it’s heated by natural gas and has a water heater also powered by natural gas.

A house in the Denver suburb of Arvada was used as a case study. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

The study found that employing air-source heat-pumps—the critical technology used at Basalt Vista and a number of other no-gas housing developments—can save money, reducing greenhouse gas emissions—but would best be nudged along by incentives.

“For new construction, the heat pump scenarios have a lower net-present cost for all rates tested,” the report says. “This is due to the substantial savings from the elimination of the natural gas hookup and piping. Although net-present costs are lower, additional incentives will help encourage adoption and lower costs across the market.” The current rebates produce a 14% savings in net-present costs.

The same thing is found in the case study of a 28,000-square-foot office building in Lakewood, another Denver suburb.

The study digs into time-of-use rates, winter peak demand and winter-off peak use, and other elements relevant to the bottom lines.

The bolder bottom line is that there’s good reason to shift incentives now, to start changing what business-as-usual looks like. Blank points out that natural gas in every home was not ordinary at one time, either. It has largely come about in the last 50 to 60 years. With nudges, in the form of incentives, builders and others will see a new way of doing things, and electrification of buildings will become the norm.

Colorado’s natural gas pivot

Blank says he began to understand how electrification of building and transportation could benefit the electrical system that is heavily reliant on solar and wind and perhaps a little bit of natural gas when conducting studies last year with Clack at Vibrant Clean Energy .

“I was just blown away by the benefits of electrification (of buildings and transportation) to the electric system,” he says.

Greater flexibility will be introduced by the addition of more electric-vehicle charging and water heating by electricity, both of which can be done to take advantage of plentiful wind and solar during times when those resources would otherwise be curtailed, he explains.

Already, California is curtailing solar generation in late spring, during mid-afternoon hours, or paying Arizona to take the excess, because California simply does not have sufficient demand during those hours. Matching flexible demand with that surplus renewable energy allows for materially greater economic penetration of highly cost-effective new solar.

“In our Vibrant Clean Energy study, with building and transport electrification, we found that Colorado could get from roughly 80% to 90% renewables penetration before the lack of demand leading to widespread renewable curtailment makes additional investments in wind and solar uneconomic,” says Blank.

Electrification of new sectors also expands the sales base for distribution, transmission and other costs. Since the marginal cost of meeting this additional demand is low (because wind, solar, and storage are so cheap), this tends to significantly lower all electric rates.”

Colorado, he says, is unusually well positioned to benefit from this transition. It is rich with both wind and solar resources. Coal plants are closing, electricity costs flat or declining. Consumers should benefit. The time, he says, has come.

This is from the Aug. 14, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. To sign up for a free subscription go to BigPivots.com.

Eastern plains sees gold in #renewable energy future — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Sun and wind on the wide-open spaces of Colorado could fill a gaping hole in the region’s economy with new opportunities. Late last month, my friends over at The Western Way released a report detailing $9.4 billion in investments in renewable energy on the plains already. The analysis provides kindling for a hot conversation on what more could be done to help the region and its people to prosper from the next big thing.

Political winds of change are powering greener energy to the point that conservative organizations and rural farm interests are certainly paying attention, if not getting on board.

Gov. Jared Polis and the Democrats who control the state House and Senate have the state on course for getting 100% of its energy from renewable resources in just two decades. Those who plan for that will be in the best position to capitalize on the coming opportunities.

The eastern plains, economically wobbly on its feet for years now, doesn’t plan to be left behind any longer. Folks out there, battered by a fading population, years of drought and fewer reasons to hope for better days, are ready to try something new, something with dollars attached to it.

Renewable energy is not the whole answer for what troubles this region, but it’s one answer, said Greg Brophy, the family farmer from Wray, a former state senator and The Western Way’s Colorado director. The Western Way is a conservative group concerned about the best possible outcomes for business and conservation in a changing political and economic landscape…

It also makes a bigger political statement that bears listening to.

“It’s a market-based solution to concerns people have with the environment,” Brophy said. “Whether you share those concerns or not, a lot of people are concerned, and rather than doing some silly Green New Deal, we actually can have a market-based solution that can provide lower-cost electricity.”

Brophy was an early Trump supporter, candidate for governor and chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck. He’s dismayed at the president for mocking wind energy. He thinks some healing of our broken nation could take place if people looked more for win-wins…

Renewable energy checks all the boxes. It helps farmers, it helps the planet, and it gives Republicans and Democrats in Denver and D.C. one less thing to argue about.

The job loss epidemic — @HighCountryNews #COVID19 #coronavirus

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [July 23, 2020]:

By February, the spread of COVID-19 was already eroding the global economy. First, global travel restrictions depressed the oil market. Then, as the virus reached pandemic proportions, it began hurting even the healthiest industries, throwing the global economy into the deepest rut since the Great Depression.

The recession has been hard on clean energy, which was thriving at the end of last year despite unhelpful, even hostile, policies from the Trump administration. Between 2009 and 2019, solar and wind generation on the U.S. electrical grid shot up by 400%, even as overall electricity consumption remained fairly flat. Renewable facility construction outpaced all other electricity sources, but the disease’s effects have since rippled through the sector, wiping out much of its previous growth.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

Global supply chains for everything from solar panels to electric car components were the earliest victims, as governments shut down factories, first in China, then worldwide, to prevent transmission of the disease. Restrictions on construction further delayed utility-scalesolar and wind installations and hampered rooftop solar installations and energy efficiency projects. The setbacks are especially hard on the wind industry, because new wind farms must be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of federal tax credits. Meanwhile, the general economic slowdown is diminishing financing for new renewable energy projects.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

Clean energy, which has shed more than 600,000 jobs since the pandemic’s onset, is only one of the many economic sectors that are hurting. In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008. The impacts have reverberated throughout the Western U.S., from coal mines to tourist towns, and from casinos to dairy farms. Some industries, including clean energy, bounced back slightly in June, as stay-at-home orders were dropped and businesses, factories and supply chains opened back up. But a full recovery — if it happens — will largely depend on government stimulus programs and could take years.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008.

Contracted workers clean mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Project in Nipton, California. In 2017, the facility employed over 65 workers and created 2,600 jobs during it’s three year construction period. Dennis Schroeder/National Renewable Energy Laboratory via The High Country News

Infographic design by Luna Anna Archey; Graphics by Minus Plus; Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, BW Research Partnership, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, New Mexico Workforce Connection, Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

#Colorado’s #naturalgas pivot — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Colorado begins conversation about how to crimp natural gas use in new buildings

Colorado has started talking about how to curtail natural gas in new buildings necessary to achieve the dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the next 10 to 30 years as specified by state law.

Agreement has been reached among several state agencies and the four distribution companies regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to conduct discussions about future plans for pipelines and other infrastructure projects of more than $15 million. The agreement proposes to take a long view of 10 to 20 years when considering natural gas infrastructure for use in heating, cooking and hot-water heating.

The four utilities—Xcel Energy, Black Hills Colorado, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas—altogether deliver gas to 1.73 million customers, both residential and business.

Unlike a toaster or even a kitchen stove, which you can replace with relative ease and cost, gas infrastructure comes with an enormous price tag—and expectation of a long, long time of use. For example, it would have cost $30,000 per unit to install natural gas pipes at Basalt Vista, an affordable housing project in the Roaring Fork Valley. Alternative technology is being used there.

Gas infrastructure is difficult to replace in buildings where it exists. As such the conversation getting underway is primarily about how to limit additional gas infrastructure.

“Given the long useful lives of natural gas infrastructure investments, the (Colorado Energy Office) suggests that this type of forward-looking assessment should include any significant upgrades to existing natural gas infrastructure or expansion of the gas delivery system to new residential developments,” the state agency said in a June 8 filling.

This is adapted from the July 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Subscribe for free to the e-magazine by going to Big Pivots.

Meanwhile, the three Public Utility Commission plans one or more informational session later this year to learn about expectations of owners of natural gas distribution systems by Colorado’s decarbonization goals and the implications for the capital investments.

HB 19-1261, a Colorado law adopted in May 2019, charged state agencies with using regulatory tools to shrink greenhouse gas emissions from Colorado’s economy 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Utilities in Colorado have said they intend to close most of the coal plants now operating no later than 2030. The coal generation will be replaced primarily by renewables. That alone will not be nearly enough to meet the state’s ambitious decarbonization goals. Carbon emissions must also be squeezed from transportation—already the state’s leading source of carbon dioxide— buildings, and other sectors.

“No single strategy or sector will deliver the economy-wide greenhouse gas reductions Colorado needs to meet its science-based goals, but natural gas system planning is part of the silver buckshot that can get us there,” said Keith Hay, director of policy at the Colorado Energy Office in a statement.

“When it comes to gas planning, CEO is focused on opportunities to meet customers’ needs that will lead to a more efficient system, reduce overall costs, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.”

Roughly 70% of Coloradans use natural gas for heating.

While gas utilities cannot refuse gas to customers, several real estate developers from Arvada to Pueblo and beyond have started crafting homes and other buildings that do not require natural gas. Instead, they can use electricity, passive solar, and a technology called air-source heat pumps to meet heating, cooling and other needs. Heat pumps provide a key enabling technology.

A glimpse of this low-carbon future can be seen at Basalt Vista, a housing project in Pitkin County for employees of the Roaring Fork School District and other local jurisdictions. The concept employed there and elsewhere is called beneficial electrification.

In setting out to ramp down growth in natural gas consumption, Colorado ranks among the front-tier of states, lagging only slightly work already underway in California, Minnesota and New York.

Community bans

In the background of these discussions are rising tensions. In California, Berkeley a year ago banned natural gas infrastructure in new developments, and several dozen other cities and counties followed suite across the country.

Protect Colorado, an arm of the oil-and-gas industry, had been collecting signatures to put Initiative 284 on the ballot, to prevent restrictions on natural gas in new buildings. The group confirmed to Colorado Public Radio that it was withdrawing that and other proposals after negotiations convened by Gov. Jared Polis and environmental groups.

Emissions of methane—the primary constituent of natural gas and one with high but short-lived heat-trapping properties—can occur at several places along the natural gas supply chain beginning with extraction. Colorado ranked 6th in the nation in natural gas production in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Hydrocarbon processing in the Wattenberg Field east of Fort Lupton, Colo., on July 2, 2020. Photo/Allen Best

In 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States were the result of extraction, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. However, several studies have concluded that the EPA estimate skews low. One 2018 study 2018 estimated that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain could be as much as 60% higher than the EPA estimates.

Greenhouse gas emissions also occur when natural gas is burned in houses and other buildings, creating carbon dioxide. An inventory released in December 2019 concluded that combustion of natural gas in houses was responsible for 7.7% of Colorado’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Just how the shift from natural gas to electricity will affect utilities depends upon the company. For Atmos Energy, a company with 120,000 customers in Colorado, from Greeley to Craig, from Salida to Cortez, gas is just about everything.

Xcel’s talking points

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, sells both gas and electricity. In theory, it will come out whole. But it has been leery about moving too rapidly. Technology advances and costs declines have not yet arrived in the natural gas sector, observed, Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy for Xcel, in a June 8 filing with the PUC.

Still, Xcel is willing to have the conversation. Lyng pointed to efforts by Xcel to improve efficiency of natural gas use. The company is also participating in industry programs, including One Future, which are trying to limit methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain to less than 1%. For Xcel, he explained, that includes replacing older pipes with new materials that result in fewer emissions. It also means using the company’s purchasing power to push best practices that minimize emissions.

The company intends to offer options to customer, including incentives for electric water heaters programmed to take advantage of renewable energy when it is most readily available. That tends to be at night.

Xcel sees an opportunity to work with builders and developers to design all-electric new building developments to avoid the cost of installing natural gas infrastructure.

“This may require high-performance building envelope design, specifying certain appliances and, especially load management,” Lyng wrote in the filing. “Load management is key to ensuring these new electric devices interact with the power grid and are programmed to operate as much as possible during times when there is excess renewable energy or the lowest cost electricity on the system.”

Not least, Xcel conceded a role for air-source heat pumps, the crucial piece of technology employed in most places to avoid natural gas hookups. Heat pumps can be used to extract both cool and warm air from outdoor air as needed. Xcel sees the technology being an option when customers upgrade air conditioning units with spillover benefits for heating.

“Through this option, given the cooling and heating capacity of air source heat pumps, some portion of customer heating load can be offset through electrification, while maintaining their natural gas furnace or boiler as a back-up.”

Others think air-source heat pumps can have even broader application, especially in warmer areas of the state.

Short-term costs may be higher for electrified buildings. “This will improve over time as electric technologies decline in cost and as the electric system becomes cleaner,” Lyng said. Xcel, he added, favors a voluntary approach: pilot programs that expand.

Lyng, in his testimony, warned against trying to ramp up electrification too quickly. In 2019, he pointed out, the maximum daily demand for natural gas had the energy equivalent of 26,000 megawatts of electricity—more than three times the company’s electrical peak demand.

An unintended consequence may be adverse impacts to people of low income. The thinking is that as the demand for natural gas declines, the cost will actually go up per individual consumer.

“As a smaller and smaller pool of customers is left to pay for infrastructure costs, the large the cost impact will be for each remaining customer,” explained Dr. Scott England, from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, in a filing.

Social cost of methane?

Xcel has also explored the opportunities with renewable natural gas. At its most basic level, renewable natural gas involves harvesting biogas from wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairies. In its first such venture in Colorado, Xcel last fall began getting 500,000 cubic-feet per day of methane from the treatment plant serving Englewood, Littleton and smaller jurisdictions along the South Platte River in metropolitan Denver.

A bill introduced in Colorado’s covid-shortened legislative proposed to create a renewable gas standard, similar to that first specified by voters in 2004 for electricity. SB-150 proposed targets of 5%, 10% and 15% for regulated utilities, encouraging greater use of biogas from landfills, dairies and other sources.

The sponsor, Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said he plans to reintroduce the bill the next session,

Hansen said he may also introduce a bill that would require the PUC to apply the filter of a social cost of methane to its decisions when evaluating alternatives. This would be similar to the cost of carbon, currently at $46 a ton, now applied to resource generating alternatives.

Longer term, Xcel wants to explore opportunities to produce hydrogen from renewable energy to blend into the natural gas distribution system at low levels or converted back to synthetic gas.

The Sierra Club may push back on efforts to convert to synthetic gas. The organization recently released a report that found significant problems with renewable natural gas, a phrase that is now being used by some companies—not necessarily Xcel—to include far more than the biogas from landfills. The Sierra Club estimates that there’s enough “natural” biogas to meet 1% of the nation’s current needs for natural gas. Other estimates put it far higher.

There will be implications left and right from this transition from gas to electricity. Lyng pointed out that solar energy will have lower value, because of its inability to replace natural gas on winter nights.

For the testimony of Jeff Lyng and Keith Hayes and a few dozen more, as well as the filings as of July 29, go to the Colorado PUC website and look up case 20AL-0049G.

Report: The economic benefits of #Colorado’s eastern plains #renewable energy industry #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Electricity generation and consumption has changed rapidly over the last ten years, driven by steep price drops for generation and technological innovations impacting utilities and consumers alike. After decades of research and development, market development, and production efficiency gains, renewable energy is now a proven and cost- effective way to deliver electricity across the country.

There is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic could negatively impact current and planned renewable energy facility investments and construction. Indeed, the pandemic is creating challenges to both supply and demand. While the risk to current and planned projects from the pandemic is unclear at this time, existing facilities should not be affected. The expectation is that these facilities will continue to provide a steady source of jobs and tax revenue to communities across the eastern plains. These benefits will prove valuable to communities as the pandemic takes a toll on many other sectors including leisure and hospitality, retail, and health care.

For Colorado’s eastern plains communities, renewable energy and advanced energy technologies have brought thousands of jobs, and investment has supported communities across the region. The intent of this study is to profile the renewable energy industry in Colorado’s eastern plains and measure the economic benefits it provides in terms of construction, investment, employment, and business activity. For the economic benefits estimates, the study not only details construction and operations for the region’s existing renewable facilities but offers a prospective look at the benefits realized by 2024. The following bullets highlight key findings and estimates of the size and growth of these benefits.

  • In 2018􏰁, Colorado’s eastern plains comprised 􏰂5.5 percent of the renewable energy capacity in the state and represented all the state’s wind energy and about 55 percent of the state’s solar capacity.
  • Renewable energy capacity has expanded rapidly in Colorado’s eastern plains. In 2010, there was 1,253 MW of nameplate capacity in nine wind facilities in Colorado’s eastern plains. By the end of 2020, another 3,707 MW of wind and solar capacity is expected to be operable in the eastern plains. By 2024, the eastern plains’ renewable capacity is expected to expand by more than 22 percent, adding 1,109 MW and bringing the region’s wind and solar capacity to 6,069 MW.
  • By 2024, the state is expected to add its largest solar facilities and first utility-scale battery storage components with the construction of the 250-MW Neptune solar plant and the 200-MW Thunder Wolf solar plant.
  • Renewable and Advanced Energy Employment

  • From 2015 to 2019, renewable and advanced energy employment increased by more than 40 percent in Colorado’s eastern plains, growing to an estimated 6,334 workers in 366 business establishments.
  • Wind is critical to the eastern plains’ employment base, combined with wind facility installation, operations, and maintenance, wind technologies employ about 70 percent of renewable and advanced energy workers on the eastern plains.
  • Since 2015, job opportunities for solar installation have increased significantly in the eastern plains. Solar installation jobs have risen from an estimated 42 jobs in 2015 to 151 jobs in 2019.
  • Economic Benefits of Construction and Investment

  • Renewable energy development on Colorado’s eastern plains has brought significant investment to the state. From 2000 to 2024, there will have been an estimated $9.4 billion in construction and investment activity in the eastern plains. By 2024, investment will have increased by 75 percent since 2016.
  • Although many purchases for renewable energy facilities are made out-of-state, Colorado has benefited from local spending on equipment, construction materials, design, project management, planning, and local workers. As a result, the direct economic benefit in Colorado of construction and investment in the eastern plains’ renewable facilities will total an estimated $2.7 billion from 2000 to 2024.
  • By 2024, thousands of Coloradans will have benefited from work supported by renewable energy investments. An estimated 3,158 state workers will be directly employed in the construction of the facilities from 2000 to 2024. In addition, components for a handful of the eastern plains’ wind facilities have either been manufactured or will be manufactured at Vestas plants in the state. These purchases will directly employ another 2,386 workers by 2024.
  • Beyond direct output and employment, renewable facility construction and investment has supported many ancillary industries throughout the eastern plains since 2000. Combined, the total direct and indirect benefits of renewable energy development in Colorado’s eastern plains will be an estimated 􏰃5.􏰂 billion in total output ($2.7 billion direct output + $3.1 billion indirect and induced output) produced by 12,819 employees (5,544 direct employees + 7,275 indirect employees) earning a total of about $706.9 million ($355.6 million direct earnings + $351.3 million indirect earnings) from 2000 to 2024
  • Construction benefits are temporary, occurring only during construction. Economic Benefits of Annual Operations by 2024
  • The ongoing operations and maintenance of renewable facilities on Colorado’s eastern plains support long- term employment opportunities for hundreds of people in the state. By 2024, renewable facilities will support the direct employment of an estimated 352 workers.
  • By 2024, wind energy facilities will provide farmers, ranchers, and other landowners on Colorado’s eastern plains with $15.2 million in annual lease payments, up from an estimated $7.5 million in 2016.
  • Renewable energy projects will contribute an estimated $23.1 million in annual property tax revenue throughout districts in the eastern plains by 2024, up from an estimated $7.2 million in 2016.
  • Therefore, the total direct and indirect benefits in Colorado of annual renewable energy operations in the eastern plains will be an estimated $388.6 million in total output ($214.6 million direct output + $174 million indirect and induced output) produced by 1,089 employees (352 direct employees + 737 indirect employees) earning a total of about $56.7 million ($21.9 million direct earnings + $34.8 million indirect earnings) by 2024.
  • These benefits are likely to occur annually assuming similar business conditions and project parameters.
  • Interview: ‘Not Another Decade to Waste’ — How to Speed up the Clean Energy Transition — The Revelator #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Wind turbines, Weld County, 2015. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

    Energy policy expert Leah Stokes explains who’s pushing climate delay and denial — it’s not just fossil fuel companies — and what we need to do now

    The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14% in April. But the drop won’t last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7% this year.

    After that, unless we make substantial changes to global economies, it will be back to business as usual — and a path that leads directly to runaway climate change. If we want to reverse course, say the world’s leading scientists, we have about a decade to right the ship.

    That’s because we’ve squandered a lot of time. “The 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were lost decades for preventing global climate disaster,” political scientist Leah Stokes writes in her new book Short Circuiting Policy, which looks at the history of clean energy policy in the United States.

    But we don’t all bear equal responsibility for the tragic delay.

    “Some actors in society have more power than others to shape how our economy is fueled,” writes Stokes, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We are not all equally to blame.”

    Short Circuiting Policy focuses on the role of one particularly bad actor: electric utilities. Their history of obstructing a clean-energy transition in the United States has been largely overlooked, with most of the finger-pointing aimed at fossil fuel companies (and for good reason).

    We spoke with Stokes about this history of delay and denial from the utility industry, how to accelerate the speed and scale of clean-energy growth, and whether we can get past the polarizing rhetoric and politics around clean energy.

    What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?

    What a lot of people don’t understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8% every single year from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.

    Lean Stokes. Photo credit: University of California Santa Barbara

    So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that every single year.

    It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We’ve been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.

    Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?

    A lot of people think renewable energy is growing “so fast” and it’s “so amazing.” But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It’s losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the best year grew by only 1.3%.

    Right now we’re at around 36-37% clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren’t growing. Nuclear supplies about 20% of the grid and hydro about 5% depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we’re at about 10% renewables, and in the best year, we’re only adding 1% to that.

    Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we’ve been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the narwhal curve.)

    How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?

    We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That’s the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.

    We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn’t extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn’t extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.

    And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up dying fossil fuel companies and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.

    So we are moving in the wrong direction.

    Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?

    What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they’ve done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don’t agree with them.

    Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can’t hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.

    It’s not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that’s because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.

    And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?

    Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves and they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.

    There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?

    Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.

    They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.

    But that’s not the only dark part of their history.

    Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.

    The other thing they’ve done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They’ve resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They’ve tried to roll them back. They’ve been successful in some cases, and they’ve blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.

    You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?

    Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the Justice Democrats is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don’t care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.

    The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.

    So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I’ve shown in other research, politicians don’t know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.

    I think the media has a really important role to play because it’s very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.

    But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody’s going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people’s lived experiences to climate change.

    With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?

    I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans’ health.

    We know that breathing dirty air makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that’s more just for all Americans.

    But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.

    Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
    http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

    Acceleration of the energy transition — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Such a short time ago, 80% emissions reduction seemed such a bold goal. A new report says far more is possible.

    It seems like many years ago since Ben Fowke, chief executive of Xcel Energy, standing on a podium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, announced that his company was confident it could decarbonize the electrical generation across its six-state operating area 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. This, he said, could be done using existing technology.

    That declaration in December 2018 was national news. So was the company’s disclosure in December 2017 of the bids for renewables to replace the two coal-fired units it intended to retire at Pueblo, Colo. They came in shockingly low.

    Now, 80% plans by 2030 are becoming almost commonplace. Consider the trajectory of Colorado Springs. The city council there, acting as a utility board, in June accepted the recommendation of city utility planners to shut down the city’s two coal plants, the first in 2023 and the second in 2030.

    That was the easy decision. But the Colorado Springs City Council, in a 7-2 vote, also accepted the recommendation to bypass new natural gas capacity. Xcel is adding natural gas capacity to its portfolio in Colorado, although the plant already exists.

    Colorado Springs is now on track to get to 80% reduction by 2030.

    As a municipal utility, Colorado Springs was not required by Colorado to reduce its emissions 80% by 2030. That applies to those utilities regulated by the state, and municipalities are exempt. It is subject to broader economy wide goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    A city utility planner says he believes the city can achieve 90% reduction by 2050.

    “I do believe personally that in the next 10 years we will see some major advancements in the technology that will allow those technologies to go down and be more competitive,” says Michael Avanzi, manager of energy planning and innovation at Colorado Springs Utilities.

    A report issued by the Center for Environmental Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, says it shouldn’t take until 2050. Wind, solar, and battery storage can provide the bulk of the 90% clean electricity by 2035, according to the study, 2035 Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate Our Clean Energy Future.

    This, the study notes, can be done even while electricity costs decline. This finding contrasts sharply with studies completed more than 5 years ago, which found deep penetration of renewables would elevate costs. These lower costs are being reported across the country, the study found, even in those areas considered resource-poor for renewable energy generation. Colorado is the converse: It has excellent renewables, among the best mix in the nation.

    The study is important and rich with detail. Among the seven members of a technical review committee was Steve Beuning, of Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy.

    Hal Harvey. Photo via The Mountain Town News

    The findings, though, are best understood in terms of the policy assumptions, which are found in a separate study conducted by Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based consultancy. Colorado gets several mentions, and it’s important to note that the chief executive is Hal Harvey, who grew up in Aspen. (Harvey has connections in high places; he inspired a column in late June by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times: “This Should Be Biden’s Bumper Sticker.”)

    The conclusions describe an optimal set of policies to get the United States to 90% by 2035, including:

  • federal clean energy standards and, especially in the absence of that, extension of federal tax credits for wind and solar.
  • strengthening of federal authority to improve regional transmission planning by the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority.
  • reform wholesale markets to reward flexibility.
  • Researchers in California did not specifically examine the case of Colorado Springs but more broadly found that U.S. electrical utilities can tap existing gas-fired plants infrequently along with storage, hydropower, and nuclear power to meet demands even during times of extraordinarily low renewable energy generation or exceptionally high electricity demand. All told, natural gas can contribute 10% of electrical generation in 2035. That would be 70% less than the natural gas generation in 2019.

    How did the California researchers decide how much natural gas would be needed to firm supplies? As the saying goes, the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow. And when would these times of low renewables intersect those of high demand? The researchers studied weather records for seven years, 60,000 hours altogether, and in 134 regional zones within the United States, from earlier in this century. That worst-case time, during the seven years examined, was on the evening of Aug. 1, 2007, a time when solar generation had declined to less than 10% of installed solar capacity, and wind generation was 18% below installed capacity

    Based on this, they found a maximum need for 360 gigawatts of natural gas capacity. In other words, no new natural gas generation was needed. We have enough already.

    Peak demand in Colorado Springs usually occurs late on hot summer afternoons. The all-time record demand of 965 megawatts occurred on July 19, 2019. As Colorado Springs grows during the next three decades, it will possibly become Colorado’s largest city, with demand projected to push 1,200 megawatts (1.2 gigawatts) at mid-century.

    For Avanzi and other utility planners charged with creating portfolios for consideration by elected officials, closing coal plants was an easy case to make. Coal has become expensive, severely undercut by renewables.

    Also considered were 100% emission-free portfolios by 2030, 2040, and 2050. But they were seen as too risky and too costly, at least at this time.

    Portfolio 17, the one ultimately adopted by the city council on June 25, calls for the Martin Drake plant to be closed in 2023 and the Ray Nixon plant in 2030.

    Seven portable gas generators are to be installed at the Drake plant for use from 2023 to 2030, a need dictated by the existing transmission and not the inadequacy of renewables. Colorado Springs already has a gas plant, but the city council members accepted the recommendation of utility planners that no new plant will be needed. That vote was 7-2.

    A natural gas plant located northeast of Denver operated by Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Photo/Allen Best

    Writing in PV Magazine, Jean Haggerty pointed out that Colorado Springs was part of a trend among utilities to avoid building new natural gas bridges to renewable energy. Tucson Electric Power also plans to skip the gas bridge. And, on the East Coast, Florida Power & Light and Jacksonville’s municipal utility reached agreement to rely on existing natural gas and new solar generation when they retire their jointly owned coal plant, the largest in the United States.

    In creating the portfolios, Avanzi says he relied upon mostly publicly available reports, especially the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual technology baseline and U.S. Energy Information Administration documents. For battery storage, he relied upon a study by energy consultant Lazard.

    Colorado Springs’ plan calls for 400 megawatts of battery storage by 2030. Previously plans for a 25-megawatt battery of storage are expected to come on line in 2024.

    All types of storage were examined. The single largest storage device in Colorado currently is near Georgetown, where water from two reservoirs can be released to generate up to 324 megawatts of electricity as needed to meet peak demands. The water then can be pumped uphill 2,500 feet to the reservoirs when electricity is readily available.

    Colorado Springs studied that option. It has reservoirs in the mountains above the city. It found the regulatory landscape too risky.

    The most proven, least risky, technology is lithium-ion batteries that have four-hour capacity and flow batteries with six hours capacity. They can meet the peak demand of those hot, windless summer evenings after the sun has started lessening in intensity.

    This is from the July 8, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Sign up here to get free copies.

    Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

    Legal and Environmental Setbacks Stymie Pipelines Nationwide — The New York Times #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    A sign along U.S. Highway 20 in Stuart, Nebraska, in May 2012. Stuart is on the edge of the Sand Hills, a few miles from Newport. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2015/11/15/rural-nebraska-keystone-and-the-paris-climate-talks/#sthash.Hm4HePDb.dpuf

    From The New York Times (Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer):

    They are among the nation’s most significant infrastructure projects: More than 9,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in the United States are currently being built or expanded, and another 12,500 miles have been approved or announced — together, almost enough to circle the Earth.

    Now, however, pipeline projects like these are being challenged as never before as protests spread, economics shift, environmentalists mount increasingly sophisticated legal attacks and more states seek to reduce their use of fossil fuels to address climate change.

    On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil route from North Dakota to Illinois that has triggered intense protests from Native American groups, must shut down pending a new environmental review. That same day, the Supreme Court rejected a request by the Trump administration to allow construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada to Nebraska and has faced challenges by environmentalists for nearly a decade.

    The day before, two of the nation’s largest utilities announced they had canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have transported natural gas across the Appalachian Trail and into Virginia and North Carolina, after environmental lawsuits and delays had increased the estimated price tag of the project to $8 billion from $5 billion. And earlier this year, New York State, which is aiming to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, blocked two different proposed natural gas lines into the state by withholding water permits.

    The roughly 3,000 miles of affected pipelines represent just a fraction of the planned build-out nationwide. Still, the setbacks underscore the increasing obstacles that pipeline construction faces, particularly in regions like the Northeast where local governments have pushed for a quicker transition to renewable energy. Many of the biggest remaining pipeline projects are in fossil-fuel-friendly states along the Gulf Coast, and even a few there — like the Permian Highway Pipeline in Texas — are now facing backlash.

    “You cannot build anything big in energy infrastructure in the United States outside of specific areas like Texas and Louisiana, and you’re not even safe in those jurisdictions,” said Brandon Barnes, a senior litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence…

    In recent years…environmental groups have grown increasingly sophisticated at mounting legal challenges to the federal and state permits that these pipelines need for approval, raising objections over a wide variety of issues, such as the pipelines’ effects on waterways or on the endangered species that live in their path…

    Strong grass roots coalitions, including many Indigenous groups, that understand both the legal landscape and the intricacies of the pipeline projects have led the pushback. And the Trump administration has moved some of the projects forward on shaky legal ground, making challenging them slightly easier, said Jared M. Margolis, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

    For the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines in particular, Mr. Margolis said, the federal government approved projects and permits without the complete analyses required under environmental laws. “The lack of compliance from this administration is just so stark, and the violations so clear cut, that courts have no choice but to rule in favor of opponents,” he said…

    Between 2009 and 2018, the average amount of time it took for a gas pipeline crossing interstate lines to receive federal approval to begin construction went up sharply, from around 386 days at the beginning of the period to 587 days toward the end. And lengthy delays, Mr. Barnes said, can add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of such projects…

    A slump in American exports of liquefied natural gas — natural gas cooled to a liquid state for easier transport — has also weighed heavily on pipeline projects. L.N.G. exports from the United States had boomed in recent years, more than doubling in 2019 and fast making the country the third largest exporter of the fuel in the world, trailing only Qatar and Australia. But the coronavirus health crisis and collapse in demand has cut L.N.G. exports by as much as half, according to data by IHS Markit, a data firm.

    Erin M. Blanton, who leads natural gas research at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said the slump would have a long-term effect on investment in export infrastructure. The trade war with China, one of the largest growth markets for L.N.G. exports, has also sapped demand, she said…

    Last year in Virginia, a coalition of technology companies including Microsoft and Apple wrote a letter to Dominion, one of the utilities backing the Atlantic Coast pipeline, questioning its plans to build new natural gas power plants in the state, arguing that sources like solar power and battery storage were becoming a viable alternative as their prices fell. And earlier this year, Virginia’s legislature passed a law requiring Dominion to significantly expand its investments in renewable energy.

    “As states are pushing to get greener, they’re starting to question whether they really need all this pipeline infrastructure,” said Christine Tezak, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners…

    Climate will also play a larger role in future legal challenges, environmental groups said. “The era of multibillion dollar investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is over,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney at the environmental group Earthjustice. “Again and again, we see these projects failing to pass muster legally and economically in light of local opposition.”

    A power switch in Colorado — The Mountain Town News

    South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Delta-Montrose Electric splits the sheets with Tri-State G&T. Will others follow?

    At the stroke of midnight [July 1, 2020], Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association officially became independent of Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

    The electrical cooperative in west-central Colorado is at least $26 million poorer. That was the cost of getting out of its all-requirements for wholesale supplies from Tri-State 20 years early. But Delta-Montrose expects to be richer in coming years as local resources, particularly photovoltaic solar, get developed with the assistance of the new wholesale provider Guzman Energy.

    The separation was amicable, the parting announced in a joint press release. But the relationship had grown acrimonious after Delta-Montrose asked Tri-State for an exit fee in early 2017.

    Tri-State had asked for $322 million, according to Virginia Harmon, chief operating officer for Delta-Montrose. This figure had not been divulged previously.

    The two sides reached a settlement in July 2019 and in April 2020 revealed the terms: Guzman will pay Tri-State $72 million for the right to take over the contract, and Delta-Montrose itself will pay $26 million to Tri-State for transmission assets. In addition, Delta-Montrose forewent $48 million in capital credits.

    Under its contract with Guzman, Delta-Montrose has the ability to generate or buy 20% of its own electricity separate from Guzman. In addition, the contract specifies that Guzman will help Delta-Montrose develop 10 megawatts of generation. While much of that can be expected to be photovoltaic, Harmon says all forms of local generation remain on the table: additional small hydro, geothermal, and coal-mine methane. One active coal mine in the co-operative’s service territory near Paonia continues operation.

    The North Fork Valley, part of the service territory of Delta-Montrose Electric, has been known for its organic fruits and vegetables — including corn. Photo/Allen Best

    The dispute began in 2005 when Tri-State asked member cooperatives to extend their contracts from 2040 to 2050 in order for Tri-State to build a coal plant in Kansas. Delta-Montrose refused.

    Friction continued as Delta-Montrose set out to develop hydropower on the South Canal, an idea that had been on the table since 1909, when President William Howard Taft arrived to help dedicate the project. Delta-Montrose succeeded but then bumped up against the 5% cap on self-generation that was part of the contract.

    This is the second cooperative to leave Tri-State in recent years, but two more are banging on the door to get out. First out was Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative of Taos, N.M. It left in 2016 after Guzman paid the $37 million exit fee. There is general agreement that the Kit Carson exit and that of Delta-Montrose cannot be compared directly, Gala to Gala, or even Honeycrisp to Granny Smith.

    Yet direct comparisons were part of the nearly week-long session before a Colorado Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge in May. Two Colorado cooperatives have asked Tri-State what it will cost to break their contracts, which continue until 2050. Brighton-based United Power, with 93,000 customers, is the largest single member of Tri-State and Durango-based La Plata the third largest. Together, the two dissident cooperatives are responsible for 20% of Tri-States total sales.

    The co-operatives say they expect a recommendation from the administrative law judge who heard the case at the PUC. The PUC commissioners will then take up the recommendation.

    In April, Tri-State members approved a new methodology for determining member exit fees. But United Power said the methodology would make it financially impossible to leave and, if applied to all remaining members, would produce a windfall of several billion dollars for Tri-State. In a lawsuit filed in Adams County District Court, United claims Tri-State crossed the legal line to “imprison” it in a contract to 250.

    Tri-State also applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a bid to have that body in Washington D.C. determine exit fees. FERC recently accepted the contract termination payment filing—rejecting arguments that it did not have jurisdiction. Jessica Matlock, general manager of La Plata Electric, said the way FERC accepted the filing does not preclude the case in Colorado from going forward.

    Fitch, a credit-rating company, cited the ongoing dispute with two of Tri-State’s largest members among many other factors in downgrading the debate to A-. It previously was A. Fitch also downgraded Tri-State’s $500 million commercial paper program, of which $140 million is currently outstanding, to F1 from F1+.

    “The rating downgrades reflect challenging transitions in Tri-State’s operating profile and the related impact on its financial profile,” Fitch said in its report on Friday. It described Tri-State as “stable.”

    For broader background see: The Delta-Montrose story is a microcosm of the upside down 21st century energy world

    Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

    Disturbing reports that Republicans plan to sow fears of climate change solution — The Mountain Town News

    Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Disturbing reports that Republicans plan to sow fears of climate change solution

    Merchants of fear have already been at work, preparing to lather up the masses later this year with disturbing images of hardship and misery. The strategy is to equate job losses with clean air and skies, to link in the public mind the pandemic with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    It’s as dishonest as the days of May are long.

    “This is what a carbon-constrained world looks like,” Michael McKenna, a deputy assistant to Trump on energy and environment issues, told The New York Times.

    “If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” warned the Washington Examiner. “Thanks to the pandemic lockdown of society, the public is in a position to judge what the ‘Green New Deal’ revolution would look like,” said the newspaper in an April editorial. “It’s like redoing this global pandemic and economic slump every year.”

    What a jarring contrast with what I heard during a webinar conducted in Colorado during early May. Electrical utility executives were asked about what it will take to get to 100% emissions-free generation.

    It’s no longer an idle question along the lines of how many angels can dance on a pinhead. The coal plants are rapidly closing down because they’re just too darned expensive to operate. Renewables consistently come in at lower prices. Engineers have figured out how to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind. Utilities believe they can get to 70% and even 80%, perhaps beyond.

    Granted, only a few people profess to know how to achieve 100% renewables—yet. Cheap, long-lasting storage has yet to be figured out. Electrical transmission needs to be improved in some areas. Here in the West, the still-Balkanized electrical markets need to be stitched together so that electrons can be moved across states to better match supplies with demands.

    This is from Big Pivots No. 11 (5.25.2020). To be on the distribution list, send you e-mail address to allen.best@comcast.net.

    This won’t cost body appendages, either. The chief executives predict flat or even declining rates.

    Let’s get that straight. Reducing emissions won’t cost more. It might well cost less.

    That’s Colorado, sitting on the seam between steady winds of the Great Plains and the sunshine-swathed Southwest. Not every state is so blessed. But the innovators, the engineers, and others, are figuring out things rapidly.

    Remember what was said just 15 years ago? You couldn’t run a civilization on windmills! Renewables cost too much. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. You had to burn coal or at least natural gas to keep the lights on and avoid economic collapse. Most preposterous were the ambitions to churn vast mountains to extract kerogen, the vital component of oil shale. This was given serious attention as recently as 2008.

    The economics have rapidly turned upside down, and the technology just keeps getting better along with the efficiency of markets.

    As detailed in Big Pivots issue No. 10, Colorado utilities are now seriously talking about what it will take to get to 100% emission-free energy. Most of that pathway is defined by lower or at least flattened costs.

    See: Getting to 100% renewable energy.

    Also: Driving the shift to renewables.

    Now that same spirit of ingenuity has been turned to redirecting transportation and, more challenging yet, buildings. It will likely be decades before we retrofit our automotive fleet to avoid the carbon emissions and other associated pollution that has made many of our cities borderline unhealthy places to live. Buildings will take longer yet. Few among us trade in our houses every 10 to 15 years.

    It’s true that we need to be smarter about our energy. And we are decades away from having answers to the heavy carbon footprint of travel by aircraft.

    But run with fright from the challenge? That’s the incipient message I’m hearing from the Republican strategists. These messages are from old and now discredited playbooks of fear. People accuse climate activists of constantly beating the drum of fear, and that’s at least partly accurate. But there’s also a drive to find solutions.

    Too bad the contemporary Republican Party dwells in that deep well of fear instead of trying to be a beacon of solutions.

    Do you have an opinion you wish to share? Shorter is better, and Colorado is the center of the world but not where the world ends. Write to me: allen.best@comcast.net.

    Driving the shift to renewables — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Wind turbines, Weld County, 2015. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Legislative mandates, plunging costs, but also consumer demand push shift

    The rapid shift to renewables has three, and perhaps four powerful guiding forces. First were the legislative mandates to decarbonize electrical supplies. Colorado in 2019 set targets of 50% reduction economy wide by 2030 and 90% by 2040. New Mexico, a second state where Tri-State operates, has comparable goals.

    A second and now more powerful driver pushing renewables have been plunging prices.

    “It’s no longer just a green movement, it’s an economic movement,” said Duane Highley, chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which delivers electricity to 43 member cooperatives in Colorado and three other states.

    Tri-State recently signed contracts for 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy that will be coming online by 2024 at average price of 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    “That’s an amazing price. That’s lower than anything we can generate with fossil fuels. It automatically gives us the head room, because of the savings just on energy, to accelerate the retirement of coal and do that affordably with no increases in rates,” said Highley. “We see downward rate pressure for the next 10 years, and beyond 2030, we see increases below the rate of inflation.”

    The economics prevail in states that have not adopted mandates designed to reduce emissions.

    “We see a green energy dividend that allows us to accelerate the closure of coal without raising rates. That’s a key and it’s a key for Tri-State to getting support from our board, which covers four states. Nebraska and Wyoming don’t have the same intensity of passion behind the renewable energy movement that New Mexico and Colorado do. But one thing all of our members can agree upon is low rates and low costs.”

    At Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is not supplied by Tri-State, chief executive Bryan Hannegan sees the same downward price pressures.

    “The price of new power supply from the bulk grid is coming in below where we are today in the marketplace. That is actually putting downward pressure on rates,” he said. At Holy Cross, the cost of electricity accounts for half of what consumers pay, with the other half going to the poles, wires, trucks and overhead.

    “We at Holy Cross are saying we will get to 70% clean energy by 2030 with no increase in our power supply costs. If we can do it—which is a big if—we will try to do it in a way that keeps our rates predictable and stable.”

    A third driver of the move to renewables has been bottom-up pressure from customers. Both Vail Resorts and the Aspen Skiing Co. have pushed Holy Cross Energy to deliver energy untainted by carbon emissions. So have individual communities. Six of the member communities in Colorado Communities for Climate Action are served by Holy Cross. “That is driving us forward. We are hearing it from our customer base,” said Hannegan.

    Yet a fourth driver may be choice, as consumers can demand to pick and choose their energy sources as is proposed in a bill about community choice aggregation introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year. Holy Cross has to deliver that clean energy “frankly before somebody else does.”

    All three utilities represented on the webinar retain ownership in coal plants. Holy Cross Energy, however, has consigned the production from its small ownership of Comanche 3, located in Pueblo, Colo., to Guzman Energy. Both Tri-State and Platte River have plans to be out of coal in Colorado by 2030, although Tri-State has no plans yet announced to end importing coal from a coal plant at Wheatland, Wyo.

    The #coronavirus outbreak is disrupting the supply chain for some raw materials #COVID19

    Photo credit: New York Amsterdam News

    From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    The report by the International Energy Agency points out that South Africa’s lockdown initially disrupted 75% of the global output of platinum, which is used in many clean energy technologies and emissions control devices.

    Copper mining in Peru — which accounts for 12% of global production — ground to a halt, according to the report. Indonesia, which is the world’s top supplier of nickel, banned nickel ore exports earlier this year.

    The report also points out that when it comes to lithium, cobalt and various rare earth materials, the top three producers control well over three quarters of the global output.

    There are also stark vulnerabilities in the geographic concentration of refining operations, with China alone accounting for 50% to 70% of global lithium and cobalt refining. China is also responsible for 85% to 90% of processing rare earth materials into metals and magnets.

    “The COVID-19 pandemic is again reinforcing the importance of responsible U.S. mineral development. During trade negotiations in June 2019, China threatened to cut off our access to rare earth minerals. Now, the COVID-19 shines a bright light on China’s dominance of critical mineral and other supply chains,” said the caucus’ executive vice chairman, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. ”This report should serve as a reality check that supporting a true all-of-the-above energy future in the U.S. will require strong investments in domestic mining,”

    The rising installation of clean energy technologies is set to “supercharge” the demand for critical minerals, the agency predicts, and the already rapid growth was putting strains on supply even before the global pandemic.

    Clean energy technologies, the report said, generally require more minerals than their fossil fuel counterparts.

    As an example, an electric car uses five times as many minerals as a conventional car and an offshore wind plant requires eight times as many minerals as a gas-fired plant of the same capacity…

    The most efficient coal-fired power plants, too, require a lot more nickel than the less efficient ones to produce higher combustion temperatures.

    Since 2015, the report points out, electric transport and grid storage have become the largest consumers of lithium, accounting for 35% of the demand. And likewise, those users have driven demand for cobalt from 5% to nearly 25% in that same period.

    Those demands, however, come with costs.

    Congo, which controls the majority of the world’s supply of cobalt, nearly tripled its royalty rate in 2018 and has come under harsh scrutiny for its extraction practices in harsh conditions amid reports it also relies on child labor.

    In its report, the agency recommends government and companies take a number of steps to ensure a steady supply chain and greater independence in the arena of critical minerals, including timely investments in new mines, periodic assessments, promotion of recycling of end of life materials to capture valuable minerals, and stepping up research and development in substitution materials…

    Utah is the only state in the country that produces magnesium metal and is one of two U.S. states that produces potash.

    While lithium is not being mined in Utah at this point, there is potential for U.S. Magnesium to produce it as a byproduct.

    In a paper she wrote for the survey on battery metals’ demand, Mills details the potential of some of these elements to be “mined” in Utah as a byproduct of other metals, such as copper or uranium deposits revealing cobalt.

    Utah hosts the only operating uranium and vanadium mill in the United States, Mills points out, and while there is not any uranium mining going on, the mill began producing vanadium from stockpiles in 2019. Vanadium can be used in high-capacity batteries used for large-scale energy storage applications.

    Finally, Rio Tinto’s Kennecott operations in Utah puts it as the nation’s second largest producer of copper, which is unmatched in its ability to conduct electric currents.

    In addition to copper, Kennecott is one of the largest producers of gold, silver, platinum group metals and molybdenum in North America, and could be a potential source of critical minerals such as rhenium and tellurium.

    Rio Tinto is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute and is jointly investigating with its experts on ways to extract additional critical minerals from the existing refining and smelting process.

    Rhenium, one of the rarest elements, has the third-highest melting point and its nickel-based alloys are used in exhaust nozzles of jet engines. Its alloys are also used in oven heating elements and X-ray machines.

    Mills said the state is engaged in research related to the production of tungsten — another critical mineral — which is the only other metal element with a higher melting point than rhenium.

    Western Slope utility serving Delta, Montrose settles on $136.5 million fee to break up with Tri-State — The #Colorado Sun

    Outside Montrose, CO the old canal runs parallel to the new hydro facilities (lower left).

    From The Colorado Sun (Mark Jaffe):

    The electric cooperative serving the cities of Delta and Montrose has agreed to a $136.5 million fee to exit the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association – showing that breaking up is not only hard to do, but expensive.

    The Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) has since 2016 been sparring over renewable energy with Tri-State, a wholesale power production company serving 43 member electric cooperatives in Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

    Tri-State and DMEA reached an agreement in principle in July 2019, just days before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission was set to begin proceedings to set an exit fee for the cooperative.

    Under the exit agreement, which would have DMEA leave Tri-State on June 30, the cooperative would pay a $62.5 million exit fee, $26 million for local Tri-State infrastructure and forgo the $48 million in equity the cooperative held as a member of Tri-State.

    The DMEA-Tri-State agreement still must be submitted for final approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is now the regulator for Tri-State.

    A number of Tri-State cooperatives have chafed under the association’s long-term contracts that limit local generation to 5% of demand, as they hoped to add more local renewable generation. DMEA’s contract ran to 2040. Tri-State was also criticized for still being heavily dependent on coal-fired generation.

    The $88.5 million will be paid by DMEA or a third party, according to Tri-State. When the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, in Taos, New Mexico, left Tri-State in 2016, its new electric wholesaler, Guzman Energy paid the $37 million exit fee, which it is recouping in the first few years of its contract with the co-op.

    DMEA has about 28,000 members and Kit Carson has 29,000, but DMEA has more commercial and industrial members and about twice the electricity demand as Kit Carson, with an annual peak of 95 to 100 megawatts, according to Virginia Harman, a DMEA spokeswoman.

    DMEA is in the final steps of completing a 12-year wholesale power purchase agreement with Guzman Energy, Harman said, adding that there would be no further comment until the agreement is completed…

    Tri-State has also established a procedure for setting exit prices as several other members have asked for estimates, the association said. FERC must approve the methodology for future exit fees

    “This will be the methodology going forward,” Boughey said. “Kit Carson and DMEA were one-offs.”

    As oil crashes, ‘America’s untapped energy giant’ could rise — Grist #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

    From Grist (Emily Pontecorvo):

    The coronavirus pandemic has mostly yielded bad news for renewable energy. Disruptions to supply chains and slowdowns in permitting and construction have delayed solar and wind projects, endangering their eligibility for the soon-to-expire investment tax credits they rely on. There’s another form of renewable energy, however, that might see a benefit from the recent global economic upheaval and emerge in a better position to help the United States decarbonize its electricity system: geothermal…

    Unlike wind and the sun, subsurface heat is available 24/7, perpetually replenished by the radioactive decay of minerals deeper down. But compared to wind and solar farms, geothermal power plants are expensive to build. The cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000 per installed kilowatt, and even the least expensive geothermal plant in the U.S. costs more than double that of a utility-scale solar farm. Engineers have to drill thousands of feet into the ground to reach reservoirs of water and rock hotter than 300 degrees F in order for the plants to be economical. Plants generate electricity by pumping steam or hot water up from those reservoirs to spin a turbine which powers a generator.

    Experts told Grist that drilling can account for anywhere between 25 to 70 percent of the cost of a project, depending on where it is, the method of drilling, and the equipment required. But now, the companies that supply the machinery and services for drilling are starting to slash rates.

    That’s because they are the same suppliers the oil industry uses, but oil companies are idling drilling rigs and cutting contracts left and right. They’re getting pummeled by the largest oil price crash in decades, the result of plunging demand due to the pandemic and a glut in supply because of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. On Tuesday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration revised its short-term outlook for crude oil production, predicting a steep decline through 2021. All of the suppliers who are normally digging for oil are now eager for new business.

    Tim Latimer, a former drilling engineer for the oil and gas industry and now the cofounder and CEO of Fervo Energy, a geothermal energy company (and a 2020 Grist 50 Fixer) said suppliers have already been willing to knock 10 percent off quotes they gave him a few weeks ago. In a recent Twitter thread, Latimer predicted that drilling costs could drop by as much as 20 to 40 percent. On top of that, interest rates are down, and recovery bills with new funding for clean energy are potentially around the corner.

    Lowering the up-front cost of building a geothermal power plant would allow plant operators to bring down electricity prices, which could attract new interest in geothermal from utilities. “If you can bring that price down even a little bit,” Latimer said, utility buyers “get a lot more excited about it because they want to have something in their portfolio that can produce electricity at night.”

    In California, which has set a target of 100 percent clean electricity by 2045, energy providers are starting to recognize the benefits of geothermal’s round-the-clock power and have agreed to purchase power from two new plants being built in the state. But in states where there isn’t as much pressure to decarbonize, it’s a tough sell: The cost of electrons from a geothermal plant can be more than three times as high as those from solar and wind.

    Part of the problem, according to Susan Petty, the chief technology officer, president, and co-founder of geothermal company AltaRock Energy, is that utilities don’t place extra value on geothermal’s ability to generate electricity all the time. She said bringing drilling costs down will help, but it would help even more if there were parity in the tax incentives for renewables: This year, geothermal electricity projects were eligible for a 10 percent investment tax credit, compared to a 26 percent credit for solar and wind.

    Geothermal faces other hurdles, like a lengthy permitting process that stretches out project timelines. It can be challenging to find investors during the early, risky stages of a project, before the viability of developing a given site has been proven. Geothermal also suffers from a PR problem — people just aren’t as familiar with it as they are with wind and solar. The technology has been around in the U.S. since the 1960s, but for these reasons and others, geothermal still only makes up 0.4 percent of the U.S. electricity mix.

    Map of Western US geotthermal areas via the USGS

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Western Resource Advocates: Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan Signals Important Step Forward in Reducing Carbon Emissions #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Kit Carson Electric announces solar and storage that will put the cooperative at 100% renewables during sunny days by 2021. The New Mexico cooperative will soon go to work on securing wind power. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Julianne Basinger):

    Western Resource Advocates today welcomed Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s announcement that it plans to add more than 1,000 megawatts of renewable wind and solar resources to its energy generation.

    Tri-State announced more details of its Responsible Energy Plan today at a news conference featuring Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

    “Tri-State’s plan signals a welcome and important shift toward a clean, lower-cost energy future,” said John Nielsen, director of Western Resource Advocates’ Clean Energy Program. “Tri-State’s coal plant retirements and increased investments in renewable energy will save its customers money and will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change and other harmful air pollution. We look forward to continuing to work with Tri-State to develop ways to achieve further carbon reductions and increased energy efficiency, while also seeking ways to help coal-reliant communities transition to new economic opportunities.”

    Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan sets a target of 50 percent renewable energy generation by 2024 that will be achieved, in part, through the development of the more than 1,000 megawatts of new wind and solar generation announced today. The renewable energy plan comes after Tri-State last week announced it will close two coal-fired power plants in Colorado and New Mexico.

    Tri-State announced its board has created a contract committee to discuss changes to its existing member contracts that would allow distribution cooperative members to self-supply more of their own electricity through locally sited renewable generation. The results of that discussion are expected to be announced in April. Tri-State also said it will increase electric vehicle infrastructure in the rural areas it serves.

    Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association announces transformative Responsible Energy Plan actions to advance cooperative clean energy

    Photovoltaic Solar Array

    Here’s the release from Tri-State Corp (Lee Boughey, Mark Stutz):

  • Increasing renewables to 50% of energy consumed by members by 2024, adding 1 gigawatt of renewables from eight new solar and wind projects.
  • Reducing emissions with the closure of all coal plants operated by Tri-State, cancelling the Holcomb project in Kansas and committing not to develop additional coal facilities.
  • Increasing member flexibility to develop more local, self-supplied renewable energy.
  • Extending benefits of a clean grid across the economy through expanded electric vehicle infrastructure and beneficial electrification.
  • In the most transformative change in its 67-year history, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association today announced actions of its Responsible Energy Plan, which dramatically and rapidly advance the wholesale power supply cooperative’s clean energy portfolio and programs to serve its member electric cooperatives and public power districts.

    “Our cooperative and its members are aligned in our transition to clean power,” said Rick Gordon, chairman of Tri-State and director at Mountain View Electric Association in eastern Colorado. “With today’s announcement, we’re poised to become a new Tri-State; a Tri-State that will provide reliable, affordable and responsible power to our members and communities for many years to come.”

    Tri-State’s clean energy transition significantly expands renewable energy generation, meaningfully reduces greenhouse gas emissions, extends the benefits of a clean grid to cooperative members, and will share more flexibility for self-generation with members, all while ensuring reliable, affordable and responsible electricity.

    “We’re not just changing direction, we’re emerging as the leader of the energy transition,” said Duane Highley, Tri-State’s chief executive officer. “Membership in Tri-State will provide the best option for cooperatives seeking a clean, flexible and competitively-priced power supply, while still receiving the benefits of being a part of a financially strong, not-for-profit, full-service cooperative.”

    Accelerated additions of renewable projects drive 50% renewable energy by 2024

    Tri-State today announced six new renewable energy projects in Colorado and New Mexico, which along with two projects previously announced and yet to be constructed, will result in more than 1 gigawatt of additional emissions-free renewable resources being added to Tri-State’s power supply portfolio by 2024.

    For the first time, four solar projects will be located on the west side of Tri-State’s system, including near Escalante Station and Colowyo Mine, which are scheduled to close by the end of 2020 and by 2030, respectively.

    The eight long-term renewable energy projects of varying contract lengths to be added to Tri-State’s resource portfolio by 2024 include:

    • Escalante Solar, a 200-megawatt (MW) project located in Continental Divide Electric Cooperative’s service territory in New Mexico. Tri-State has a contract with Turning Point Energy for the project. The solar project is on land near Escalante Station, which will close by the end of 2020.

    • Axial Basin Solar, a 145-MW project in northwest Colorado in White River Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has a contract with juwi for the project. The project is located on land near the Colowyo Mine, which will close by 2030.

    • Niyol Wind, a 200-MW project located in eastern Colorado in Highline Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has a contract with NextEra Energy Resources for the project.

    • Spanish Peaks Solar, a 100-MW project, and Spanish Peaks II Solar, a 40-MW project, located in southern Colorado in San Isabel Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has contracts with juwi for both solar projects.

    • Coyote Gulch Solar, a 120-MW project located in southwest Colorado in La Plata Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has a contract with juwi for the project.

    • Dolores Canyon Solar, a 110-MW project located in southwest Colorado in Empire Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has a contract with juwi for the project.

    • Crossing Trails Wind, a 104-MW project located in eastern Colorado in K.C. Electric Association’s service territory. Tri-State has a contract with EDP Renewables for the project.

    The construction and operation of these projects will result in hundreds of temporary construction jobs and contribute to permanent jobs and tax base within Tri-State members’ service territories.

    “By 2024, 50% of the energy consumed within our cooperative family will be renewable,” said Highley. “Accelerating our renewable procurements as technology improved and prices dropped results in the lowest possible renewable energy cost today for our members, and likely of any regional utility.”

    Since 2009, Tri-State has contracted for 15 utility-scale wind and solar projects, as well as numerous small hydropower projects. By 2024, Tri-State will have more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable capacity on its 3,000-megawatt peak system, including:

  • 800 megawatts of solar power from 9 projects (3 existing, 6 to be constructed by 2024)
  • 671 megawatts of wind power from 6 projects (4 existing, 2 to be constructed by 2022)
  • 600 megawatts of large and small hydropower (Including federal and numerous small projects)
  • Collectively, Tri-State’s renewable portfolio can power the equivalent of nearly 850,000 average homes.

    Greenhouse gas emissions significantly reduced to meet Colorado, New Mexico goals

    Tri-State is significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to meet state laws and goals, and with the closures of all coal facilities it operates, will eliminate 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions from coal in New Mexico by the end of 2020 and in Colorado by 2030. The early closures of Escalante Station, Craig Station and Colowyo Mine were announced last Thursday, following the early retirement of Nucla Station in 2019.

    By closing Craig Station, Tri-State is committed to reducing carbon emissions from units it owns or operates in Colorado by 90% by 2030, and reducing emissions from Colorado electric sales by 70% by 2030.

    Tri-State also is committing to not develop additional coal facilities, and has cancelled its Holcomb coal project in southwestern Kansas. The air permit for the project will expire in March 2020.

    “With the retirements of all coal facilities we operate, a commitment to not pursue coal in the future, and a significant increase in renewables, Tri-State is making a long-term and meaningful commitment to permanently reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Highley.

    Plan extends benefits of a clean grid and electric vehicles to rural areas

    As Tri-State rapidly transitions to a clean grid, it is working with its members to extend the benefits of low-emissions electricity to replace higher-emission transportation, commercial and residential energy uses.

    “By extending the benefits of a cleaner power supply to vehicles, homes, farms and businesses, we ensure that rural energy consumers save money while further reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Highley.

    To expand rural electric vehicle charging networks, Tri-State will fund electric vehicle charging stations for each member, and will work with members to further promote electric vehicle usage. Tri-State will promote and increase its beneficial electrification, energy efficiency and demand-side management programs with its members, including support through the new Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado and other state chapters, and will study potential emissions reductions associated with beneficial electrification.

    Increasing member flexibility for developing local renewable energy resources

    As a cooperative, Tri-State’s members are working together to increase local renewable energy development and member self-supply of power. In November 2019, Tri-State expanded opportunities for member community solar projects up to 63 megawatts system-wide, and is finalizing recommendations for partial requirements contracts.

    “Our membership has moved quickly over the past six months to advance recommendations for flexible partial requirements contracts, which will be considered by our board by April 2020 and which Tri-State will implement upon the board’s approval,” said Gordon.

    Partial requirements contracts provide flexible options for members that desire to self-supply power, while ensuring other members are not financially harmed. A Contract Committee of the Tri-State membership is currently reviewing partial requirements contract options.

    Center for the New Energy Economy advisory process informs plan

    To develop the Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State collaborated with a diverse advisory group, facilitated by Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) and former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. This group included representatives from the states Tri-State serves including academic, agricultural, cooperative, environmental, rural and state government interests.

    “These advisors rolled up their sleeves to work with us on the details that make our energy transition vision a reality,” said Highley. “We are grateful to Governor Ritter and the CNEE advisory group for their good-faith contributions and efforts to find common ground in the pursuit of ambitious but actionable commitments, and challenging but attainable goals.”

    Tri-State maintains financial strength and stable rates through transition

    Tri-State’s strong financial position and cooperative business model helps ensure wholesale rates remain stable, if not lower, during its transition.

    “We are favorably positioned to successfully transition to clean resources at the lowest possible cost,” said Highley. “The low costs of renewable energy and operating cost reductions help to counterbalance the cost to retire coal generation early, keeping our wholesale rates stable with even cleaner electricity.”

    About Tri-State

    Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 46 members, including 43 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 http://www.tristate.coop.

    Wind Power Technicians via https://windpowernejikata.blogspot.com/2017/07/wind-power-technician.html

    Tri-State plans 50% #renewableenergy by 2024 as member co-ops press for exit — The Loveland Reporter Herald #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The South Taylor pit is one of Colowyo Mine’s current active coal mining site. Photo by David Tan via CoalZoom.com

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Dan Mika):

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. said by 2024 it will draw from renewable sources at least half of the energy it sends to member power cooperatives.

    In a news conference also attended by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday, the Westminster-based power generator said it would build two wind farms and four solar farms in Colorado and New Mexico to generate an additional gigawatt of energy for its 43 member co-ops in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.

    Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said the plan puts the company at the forefront of the shift away from fossil fuels.

    “Membership in Tri-State will provide the best option for cooperatives seeking a clean, flexible and competitively-priced power supply, while still receiving the benefits of being a part of a financially strong, not-for-profit, full-service cooperative,” he said at the news conference.

    The partial shift away from non-renewable sources of power comes amid ongoing disputes among Tri-State, Brighton’s United Power Inc. and La Plata Energy Association Inc. at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The two co-ops filed suit in November, claiming Tri-State is refusing to give them permission to explore deals with other power suppliers and effectively holding them hostage while it tries to become a federally regulated entity…

    Tri-State has maintained it cannot release United and La Plata while other co-op customers revise the rules for terminating contracts…

    In a statement, La Plata said it supports Tri-State’s push toward renewable energy, but said the power provider’s rules are preventing it from creating its own series of renewable energy sources to meet its local carbon reduction targets.

    “While Tri-State’s future goal will help meet our carbon reduction goal, we do not yet know what the costs of its plan will be to our members and what LPEA’s role will be for producing local, renewable energy into the future,” said La Plata Energy Association CEO Jessica Matlock.

    Member co-ops are required to buy 95% of their power from Tri-State.

    Curtain descends on Tri-State plants — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #JustTransition

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

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Why Tri-State will shelve coal in Colorado and New Mexico and the big challenges that remain: Will Tri-State ‘family’ stay intact?

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission announced [January 9, 2020] that it will close its Escalante Station coal-burning units in New Mexico in 2020 and all of its coal-burning units at the Craig Station in Colorado by 2030. One and probably two coal mines near the Craig units will be closed.

    Sharply widened price disparities between aging coal plants and new renewable resources play a prominent role in the closures. So do the growing pressures of member cooperatives to decarbonize and take advantage of lower-cost and more distributed renewable resources. Yet another factor was the pressure exerted by advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club, with its extensive grassroots-organizing efforts.

    New laws setting decarbonization goals in both Colorado and New Mexico figure into the closures. Legislatures in both states adopted laws last year calling for economy wide decarbonization, in Colorado’s case a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 95% by 2050. New Mexico’s law requires 80% electrical generation be renewable by 2040 and 100% carbon free by 2045.

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, in his State-of-the-State address Thursday morning, said Tri-State’s plans within Colorado will reduce the utility’s greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2030.

    Tri-State resource mix via The Mountain Town News/Allen Best.

    As of 2018, renewables—including hydropower—constituted 32% of Tri-States sales to members, while coal represented at least 47% and possibly more, depending upon the source of electricity purchased from other sources. Tri-State expects to be at 50% by 2024 and higher yet by 2030, said Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, at a Thursday tele-press conference.

    The closures were not particularly surprising. Highley, who took the reins at Tri-State last April, told Colorado Public Utilities Commissioners in October to “watch our feet” while promising decarbonization by 2030.

    But major questions remain for Tri-State, including perceptions of its long-term financial viability. S&P Global Ratings in November lowered ratings for Tri-State and for Moffat County, where Craig Station is located, from A to A-. Reading the news, some were reminded of another Colorado wholesale supplier, Colorado Ute. Overbuilt in coal generation, it went into a death spiral and then bankruptcy in 1991. Tri-State got the Craig units from that bankruptcy

    Most prominent of Tri-State’s challenges will be to hang onto its existing members in what in the past has been described as a family. The family has been squabbling, particularly among Colorado’s 18 member cooperatives. One will soon leave, two more are negotiating to leave, and a fourth has informally asked for a buy-out number. Together, they represent 33% of Tri-State’s electrical demand.

    Next Wednesday, Tri-State will announce details of what it calls its aggressive and transformative Responsible Energy Plan. The plan results from a process convened in July 2019 and overseen by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy. The task force included multiple environmental groups as well as Tri-State.

    The extent and location of new local resources in Tri-State’s generating portfolio may not be answered immediately, says Erin Overturf, deputy director Western Resource Advocates’ clean energy program. The group was among those who participated in development of the Responsible Energy Plan.

    Some of those not at the table remain unhappy that they were not.

    “From our perspective, we want Tri-State to clean up their carbon footprint, but we would like to be part of this,” said Jessica Matlock, the chief executive of Durango-based La Plata Electric, one of two co-ops that have formally asked the price of breaking their current all-requirements contracts. “We haven’t been involved in any of the discussions, the formulation of strategies. We would actually like to develop a large amount of renewable energy in the Four Corners and supply that to Tri-State. We don’t think they should just develop large-scale resources on the Eastern Slope. They should diversify their resources and look to the co-ops to be partners.”

    While the Four Corners has what Matlock describes as “phenomenal” solar potential, land in the United Power service territory north and east of Denver has become too valuable for 200-megawatts solar farms, says John Parker, chief executive of the 93,000-member cooperative. He’s more interested in seeing whether Tri-State can execute its energy pivot without raising rates.

    Rates of Tri-State going forward matter entirely to United, says Parker, whose co-operative now is responsible for 19% of Tri-State’s total electrical demand. He said United charges 20% more for residential electricity than does Xcel Energy, a neighboring and sometimes competing utility. United has somewhat higher costs for distribution of electricity to customers owing to the more rural nature of its service territory But Tri-State’s wholesale cost to United provides the larger explanation. “Tri-State is 75% of our cost of doing business,” says Parker.

    But will new transmission be needed to access new renewable supplies, as Tri-State representatives have indicated previously? If so, that could cause rates to rise further, Parker fears.

    “I think the biggest question that we have as far as this announcement is how are they going to pay for it,” says Kathleen Staks, director of external affairs for Guzman Energy.

    Highley, in the teleconference, repeatedly said that rates will remain stable and might even decline even as Tri-State accelerates deprecation on its plants in the two states. Asked specifically if his guarantees of stable rates also applies to the cost of new generation, he replied that yes, it does. The costs of renewable generation are just that good.

    Guzman Energy financed the exit of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in 2016 from its all-requirements contract, which had been set to expire in 2040. It was the first Tri-State member to leave, a dispute that began in 2005 when Tri-State first asked members for contract extensions in order to build another coal plant, this one in Kansas. Guzman has since helped the cooperative based in Taos N.M., to build its solar potential. Luis Reyes, Kit Carson’s chief executive, says that Kit Carson will to be able to meet its peak day-time demand from locally generated solar resources by 2021. Kit Carson, says Matlock, provides La Plata the blueprint for what it hopes to achieve.

    In closing the plants early, Tri-State will accelerate their financial depreciation. Value of the two generating stations at Craig at $400 million. Their original end-of-life dates were 2038 and 2044. The depreciation of those units is being accelerated to 2030. Highley suggested that retirement of one of those units, Craig Unit 2, which is co-owned with four other utility partners, could happen earlier.

    Tri-State owns the 253-megawatt Escalante Generating Station without partners and values it at $270 million. Its original end of life had been put at 2045.

    Still standing will be the two major generating stations in which it has a minority interest. It has 464 megawatts of the total 1,710 megawatts of capacity at Laramie River Station near Wheatland, Wyo., and 419 megawatts of the 1,629 megawatts at Springerville, in eastern Arizona. As for the future of those plants, said Highley, look at what happens legislatively in Arizona and Wyoming.

    Evidence had been mounting that Tri-State, despite several relatively small additions of renewable, was being bypassed by the energy transition. The first evidence came in late 2017, after Xcel Energy had announced plans to retire Comanche 1 and 2, two aging coal-burning units at Pueblo, Colo. The bids it had received by that December for wind, solar and even storage shocked most energy analysts, drawing national attention. Conveniently, most of that new generation approved by the Colorado PUC will be located relatively close to existing transmission.

    Then, in August 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute released a report, “A Low-Cost Energy Future for Western Cooperatives,” which examined the Tri-State fleet in terms of risks, including a carbon price and load defection. That analysis concluded only the Laramie River Station in Wyoming made sense economically going forward. Key to the lower-cost of the Wyoming plant is the relative proximity to the Powder River Basin, lowering transportation costs, and a low-price contract continuing into the 2030s.

    Since that 2018 study, says Mark Dyson, a co-author, prices of renewables have continued to dive. He cites one example of a project approved late last year that will deliver solar plus storage at a price of around $25 a megawatt. In some cases, he said, that’s lower the cost of coal itself delivered to a plant. And solar itself now is commonly in the lower $20s per megawatt-hour, a price unheard of even two years ago.

    Tri-State in 2019 rebuffed an offer from Guzman to buy three Tri-State units (two at Craig, one at Escalante) and shut them down, replacing the 800 megawatts of lost generating capacity with wind, solar and natural gas generation.

    Tri-State plans to close the Escalante Generating Station in 2020. Photo/Allen Best

    “We would finance the early shutdown of these coal plants, giving Tri-State a substantial cash infusion, in the vicinity of a half-billion dollars, and we would replace the portfolio (that would be lost) with in excess of 70% renewables,” said Chris Riley, president of Guzman Energy, in an interview for Energy News Network. The offer included purchase of the Colowyo Mine.

    Guzman said it would also cover the costs of dismantling the three units as well as remediation costs, which are expected to be substantial. The remediation, however, would be subject to negotiation, Riley said. In addition, Guzman offers to assist communities that would be affected by early retirement of the coal units. At least part of Guzman’s sources of funding were foundations.

    In its announcement, Tri-State pledged $5 million in local community support in New Mexico to the affected communities, including Grants and Gallup.

    It made no similar offer for the Craig community. And, some observers have noted, Tri-State has made little outreach to the affected communities under Highley. However, he said he planned to meet with community members next week. The Craig Daly Press reports that the news hit the Yampa Valley hard.

    Highley also promised to continue work Gov. Jared Polis and legislative leaders in terms of the transition but did not say exactly what Tri-State is seeking with legislators. Colorado legislators last session created a Just Transition office, but the agency still lacks an executive director and also funding. Meetings of the advisory committee, which consists of state officials and legislators and local representatives, were held in October and December.

    Ultimately 600 Tri-State employees directly involved in the extraction or burning of coal will be directly impacted along with 100 employees who are not directly involved in mining or combustion. It will, said Highley, “result in a significant downsizing of our company.”

    However, Tri-State now expects to expand markets to accommodate the application of energy to other uses, including transportation and home heating, a concept called beneficial electrification. Just what it has in mind there will become more clear next week.

    This expansion could partially offset loss of members. Delta-Montrose Electric, which represents 4% of Tri-State’s load, will leave Tri-State in May and will instead be supplied by Guzman Energy. Poudre Valley REA, the second-largest member cooperative in terms of demand, at 8%, informally asked for a buy-out number in 2018 but, unlike United and La Plata, has taken no additional action. Directors adopted a goal of 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

    Both United and La Plata are skirmishing legally with Tri-State at both the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They have asked the Colorado PUC to determine a fair and just exit fee.

    Tri-State’s response to the complaints is an offer to provide a partial-requirements contract, one that allows greater ability of local co-ops to generate their own resources. At the press conference, Highley said he is confident that the committee tasked with the details will deliver an acceptable product by April. But patience is publicly wearing thin at United Power. “We’ve spent 18 months trying to change this contract, and all that we have gotten from Tri-State is delays, evasions and excuses,” Parker said in press release issued last week.

    The great coal/electricity decoupling, illustrated. Graph by Jonathan P. Thompson, data from the Energy Information Administration.

    Colorado’s Clean Energy Potential Reaches New Heights — E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs)

    From E2:

    Colorado is leading the Mountain West’s clean energy economy.

    With nearly 60,000 clean energy workers now, the state’s potential reached new heights in 2018 with strong employment growth across cleantech sectors (4.8%)—far outpacing overall national (1.5%) and statewide (2.4%) job growth.

    According to Clean Jobs Colorado 2019 (downloadable PDF) report, Colorado’s is now among the top 10 states for jobs in three sectors: wind energy (3rd), bioenergy (9th), and overall renewable energy (6th). The state fell just outside the Top 10 in solar energy (11th). However, the majority of Colorado’s clean energy job growth came from energy efficiency and clean vehicles, which grew 7.2% and 22.5%respectively.

    Analyzing the state geographically,the employment analysis found that while Denver and Boulder accounted for nearly one out of every three clean jobs in the state, about 20 percent (29,000) are in areas outside the Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins metro areas. Additionally, all 64 counties in the state are home to clean energy workers, with 11 counties supporting at least 1,100. Denver led all counties with more than 13,200 jobs, followed by Arapahoe (7,600) and Jefferson (5,800) counties. By density, Jackson, Denver, and Boulder counties led the state in clean jobs per 1,000 employable residents. All 64 counties in Colorado are home to clean energy workers, with 11 counties supporting over 1,000 jobs.

    Smart policies such as the Zero-Emission Vehicle standards adopted by Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission in August and Gov. Polis’ roadmap to 100% renewable energy will help ensure that Colorado’s clean energy economy keeps growing. And businesses have noticed, with Colorado clean energy employers predicting they’ll add jobs more than twice as fast in 2019 (10.3%) as 2018.

    Colorado Job Sector Toplines

  • Energy Efficiency – 34,342 jobs
  • Renewable Energy – 17,073 jobs
  • Solar Energy – 7,775 jobs
  • Wind Energy – 7,318 jobs
  • Clean Vehicles – 3,323 jobs
  • Biofuels – 2,045 jobs
  • Energy Storage – 1,692 jobs
  • Grid Modernization – 1,272 jobs
  • ALL Clean Energy Sectors – 59,666 jobs
  • Other Highlights from 2018

  • Clean energy jobs also now employ 26,000 more workers than the state’s entire fossil fuel industry (10,022)
  • 8,100 workers Coloradans located in rural areas work in clean energy
  • 64% of clean energy workers are employed by businesses with fewer than 20 total employees
  • Colorado clean energy employers are projecting 10.3% employment growth for 2019.
  • Construction (37.6%) and professional services (40.7%) make up the majority of clean energy jobs.
  • 9.6% of Coloradans employed in clean energy are veterans
  • Denver led all counties in Colorado with 13,200 jobs, followed by Arapahoe (7,600) and Jefferson (5,868) counties
  • #Solar plus storage will put Kit Carson Electric at 48% #renewables — The Mountain Town News

    Kit Carson Electric announces solar and storage that will put the cooperative at 100% renewables during sunny days by 2021. The New Mexico cooperative will soon go to work on securing wind power. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Path to 70% to 80% renewables becomes clear

    Kit Carson Electric Cooperative recently signed a contract that will give it enough solar capacity backed by storage to meet all of its peak daytime needs by 2021, about nine months earlier than had previous been expected.

    An agreement reached recently with solar developer Torch Clean Energy will give Kit Carson 21 megawatts of additional solar capacity, to a new total of 38 megawatts of solar. The deal will also produce 15 megawatts of storage capacity, the first for the cooperative.

    Mindful of the wildfires in California and Colorado during recent years, location of the battery storage was chosen with the goal of improving resiliency of vital community functions in Kit Carson’s three-county service area. The majority of the battery storage will be at Taos, to meet needs of a hospital and emergency services in cases of disruption. The rest will be located near the Angle Fire ski area. If wildfire should cause power losses, the batteries will provide for four hours of electricity for pumping of water into the community water tank.

    “If for some reason, we were separated from the grid, we would at least have some battery storage for a couple of hours,” said Luis Reyes, chief executive of the 23,000-member cooperative.

    Battery storage will also help Kit Carson shave costs of transmission paid to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico and to Tri-State Generation and Transmission, said Reyes. Prices of neither solar nor storage have been divulged, but they will be.

    Kit Carson first invested in solar in 2002. Then, in 2010, members of the coop voted to adopt a goal of 100% renewables.

    In 2016, the coop began negotiating with wholesale provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission for an exit fee. It also hooked up with Guzman Energy, then a new full-requirements power supplier. With Guzman paying the $37 million exit fee, Kit Carson and Guzman in 2017 accelerated investments in solar energy.

    According to the media kit on Kit Carson’s website, a collaboration of Kit Carson and Guzman, the co-op will save $50 million to $70 million over the life of the 10-year contract. Unlike the contract with Tri-State, which had a 5% cap on locally generated electricity, the contract with Guzman has no limit. Price increases for Guzman’s wholesale power are capped.

    Chris Miller, chief operating office for Guzman, called it an “exciting time for Kit Carson, and for all local energy co-ops around the country that are setting ambitious goals and realizing the benefits of renewable energy capacity for the communities they serve.”

    Guzman is also scheduled to begin delivering electricity to Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association beginning next Monday, and it has been courting other potential customers, including cooperatives and municipalities.

    Beyond the solar capacity that will allow Kit Carson to hit 48% renewables, Kit Carson hopes to add wind generation from eastern New Mexico in coming years, putting it at 75% to 80% renewable.

    Achieving the 100% renewables goal, however, will take something more. Reyes says Kit Carson hopes for further improvements in energy technology, possibly including hydrogen.

    “In the next few years, some new technology will come into fruition that will provide energy for night and for cloudy days and will be a renewable product,” said Reyes in an interview with Mountain Town News.

    Aurora Organic Dairy commits to 100% carbon-neutral energy in its fourth Sustainability Report #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Here’s the release from Aurora Organic Dairy:

    Aurora Organic Dairy today published its 2019 Sustainability Report. The report provides a detailed and transparent update on the Company and its progress toward goals to improve its sustainability performance around three core pillars of Animals, People and Planet.

    The Company announced updated goals that encompass three key areas:

  • Caring for the comfort and well-being of its cows and calves, always putting animal care at the forefront of farming practices.
  • Employee safety and wellness, and local community support.
  • Commitments to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, water efficiency and waste reduction, and one important new goal to commit to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “At Aurora Organic Dairy, we have a longstanding commitment to continuous improvement when it comes to our animals, people and planet,” said Scott McGinty, CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. “While we are proud of our achievements, in today’s world, we cannot rest. We must continue to do more to support our animals and people, the environment and our local communities. Our updated sustainability goals strengthen this commitment.”

    The Company’s sustainability goals – established against 2012 baseline data – include many initiatives that have bolstered Aurora Organic Dairy’s sustainability performance:

  • Aurora Organic Dairy farms improved the overall welfare of its animals through goals to reduce lameness, to perform fewer dehorning procedures, to used paired calf housing and to increase video monitoring.
  • Significant progress against People goals was made with increased training programs, communications around the value of benefits, bilingual communication and community centers in remote farm locations. Going forward, Aurora Organic Dairy will continue its focus on safety and on employee volunteerism.
  • For the Planet, Aurora Organic Dairy achieved significant reductions in water and energy. Its milk plant achieved a 71% solid waste landfill diversion rate, and normalized GHG emissions were down 11%. The Company is committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30% by 2025. Given the urgent need to address climate change globally, Aurora Organic Dairy has made an important commitment to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “This last year was a milestone for Aurora Organic Dairy in terms of environmental stewardship,” said Craig Edwards, Director of Sustainability for Aurora Organic Dairy. “We installed solar arrays at our High Plains and High Ridge Dairies in Gill, Colo. and we committed to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020. To get there, we will invest in renewable energy projects directly and will support additional projects by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates and Verified Emission Reductions to address 100% of our electricity and fuels use across our Company farms, raw milk transport, milk plants and headquarters.”

    #Colorado’s cleanest energy options are also its cheapest: New modeling shows the state can decarbonize, at a savings — Vox

    Wind farm Logan County

    From Vox (David Roberts):

    Of all the states in the US, Colorado may be the best prepared for a genuine, large-scale energy transition.

    For one thing, thanks to its bountiful sunlight and wind, Colorado has enormous potential for renewable energy, most of which is untapped. The state currently generates only 3 percent of its electricity from solar and just under 18 percent from wind.

    The political climate is favorable as well. As of earlier this year, Democrats have a “trifecta” in the state, with control over the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on a promise to target 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. In their last session, he and the legislature passed a broad suite of bills meant to boost renewable energy, reform utilities, expand EV markets, and decarbonize the state economy.

    Colorado renewable energy potential: sun on the left, wind on the right. Graphic credit: NREL via Vox

    Over the last year or so, energy systems modeler and analyst Christopher Clack, with his team at the energy research outfit Vibrant Clean Energy (VCE), has been taking a close look at what Colorado is capable of in terms of clean energy, and what it might cost. (The research was commissioned by renewable energy developer Community Energy.)

    VCE has built a model called WIS:dom (ahem, “Weather-Informed energy Systems: for design, operations, and markets”). It can simulate the Colorado electricity system with incredibly granular accuracy, down to a 3-kilometer, 5-minute range, year-round. Using that tool, they have simulated various clean-energy initiatives the state might take, and their impact.

    Xcel Energy’s Greater Sandhill Solar Farm north of Alamosa, Colo. Colorado’s San Luis Valley has some of the nation’s best solar resource. Photo/Allen Best

    Electric vehicles can reduce the #Colorado’s emissions more than anything else #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

    From Vox (David Roberts):

    The Colorado legislature has had an extraordinarily productive year so far, passing a stunning array of climate and clean energy bills covering everything from clean electricity to utilities, energy efficiency, and a just transition. The list is really pretty amazing…

    It got me thinking: Just how big a role are EVs going to play in decarbonization? How should policymakers be prioritizing them relative to, say, renewable energy? Obviously, every state and country is going to need to do both eventually — fully electrify transportation and fully decarbonize electricity — but it would still be helpful to better understand their relative impacts.

    Nerds to the rescue!

    A new bit of research commissioned by Community Energy (a renewable energy project developer) casts light on this question. It models the carbon and financial impacts of large-scale vehicle electrification in Colorado and comes to two main conclusions.

    First, electrifying vehicles would reduce carbon more than completely decarbonizing the state electricity sector, pushing state emissions down 42 percent from 2018 levels by 2040 — not enough to hit the targets on its own, but a huge chunk. Second, electrifying vehicles saves consumers money by reducing the cost of transportation almost $600 a year on average.

    Rapid electrification is a win-win for Colorado, a driver of decarbonization and a transfer of wealth from oil companies to consumers — but only if charging is managed intelligently.

    EVs bring carbon and consumer benefits

    First, the headline: Electrifying EVs…reduces emissions a lot.

    In the EV-grid scenario, electricity sector emissions fall 46 percent — the number is lower because about a third of the additional electricity demand from EVs is satisfied by natural gas — but overall state emissions drop 42 percent, more than two and a half times as much, representing 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s thanks to an 80 percent drop in transportation emissions…

    As I said, that in itself is not enough to meet the state’s emissions target. The state will have to force some additional cleaning of the electricity sector (and deal with other sectors) to do that, as this year’s package of legislation reflects. (I asked Clack if Vibrant ran a scenario without any new natural gas. Yes, he said. “It was $1 billion per year more expensive [around 1¢/kWh, or 15.9 percent more] and decreased emissions by an additional 14.8 metric tons per year.”)

    But the drop in transportation emissions in the EV-grid scenario is sufficient to reduce more overall emissions than the entire Colorado electricity sector produces. EVs are a vital piece of the decarbonization puzzle.

    The effect of all the new EVs on electricity generation is pretty simple: There will be more of it…

    As you can see, in the cleaner-grid scenario, lost coal generation is replaced by a mix of natural gas, wind, and solar. In the EV-grid scenario, it’s roughly the same mix, just a little more of each — the addition of EVs raises total electricity demand by about 20 percent.

    Bonus result: “The increase in generation capacity increases employment in Colorado’s electricity sector by approximately 68 percent by 2040.”

    […]

    And now, here are the fun parts.

    Shifting from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) to EVs would save Colorado consumers a whole boatload of money, for the simple reason that electricity is a cheaper fuel than gasoline. Here are the average savings for a Coloradan that switches from ICEV to EV between 2018 and 2040…

    So the average Coloradan will save between $590 and $645 a year — nothing to sneeze at. “The total savings between 2018 and 2040 are estimated to be $16 billion,” Vibrant says, “which equates to a savings of almost $700 million per year.”

    You might think, with all the new EV demand added to the grid, electricity rates would go up. In fact, relative to the cleaner-grid scenario, the EV-grid scenario has an extremely small impact on rates (0.7 percent difference at the extreme)…

    EVs are a climate triple threat

    What this modeling makes clear is that when it comes to clean energy policy, EVs are a triple threat for Colorado (and, obviously, for other states, though the impacts will vary with weather and electricity mix).

    For the electricity sector, as long as their charging is properly managed, EVs can provide much-needed new tools to help manage the influx of renewable energy…

    For the transportation sector, EVs can radically reduce carbon emissions and local pollution. (Yes, EVs reduce carbon emissions even in areas with lots of coal on the grid.)

    And for consumers, EVs save money, not only because the fuel is cheaper (and getting cheaper all the time) but because EVs are much simpler machines, with fewer moving parts and much lower maintenance costs.

    Especially in states with electricity sector emissions that are already low or falling, transportation is the next big place to look for emission reductions, and EVs are one of the few options that can reduce emissions at the necessary scale and speed. Colorado is right to encourage them.

    Delta-Montrose and Tri-State reach exit agreement — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate

    Craig Station in northwest Colorado is a coal-fired power plant operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Deal sealed for electrical co-op’s exit from Tri-State but the fee unknown

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission and one of its 43 member co-operatives, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, have come to terms. Delta-Montrose will be leaving the “family,” as Tri-State members are sometimes called, on about May 1, 2022.

    What it cost Delta-Montrose to exit its all-requirements contract with Tri-State, however, will remain a secret until then. The figure was redacted in the settlement agreement filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission last Friday. The figure can become public after the split occurs next year, according to Virginia Harman, the chief operating officer for Delta-Montrose.

    See filing with the PUC: PUC filing attachment 7.19.19

    Delta-Montrose will then be supplied by Guzman Energy, although the power purchase agreement has yet to be completed, Harman said.

    Guzman also supplies energy to Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative, which is based in Taos, N.M., as well as the small town of Aztec, N.M.

    In May, Guzman also revealed it was offering to buy several of Tri-State’s coal plants, close them down, and replace the lost generation from other sources. See: A small Colorado company sees opportunity in revolutionizing Colorado’s energy supply.

    The split reflects a fundamental disagreement over the future of electrical generation and the pace of change that has festered for about 15 years. Those different visions became apparent in about 2005 as Tri-State managers sought to build a major new coal plant near Holcomb, Kan., in partnership with Sunflower Electric.

    The utilities were shocked when Kansas denied a permit for the plant, based on the time at the still-novel grounds of its carbon dioxide pollution. When Tri-State finally got its permit for the coal plant in 2017, it had spent nearly $100 million with nothing to show.

    See: Twilight of an energy era as supplier of rural co-ops turns back on coal plant

    Meanwhile, the electrical world had turned upside down. Wind had become the cheap energy, not coal, and it was being integrated into power supplies effectively. Even solar was in cost competitive in places.

    Along among the then 44 member cooperatives, only Kit Carson and Delta-Montrose had refused the 10-year contact extensions to 2050 that Tri-State had wanted to satisfy money markets for long-term loans. Their contracts remained at 2040. The contracts of other member co-ops—including those serving Durango, Telluride, Crested Butte and Winter Park—go until 2050.

    Kit Carson was the first to get out. In 2016, assisted by Guzman, it paid the $37 million exit fee required by Tri-State and set out, also with the assistance of Guzman, to develop solar farms in dispersed parts of its service territory in northern New Mexico. It aims to have 100% solar capability by the end of 2022.

    See: Is Kit Carson’s renewable goal also the answer to rural America’s woes?

    In November 2016, Delta-Montrose informed Tri-State it wanted to buy out its contract, too. It asked for exit figure. The negotiations did not yield an acceptable number to both, and in December Delta-Montrose asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to arbitrate. The PUC agreed over protests by Tri-State that the PUC had no authority. A week was set aside in June, later delayed to begin Aug. 12, for the case.

    No figures have ever been publicly revealed by either Tri-State or Delta-Montrose, although a court document filed early in July reported that Tri-State’s price had been reduced 40%.

    Meanwhile, Tri-State got approval from its members to seek regulation for rate making by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That could possibly have moved the jurisdiction over the Delta-Montrose exit to Washington. It would not affect review by Colorado, New Mexico or other states in which Tri-State operators of resource planning.

    Delta-Montrose and Guzman have not completed plans for how the co-operative may develop its local energy resources. The co-op had reached Tri-State’s 5% allowance for local generation by harnessing of fast-moving water in an irrigation conveyance called the South Canal.

    For Tri-State’s new chief executive, Duane Highley, the task at hand may be how to discourage more exits by other member co-op. Tri-State has argued that it moved slowly but has now is in a position to realize much lower prices for renewable energy generation. It is moving forward on both wind and solar projects in eastern Colorado.

    Delta-Montrose, with 33,000 members, is among the larger co-ops in Tri-State. But even larger one, who together represent nearly half the electrical load supplied by Tri-STate have all dissatisfaction with Tri-State’s slow movement away from coal-fired generation.

    In Southwestern Colorado, Durango-based La Plata Electric recently asked for an exit figure, too.

    Along the Front Range of Colorado, United Power, by far the largest-coop, with 91,000 members and booming demand from oil and gas operators north of Denver, has wanted more renewable energy and greater ability to develop its own resources. Poudre Valley has adopted a 100% clean energy goal.

    Delta-Montrose, with 33,000 members, is easily among the 10 largest co-ops.

    The settlement agreement filed with the PUC says DMEA “shall not assist any other Tri-State member in pursuing withdrawal from Tri-State. The agreement also says that DMEA and Tri-State agree to not disparage each other.

    More than 30% of Tri-State’s generation comes from renewables, mostly from hydropower. This total is little different from that of Xcel Energy. But Xcel in 2017 announced plans to close two of its aging coal plants, leaving it at 55 percent renewable generation in Colorado.

    Tri-State, too, is closing coal plants. A coal plant at Nucla, in southwestern Colorado, west of Telluride, will close early next year, several years earlier than previously scheduled. However, it’s small by coal plant standards, with a nameplate capacity of 114 megawatts, and operates only part time.

    A larger reduction is scheduled to occur by 2025 when one of three coal units at Craig, in northwestern Colorado, will be retired. But a Tri-State official, speaking at a beneficial electrification conference in Denver during June, suggested that a second coal plant could also be retired early. That second coal unit is co-owned with other utilities in Colorado and other states, all of whom have indicated plans to hasten their retreats from coal.

    Tri-State last week also announced a partnership with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy to facilitate a stakeholder process intended to help define what Tri-State calls a Responsible Energy Plan. See: Tri-State Announces Responsible Energy Plan 20190717

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    A long-standing legal dispute in the Colorado energy industry came to an end Monday when Delta-Montrose Electric Association announced it would withdraw from its membership in Tri-State Generation & Transmission, effective May 1, 2020.

    The early withdrawal is part of a definitive settlement agreement between the two energy companies.

    Delta-Montrose Electric Association, a rural utility provider on the Western Slope, said it underwent the effort to secure cheaper rates for customers and purchase more renewable energy.

    2019 #COleg: Colorado lawmakers approve a bevy of energy bills — The Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging at campsite near Steamboat Springs August 21, 2017.

    From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

    “If I had to sum it up in a word, I think I’d say ‘transformative.’ It’s a real shift in our policy, and I think it really shows the direction that Colorado is headed,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “I think it shows that we’re starting to take climate change seriously and recognize the task that’s truly ahead of us if we’re going to do our part to help solve this problem.”

    The bills include efforts to make houses and appliances — from refrigerators, to light bulbs to air conditioners and furnaces — more energy-efficient…

    Lawmakers extended state tax credits for buying electric vehicles and allowed regulated electric utilities to own and operate vehicle charging stations to try to encourage people to buy and drive zero-emission vehicles.

    One of the things that sets Colorado apart from other states working to boost the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is its efforts to look out for affected workers and communities, said Anna McDevitt, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

    The bill reauthorizing the PUC has a provision requiring utilities to include a workforce transition plan when they propose shutting down a power plant. Another section on low-cost bonds to retire power plants for cleaner, cheaper alternatives also provides that a portion of the proceeds helps workers and communities affected by the closures…

    Referring to the PUC bill and its carbon-reduction targets, Xcel Energy said in a statement Friday that the legislation was “heavily negotiated with a broad set of stakeholders” and protects safety reliability and customer costs…

    One bill expands the size of community solar gardens, which are centralized arrays of solar panels that users “subscribe” to. They are intended for people who want to use solar power but whose roofs aren’t suitable, who live in an apartment or can’t afford to install a system.

    Other legislation directs the PUC to study regional transmission organizations that would make it easier for utilities or municipalities to buy wholesale power. Another section requires regulators to take on planning to help facilitate rooftop solar and other distributed-energy installations.

    The PUC also will have to look into so-called “performance-based ratemaking.” That would allow utilities to earn a certain rate of return on things such as increasing energy efficiency or installing a certain amount of rooftop solar rather than just on construction of plants or other infrastructure.

    New Mexico’s ‘mini’ Green New Deal, dissected — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    The Energy Transition Act could be a model for ambitious policies of the future.

    On March 23, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act, a complex bill that will move the state toward cleaner electricity generation, clear the way for the state’s biggest utility to shutter one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants in 2022, and provide mechanisms for a just transition for economically affected communities.

    The bill has the support of the state’s biggest utility — Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM — as well as environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. National media are hailing it as a mini-Green New Deal.

    San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Here’s a breakdown of what the bill does — and doesn’t — do:

    Perhaps most significantly, the bill mandates that New Mexico electricity providers get 80 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2040, and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2045. Those are ambitious goals that will result in huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in a state that currently gets half its electricity from coal and a third from natural gas.

    That said, it’s important to remember that “carbon-free” and “renewable” are not synonyms. The 20 percent of carbon-free electricity can include nuclear, since no greenhouse gases are emitted during fission, as well as coal and natural gas equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Carbon capture is prohibitively expensive — and unproven — but nuclear power is readily available from Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona, where PNM currently gets about 18 percent of its power.

    Also, “electricity” and “energy” are two distinct concepts — a common source of confusion. This bill applies only to electricity consumed by New Mexicans and has no direct bearing on the state’s burgeoning oil or natural gas production. Meanwhile, the Four Corners Power Plant, located in New Mexico but owned by Arizona Public Service, can continue to burn coal under the renewable standards as long as the electricity is exported to other states. But PNM plans to divest its 13 percent ownership in Four Corners Power Plant in 2031, leaving the plant on shakier economic ground.

    The bill helps pave the way for the planned closure of San Juan Generating Station, located just north of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.

    The station’s owner, PNM, announced two years ago that it would likely shut down the plant in 2022 because it was no longer economically viable. Many aspects of this bill are a direct reaction to the pending closure, particularly the sections that allow the utility to take out “energy transition bonds” to cover costs associated with abandonment. Those bonds will be paid off by ratepayers, but not taxpayers.

    This has irked New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based group that has been pushing PNM to clean up its act for years. The group, a critic of the bill, would rather see PNM’s investors shoulder the cost of the bonds. After all, the investors are the ones who have profited handsomely off the power plant for nearly half a century, even as it pumped millions of tons of climate warming gases into the air, along with acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide, health-harming particulates, mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials.

    While the bill does not specifically force the plant’s closure, it does mandate the creation of standards that limit carbon dioxide emissions from large coal-burning plants to about half of what coal emits per megawatt-hour — effectively killing any possibility of keeping the generating station operating.

    The energy transition bonds will help fund a just transition away from coal. Some 450 jobs— about one-fourth of them held by Native Americans — will be lost when the San Juan Generating Station and the associated San Juan Mine close, together with an estimated $356 million in economic activity annually.

    The bill allocates up to $30 million for reclamation costs, and up to $40 million to help displaced workers and affected communities, to be shared by the Energy Transition Indian Affairs Fund, Economic Development Assistance Fund and Displaced Worker Assistance Fund. The Indian Affairs Fund will be spent according to a plan developed by the state, in consultation with area tribal governments and with input from affected communities, and the economic development fund will help local officials diversify the local economy. The bill also requires PNM to replace a portion of the area’s lost generation capacity, in the process creating jobs and tax revenue.

    The new bill has some missing elements. There’s no provision for making amends to the people who have lived near the plant for years and suffered ill health, such as high asthma rates, as a result. It won’t stop Four Corners Power Plant, located just 10 miles from San Juan Generating Station, from belching out pollution (though it does provide for a just transition away from that plant if it closes by 2031), and it doesn’t address the massive climate impact from oil and gas development or transportation. The act is merely an official acknowledgment that coal is dying, and that coal communities could die, too, without help.

    Nevertheless, the Energy Transition Act is remarkable in that it promises to totally decarbonize electricity in a state that has leaned heavily on fossil fuel for decades, while also lending a hand to communities that would otherwise be left behind. It is a good template, or at least a decent sketch, for a national Green New Deal.

    Extra: Listen to High Country News Contributing Editor Cally Carswell’s new Hot & Dry Podcast for even more context on New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act:

    Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

    2019 #COleg: #Colorado Senate Transportation and Energy Committee passes [SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations] 4-3 after 12 hours of testimony #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee passed [SB19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations] on a 4-3, party-line vote after 12 hours of testimony from the public, government officials and industry officials…

    The Colorado Senate Transportation and Energy Committee convened the first hearing for Senate Bill 19-181, dubbed Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations.

    The bill would make a variety of changes to oil and gas law in Colorado, including the following:

  • It would change the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from one of fostering oil and gas development to one of regulating the industry. It also changes the makeup of the COGCC board.
  • It would provide explicit local control on oil and gas development, opening the door for local government-instituted bans or moratoriums, which have previously been tied up in court battles because the industry has been considered one of state interest.
  • It would change the way forced or statutory pooling works, requiring a higher threshold of obtained mineral rights before companies can force pool other mineral rights owners in an area.
  • Testimony during the committee hearing ran the gamut, including state officials, industry officials, business interests and residents, and it was expected to go well into the night…

    Talking about the rallies beforehand — both pro-181 and anti-181 groups — as well as the overflow rooms necessary for all of the attendees, [Carl] Erickson said the scene was wild…

    Dan Gibbs, executive director of department of natural resources; and Jeff Robbins, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; both came out in support of the legislation.

    So, too, did Erin Martinez, who survived a home explosion in Firestone that killed her brother and her husband.

    “With proper regulations and inspections and pressure testing, this entire tragedy could have been avoided,” Martinez said in closing.

    The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee opened the hearing with testimony from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, the measure’s co-sponsor, according to reporting from The Denver Post.

    As he told The Tribune on Sunday, he said during the hearing that the Tuesday hearing was the first of several — with six total to come.

    “At the forefront, objective of this bill is to ensure that we are protecting the health and safety and welfare of Coloradans, the environment, wildlife, when it comes to extraction of oil and gas across the state,” said Fenberg, D-Boulder, according to The Post.

    100% Renewable Energy Needs Lots of Storage. This Polar Vortex Test Showed How Much. — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

    Image credit Tesla.com.

    From Inside Climate News (Dan Gearino):

    Energy analysts used power demand data from the Midwest’s January deep freeze and wind and solar conditions to find the gaps in an all-renewable power grid.

    In the depths of the deep freeze late last month, nearly every power plant in the Eastern and Central U.S. that could run was running.

    Energy analysts saw a useful experiment in that week of extreme cold: What would have happened, they asked, if the power grid had relied exclusively on renewable energy—just how much battery power would have been required to keep the lights on?

    Using energy production and power demand data, they showed how a 100 percent renewable energy grid, powered half by wind and half by solar, would have had significant stretches without enough wind or sun to fully power the system, meaning a large volume of energy storage would have been necessary to meet the high demand.

    “You would need a lot more batteries in a lot more places,” said Wade Schauer, a research director for Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, who co-wrote the report.

    How much is “a lot”?

    Schauer’s analysis shows storage would need to go from about 11 gigawatts today to 277.9 gigawatts in the grid regions that include New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and parts of the South. That’s roughly double Wood Mackenzie’s current forecast for energy storage nationwide in 2040.

    Energy storage is a key piece of the power puzzle as cities, states and supporters of the Green New Deal talk about a transition to 100 percent carbon-free energy sources within a few decades. The country would need to transform its grid in a way that could meet demand on the hottest and coldest days, a task that would involve a huge build-out of wind, solar and energy storage, plus interstate power lines.

    The actual evolution of the electricity system is expected to happen in fits and starts, with fossil fuels gradually being retired and the pace of wind, solar and storage development tied to changing economic and technological factors. The Wood Mackenzie co-authors view their findings, part of a larger analysis of utility performance during the polar vortex event, as a way to show, in broad strokes, the ramifications of different options.

    We’ll Need More Than Just Today’s Batteries

    A grid that relies entirely on wind and solar needs to be ready for times when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

    During the Jan. 27 – Feb. 2 polar vortex event, a 50 percent wind, 50 percent solar grid would have had gaps of up to 18 hours in which renewable sources were not producing enough electricity to meet the high demand, so storage systems would need to fill in.

    The grid would have to be designed to best use wind and solar when they’re available, and to store the excess when those resources are providing more electricity than needed, a fundamental shift from the way most of the system is managed today.

    “In a modern power grid, all these advanced technologies are driving the need for more flexibility at all levels,” said David Littell, principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project and a former staff member for Maine’s utility regulator. Grid operators have to meet constantly changing electricity demand with the matching amount of incoming power. While fossil fuel power plants can be ramped up or down as needed, solar and wind are less controllable sources, which is why energy storage is an essential part of planning for a grid that relies on solar and wind.

    Much of the current growth in energy storage is in battery systems, helped by plunging battery prices. A large majority of the existing energy storage, however, is pumped hydroelectric, most of which was developed decades ago. Other types of systems include those that store compressed air, flywheels that store rotational energy and several varieties of thermal storage.

    Schauer points out that advances in energy storage will need to be more than just batteries to meet demand and likely will include technologies that have not yet been developed.

    And that won’t happen quickly. He views the transition to a mostly carbon-free grid as possible by 2040, with the right combination of policy changes and technological advances. He has a difficult time imagining how it could be done within the 2030 timeframe of the Green New Deal.

    ‘This Is a Solvable Problem’

    The larger point is that such a transition can be done and is in line with what state and local governments and utilities are already moving toward.

    Feasibility is a key focus of the research of Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor, who has looked at how renewable energy and storage can provide all of the energy the U.S. needs.

    He says an aim of using all renewables by 2030 is “an admirable goal” but would be difficult to pull off politically. He thinks it’s more realistic to get to 80 percent renewables by 2030, and get to 100 percent soon after.

    “This is a solvable problem,” Jacobson said, adding that it must be solved because of the urgent need to reduce emissions that cause climate change.

    Local politics may be the most challenging part of quickly making an all-renewable electricity system, Schauer said. To handle a big increase in wind, solar and storage, communities would need to be willing to host those projects along with the transmission lines that would move the electricity.

    Interstate power lines are essential for moving electricity from places with the best solar and wind resources to the population centers. As more solar and wind farms are built, more lines will be needed. Schauer’s analysis assumes that there would be enough transmission capacity.

    “I’m not here to say any of this is impossible, but there are some basic challenges to pull this off in a short period of time, mainly NIMBYism,” he said, referring to the not-in-by-backyard sentiment that fuels opposition to transmission lines.

    Another important element is managing electricity demand, which is not discussed in the Wood Mackenzie report. Littell says some of the most promising ways to operate a cleaner grid involve using technology to reduce demand during peak periods and getting businesses to power down during times when the electricity supply is tight. Energy efficiency improvements have a role, as well.

    Nuclear Power Plant

    Nuclear Power Would Lower Storage Needs

    In addition to the 50-50 wind-solar projection, Schauer and co-author Brett Blankenship considered what would happen with other mixes of wind and solar power, and if existing nuclear power plants were considered as part of the mix.

    By considering the role of nuclear plants, the report touches on a contentious debate among environmental advocates, some of whom want to see all nuclear plants closed because of concerns about safety and waste, and some who say nuclear power is an essential part of moving toward a carbon-free grid.

    The Wood Mackenzie analysis shows that continuing to use nuclear power plants would dramatically decrease the amount of wind, solar and storage needed to get to a grid that no longer burns fossil fuels. For example, 228.9 gigawatts of storage would be needed, compared to 277.9 without the nuclear plants.

    “If your goal is decarbonization, then nuclear gets you a lot farther than if you retire the nuclear,” Schauer said.

    While the report focuses on a few cold days this year, Schauer has also done this type of analysis based on data for all of 2018, including summer heat waves. The lessons are similar, underscoring the scope of the work ahead for the people working for a cleaner grid.

    “It gets even more challenging when you extrapolate to the entire year,” he said.

    The Public Utilities Commission claims authority to hear dispute between the La Plata Electric Association and Tri-State Electric #ActOnClimate

    Micro-hydroelectric plant

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Public Utilities Commission says it has authority to hear dispute

    La Plata Electric Association and other electrical co-ops may gain insight about buying out of a contract with their wholesale electrical supplier after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission ruled this week it can oversee a dispute about the buyout fee.

    LPEA is exploring a buyout from its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, in part, because the wholesaler caps how much renewable power LPEA can purchase from outside sources at 5 percent as part of a contract that does not expire until 2050. Tri-State is a nonprofit of 43 member electric cooperatives, including LPEA and Delta-Montrose Electric Association.

    DMEA is interested in buying out of its contract because Tri-State’s prices have been rising since 2005, and, at the same time, electricity costs in general have fallen, said Virginia Harman, DMEA’s chief operating officer.

    DMEA is also interested in developing more local renewable energy than allowed under its contract with Tri-State, she said.

    “We are not looking for a free exit; we are looking for fair exit,” she said.

    DMEA brought a case to the Public Utilities Commission last year because it felt the fee Tri-State demanded to buy out of its contract is unreasonable.

    DMEA is formally asking the PUC to establish an exit fee that is “just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” according to a news release.

    Becky Mashburn, spokeswoman for DMEA, declined to name the amount Tri-State is asking for the co-op to leave its contract.

    Colorado’s PUC ruled Thursday it has the authority to determine whether Tri-State is charging DMEA a just and reasonable price to buy out of its contract, said Terry Bote, spokesman for the Department of Regulatory Agencies. A hearing about the buyout charge will be held in June, he said.

    Tri-State had filed a motion to dismiss the case brought by DMEA, arguing the dispute about the exit fee is a contractual dispute.

    The PUC rejected Tri-State’s argument, ruling the commission has jurisdiction over the buyout charge dispute because it is a statutory issue, he said.

    @AOC to introduce the resolution for a #GreenNewDeal today in the U.S. House of Representatives #ActOnClimate

    Read the resolution here. Thanks NPR for posting it and thank you Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for your leadership on this issue.

    2019 #NMleg: Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate — The Sante Fe New Mexican #ActOnClimate

    Photo via the City of Santa Fe

    From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andrew Oxford):

    “The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

    Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.

    The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

    There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.

    We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler said.

    Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.

    “It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data. … This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.

    The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

    That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.

    The Green New Deal Is a Great Deal for the Outdoors — Outside Online #ActOnClimate

    From Outside Online (Cameron Fenton):

    The initiative, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is ambitious, but some in the outdoor industry argue it’s the only hope for saving wild places from climate change

    When 27-year-old climate activist Evan Weber thinks about climate change, he thinks about his childhood in Hawaii. He spent those years in the mountains, on beaches, and in the ocean. “Now the beaches that I grew up on don’t exist anymore,” he says. “Sea-level rise has swallowed them into the ocean. The mountains are green for much less of the year. The coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification killing both marine life and surf breaks.”

    That’s what brought him, on November 13, to march on soon-to-be House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hil