How northern Colorado is making the clear vitality transition

The Platte River Energy Authority, a behind-the-scenes utility supplying energy to 350,000 individuals in 4 northern Colorado cities, has lengthy had an progressive plan to transition away from carbon and towards renewable vitality. However its up to date path to get there may be dividing buyer opinions. 

Ought to the authority construct a bridge to a renewable vitality future with an costly new pure gas-powered electrical plant?

5 years in the past, the authority set the daring goal of 100% carbon-free technology by 2030, nicely forward of most utilities’ pledges to chop 80% of fossil gas use by that 12 months. The utility, owned by the cities that distribute its energy in Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park, added intensive wind and photo voltaic in recent times. However a key to its base energy continues to be the coal-fired Rawhide station north of Wellington, emitting 2 million tons of carbon a 12 months and never scheduled for retirement till 2030. 

PRPA is holding public occasions on revisions to its plan that may get to 88% carbon reductions by 2030. That is still extra formidable than Colorado statutory targets for different utilities of 80% cuts from a 2005 baseline. (As a buyer of the Western Space Energy Administration for a few of its vitality wants, PRPA will file its useful resource plan to that federal company.)

The plan has raised the ire of environmental teams and a few metropolis officers as a result of it pitches an enormous new gas-fired generator to return on-line in 2028. The gas-fired plant would function dependable backup energy whereas PRPA completes the transition to extra wind, photo voltaic and utility-scale battery arrays that may maintain renewable energy for peak demand instances. 

Listed below are some questions and solutions concerning the northern Colorado coverage debate: 

Why would the facility authority need a new gasoline plant when momentum is operating away from fossil fuels for electrical energy? 

Platte River Energy Authority’s workers says the utility is extra dedicated than ever to changing into a carbon-free generator as quickly as it could possibly. The issue, workers analysts say, is that wind and photo voltaic will all the time be intermittent energy sources, and guarantees of new-technology battery arrays that may retailer wind and solar energy for backup are nonetheless unproven concepts. 

“Lengthy-duration storage continues to be very conceptual, even right now,” PRPA spokesperson Javier Camacho mentioned.

“We’ve got to make it possible for we are able to reply with our assets rapidly to match the wants of the shopper,” PRPA chief transition and integration officer Raj Setti mentioned Thursday, in presenting an replace on the authority’s long-term useful resource proposal to the board. 

“The issue that we try to resolve shouldn’t be about megawatts” from gasoline vs. coal vs. photo voltaic, Setti mentioned. “The issue we’re fixing is, when is that megawatt out there?”

The 280-megawatt Rawhide station is scheduled to shut by the top of 2029. The authority owns parts of two models on the Craig energy station operated by Tri-State Technology, scheduled to shut for good in 2025 and 2028. 

PRPA presently will get about one-third of its energy from renewables, one-third from coal and one other third from an older gas-powered station. Lately, PRPA has contracted for 225 MW of wind energy, and 22 MW of photo voltaic with some battery storage. Plans are at numerous levels for a whole lot extra MW of photo voltaic with bigger, long-term battery storage. 

However after fielding proposals from dozens of contractors, PRPA nonetheless sees a spot in dependable energy because the coal crops go offline, Camacho mentioned. Most main utilities are maintaining or constructing gas-fired mills as a “dispatchable” or easy-on, fast-off backup provide whilst they transition to a majority of renewable sources. 

The proposed 200-MW alternative of the present gasoline plant would have generators that sooner or later might run on “inexperienced hydrogen” as an alternative of pure gasoline, which means hydrogen produced by renewable vitality sources and saved for burning later. Inexperienced hydrogen burns carbon-free, producing water as a byproduct. 

Who’s opposing the concept of a brand new gasoline plant? 

One of many voices asking for at the least a slowdown within the gasoline plant proposal is the Fort Collins Sustainability Group. Kevin Cross, a convener of that group, mentioned opponents don’t need the facility authority to decide to a $240 million pure gasoline plant that buyers must pay for of their payments over 30 years, when expertise is altering so rapidly. 

Between now and late 2027, when a brand new gasoline plant could possibly be completed, battery storage expertise will enhance, and extra hydrogen analysis will make advances, Collins mentioned, amongst different potential boons for renewable vitality. 

If the price of constructing a gasoline plant proves “to be prohibitively excessive in comparison with different choices, ratepayers in Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park might see very excessive electrical payments far into the longer term,” the opponents mentioned in an open letter to the Fort Collins Metropolis Council, which oversees town’s partial possession of Platte River Energy Authority. 

The authority deserves credit score for being one of many first main utilities to decide to a 100% carbon-free aim, Cross mentioned. However, he added, “they made some progress initially and proper now, they’re not significantly good when it comes to renewables. It’s hovered round 33% to 35% renewable electrical energy since about 2019 to the current. So, , not stellar efficiency.”

An enormous, costly gasoline plant is prone to turn into a “stranded asset” in utility parlance, Cross mentioned, which means an outdated or poorly-designed expertise that’s now not wanted however which has loans that ratepayers are caught with for many years. 

“We predict that they’re transferring too quick,” Cross mentioned, and as an alternative ought to keep away from issuing an RFP for brand spanking new gasoline plant building till they file a completed useful resource plan with federal regulators in 2025. “We predict they could study one thing within the subsequent half 12 months to a 12 months that may make different applied sciences look extra engaging.”

What are different main Colorado utilities doing to make the clear vitality transition? 

Whether or not utilities are transferring too sluggish or too quick to surrender coal and pure gasoline, and cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions, is steadily some extent of competition. 

When Tri-State Technology introduced not too long ago it might shut the ultimate Craig coal unit two years sooner than deliberate, environmental teams cheered. However different Colorado residents questioned whether or not Tri-State had stable constructing plans and deadlines for the photo voltaic, wind or battery energy wanted to exchange Craig and maintain houses lighted and heat. 

Xcel Vitality has additionally not too long ago proposed accelerating its transition to carbon-free, renewable vitality technology. A useful resource plan filed with the Public Utilities Fee requires years of huge building initiatives in wind farms, photo voltaic arrays, progressive large-scale battery backups and full new transmission corridors to hyperlink all of them to the grid. 

However even a number of the shopper teams who’re advocates for renewable vitality are questioning Xcel’s plan, saying it’ll add billions of {dollars} in prices to Xcel’s charge base that buyers must pay again over a long time of billing will increase. 

What is going to occur subsequent in northern Colorado? 

The PRPA board, made up of town mayors, has tentatively accepted the path proposed by workers in in search of a brand new pure gasoline plant as a part of their bridge to the longer term. Nonetheless, a number of the mayors have raised the identical questions of long-term commitments to outdated expertise, they usually’re listening to it from a few of their constituents. 

The PRPA workers will current a closing draft of the longer term useful resource plan in March, Camacho mentioned. They’ll take public and board feedback into consideration and problem revisions in April. The aim is to have a closing plan to the Western Space Energy Administration in July, Camacho mentioned. 

Cross and others will maintain elevating questions on pure gasoline by way of all of these stations, he mentioned. 

“We see this as doubtlessly a fairly large blunder,” Cross mentioned.