Category Archives: Colorado

Xcel’s Ballooning SmartGrid Costs Get Partly Deflated at the PUC

Submitted by amyguinan

When implementation of Boulder’s SmartGrid City began in 2008, it was one of the first and most comprehensive experiments in the nation with smart-grid technology, which uses computers to manage electricity distribution and allows for communication between utilites and consumers.  At the time, the total cost for SmartGrid implementation was estimated at $100 million and Xcel’s share at $15.3 million. The remainder would be paid by companies partnering in the pilot.

By last year, however, Xcel’s share had ballooned to $44.5 million.

In an unexpected move in January, The Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission ruled Xcel could include only two-thirds of the $44.5 million cost of the smart-grid test in its rate base. The remaining $16.6 million will be off limits until Xcel can show the Boulder-based project’s benefits to Colorado ratepayers, the commission said.

“I’m struggling with how quickly those costs have escalated,” said PUC commissioner James Tarpey. Tarpey noted in testimony that an Xcel official had said that if there had been a cap on expenses, the utility would not have conducted the pilot. The message, Tarpey said, was: “Yeah, we really want to do it, but not with our money.”

For more information, see Mark Jaffe’s Denver Post article, here: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_17021599

Update–Windsource Transparent Recalculation Postponed

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on December 28, 2010 – 12:50am

Many supporters of Clean Energy Action are subscribers to Xcel’s “Windsource” program. In recent years, the “Windsource” program has been modified to include not just  wind but also solar and other clean energy sources that are used to meet Xcel’s Renewable Energy Portfolio standard under Colorado law. Consequently, the quotations around the “Windsource” name reflect that “Windsource” can also be providing solar or other non-wind clean energy sources.

The cost of Windsource is approximately $2 per 100 kwh–or about 2 cents/kwh. This is close to a 20% bill impact (on a 10 cent/kwh) charge while Xcel is meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard with less than a 2% bill impact, as called for in Colorado law. The reason why Windsource has a 20% bill impact while meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard has only a 2% rate impact are unclear.

In Docket 09A-772E I worked hard to understand how the Windsource premium was calculated. Despite numerous questions (called “Discovery Requests”) to Xcel and many days of hearing and cross-examination, the basis for the $2 per 100 kwh charge was still completely unclear.

Both the Administrative Law Judge and the full Public Utility Commission agreed that the “Windsource” calculation was not clear and in two separate decisions Xcel was directed to recalculate the “Windsource” premium as part of its 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

After the issuance of these decisions calling for Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium, Xcel asked the Commission to excuse it from filing a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard plan and the Commission granted Xcel’s request. As a result, the recalculation of the “Windsource” premium in a transparent fashion has again been postponed until at least Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Standard filing expected in May 2011 with testimony and hearings expected to last through much of 2011.

Xcel was directed to make a “compliance” filing of the Windsource calculation, which it did on December 14, 2010 and that filing is attached. Once again, the numbers in Attachment B of this compliance filing are completely unclear–particularly Columns 2 and 3 which are the incremental costs and the incremental GWh (Gigawatt hours) for the Windsource program–but which do not have any supporting spreadsheets or calculations.

Xcel’s compliance filing from December 14, 2010 shows (on Attachment B) that the Windsource premium should be about $1.86 per 100 kwh (instead of the $2.12 per 100 kwh that is being charged) but since the difference between the two rates is less than 20%, Xcel does not have to make a change to its “Windsource” premium.

The key decisions in the 09A-772E docket are attached and the key “Windsource” provisions are summarized below. All documents in the 09A-772E docket can be found by searching the PUC website for the 09A-772E docket number and specifying that it is for the electric industry.

Recommended Decision R10-0586 (June 11, 2010)–See Paragraph 135 on page 32 for the Adminstrative Law Judge’s decision that Xcel should recalculate the Windsource premium.

Decision C10-1033 (September 23, 2010)–See Paragraph 12 on page 5 and Paragraph 43 on page 14 for the full Commission’s decision requiring Xcel to “clearly explain how the Windsource premium is calculated”  in the 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing.

Decision C10-1221 (November 10, 2010)–See Paragraphs 8-11 on pages 3-4 allowing Xcel to not submit a 2011 Renewable Energy Standard filing and allowing Xcel to recalculate the “Windsource” premium in a “compliance filing.” Compliance filings are not typically subject to questioning or cross-examination.

At this time it appears that it will likely be late 2011 before the Commission will once again rule on whether the “Windsource” premium has been calculated in a transparent and proper fashion.

[The CEA website is having problems with file attachments. Please contact Clean Energy Action or Leslie Glustrom if you would like the documents discussed in this blog. Thank you.]

Continued Reliance on Coal Will Lead to Higher Utility Bills

Submitted by Amy Guinan on November 4, 2010

With growing foreign demand, diminishing “economically-feasible” coal reserves, and rising mining costs, since October of 2009, the price for a one- month contract for Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, a main Colorado supplier, has risen 67 percent to $13.80 a ton.  Powder River Basin coal has historically been priced at $5 a ton.

With almost 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, the increasing cost of coal will likely continue to be reflected in rate-payers electricity bills.  Xcel Energy, for instance, has had three rate increases in the last 4 years in part to pay for construction of the utilities’ newest coal-fired power plant, Unit III, in Pueblo, CO.

And current electricity prices don’t take into account the impact of possible legislation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide at the federal and state level. “Legislation that’s now stalled in Congress could have placed up to a $17 charge on a ton of carbon emissions. Burning a ton of coal creates about 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide.”

For more information, visit the CEA Coal Supply Constraints Report: Coal_Supply_Constraints_CEA and the Denver Post article on rising coal costs.

Colorado’s Magnificent Clean Energy Potential–Xcel’s 2009 “RFP”

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on May 9, 2010 – 2:13pm

In April 2009, Xcel Energy received the results of its “Request for Proposals,” or “RFP,” for filling future generation needs on its Colorado system. In the midst of a brutal economic crisis, Xcel received over 15,000 MW of clean energy bids–even though it had only sought about 1,000 MW. For reference, Xcel’s peak system demand with a 16% reserve margin is usually between 7,000 and 8,000 MW.

A Denver Business Journal article on the bids is here and a graph showing the bids is attached.

Of the bids received by Xcel, over 7,000 MW of wind and solar bids were proposed for development in the 2011 and 2012 time frame as indicated in Xcel’s May 2009 “30 Day Report” on the bids in the 07A-447E Docket at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Xcel’s Analysis of the bids indicates that adding more renewable energy to the system as we head into a carbon-constrained world is likely to lower system costs, not raise them as shown in Figures 15 and 16 of Xcel’s August 2009 “120 Day Report” on the April 2009 bids.

Both the 30-Day Report and the 120 Day Report on the April 2009 RFP bids were prepared as part of Phase II of Xcel’s 2007 Resource Plan found in Docket 07A-447E at the Colorado PUC with full details available at https://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/efi/EFI.Show_Docket?p_session_id=&p_docket_id=07A-447E .

While replacing fossil fuel resources needs to happen in a considered fashion to ensure system reliability, it is clear that Colorado has magnificent renewable energy resources and an abundance of project developers ready to turn these resources into clean electricity.

As we unleash the entrepreneurial abilities of Colorado’s clean energy developers, we will also help to keep Colorado’s energy dollars in the state, creating jobs, tax revenues and multiplier effects.

Presently, well over $100 million leaves the State of Colorado annually to pay for coal deliveries from Wyoming. With abundant wind and solar in the state, it appears that the amount of money leaving the state to pay for coal could be significantly reduced.

Comanche 3–The Billion Dollar Mistake

Xcel has spent over $1 Billion to build the new 750 MW Unit 3 coal plant in Pueblo (which Xcel refers to as “Comanche 3”) and they are presently trying to bring the coal plant on line. Yet, there are a growing number of signs that the coal plant is a “Billion Dollar Mistake.”

The coal plant has been plagued by engineering and noise issues which are discussed in a recent report to the Colorado PUC here. There is a Powerpoint (starting on page 7 of 35) included in the “Verified Report” at this link which details the problems that Xcel has been experiencing with leaking steam tubes, boiler pumps that won’t work and a high pitched noise that is causing tremendous disturbance to local residents who are becoming depressed and distraught, with many of them moving into hotels (which at least Xcel is paying for) because they can not bear the noise any longer and the sleep deprivation has become too much. Of course moving into a hotel is also a tremendous disturbance to one’s life and the residents’ health issues are becoming exacerbated by the continuous noise that disrupts their sleep and creates serious additional stress.

You can read the comments of the local citizens who are being affected by the noise issue on the PUC website under Docket 10M-135E.

Operating the coal plant will cost approximately $1 billion per decade and add large amounts of CO2, mercury and other pollutants to the environment. Soon Colorado will have to decide whether it is worth putting good money after bad when it comes to the coal plant or whether the money spent operating the plant would be better spent building out the renewable energy infrastrucuture that will keep Colorado powered in the 21st century as coal and pollution control (and likely carbon) costs mount.

Here is a report detailing the history and the expected future costs of operating the coal plant attached.

Xcel has received three rate increases in the last four years totalling over $300 million dollars of additional annual revenue paid by Colorado rate payers and the largest driver in these back-to-back rate increases has been the Unit 3 coal plant.

More information is available on request.

Colorado’s Billion Dollar Mistake

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