Electric Power for Municipal Utilities; what does the future hold?

Colorado Springs, May 7th

In spite of a major hail storm, a great crowd turned out for this.

The landscape of electrical power generation is changing more dramatically today than in the last 130 years, and the impact on municipal utilities is significant.  Rising mining costs, new gas supplies from fracturing, plummeting solar and wind costs, antiquated power grids and health/environmental/climate impacts and regulations are just some of the issues driving this change.

Colorado State University Extension and the Southeast Colorado Renewable Energy Society (SECRES) will be co-hosting a panel discussion entitled “Municipal Electric Utilities: What Does the Future Hold” to identify the opportunities and challenges for municipal utilities in clean and renewable electricity. The discussion will be held at the El Paso County Extension Office – 17 N. Spruce St. in Colorado Springs – on Thursday May 7 from 6-8pm.

Introduction: Jan Martin, 2 term Colorado Springs City

  • Moderator: Cary Weiner, Colorado State University Extension
  • Panelist: Jim Riggins, Colorado Renewable Energy Society
  • Panelist: Vince Guthrie, Fort Carson
  • Panelist: John Romero, Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Panelist: Dan Hodges, Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities
  • Panelist: Norm Weaver, Fort Collins Utilities

Colorado State University’s Faces of Energy photo exhibit will be shown. The traveling exhibit is intended to tell the story of energy in Colorado through the eyes of its citizens. Hors d’oeuvres and non-alcoholic drinks will be served from 6:00 – 6:20pm with the panel running from 6:20 – 7:40pm and the event closing at 8pm.

Registration by Monday, May 4 is required in order to attend and $5 suggested donations will be accepted at the door. For more information and to register, visit www.ext.colostate.edu/munipanel

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Pueblo’s Energy Future

Getting Beyond the Nightmare

An Evening with Susan Perkins

Thursday, March 19, 6-8 PM, free

Patrick A. Lucero Public Library, Lucero Room

1315 E. 7th St., Pueblo, Ph. 719 562-5600

The $70 million Black Hills Peaking Plant has already been approved by the PUC. Puebloans will be paying for this facility for many years, despite the fact that there are more cost effective and environmentally sound options. Learn from an experienced energy attorney and activist what’s wrong with the current system and what some of the options are for taking control and deciding our own energy future.

Susan Perkins is the Principal of Perkins Energy Law, a renewable energy law firm in the Denver Tech Center which has as its focus providing legal and energy policy assistance for the development of renewable and sustainable energy resources in Colorado. Ms. Perkins contributes to the formulation of local, state and national renewable energy policies, and represents a wide range of clients who share the common goal of advancing the use of renewable and sustainable energy resources. Ms. Perkins has practiced law for over thirty years, working initially with top energy law firms and later with a Fortune 200 independent oil company in legal and executive management positions of increasing responsibility.

This General Meeting of the Sierra Club Sangre de Cristo Group is co-sponsored by Re-Volt Pueblo. For more information Kiera Hatton-Sena  (719) 248-5718. There is no cost to attend the meeting, and it is not necessary to be a member of the Sierra Club to attend.

Washington Post article “How not to shutdown coal plants”

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EPA Clean Power Plan and Coal Mining Association

Response to the November 3, 2014 Gazette article by Stuart Sanderson, CEO of the Colorado  Mining Association:

Colorado has been in the forefront in diversifying its economy and its electricity production by increasing its reliance on its rich renewable energy resources, while maintaining relatively low electricity rates.  Portions of the Front Range which have sought opportunities to increase investments in innovative clean technologies have seen steady growth.   The EPA’s Clean Power Plan provides new incentives to continue to modernize our electricity system while saving money over time.

Polls have proven time and again that those of us living in the West want to preserve our clean air and water.  We understand that reducing pollution from our electricity and energy production plays a key part in preserving our quality of life.  Climate protection ranks high among the goals of voters around the country, with voters in Colorado and other swing states overwhelmingly endorsing the proposed Clean Power Plan, including  61 percent of undecided voters and nearly half of Republican voters.  Hart Research Associates, October 2014, http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/FINAL-Swing-State-Voters-on-Climate-Change.pdf.   Voters are much more likely to vote for both Republican and Democratic candidates who want to promote more renewable energy development.  Colorado College State of the Rockies poll, Conservation and Voting, 2014.  https://www.coloradocollege.edu/dotAsset/952beeaf-16a1-43ce-b53e-54eafc3a9a23.pdf.

The Mining Association and others reliant on the use of commodities like coal to generate power have been concerned that the EPA Clean Power Plan implementation will cause disastrous rate increases and loss of jobs.   Coal miners have suffered periodic downturns and job losses because of the volatile nature of the industry.   The coal mining industry faces its current reduced demand primarily due to the low price of natural gas, which has become more competitive in the marketplace.   We all must be sensitive to the impacts on residents in rural areas around the West as a more global and diverse economy allows us to be less reliant on development of fossil fuels for our jobs and economic prosperity.  Fortunately, rural schools, county governments and landowners hosting wind and solar facilities receive large predictable revenue injections from this new type of economic development added to their agricultural resources.

The EPA has encouraged flexible and creative methods for each state to reduce its carbon production, allowing each state to rely on its own strengths.   In fact, increased development of renewable wind and solar resources while reducing our reliance on coal electricity can benefit us in Colorado and around the West, offering stable or fixed prices at low rates, providing an important hedge against fossil fuel price volatility.  Wind and solar facilities produce electricity with zero fuel costs.  This drives down the market price for all electricity that is purchased in the market, not just the wind or solar energy, because the market price for all electricity purchasers is set by the last and most expensive power plant that was chosen to operate.  In this way more of the electricity demand throughout the year is met by lower-cost power.  In Colorado wind energy can be produced at costs competitive with natural gas, and solar energy prices have dropped at to unprecedented lows.  Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis – Version 8.0, Sept. 2014; http://www.lazard.com/PDF/Levelized%20Cost%20of%20Energy%20-%20Version%208.0.pdf.

SunShot, Photovoltaic System Pricing Trends, Historical, Recent, and Near-Term Projections, 2014 ed., September 22, 2014, http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/62558.pdf. These declining costs, compared with the rising capital costs required to maintain outdated and inefficient coal-fired plants, make renewable resources cost-effective in the face of uncertain long-term fuel costs for conventional generation technologies.  Increased renewables will save consumers money.

These prices are not hypothetical, they are offered to utilities in Colorado today.   Public Service Company of Colorado and rural cooperatives receive record low prices for wind and solar energy now, and the result is overall cost savings because while the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, they can stop burning coal and gas, while maintaining a highly reliable combination of electricity generation resources.  American consumers in the top wind energy-producing states — Texas, Wyoming, Oregon, Oklahoma, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, which produce more than 7 percent of their electricity from wind — have actually seen their electricity prices decrease by 0.37 percent over the last 5 years, while all other states have seen their electricity prices increase by 7.79 percent.  Increasing our portfolio of stable-priced renewables reduces overall power prices by offering a lower-priced alternative when fuel prices peak.  Wind energy in Texas is saving consumers $1.2 billion a year by moderating price spikes for electricity, and is saving society $3.3 billion a year by avoiding the costs of pollution and electric power replacement.  “Consumer and Societal Benefits of Wind Energy in Texas”, American Wind Energy Association, Nov. 2014, http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/ERCOT%20report%2011-7FINAL.pdf. “Wind Power’s Consumer Benefits”, American Wind Energy Association, Feb., 2014; http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/AWEA%20White%20Paper-Consumer%20Benefits%20final.pdf.

The landmark 2011 study by the Harvard  Medical School provides a statistical range of cost for the full life cycle of coal.  Their “best estimate” value of the cost of air pollution, mercury poisoning, asthma, cardiovascular disease, lung damage and other effects is 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.  When including climate damage from CO2 and black carbon, the best estimate cost of coal rises to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.  This is more than three times the cost of utility-scale wind generation.  Even the independent HDR Study, commissioned for $500,000 by the Colorado Springs City Council to study the decommissioning of the Martin Drake power plant, provides a median cost of health and environmental impacts of coal (excluding impacts of climate change) to be over $336,000 per ton of emission.

Continued reliance on coal as our primary baseload resource will require higher rates.  Coal cost will continue to increase because shallow, easy to reach coal has been mostly mined out.  The U.S. Energy Information Agency forecasts a 1.4% increase above inflation, every year, in coal fuel between now and 2040.  Higher rates are also required to fund capital investments to replace outdated technology and to provide for reasonable pollution controls.  Colorado Springs Utilities has just announced rate increases because of the coal plant investments required to maintain a reasonable level of emissions, including mercury, ash, nitrous oxide, sulfur oxide, and methane, without even addressing carbon.   Millions more will be required within the next 10 years to reduce carbon emissions, while some of our leaders still insist that continuing to pour money into these outdated technologies.  As we all know, there comes a point when it is more cost-effective to buy a newer vehicle rather than continuing to maintain, repair and replace parts in an older out-of-date vehicle which has completed its useful life.  This is especially true of coal plants which require upgrades and additional equipment to continue to operate, when fuel-free alternatives are available to avoid rising coal and natural gas prices. The Clean Power Plan provides a levelizing influence so that all states can contribute to the overall goal of cleaning up our power system.  In the long run, Coloradans will save money by reducing pollution from our electricity generation.

Sustainable Fort Carson

Fort Carson 2007 2 MW solar array built on reclaimed landfill site

While Mary Barber, Director of Sustainable Fort Carson, is well known as a leader in the Colorado Springs Sustainability community, I did not really know what to expect on the tour of Fort Carson she arranged for us.  What I found was a program more than a decade old with a scale and breadth beyond what I could have imagined.

Fort Carson, located on the southwest side of Colorado Springs can be considered one of the ten largest cities in the state in its own right.  It is a sprawling 137,000 acres with 26,000 active duty military personnel, 42,000 family members, 6,300 civilian employees and provides services to 47,000 local retirees.  The base has had a sustainability program since 2002 covering energy, water, transportation, waste and air quality.  In 2011 Fort Carson was selected as one of 20 pilot sites in the army for Net Zero energy, water and waste which has significantly accelerated the sustainability goals.

Building energy has been improved with deep energy retrofits largely done under performance contracts.  Expansion has allowed Fort Carson to make a significant upgrade to building performance with efficient, new construction.  They now have 77 buildings that are LEED silver, gold or platinum certified.  Ground source heat pumps are used in a number of the new buildings, but the technology was not found to be cost effective for retrofit.  They have centralized monitoring for many of the buildings where they can identify problems and potential savings on-going.

Fort Carson one of 77 LEED Facilities

Fort Carson has a total of 4.7 MW of solar PV installed over 10 separate sites.  An early Fort Carson 2 MW solar array, built in 2007 used reclaimed land previously used as a land fill.

Fort Carson 2007 2 MW solar array built on reclaimed landfill site

As solar PV technology and Fort Carson’s experience have advanced, they are moving to a consolidated site for future installations.  It provides for lower installation costs and better maintainability.  This picture shows a close-up of the currently installed consolidated PV superimposed on the 86 acres of expansion potential.

Fort Carson Consolidate PV site with close-up insert

It is clear that Mary Barber along with Vince Guthrie, DPW Utility Program Manager and Scott Clark, DPW Energy Program Coordination have a lot of practical experience and a willingness to share it.  All the projects have not be resounding successes.  They constructed a pilot micro-grid.  It ties together several critical facilities, their backup generators (allowing these to be shared), a 2 MW solar array and bidirectional charging of a small EV truck fleet.  The bidirectional operation of the EVs has had a number of issues.  Another hard problem Fort Carson has yet to solve is transportation.  Given the sprawling nature of the site, personnel schedules and human factors, they still have a large percentage of single occupant vehicles on the base.

When asked what CRES can do to the help, Vince answered without hesitation that keeping net-metering alive and well in Colorado is hugely important to their success.  They receive all their off-base power from Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) who are very conservative and have only a 10% RE requirement under the current state RPS given their municipal nature.  If IOUs start rolling back net-metering, CSU will likely follow.

More details on Sustainable Fort Carson can be found on the web in “Fort Carson Sustainability Journey”.  The more technically minded CRES members might find the 2012 NREL report “Targeting Net Zero Energy at Fort Carson: Assessment and Recommendations” an interesting read.

Advancing Colorado’s Energy Future

Colorado’s RES

In 2004 Colorado’s voters adopted a renewable energy standard (RES), the first in the country enacted by popular vote.  The Colorado RES has been updated to increase renewable energy requirements since then and now (2014) requires the following:

  • 30% renewable energy by 2020 for investor owned utilities (IOUs)
  • 20% renewable energy by 2020 for rural electrics
  • 10% renewable energy by 2020 for municipal utilities

Here we present links to ideas, approaches and organizations that take on the challenge of advancing well past this sort of RES by pushing to significantly more renewable energy (RE) for electric power generation as well as advancing into efficiency, buildings and transportation.

Boulder’s Energy Future

The residents of Boulder Colorado have a strong sense of environmental responsibility and have embarked on a path to create a municipal utility.  In the project’s own words:

In November 2011, City of Boulder voters narrowly approved two measures that supported exploring the possibility of purchasing Xcel Energy’s distribution system and forming a city owned and operated electric utility. Since the election, significant staff, consultant and volunteer time has been put into this initiative. The main objective of the work has been to determine how the Boulder community could meet its climate change and emission reduction targets while giving Boulder electricity customers reliable and competitively priced energy as well as a voice in decision-making. Over the past several months, staff has started to characterize this vision, both internally and publicly, as “The Electric Utility of the Future.”

A great deal of information on their thinking is contained in  Boulder City Council Study Session on 7/23/2013.  There is also a great deal of information on the modeling performed on the Boulder City Site under “Municipalization“.

Accelerating Fort Collins’ Energy and Climate Goals

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is well known in Colorado for their innovative solutions to energy problems, whole systems thinking and proposals for aggressive progress such as their Reinventing Fire initiatives.

When RMI teamed up with the Fort Collins municipal utility, they conducted an analysis and created a report in which they describe how the city can accelerate their green house gas reduction goals, reduce building energy use by 31%, achieve a carbon neutral electricity sytem and reduce transportation energy use by 48%.

Renewables Revolution

There is a renewables revolution going on in the U.S. and Europe; and renewables create far more jobs than do fossil fuels and nuclear.  So shifting away from fossil fuels and nuclear, including banning fracking, and moving instead rapidly down the renewables path, will improve the Colorado economy and jobs.

The green economy creates three times as many jobs as the dirty and dangerous oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear economy, according to Robert Pollin, the President of Pear Energy and a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst http://cleantechnica.com/2013/03/20/over-3-times-more-green-jobs-per-million-than-fossil-fuel-or-nuclear-jobs/.  The solar industry alone — not including wind, geothermal heat pumps, hydro and energy efficiency– currently employs more people than the coal and natural gas industries combined, according to the National Green Energy Council http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/25475.

In 2013 50% of all new electrical power came from wind and solar, in Europe 68%, according to Jacobson.  In the first quarter of 2014 74% of all new electrical generation in the U.S. came from solar, according to GTM research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, and most of last quarter’s installations were residential.  http://ecowatch.com/2014/05/29/solar-energy-first-quarter-2014/   Increasingly fossil fuels and nuclear cannot compete with renewables even though they receive more subsidies than do renewables.

By 2030 the U.S. can meet 80-85% of all of its energy needs with renewables, and by 2050, 100% according to Jacobson  http://thesolutionsproject.org/#page-fifty-states. Similar findings are reported by Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute in his book Reinventing Fire http://www.rmi.org/reinventingfire .

In Colorado renewables will primarily consist of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and energy efficiency.  Geothermal consists of mainly geothermal and air to air heat pumps.  Geothermal heat pumps are frequently 450% efficient.

At the national level the Solutions Project estimates that by 2050 5.1 million 40 year construction jobs will be created, and 2.6 million 40 year operations jobs.

Once the initial capital costs of reneables have been financed, with, for example, very low interest 30 year loans, the price of the fuel will never go up – fuel from the sun, wind and geothermal are free.  Fossil fuels and nuclear energy cannot compete with free energy from the sun, wind and geothermal.

Once the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industry have been redirected to renewables the renewables revolution will accelerate even faster.

Solutions Project Links

Two page summary of the Solutions Project analysis for Colorado.

Solutions Project study for California.

Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University

 Jacobson, Boulder Talk, Feb 2014


Solutions Project, Map U.S.



Jacobson Interview, David Letterman




Jacobson Interview, Thom Hartmann



50 States Plans to Convert



Questions and Answers



Stanford researcher maps out an alternative energy future for New York



Powering the World for all Purposes With Wind, Water, and Sunlight



A Plan For a Sustainable Future Using Wind, Water, and the Sun



Jacobson Scientific Background