FromThe 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.
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.
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.
In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
FromThe 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.”
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 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.”
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 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
FromThe 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.
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/
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
Ethan Bates and Cody Sauve adjust the wiring box on a solar array outside their Delta High School classroom. Bates’ father was a coal mine foreman. Luna Anna Archey/High Country News
Boulder County Solar Contractor Residential Commerical. Photo credit: Flatiron Solar
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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 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 Hill office with around 150 other activists from a progressive group he cofounded called Sunrise Movement. They were demonstrating for a sweeping policy plan championed by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the Green New Deal. It is pitched as an economy-wide climate mobilization to connect environmental, social, and economic policies through legislation and would create everything from investment in federal green jobs for all who want them to a massive green-infrastructure program. The end result would be an overhauled national economy run on 100 percent renewable energy.
While these are lofty goals, and many are skeptical of the plan’s feasibility, advocates see it as setting the bar for a sufficient response to climate change that politicians can be held to. And the proposal is already gaining steam in Washington, D.C., as a platform to rally around heading into 2020: more than 40 lawmakers have endorsed Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a congressional select committee to map out the Green New Deal. Many in the outdoor industry are also paying attention to what could be the best hope to save our ski seasons and protect our public lands.
“It’s an approach that’s so comprehensive that it could be a way for the United States to lead in the direction of stabilizing the climate at two degrees Celsius,” says Mario Molina, executive director of the advocacy group Protect Our Winters. According to a climate assessment put out by the federal government last month, warming above that threshold (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could shorten ski seasons by half in some parts of the U.S. before 2050.
Climate change is already impacting snowpack, and ski resorts across America are scrambling to adapt. This past year, Aspen Snowmass launched a political campaign called Give a Flake to get its customers engaged in climate action, Squaw Valley spent $10 million on snowmaking equipment in 2017, and Vail is pursuing a sweeping program to weatherproof its operations. But, Molina explains, there’s a long way to go to address the ski industry’s fossil-fuel-intensive operations. He believes that something like the economy-wide transition to renewable energy proposed in the Green New Deal is the best way ski resorts will be able to significantly lower their carbon footprints. It would allow them, for example, to hook their resorts up to a central power grid that would spin their lifts with renewable energy and create more sustainable transit options to and from the slopes.
Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), also sees the opportunity to link this kind of large-scale climate action with the outdoor economy, especially when it comes to public lands. An economy powered on 100 percent renewables would obviously erase any incentive for fossil-fuel companies to drill in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bears Ears National Monument. But the OIA is still watching to see how the politics around the Green New Deal shape up. The early support from lawmakers is encouraging, but they’re mostly Democrats. Roberts insists that policies to protect the climate and public lands need bipartisan support, but she thinks that the outdoor industry can help make that happen. “When you look at who takes part in our activities, whether it’s hiking, camping, hunting, or fishing, there are both Republicans and Democrats,” she says. “That’s an opportunity to unite and bring a compelling message that’s separate and apart from what the environmental community is doing.”
As proof, she points to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. In November, Peach State voters passed the measure, in which sales tax from sporting goods and outdoor equipment is used to fund parks and trails, with 83 percent support. In the same election, the governor’s race was so divided that it went to a recount.
Even with glimpses of bipartisan support for the environment, Molina worries that the main hurdle Green New Deal legislation will face is influence from the fossil-fuel industry. Its lobbyists donated more than $100 million to campaigns in the 2016 election, and in 2018 raised $30 million to defeat a Washington State ballot measure that would have added a modest carbon tax on emissions and used the revenue to fund environmental and social programs. Additionally, former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt was tapped to replace Ryan Zinke as interior secretary in December.
But activists like Weber are not giving up. As part of their push for a Green New Deal, they have called for members of the Democratic leadership to reject campaign contributions from fossil-fuel interests. And a few weeks after Weber was in Nancy Pelosi’s office, he and more than 1,000 young people were back in Washington, D.C., this time storming Capitol Hill in a daylong push to get lawmakers to endorse the Green New Deal, an effort that resulted in nearly 150 arrests. They remain unfazed by claims that the plan’s goals are too large. “A Green New Deal is the only proposal put forth by an American politician that’s in line with what the latest science says is necessary to prevent irreversible climate change,” Weber says. “It could mean the difference between whether future generations around the world get to have the same formative experiences in nature that I did—or not.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Elizabeth Warren. Beto O’Rourke. Those are just a few of the high-profile names either leading the development of or jumping to endorse today’s environmental cause célèbre, the Green New Deal. Inside congressional halls, at street protests, and, of course, on climate Twitter — it’s hard to avoid the idea, which aims to re-package ambitious climate actions into a single, wide-ranging stimulus program.
The Green New Deal is being promoted as a kind of progressive beacon of a greener America, promising jobs and social justice for all on top of a shift away from fossil fuels. It’s a proposal largely driven by newcomers to politics and environmental activism (and supported, however tentatively, by several potential presidential candidates and members of the Democratic political establishment). The plan aspires to bring together the needs of people and the environment, outlining “a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty.”
But within the broader environmental movement, not everyone was initially gung-ho on the Green New Deal — at least not without some stipulations.
To understand the debate surrounding the Green New Deal, you need to look beyond its recent prominence in Beltway political circles to the on-the-ground organizations that make up the environmental justice movement. Newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez may be leading the charge, but grassroots leaders who have spent years advocating for low-income families and neighborhoods of color most impacted by fossil fuels say their communities weren’t consulted when the idea first took shape.
For all the fanfare, there isn’t a package of policies that make up a Green New Deal just yet. And that’s why community-level activists are clamoring to get involved, help shape the effort, and ensure the deal leaves no one behind.
Something Old, Something New
Although the term “Green New Deal” has evolved over time, its current embodiment as a complete overhaul of U.S. energy infrastructure was spearheaded by two high profile entities: progressive darling and first-term Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Sunrise Movement, an organization formed in 2017 by young people hellbent on making climate change the “it” issue.
In November 2018, Ocasio-Cortez, with support from Sunrise, called for a House select committee to formulate the package of policies. More than 40 lawmakers signed on to support the draft text. Then shortly before the end of the year, Nancy Pelosi, now the speaker of the House, announced the formation instead of a “Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.”
It wasn’t exactly a win for the leaders of the new environmental vanguard. Sunrise tweeted its displeasure at the committee’s pared-down ambition, taking umbrage with its lack of power to subpoena (a condition for which Ocasio-Cortez had advocated) and the fact that politicians who take money from fossil fuel interests would not be excluded from sitting on it.
The fuss over who gets a say in the formation of the Green New Deal goes back further than Ocasio-Cortez’s or Sunrise’s friendly-ish feud with establishment Democrats. The Climate Justice Alliance, a network of groups representing indigenous peoples, workers, and frontline communities, says its gut reaction to the Green New Deal was that it had been crafted at the “grasstops” (as opposed to the grassroots).
Shortly after Ocasio-Cortez put out her proposal for a select committee, the alliance released a statement largely in support of the concept, but with a “word of caution”: “When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about, the launch of the GND.”
Leaders at the alliance surveyed its member organizations — there are more than 60 across the U.S. — and put together a list of their concerns. Unless the Green New Deal addresses those key points, the alliance says, the plan won’t meet its proponents’ lofty goal of tackling poverty and injustice. Nor will the deal gain the grassroots support it will likely need to become a reality.
“What we want to do is strengthen and center the Green New Deal in environmental justice communities that have both experience and lived history of confronting the struggle against fossil fuel industries,” Angela Adrar, executive director of the alliance, told Grist.
Grist asked several indigenous and environmental justice leaders: If the Green New Deal is going to make good on its promises, what will it take? Here’s what they said.
A more inclusive and democratic process that respects tribal sovereignty
As details get hashed out on what a Green New Deal would actually include, longtime environmental justice organizers say their communities need to be the ones guiding the way forward. “The way that the plan was developed and shared is one of its greatest weaknesses,” Adrar says. “We want to be able to act quickly, but we also want to act democratically.”
She adds that involving the grassroots is especially important in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections, which ushered in many new congressional members pledging to focus on the underrepresented communities they come from. The Climate Justice Alliance is calling for town halls (with interpreters for several languages) to allow communities to help flesh out policies to include in the Green New Deal.
Some of the disconnect could be generational, says Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Many of the leaders espousing the Green New Deal are young people. He says that he and his colleagues were caught off-guard when they saw the plan on social media and that when his network reached out to its members, there was little familiarity or understanding of the Green New Deal.
“Maybe the way of communication of youth is different than what we’ve found in the environmental justice movement and our native movement around the value of human contact — face-to-face human contact,” he says. “We’re asking that leadership of the Green New Deal meet with us and have a discussion how we can strengthen this campaign with the participation of the communities most impacted.”
Any retooling of America’s energy infrastructure will undoubtedly venture into Native American tribes’ lands, where there are already long-standing battles over existing and proposed pipeline expansions, as well as fossil fuel facilities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for “free, prior, and informed consent” from tribes before developers begin any project on their land. So indigenous environmental groups say there needs to be respect for tribal sovereignty and buy-in from tribes for a Green New Deal to fulfill its promise of being just and equitable.
Green jobs should be great jobs
There has been a lot of talk in Green New Deal circles about uplifting poor and working-class communities. Advocates have floated ideas ranging from a job-guarantee program offering a living wage to anyone who wants one to explicitly ensuring the rights of workers to form a union.
But as workers’ rights organizations point out, energy and extractive industries have provided unionized, high-paying jobs for a long time — and they want to make sure workers can have the same or a better quality of life within green industries.
“There’s been a long history of workers that have been left hanging in transition in the past,” says Michael Leon Guerrero, executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which has been working to bridge divides between labor and environmental issues. “For that reason, there’s quite a bit of skepticism in the labor sector.”
Joseph Uehlein, who founded the Labor Network for Sustainability, adds that there needs to be more than just the promise of jobs to entice labor to support a Green New Deal. “Every presidential candidate in my lifetime talks about job creation as their top priority,” he says. “Over the last 40 years, those jobs have gotten worse and worse. A lot of jobs are not so good, requiring two or three breadwinners to do what one used to be able to do.”
Uehlein hopes an eventual Green New Deal will ensure not just jobs that guarantee a living wage, but will go one step further. “We always talk about family-supporting jobs,” he says. “It’s not just about living, it’s about supporting families.”
Do No Harm
Any version of a Green New Deal would likely ensure that the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy — with Ocasio-Cortez setting the bold target of the nation getting 100 percent of its energy from renewables within 10 years.
But defining what exactly counts as “renewable energy” has been tricky. There are plenty of sources of energy that aren’t in danger of running out and don’t put out as many greenhouse gases as coal or oil, but are still disruptive to frontline communities. Garbage incineration is considered a renewable energy in some states, but it still emits harmful pollutants. And when it comes to nuclear energy or large-scale hydropower, the associated uranium extraction and dam construction have destroyed indigenous peoples’ homes and flooded their lands.
The Climate Justice Alliance is also pushing to exclude global warming interventions like geoengineering and carbon capture and sequestration, which they believe don’t do enough to address the root causes of global warming. Both technologies have to do with re-trapping or curbing the effects of greenhouse gases after they’ve been produced. “Carbon capture and sequestration, it’s a false solution from our analysis,” Goldtooth says. The focus needs to be on stopping greenhouse gases from getting into the atmosphere in the first place, he and other critics argue.
As the alliance sees it, a future in which the planet survives requires a complete transition away from fossil fuels and an extractive economy, and toward a regenerative economy with less consumption and more ecological resilience.
Goldtooth and his colleagues are calling for solutions that rein in damaging co-pollutants on top of greenhouse gases. And they support scalable solutions — like community solar projects — that are are popping up in some of the neighborhoods that are most affected by climate change.
A good start
Even though the Green New Deal faces many political obstacles, its proponents are still pushing forward at full speed. “We are calling for a wartime-level, just economic mobilization plan to get to 100% renewable energy ASAP,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on New Year’s Day.
Scientists recently estimated that the world has only 12 years to keep average global temperatures from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the upper limit which many agree we can’t surpass if we want to avoid a climate crisis. The urgency around the latest climate change timeline has brought a lot of new advocates to the table.
According to John Harrity, chair of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and a board member at the Labor Network for Sustainability, the labor movement is becoming more willing to engage on ways to address climate change. “I think the Green New Deal becomes a really good way to put all of that together in a package,” he says. “That evokes for a lot of people the image of a time when people did all pull together for the common good.”
Elizabeth Yeampierre, steering committee co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and executive director of the Brooklyn-based grassroots organization, UPROSE, which works on issues cutting across climate change and racial justice, calls the Green New Deal “a good beginning for developing something that could really have lasting impacts and transformation in local communities and nationwide.”
Since the alliance put out its recommendations, Yeampierre says she’s been in regular contact with both the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez’s office. “To their credit they were responsive and have made themselves available to figure out how we move forward in a way that doesn’t really step over the people,” she explains.
The language in Ocasio-Cortez’ draft proposal has already changed — it now includes clauses to “protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations” and “recognize the rights of workers to organize and unionize.” The document has doubled in length since it was put out in November (at time of publication, it is 11 pages long) and will likely include new edits in the coming days.
Varshini Prakash, a founding member of the Sunrise Movement (and a 2018 Grist 50 Fixer), says she agrees with the Climate Justice Alliance’s recommendation that a Green New Deal prioritize the needs of workers, frontline communities, communities of color, and low-income communities. “Their critiques,” Prakash tells Grist, “are fully valid, and I appreciate what they’re bringing.”
The broad overview of a Green New Deal in Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a select committee, Prakash says, was hashed out quickly after the representative’s team approached Sunrise late last year. (Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to Grist’s inquiry). “This was very rapid fire, it happened on an extremely tight timescale,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of time to do the broad consultation we wanted.”
But Prakash, Yeampierre, and other leaders in the movements for environmental and climate justice are working to make sure there are more folks on board moving forward.
“Climate change isn’t just going to threaten our communities — it’s also going to test our solidarity, it’s going to test how we build relationships with each other,” Yeampierre says. “So I think the Green New Deal can be used as an opportunity to show that we can pass that test.”
In early December, Xcel Energy, a sprawling utility that provides electricity to customers in eight states, including Colorado and New Mexico, announced that it planned to go carbon-free by 2050. In what has been a rough year for climate hawks, this was welcome news. After all, here was a large corporation pledging to go where no utility of its scale has gone before, regardless of the technical hurdles in its path, and under an administration that is doing all it can to encourage continuing use of fossil fuels.
At the Dec. 4 announcement in Denver, Xcel CEO Bob Fowkes said that he and his team were motivated in part by the dire projections in recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. “When I looked at that and my team looked at that, we thought to ourselves, ‘What else can we do?’ ” Fowkes said. “And the reality is, we knew we could step up and do more at little or no extra cost.”
It was a big step, and apparently inspiring. A couple of days later, the Platte River Power Authority, which powers four municipalities on Colorado’s Front Range, pledged to go carbon-free by 2030. Here are seven things to keep in mind about Xcel’s pledge:
Xcel is going 100-percent carbon-free, not 100 percent renewable. There’s a big difference between the two, with the former being far easier to accomplish, because it allows the utility to use not only wind and solar power, but also nuclear and large hydropower. It can also burn some fossil fuels if plants are equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology.
No current power source is truly clean. Solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower plants have zero emissions from the electricity generation stage. However, other phases of their life cycles do result in greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants — think uranium mining, solar panel manufacturing and wind turbine transportation. Even the decay of organic material in reservoirs emits methane. But even when their full life cycles are considered, nuclear, wind, solar and hydropower all still emit at least 100 times less carbon than coal.
Carbon capture and sequestration techniques don’t do a lot for the big picture. Even if all of the carbon emitted from a natural gas- or coal-fired power plant is captured and successfully sequestered without any leakage — and that remains a big “if” — huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are released during the coal mining and natural gas extraction, processing and transportation phases.
Even though carbon sequestration qualifies as “clean energy,” Xcel is unlikely to utilize the technology on any large scale with coal because of the cost. Even without carbon capture, coal is more expensive than other power sources, so why spend all that money just to keep burning expensive fuel? On the other hand, natural gas is relatively cheap, so it makes more sense for Xcel to continue burning the fossil fuel with carbon capture.
Economics play as much a role in this decision as environmentalism. Even as Xcel was making its announcement, executives from PacifiCorp, one of the West’s largest utilities, were telling stakeholders that more than half of its coal fleet was uneconomical, and that cleaner power options were cheaper. So even without the zero carbon pledge, Xcel likely would have abandoned coal in the next couple of decades, regardless of how many regulations the Trump administration rolls back. Meanwhile, renewable power continues to get cheaper, making it competitive with natural gas. And without some kind of big gesture, Xcel risked losing major customers. (The city of Boulder, Colorado, defected from Xcel, a process that has been going on for the last several years, because the utility wasn’t decarbonizing quickly enough.)
Xcel’s move, and others like it, will pressure grid operators to work toward a more integrated Western electrical grid. A better-designed grid would allow a utility like Xcel to purchase surplus power from California solar installations, for example, or the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, and to sell its wind power back in that direction when it’s needed.
Xcel needs better technology to meet its goal. Xcel admits that “achieving the long-term vision of zero-carbon electricity requires technologies that are not cost-effective or commercially available today.” It is banking on the development of commercially viable utility-scale batteries and other storage technologies to smooth out the ups and downs of renewable energy sources. If Xcel is serious about its goal, though, it will need to embrace approaches that don’t necessarily boost the bottom line. That could mean incentivizing efficient energy use, promoting rooftop solar, and implementing rate schedules that discourage electricity use during times of peak demand. It will also need to get comfortable with paying big customers not to use electricity during certain times.
Xcel’s pledge is a big step in the right direction, and it has the potential of becoming a giant leap if other major utilities follow suit. But it also underscores a sad fact: While our elected officials twiddle their thumbs and play golf with oil and gas oligarchs, the very corporations that helped get us into this mess are the ones who are left to take the lead on getting us out.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor.
…the state is using money from a national settlement with Volkswagen to build fast-charging stations at 33 sites across Colorado to give electric-vehicle drivers the confidence they can travel anywhere in the state.
Colorado received $68.7 million from the deal between Volkswagen and the federal government over allegations that the auto company modified computer software to cheat on federal emissions tests. In addition to adding charging stations, the state proposes using the money to convert medium- and heavy-duty trucks, school, shuttle and transit buses, railroad freight switchers and airport ground support equipment to alternative fuels or replace them with electric vehicles.
Along with a spending plan, the state has a road map for electrification of its transportation sector. The state electric vehicle plan looks at “electrifying” key travel corridors and touts the ensuing economic, health and environmental benefits.
In 2017, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order on promoting clean energy that directed the air quality council, state energy office, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Transportation to work together on developing the statewide electric vehicle plan and taking feedback from the public. The health department is the lead agency on overseeing how the Volkswagen funds are distributed.
How near is the future?
Is the dream of 1 million electric vehicle replacing gas-burners too big? State Sen. Kevin Priola doesn’t think so. The Adams County Republican sees the transition to electric vehicles as the next chapter in the history of monumental, and inevitable, societal changes.
“Once wood and coal were used for heating houses and transportation. Then people realized natural gas and petroleum were cleaner and more efficient,” Priola said. “Once people realize that electricity produced and stored from solar panels and wind farms is much more efficient, cleaner and better for transportation, it will be adopted.”
For Priola, the future is now. He owns a Tesla sedan and has solar panels on his house. His electric utility, United Power, gives customers a break for using electricity during slow times so he charges the car overnight. He figures he ends up paying 2 cents a mile to run his car.
The month of December 2018 is probably going to go down in history as the month when all things climate and energy truly and irreversibly changed for the better in the American West.
From bold carbon reduction commitments by big utilities to the fact that the economics of renewables are unbelievably great (and seem to be getting better by the day), this month has been a watershed moment.
Given this, we thought it’d be useful to dive in more deeply and really explore what all these announcements mean. Below, our top ten takeaways from these latest developments:
10. Xcel Energy Will be Shutting Down all its Remaining Coal-fired Power Plants in Colorado
The big news in early December was Xcel Energy’s announcement of its goals to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and to become completely carbon-free in its generation of electricity by 2050.
Bold. There’s no other way to put it. Xcel Energy is not only the first utility in the nation to commit to becoming carbon-free, but did so even as the company currently generates power from many coal-fired power plants.
This was not an announcement from some flaming progressive utility. This was an announcement from a utility that still generates huge amounts of power from carbon-intensive fossil fuels. In fact, Xcel still generates more than 50% of its power from coal in Colorado.
And in the wake of this bold commitment, there’s really no escaping the real implications. If Xcel has any chance of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and going carbon-free by 2050, the company is going to have to shutter all of its remaining coal-fired power plants in Colorado.
That includes the Hayden power plant outside of Steamboat Springs, the Pawnee power plant northeast of Denver, and the entirety of the Comanche 3 plant in Pueblo.
And in all likelihood, to meet their 2030 goal of reducing carbon emissions 80%, it means these plants are going away by 2030.
It may seem drastic, but there’s really no other viable option. As Xcel’s CEO commented, this is about doing something for the climate. And as the economics of coal worsen, Xcel will surely soon be followed by other utilities looking to shed the mounting liabilities of fossil fuels.
9. Platte River Power Authority Will be Shutting Down its Coal-fired Power Plant north of Fort Collins, as well as Divesting its Share of Craig
Xcel’s announcement was big, but Platte River Power Authority’s was bigger.
The Colorado power agency, which serves Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Estes Park, announced its goal of eliminating 100% of its carbon emissions by 2030.
While that’s an astounding goal that almost puts Xcel’s commitments to shame, what’s more significant about Platte River Power Authority’s announcement is that will mean a wholesale transformation in the utility’s generating portfolio.
Currently, nearly 90% of Platte River Power Authority’s electricity is generated by coal or natural gas. And of its fossil fuel-generating portfolio, more than half is provided by the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins and a portion of the Craig power plant in northwest Colorado.
The utility’s announcement all but guarantees the Rawhide plant will be shut down and that it will divest of its ownership in the Craig plant, all by 2030.
Coupled with Xcel’s plans, it means that Colorado will be virtually coal-free by 2030.
8. Pacificorp Has no Economic Choice but to Retire a lot of Coal
Pacificorp, a Portland, Oregon-based utility, owns all or portions of 10 coal-fired power plants in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming (they used to own 11, but shut down an aging plant in Utah in 2015).
To boot, they own coal mines in both Utah and Wyoming.
Yet even this captain of coal in the American West is coming to terms with the reality that its massive fossil fuel enterprise makes no economic sense.
Earlier in the month, the company released a report showing that 60% of its coal-fired generating units are more expensive to operate than developing new alternative sources of power, namely renewable energy.
However, that was just the headline. A closer look at Pacificorp’s report actually reveals that, taken together, all of the company’s coal-fired units are not remotely cost-effective.
Under a base scenario, while some of the company’s coal-fired units are cheaper to operate than alternatives, the savings from retiring uneconomic units would actually offset the costs of retiring the utility’s entire fleet of coal.
Pacificorp has made no decisions or announcements yet. However, in the wake of Xcel Energy’s carbon-free commitment, it seems inevitable the utility will make a similarly bold proclamation in 2019.
Ultimately, we’re likely to see Pacificorp make a big move away from coal in the very near future. Because of the company’s massive coal footprint in the American West, this move promises a massive move to renewable energy in the western U.S.
7. People Served by Colorado Springs Utilities Should be Worried
Colorado Springs Utilities serves the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado and surrounding communities. And while the municipal utility seems innocuous, they generate more than 40% of their power from coal from two coal-fired power plants, including one—Martin Drake power—right in the middle of the City’s downtown.
For years now, residents and ratepayers have sounded the alarm over the Martin Drake power plant, which sours the skies with toxic emissions.
Equally alarming is the fact that Martin Drake is one of the least efficient and most expensive municipally owned power plants to operate in the United States.
In spite of this, the utility seems to have no plans for addressing the rising costs of power except a vague and unenforceable commitment to retire Martin Drake by 2035. What’s more, the utility seems to have no plans to retire its other coal-fired power plant, the Ray Nixon plant located south of Colorado Springs.
So, while other utilities in Colorado are making big moves away from coal, Colorado Springs Utilities is staying firmly committed, at least for the time being, to costly coal.
It’s no wonder why people in Colorado Springs are increasingly incensed over their utility’s inaction.
The unrest will only grow as Colorado Springs Utilities delays providing its customers with cleaner and more affordable power.
6. This is the Beginning of the End for Tri-State Generation and Transmission
Tri-State Generation and Transmission is a utility company that provides wholesale power to 43 member rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
And while Tri-State has a noble goal of energizing rural communities within its service area, the company is facing growing resistance over rising costs.
The reason for rising costs: the company’s heavy reliance on coal-fired power, as well as Tri-State’s investments in coal mines.
Because of this, the utility is facing the prospect of a mass exodus of its customer base.
In 2016, one of its former members, the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in northern New Mexico, bought out its contract with Tri-State. This month, another member, the Delta Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado, filed a complaint with state utility regulators to do the same.
Not only that, but other members, including the United Power Cooperative, La Plata Electric Cooperative, and the Poudre Valley Electric Cooperative, all of which are major revenue generators for Tri-State, are also exploring alternatives to the utility company.
Coupled with the fact that Tri-State’s utility partners, including co-owners of the Craig coal-fired power plant in northwestern Colorado, are moving away from coal, the company is facing a bleak future.
As its members and partners bail, Tri-State’s business model seems doomed to collapse.
That’s not all bad news. As Tri-State declines, its members stand to enjoy more energy freedom and to reap the economic rewards of local renewable energy development.
5. Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service Likely to be Next to Announce Big Moves from Coal
Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service are both large utilities primarily serving Arizona. And both utilities know that the economics of coal simply aren’t worth it.
As the primary owner of the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the largest coal-fired power plant in the American West, Salt River Project decided to shutter the facility by the end of 2019.
Arizona Public Service, is also getting out of the Navajo Generating Station after retiring portions of the nearby Four Corners power plant in northwest New Mexico.
So far, neither Salt River Project nor Arizona Public Service has made any further announcements to move away from coal. However, given that both of the utilities are clearly seeing the reality of coal costs, we should see some additional major shifts away from coal in the west.
Arizona Public Service also owns a portion of the Cholla coal-fired power plant in Arizona. The other owner of Cholla is Pacificorp. And with Pacificorp already seemingly making a move away from coal, it’s hard to believe Arizona Public Service won’t follow.
Salt River Project owns portions of the Hayden and Craig power plants in western Colorado, as well as portions of the Four Corners power plant in New Mexico and Springerville power plant in Arizona. They also fully own the Coronado power plant in Arizona.
Every one of these power plants has been identified as economically costly and risky by financial analysts.
Given all this, it’s hard to believe that Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project will continue to maintain their investments in coal.
4. New Utilities Emerging, Giving Old a Run For Their Money
This is beyond huge.
With the decline in renewable prices, new utilities are actually emerging in the American West.
At the forefront is Guzman Energy, whose stated goal is to “transition an outdated energy economy into the renewable age.”
And just last week, Guzman released a request for proposals to build 250 megawatts of renewable energy in the American West, including 200 megawatts of wind and 50 megawatts of solar.
3. This isn’t Just a Climate Opportunity, it’s a Huge Economic Development Opportunity
More renewable energy means more economic development, particularly in rural communities.
Already in Colorado, the state’s move away from coal to more renewable energy promises more jobs, more local revenue, and overall a huge net economic benefit.
It’s really a no-brainer when you think about it.
For one, developing renewable energy means developing more distributed generating sources, including rooftop solar, wind, and batteries, which are ideally situated in the communities they serve.
For another, as more renewable energy takes hold, energy prices stand to stabilize, if not decline, saving communities in the long run.
Colorado rural electric cooperative Delta Montrose Electric Association’s effort to break free from Tri-State is in fact being driven by the prospect of greater economic prosperity. As the co-op’s CEO stated:
“The decision to separate from Tri-State allows for significant economic benefit for our members – including stabilized rates, development of diverse and low-cost local energy, and the creation of new local jobs.” – Jasen Bronec, chief executive officer, Delta Montrose Electric Association
As utilities throughout the American West make the transition to clean energy, it will inevitably open the door for more economic opportunity.
Rural communities in particular stand to reap big rewards as more generation is built locally, sustaining affordable energy, creating jobs, and creating new revenue.
2. No New Gas is on the Horizon
Don’t think natural gas is getting a pass in all this.
The reality is, in the face of utilities’ carbon-free announcements and acknowledgment of economic truths, there does not seem to be a future for this fossil fuel.
It’s telling that although Xcel Energy announced in 2017 plans to construct new natural gas-fired generating facilities in Colorado, the company ultimately abandoned that plan and instead forecasts a decline in natural gas burning.
It’s no wonder. While the economic of coal are the worst, the economics of natural gas aren’t far behind. Xcel’s own data showed that gas simply couldn’t compete with renewables.
Although natural gas is often thought of as a “bridge” from coal to renewables, it seems the whole notion of a bridge is absurd at this point.
And with the economics being what they are, it seems that utilities are going to start shutting down existing gas plants, effectively demolishing the bridge.
That’s great news for the climate. Despite the assertion that natural gas is cleaner than coal, it actually has an outsized carbon footprint largely because of methane releases associated with fracking.
Methane has 86 times more heat-trapping capacity than carbon dioxide, making it a potent climate pollutant.
1. There’s a Good Chance the American West Will be Coal-free by 2030
Given that all the American West’s most significant coal burning utilities are making or will very likely make big near-term moves away from coal, there’s no doubt that we are likely to see a coal-free American West within a decade.
Sure, not every utility has stepped up to announce bold climate action or a move toward more renewable energy. However, the writing on the wall seems very clear that if utilities don’t go down this path, it could mean their demise.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission is already staring at a bleak future due to its unwillingness to move beyond coal.
Other coal burning utilities in the western U.S., including Deseret Power Electric Cooperative, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, Basin Electric, Idaho Power, Black Hills Corporation, and others are undoubtedly be staring at the same future. Their failure to move beyond coal could very well be their undoing.
That means whether they like it or not, utilities face the prospect of their coal going away and soon.
And that’s why the American West is very likely to be 100% coal-free as early as 2030.
Epilogue: What About Natural Gas Systems?
Amidst the big energy announcements, there’s a conspicuous lack of focus on utilities’ natural gas services. Xcel, Pacificorp, and others aren’t just electricity providers, they also provide gas to homes, businesses, and industry for heating, cooking, and other uses.
While natural gas systems are more distributed and less high profile than huge, filthy coal-fired smokestacks, they’re equally destructive and disconcerting from a climate standpoint.
In fact, from the point of fracking to the point at which natural gas is consumed, massive amounts of carbon emissions are released from our natural gas systems.
While nationwide, methane leaks and combustion at natural gas well and processing plants release more than 200 million metric tons of carbon annually in the U.S., the consumption of natural gas at homes, businesses, and factories releases nearly 800 million metric tons.
In total, carbon pollution associated with natural gas production and consumption in non-power plant sources accounts for more than 15% of all U.S. climate emissions.
Cleaner electricity generation is critical to saving our climate. However, utilities can’t ignore their overall carbon footprints. That means Xcel, Pacificorp, and others need to start paying attention to natural gas.
And who better than to take action to help our nation move away from natural gas than our electric utilities?
They, more than anyone else, have the means to develop the renewable energy to generate the power needed to run electric furnaces, stoves, ovens, hot water heaters, and other appliances.
Truly, utilities like Xcel and others can transition their customers from gas to electricity and ultimately, be as lucrative as ever.
What a month it’s been. Here’s hoping for more progress for the climate, for 100% fossil fuel-free, and for real economic prosperity in the American West. Stay tuned for more!
From wind power maintenance to energy efficiency upgrades, clean energy job opportunities outnumber fossil fuel work in much of the rural Midwest.
A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows the extent to which clean energy is contributing jobs to the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states. It also reflects what the rural Midwest stands to lose from Trump administration actions that harm clean energy, such as its recent call to eliminate subsidies for renewable energy, its tariffs on solar energy equipment, and its plan to weaken the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
The authors say the numbers underscore the need in the Midwest for government policies that are supportive of clean energy instead.
In 2017, the latest data in the report, clean energy employed about 158,000 people in the rural Midwest, according to NRDC. While a larger number of clean energy jobs overall were in urban areas, the rural clean energy jobs stand out for making up a bigger percentage of the overall rural economy…
Fossil fuel industries have faded as major employers in most of the rural Midwest, despite a history in some states closely tied to coal, oil and natural gas production, the report shows. Ten of the 12 states have more rural clean energy jobs than rural fossil fuel jobs. The exceptions are North Dakota, which has the Bakken oil field, and Kansas, where the numbers are close…
In 2017, the Midwest added 31 gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, 24 gigawatts of which are located in rural areas, according to government data cited by NRDC. For some perspective, the country’s largest coal-fired power plants are 2 or 3 gigawatts each. A growing number of cities, including Cleveland and Cincinnati, have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, and much of that power will likely be produced in rural areas.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently highlighted a little-discussed benefit of using renewables like wind and solar to produce electricity: Unlike most power sources, they require “almost no water.”
According to the latest U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data from 2015, 41 percent of the water used in America is for power generation. The next highest use is irrigation for agriculture, accounting for 37 percent of U.S. water use (and close to two-thirds of that is consumptive).
Holy Cross Energy, which supplies seven ski areas including Vail and Aspen, recently announced the goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030, compared to 39 percent now.
That goal articulates unusual ambition even in a time of rapidly plunging prices of renewables. Unlike the spurt of 100 percent goals adopted by towns and cities, Holy Cross has the responsibility for actually delivering. This 2030 goal also pushes beyond those adopted by New York and New Jersey of 50 percent renewables for the same year and California’s 60 percent. Hawaii, which is heavily dependent upon burning expensive oil to produce electricity, has a higher but longer term goal: 100 percent by 2045.
Bryan Hannagen, the chief executive, says Holy Cross has a more ambitious goal in that it thinks it can achieve 70 percent clean energy without raising prices.
“What makes this more ambitious is that we said that we will do it without any increases in power costs. Nobody else has committed to doing that,” says Hannagen, who joined Holy Cross in late 2016 after a stint at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To achieve the goal, Hannagen will also have to figure out how to shed the Holy Cross ownership in a coal-fired power plant. It has an 8 percent stake in Comanche 3, which is located in Pueblo, Colo., and is among the newest coal plants in the country. The plant, which opened in 2010, delivers 60 megawatts to Holy Cross and its 52,000 metered customers. The eastern end of Eagle County, including Vail, has a peak winter load of 10 to 15 megawatts.
Xcel’s big step
Holy Cross can make a big step toward its goal without lifting a finger. The electrical co-operative—all of the customers of Holy Cross are also members and hence owners—gets a fifth of its power from Xcel Energy.
Xcel, in turn, gets much of its energy from two older coal plants, Comanche 1 and 2, also in Pueblo. They began operations in 1973 and 1975. In early September, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission authorized Xcel Energy to close them about a decade early. Xcel plans to replace the lost generation with mostly renewables: wind and solar, backed by batteries but also additional natural gas generation, all of this by the end of 2026. That alone pushes Holy Cross’s current 39 percent clean energy portfolio to 51 percent.
But the Glenwood Springs-based utility wants to dive deeper into decarbonization. The plan, called Seventy70thirty, identifies two tracks.
One component calls for adding renewables from elsewhere, both wind and solar, using Xcel’s transmission capacity. Xcel will be adding wind and solar from the Pueblo area, and Holy Cross might well, too. As with Xcel, Holy Cross has cause to act quickly. The federal production tax credit for wind energy expires in 2019 and the investment tax credit for solar energy expires in 2023.
“We see an opportunity to move right now and lock in some prices of renewables that are at historical low prices,” says Hannegan. He expects prices will continue to decline but more slowly as technology advances and the scale of renewable projects expands.
In this strategy, Holy Cross benefits from a contract negotiated in 1992 with Xcel that gives it more flexibility than other co-operatives in Colorado. Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Electric Association and Grand Valley Electric Association also get electricity from Xcel, but their contracts are all inclusive, unlike that of Holy Cross.
Local renewable generation
The second broad component of Holy Cross’s strategy calls for substantial local renewable generation. The goal calls for 2 megawatts annually of new rooftop solar systems on homes and businesses. But solar farms, such as are now being considered in Pitkin County, are another component. The 5-megawatt solar farm proposed for 34 acres next to a sewage treatment plant several miles down-valley from Aspen is an example of what Holy Cross hopes to see happen every three years beginning in 2020.
Where will the other solar farms go in the mountain valleys that prize open space and where land itself tends to be extremely expensive? There’s no clear answer.
Hannegan says communities served by Holy Cross must ask themselves whether they want a portion of their electricity from local sources or whether they will be content to draw power from outside the region.
Although these projects are more expensive than imported power, “we believe the local economic and resilience benefits they can provide will justify the added costs,” says Holy Cross.
“That is part of a much larger and detailed conversation that we’d like to have over the next few months,” says Hannegan.
The Lake Lake Christine fire that burned 12,588 acres last summer in the Basalt area will certainly be part of the conversation. Electrical lines to Aspen were imperiled. Local renewable generation can make communities, and not just Aspen, more resilient, says Hannegan. Battery storage—if still more pricey—could be part of this conversation of local renewables and resiliency.
The impacts of transmission are already being debated in eastern Eagle County. There, Holy Cross wants to add transmission through Minturn. It has committed to a mile and a half of underground, which is far more expensive than overhead transmission. Conversations are continuing: the argument for the transmission fundamentally comes down to improved resiliency.
About Comanche 3
But about that 750-megawatt coal plant in Pueblo that Holy Cross co-owns? Comanche 3 is the largest in Colorado, the newest, but also likely to be the last to close down. It ranks among the top 10 percent of coal plants with respect to low emissions of its nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide. In carbon dioxide pollution, however, it ranks only middling among coal plants.
To attain its goals, Holy Cross hopes to sell the generation from the coal plant. Better would be to sell the 8 percent share if it’s to attain another goal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions of its power supply by 70 percent as compared to 2014 level.
According to the WRI Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standards, the utility will still be on the hook for greenhouse gas emissions for its share of Comanche 3 as long as it continues to have that 8 percent ownership. Unlike large utilities, the Environmental Protection Agency does not require utilities the size of Holy Cross to track their greenhouse gas emissions. Holy Cross has chosen to do so anyway.
In charting this strategy of deep decarbonization, says Hannegan, Holy Cross believes it is executing the dominant wish of members, as reflected in a poll of 500 members.
“It’s important to them that we conduct our business in the most environmentally sustainable way possible while maintaining reliability, affordability and safety,” says Hannegan. “Our members are our owners, and when the owners tell the company that this what we want to do, we would be foolish not to give them what they want before somebody else does.”
Big hydro delivers big portion of renewables
Holy Cross Energy currently gets 39 percent of its electricity from what it calls clean sources.
The largest chunk 26 percent, comes from Glen Canyon and other giant dams of the West operated by the federal government and distributed by the Western Area Power Administration. Aspen Electric and other municipal and co-operative suppliers also benefit from the WAPA power.
Another 13 percent of Holy Cross power comes from local renewable generation: dabbles of solar here and there, but also the generation from a 10.2-megawatt biomass plant at Gypsum that burns dead beetle-killed wood.
The most unusual project, pushed hard by the late Randy Udall, was capturing methane from a coal mine near Somerset. The methane has far more powerful heat-trapping properties than simple carbon emissions. The Aspen Skiing Co. agreed to provide a price support needed to subsidize the methane-capture project. This is not a renewable resource, but accomplishes the same thing, hence falls under the head of what Holy Cross calls clean energy.
In an upstairs ballroom of downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club, where polar bears and maps of the Arctic decorate the walls, volunteers and activists who campaigned for Washington’s first carbon fee waited cheerfully for election results on Tuesday night. Just after 8 p.m., a first wash of returns that had the initiative on track to pass sent ripples through the room. But as more counties reported in, the likelihood dropped. By 9 p.m., the mood turned, and clusters of supporters retreated to bars across downtown to mourn. On Wednesday morning, 56 percent of Washington voters had rejected the state’s second attempt to tax carbon emissions.
Tuesday night’s returns offered a mixed message on whether states have the momentum to regulate fossil fuels without federal backing. Candidates who support action on climate change won gubernatorial races in Colorado and Oregon, while in Washington, Democratic incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell, who has backed climate initiatives in the Senate, held her seat by a comfortable margin. But ballot initiatives intended to regulate fossil fuel emissions and boost renewable energy sources fell flat.
Colorado won’t tighten fracking restrictions
A pair of dueling initiatives, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74, dealt with regulating the state’s fracking boom, which has butted up against sprawling suburbs. Proposition 112 would have required new oil and gas wells and production facilities to be built at least 2,500 feet away from schools, drinking water sources and homes, a significant increase from current set-back requirements. Amendment 74 would have required payments for any lost property values due to government action, including regulations that affect mineral rights – like Proposition 112.
The result: Both initiatives failed, leaving the state where it started on oil and gas regulations.
Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:
Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.
“We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”
Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.
In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”
Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:
As the world gets hotter and more crowded, our engines continue to pump out dirty emissions, and half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (e.g. stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.
Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.
FromThe Guardian (Damian Carrington and Matthew Taylor):
Simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more, but ‘a smog of complacency pervades the planet’, says Dr Tedros Adhanom
Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.
Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.
“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”
The fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration has been busy rolling back environmental regulations and opening millions of acres of public land to oil and gas drilling. Just last week, the Interior Department announced plans to gut an Obama-era methane pollution rule, giving natural gas producers more leeway to emit the powerful greenhouse gas.
With the GOP controlling the executive branch and Congress, that means state-level ballot initiatives are one of the few tools progressives have left to advance their own energy agendas. Twenty-four states, including most Western ones, permit this type of “direct democracy,” which allows citizens who gather enough petition signatures to put new laws and regulations to a vote in general elections.
“In general, the process is used — and advocated for — by those not in power,” explains Josh Altic, the ballot measure project director for the website Ballotpedia. Nationwide, 64 citizen-driven initiatives will appear on state ballots this November, and in the West, many aim to encourage renewable energy development — and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Proposition 127, known as the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, would require electric utilities to get half of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar — though not nuclear — by 2030. California billionaire Tom Steyer has contributed over $8 million to the campaign through his political action organization, NextGen Climate Action, which is funding a similar initiative in Nevada.
The parent company of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, tried to sabotage the initiative with a lawsuit arguing that over 300,000 petition signatures were invalid and that the petition language may have confused signers into thinking the mandate includes nuclear energy. APS gets most of its energy from the Palo Verde nuclear plant, and the initiative could hurt its revenue.
The progressive group Colorado Rising gathered enough signatures to put Proposition 112 — the Safer Setbacks for Fracking Initiative — to a vote this year. It would prohibit new oil and gas wells and production facilities within 2,500 feet of schools, houses, playgrounds, parks, drinking water sources and more. State law currently requires setbacks of at least 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools. It’s opposed by the industry-backed group Protect Colorado, whose largest funder, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, attracted scrutiny last year after two people died in a home explosion linked to a leaking gas flow line from a nearby Anadarko well.
Amendment 74, sponsored by the Colorado Farm Bureau, would allow citizens to file claims for lost property value due to government action. It is largely seen as a response to Proposition 112, which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says would block development on 85 percent of state and private lands. The Farm Bureau’s Chad Vorthmann says Amendment 74 would amend the state Constitution to protect farmers and ranchers who wish to lease their land for oil and gas from “random” setbacks.
Critics argue that the amendment could lead to unintended consequences. In Oregon, for example, a similar amendment passed in 2004, resulting in over 7,000 claims — totaling billions of dollars — filed against local governments, according to the Colorado Independent. Voters then amended the constitution in 2007 to overturn most aspects of the amendment and invalidate many of these claims.
Two energy-related questions will appear on Nevada’s ballot: Question 6, known as the Renewable Energy Promotion Initiative, and Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative. Funded by Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, Question 6, which would require utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, faces little formal opposition.
Question 3, however, has attracted more attention — and controversy. The initiative was approved in 2016, but because it would amend the state constitution, voters must approve it a second time. It would allow consumers to choose who they buy power from. It’s spearheaded by big energy consumers, including Switch, a large data company, and luxury resort developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which want the freedom to buy cheaper power on the open market without penalty. But environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Western Resource Advocates, say the initiative threatens clean energy development. NV Energy, the regulated monopoly that provides 90 percent of Nevada’s electricity, has several solar projects planned but has said it would abandon some of these projects if the initiative passes due to costs.
Washington could become the first state to pass a so-called “carbon fee.” Initiative 1631 would create funding for investments in clean energy and pollution programs through a fee paid for by high carbon emitters like utilities and oil companies. In 2016, a similar initiative lost by almost 10 points. However, many former opponents are now supporters.
What changed? The 2016 initiative would have imposed a revenue-neutral tax instead of a fee, meaning the money generated by the tax would have been offset by a sales tax cut. Environmental groups felt that the initiative didn’t do enough to promote clean energy or to address the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. But the new fee would bankroll clean energy projects, as well as help polluted communities. The oil and gas industry is funding the opposition campaign, with Phillips 66 contributing $7.2 million so far.
Jessica Kutz is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email her at email@example.com
In an old school gymnasium in Paonia that one speaker commented looked like it had been constructed during the Great Depression, 120 people gathered last week to sort out the future of energy in the 21st century.
The town in west-central Colorado is surrounded by peach and apple orchards, peaks of the West Elk Mountains looming in the background. It’s not really a tourist town, as witnessed by the fact that there’s just one motel.
Paonia used to be a coal town. The West Elk Mine still operates just a few miles away, but the miners have been laid off in droves as giant central-station coal-fired coal plants get shut down in favor of cheaper natural gas but also renewables in more dispersed locations. In 2012, nearly 1,000 people had been employed in the local mines. By 2017, the employment had fallen to just 220.
Many key figures in Paonia and other local communities want to be at the front of that shift, not at the dirty backend. Among them is John Gavan, who semi-retired to the Paonia area after a career in technology. A member of the board of directors for the local electrical provider, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Gavan organized the conference, which is called Engage.
“We have an energy legacy, because of coal. But we now we are transitioning to a new distributed and renewable model,” he said in an interview afterwards. “We want to be sure we are economically engaged.”
Gavan believes that Delta-Montrose is one of the most aggressive electrical co-operatives in the country. A decade ago it began developing electricity using the fast-flowing waters of an agricultural canal.
Elsewhere in Colorado, a utility drew national attention last year when it announced it was planning to close two coal plants and replace the lost generation with primarily wind and solar with some battery storage. Xcel Energy said it could do this and save money for ratepayers and investors. The proposal was approved earlier this month by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Colorado is particularly blessed with a diversity of renewable resources, but the same declining prices have roiled the electrical sector across North America.
Tom Plant, the keynote speaker at Engage, painted a picture of changes being driven from the grassroots. “Congress last year introduced how many energy bills?” he asked rhetorically. None, he answered. But legislators around the country introduced 3,433 bills.
Plant, who is with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy, described the “mainstreaming of renewables.” Wind prices have declined by 67 percent in the last eight years and solar 86 percent. “This changes the economics of the entire marketplace.”
As a state legislator in 2000, Plant introduced a bill proposing a renewable portfolio standard. It got little support. So he did it again. Again, other legislators batted the idea down.
Then, in 2004 voters, bypassed the legislator, requiring Xcel to achieve 10 percent renewable generation. Xcel, which had opposed the mandate, then got to work, meeting its goals years ahead of its deadline. It then met the next, steeper renewables portfolio. It’s now at 30 percent renewables and, with the changes recently approved, by late 2025 expects to hit 55 percent renewables.
“That’s an incredible shift in such a short amount of time,” said Plant of this and other changes. Electricity, he said, has decreased 17 percent in price during the 21st century even as there has been a shift to natural gas and now to renewables.
Plant also took a few shots at Tri-State, the wholesale supplier for several of the mountain towns, including Durango, Crested Butte, and Paonia, too. “They have the highest carbon intensity of any power provider in the country,” Plant said.
A recent report conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that Tri-State could close its coal mines and still save money for members in the long run. See story.
Tri-State, for its part, points out that 30 percent of its portfolio is renewables, same as Xcel Energy now. In addition, Xcel is at 44 percent coal powered in Colorado. However, Tri-State benefits from hydroelectricity from federal dams, something not available to the investor-owned Xcel. In addition to that difference, there’s also the difference in the pace of the shift. Tri-State has added renewables, but at a far slower pace than Xcel.
Another way that utilities will add more renewables is if the power can be moved around the country better to match supplies with demands. Hence the wind of the Great Plains could be paired with the sunshine of California and the desert Southwest in places like Park City and Sun Valley. But there are roughly eight markets in the Western states currently, too small to effectively integrate renewables to maximum efficient. Ultimately, said Plant, it will happen.
Plant said that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan—which President Donald Trump has set out to dismantle—was intended to bring everybody altogether to talk about stuff like energy markets.
“But without that federal push, the question is where will the push come from?” he said. The utilities haven’t really stepped up, at least to the level that Plant and others would like, “so the question is what will cause the utilities to step up?”
Gavan, the conference organizer, compares what is happening now in energy to the giant changes in telecommunications that began in the 1980s.
At the time, AT&T had a monopoly and, with its “baby bells” such as Mountain Bell in Colorado, resisted innovation. Phone calls were also extremely expensive. In the late 1970s, it costs 30 cents a minute to talk to somebody just 5 or 10 miles away.
For example, Colorado’s Grand County had six different prefixes, each one a long-distance call from the next. Winter Park was a long distance call from Granby, and Granby a long distance call from Grand Lake—at 30 cents a minute.
“AT&T acted exactly as Tri-State is acting today: protective, anticompetitive and punitive,” said Gavan. “That’s exactly the wrong game plan.”
The telephone monopoly, he said, had few services available and they were very expensive. Innovators foresaw many possibilities: advanced networking services, voice mail, and then exotic call-handling services of value to businesses.
Gavan was among the challengers of AT&T. In his career he was IT director for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington D.C. For 18 yeas, he was system engineer and IT director of MCI Telecommunications and later WorldCommunications after its acquisition of MCI. He owns seven patents associated with new technology.
Looking back to the 1980s, he sees many parallels between telecommunications giant AT&T and some of the big utilities of today.
“AT&T tried to throw up roadblock after roadblock after roadblock to slow the change in the telephone business model, and in the process they wound up shorting themselves. The same thing is happening here.”
Much of the conference was devoted to discussions about what those futures might look like. Nobody tried to argue that anything short of massive changes were afoot.
On Sept. 20, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board approved adding 150 megawatts of new solar generation, plus battery storage, by 2024. The change means 20 percent of Utilities’ energy will come from renewables. That project, coupled with two others totaling 95 megawatts, will power more than 75,000 homes. The hit to customer billings is an increase of 1 percent over 10 years, Utilities said in a release.
Meantime, Xcel Energy Colorado, serving 1.5 million electric customers in the state, completed a 600-megawatt wind farm, the Rush Creek Wind Project, covering 100,000 acres in five counties: Lincoln, Arapahoe, Elbert, Kit Carson and Cheyenne, The Denver Post reported. Xcel plans to generate most of its power from renewables by 2026.
Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:
Board extends offer for CEO
In an open session on Sept. 17, the Utilities Board unanimously voted to extend an offer to Aram Benyamin to be the next Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Colorado Springs Utilities.
Nearly 130 candidates from across the United States submitted their resumes for consideration. In June, the Utilities Board reviewed the top candidates and determined which candidates should complete advanced screening. In July, the Board reviewed the information and selected seven candidates to proceed as semifinalists.
Over the last few weeks, the full Utilities Board conducted seven semi-finalist interviews with internal and external candidates. Deliberations on who would be moving on as finalists were concluded prior to the Aug. 22 Board meeting.
As part of the process, there were opportunities for employees and the public to meet the CEO finalists and provide feedback to the Board. The Utilities Board incorporated the feedback they received from employees and the public and considered the information as they interviewed the candidates.
Aram Benyamin, P.E.
General Manager of Energy Supply
Colorado Springs Utilities
Aram Benyamin currently serves as the General Manager of the Energy Supply Department at Colorado Springs Utilities.
Prior to Colorado Springs Utilities, Mr. Benyamin was the Senior Assistant General Manager, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) power system, the nation’s largest municipal utility.
At LADWP, Mr. Benyamin was responsible for 4,000 employees with an annual budget of $3.9 billion, serving more than four million residents of Los Angeles.
LADWP’s power system spans over four states. It includes 7,327 megawatts of generation capacity, 3,507 miles of high-voltage 500, 230 and 138 kV AC transmission lines, two 900 miles of 500 kV DC lines and a 465 square mile area of overhead and underground power distribution network.
Mr. Benyamin is a Professional Engineer and has a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering from California State University, Los Angeles. He also has a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from University of La Verne and a master’s degree in public of administration (MPA) from California State University, Northridge.
He has also earned a Certificate, Senior Executives in State and Local Government, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government; Certificate, Executive Business Management Program, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Anderson School of Management; Certificate, Engineering and Technical Management, UCLA; Certificate, Business Management Program, UCLA; Certificate, Leadership for the 21st Century, UCLA; Certificate, Total Quality Management, UCLA; Certificate, Construction Management, UCLA.
Mr. Benyamin’s current and past board member and trustee affiliations include YMCA Downtown Colorado Springs Board Member, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Worldwide District Committee Board Member, Boys and Girls Scouts commissioner, troop committee member and volunteer, Trustee of Joint Safety and Training Institutes, Southern California Public Power Association board member, Large Public Power Council board member and California Municipal Utilities Association board member.
Monday, Sept. 17, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to offer the energy supply general manager, Aram Benyamin, a contract as the new CEO of the $2 billion enterprise.
Benyamin would replace Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO.
He came to Utilities in 2015 from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power after he was ousted the previous year due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. He also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor.
Benyamin tells the Independent that he will accept the offer, although details are being worked out, including the salary. Forte was paid $447,175 a year.
Benyamin will take his cues on major policy issues from the Utilities Board but does have thoughts on power supply, water rights and other issues involving the four services offered by Utilities: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.
He says he hopes to see more options emerge for Drake Power Plant, a downtown coal-fired plant that’s been targeted for retirement in 2035. That’s way too late, according to some residents who have pushed for an earlier decommissioning date…
Utilities has been slower than some to embrace solar and wind, because of the price point, but Benyamin says prices are going down. “Every time we put out an RFP [request for proposals] the prices are less,” he says, adding that renewables will play a key role in replacing Drake’s generation capacity, which at present provides a quarter to a third of the city’s power.
While sources are studied, he says the city is moving ahead with “rewiring the system” to prepare for shutting down the plant. But he predicted a new source of generation will be necessary.
Though he acknowledged he’s not fully versed in Utilities’ water issues, he says it’s his goal to “serve the city first.”
“Any resources we have we need to prioritize them to the need of the city today and the future growth and then decide what level of support we can give to anybody else,” he says.
The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee earlier this year called for lowering the cost of water and wastewater service for outsiders — notably bedroom communities outside the city limits which are running lower on water or face water contamination issues.
Benyamin also says he’s open to further studying reuse of water. “Any chance we have to recycle water or use gray water for irrigation or any other use that would take pressure off our supplies, that’s always a great idea to look into,” he says.
“My short-term vision is to take a look at the organization and kind of recalibrate the vision of what a public utility should be and how a public utility should fit into the vision of the city itself,” Benyamin said.
Long-term goals include identifying what fuel changes Utilities will face and examining the water supply and transmission, he said.
Benyamin said he wants to insert leadership that will boost revenues while maintaining competitive rates. He also foresees increasing renewable energy production and energy storage.
“Renewables and storage are the trend of the future,” he said. “That’s where we’re going.”
Technology for storage and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are becoming more efficient and affordable, Benyamin said. Combining those two factors with improved distribution of electricity will enable Utilities to be more versatile, he said.
The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown is to be closed no later than 2035, but Benyamin said that date could be moved up significantly with more technology, storage and transmission options.
The goal is part of Denver’s new 2018 80×50 Climate Action Plan, which targets sectors with the highest greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a strategy to reduce those emissions by 80 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050.
“While the White House has made a show of stepping back on this issue, it’s important to know that we listen to the people of our city; we listen to our stakeholders, and Denver can keep moving forward and we will remain committed,” Hancock said.
Aspen already uses 100 percent renewable energy sources to power the city, and Boulder, Breckenridge, Lafayette, Longmont, Nederland, the City and County of Pueblo, and Summit County have each committed to doing the same, according to the Sierra Club.
Denver currently ranks third in the nation for the worst urban heat island effect. Caused by human land uses like large paved areas, this effect causes Denver to heat up to 23 degrees hotter on average than nearby rural areas, according to the 2017 80×50 Climate Goal: Stakeholder Report. The report also says Denver can expect other climate impacts, such as increased frequency of extreme weather events, plus reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt.
“This isn’t just an environmental issue. … It’s about health, it’s about equity, … it’s about community and it’s also a jobs issue,” Hancock said. “We took all that information and the science behind it, and we developed a pathway to get us to 80 percent reductions by 2050.”
Three sectors — buildings, transportation and electricity supply —make up 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Denver. The 80×50 plan involves a series of interim goals to reduce emissions in each sector.
For example, in 2025, all municipal buildings will use renewable electricity, Hancock pledged. By 2030, he said, the entire Denver community will use 100 percent renewable electricity.
In order to achieve this goal, Denver must work closely with Xcel Energy Colorado, Denver’s main electricity provider. In early March, Hancock and Xcel Energy Colorado president David Eaves signed the Energy Future Partnership, a formal commitment to collaborate as Denver pursues its renewable energy goals.
In August 2017, Xcel laid out a plan to draw 55 percent of its energy statewide from renewables by 2026, a proposal that is currently under review by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Right now, 44 percent of the electricity Xcel provides Denver comes from coal, while natural gas and renewable energy sources are almost equal, at 28 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to Xcel’s 2017 Annual Community Energy Report for Denver.
With Xcel’s 2026 target, Denver would already receive 55 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
“That allows us to chart a path to say, given what we know, what do we need for Denver to get to 100 percent?” said Thomas Herrod, climate and policy analyst for the city.
Although Denver will still receive 45 percent of its energy from non-renewable sources after 2030, it will implement enough other renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to achieve net-zero non-renewable energy use, Herrod said.
Many of these projects involve the building and transportation sectors, which will take until 2050 to reach their end goals, the city has said.
While Denver plans to reach 15 percent electric vehicle registrations in Denver by 2025, its goal is that all passenger vehicles, taxis and transportation network vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, will be electric by 2050. The hope is that all public transportation will be carbon-free, and after infrastructure expansion, more commuters will depend on telecommuting, biking, walking or using public transit to get to work.
Denver’s population has also doubled since 1960, increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000, and was estimated at over 700,000 as of 2017.
While the city expands, low-income families are pushed farther out, said Jeff Su, executive director of Mile High Connects. The city is partnering with Mile High Connects, a collaborative of 23 grassroots or philanthropic organizations and financial institutions, to make sure that public transportation is affordable for low-income families.
“Families that are already spending 50 percent of their income on housing and transportation cannot afford any more increases on their energy bill as we make this shift to renewable energy,” Su said.
For four years, the city and Mile High Connects have been working on a low-income transit fare. In September, the Regional Transportation District board will be voting on a 40 percent discount for all families at 185 percent or below the federal poverty level, Su said, asking that city and community groups urge the RTD board to accept this low-income fare.
For building infrastructure, the plan includes six benchmarks, starting with a 15 percent reduction in energy use in commercial buildings by 2020, moving to a 20 percent reduction in residential homes, and ending with 50 percent reduction of energy use in commercial buildings in 2050. The plan also sets goals for reducing thermal heating emissions and making new buildings net zero energy.
This means more aggressive energy codes, incentives for new buildings, and a home-energy rating system for residential buildings so that owners, renters and potential buyers can make informed decisions about a home’s efficiency and operating costs, according to the Climate Action Plan.
Denver first began working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 when it released the 2007 Climate Action Plan and current governor and then-mayor John Hickenlooper, signed on to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
In 2012, the city accomplished these goals when it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per capita relative to 2005 values. Then, in 2015, Denver released the first version of its 80×50 goal in its 2015 Climate Action Plan, followed by a two-year stakeholder input process that incorporated expertise from 44 different organizations.
In order to meet The 2020 Sustainability Goals, the first set of benchmarks in the city’s long-term plan, Denver has two years to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by about a million metric tons, from 12.79 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent to 11.8 mmtCO2e. and to meet a variety of consumption reduction targets and identified metrics for improving air quality, food, health and nine other quality of life categories.
“Let’s be clear, there’s a lot that needs to be done to get us there, but we have a lot to build on as well,” Hancock said, referring to the Energize Denver Program and plans to build more electric charging stations, bike paths, walking paths and more efficient public transportation.
“This plan shows that the tools to solve this generational challenge are available and affordable today.”
In one of the latest bids to save the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-burning power plant, the Department of Interior has stepped in to try and stave off its closure. Last week, Timothy Petty, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project, a regional water utility, pressuring it to continue purchasing electricity from the power plant, which is slated to close in 2019.
In the past, the water project, which is operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, has purchased most of its power from the generating station. However, with the impending closure of the plant, the utility began looking to new and cheaper energy sources, including renewables like solar. On Thursday, despite the Interior Department’s recommendation, CAP’s board voted to sign a 20-year power purchase agreement with a solar company.
Those working to save the plant fear that CAP’s decision to move forward with alternative suppliers will prevent any potential investors from coming forward to buy the generating station. However, the utility has said it will still consider purchasing electricity from the power plant if a new owner can “provide competitively priced power,” CAP spokeswoman DeEtte Person said in an email.
The battle to keep the coal-fired power plant running is emblematic of a larger national effort to keep coal in operation, despite market forces that favor natural gas. As part of his “energy dominance” mandate, President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to bolster the country’s coal production, moving to lift regulatory burdens to increase the profitability of the energy source. Time and again those efforts have proven inadequate to save the struggling industry.
Several attempts have already been made in the case of the Navajo Generating Station. In April, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that would provide a multi-million dollar tax break for coal in Arizona, as a way to attract a potential buyer for the generating station. A few weeks ago, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., revealed a draft bill that would require the operator of CAP to purchase as “much of its total power requirements as possible” from the station until the utility has paid off its $1.1 billion debt. In addition to that mandate, the bill would temporarily exempt any potential new owner of the plant from having to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review, and would waive Clean Air Act requirements, according to AZ Central.
If no buyer comes forward — a Chicago-based company has said it might make an offer — the plant will close in December 2019. The generating station supplies over 700 jobs, 90 percent of which are held by citizens of the Navajo Nation. In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye asked for more time to find a buyer before utilities like the CAP pursue alternatives. “We should continue to work to find solutions to keep the plant operating while supporting both the Navajo economy and families,” he said. Both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation also receive royalties from coal production, with 85 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s annual budget coming from the generating station.
In the same week that the Interior Department put pressure on the Arizona utility to buy power from the generating station, a leaked White House draft memo directed the Department of Energy to save struggling coal and nuclear plants across the country. The memo described plans to order grid operators to buy energy from coal and nuclear plants for at least two years, allegedly to boost the resilience of the power grid, according to a statement from the White House.
Despite a coal-friendly administration, Thursday’s vote for solar by the CAP board suggests that coal is no longer considered an economically viable option for future energy generation. Addressing representatives from both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation at Thursday’s board meeting, CAP’s Board President Lisa Atkins stated that the utility was “not at war with coal.” Rather, it was seeking a “long-term, cost-effective, reliable and diverse power portfolio.” Coal, it would appear, no longer has a prime spot in that energy mix.
Jessica Kutz is an editorial intern at High Country News.
This article was first published June 8, 2018 on The High Country News.