Category Archives: Politics

Decarbonization for Boulder-Is It Feasible?

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on May 11, 2010 – 10:39pm

What is meant by decarbonization and could Boulder actually do it?

Decarbonization is a relatively recent term that in this case refers to reducing the carbon content of Boulder’s energy, starting with electricity as the first step. The second step would be to decarbonize the transportation system by moving to electric powered vehicles using the highest level of renewable energy possible. After that, there will be many steps to full decarbonization, but as with any large project, the way to begin is to take the first step–which in this case is decarbonization of the electric supply.

According to the City of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan, about 57% of the City’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions can be attributed to electricity use–with 46% of that being for the commerical and industrial sectors and 11% with the residential sector. By lowering the carbon content of Boulder’s electric supply–or “decarbonizing,” significant reductions can be made in greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of citizens with representation from a number of community groups has suggested that Boulder set a goal of 30% decarbonization by 2012 and 80-100% decarbonization of the electric supply by 2020. There is also a team of people working with the City Staff as the “Decarbonization Tech Team” to explore these possibilities.

Reproduced below is a summary sheet addressing the feasibility of decarbonizing Boulder’s electric supply.

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Stepwise Decarbonization–Is it Feasible??

References available from Leslie Glustrom 303-245-8637 lglustrom at gmail.com
Version 1.1 April 30, 2010

Colorado Has Abundant Wind and Solar Resources

Colorado has over 20 times the amount of wind and solar potential needed to power the state, according to analyses done by the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Governor’s Energy Office.(1) In addition, Colorado has significant methane, biomass, geothermal, efficiency and waste-to-energy resources available for potential development.

Colorado Has Thousands of MW of “Wrench Ready” Clean Energy Projects

In April 2009, Xcel (in Colorado) received over 15,000 MW of wind, solar and other renewable energy bids. (2)

Xcel was looking for about 1,000 MW and so will leave approximately 14,000 MW of clean energy projects sitting in notebooks. Bids submitted to Xcel needed to be fully engineered and to show access to the land, the wind turbines or solar panels, the ability to finance and permit the project and a method of transmitting the electricity to market.  

Thousands of MW of Clean Energy Projects Could be Built in 2011-2012

Of the bids submitted to Xcel Energy in Colorado in April 2009, over 6,000 MW of wind and over 1,000 MW of solar was proposed for development in 2011 and 2012. Clearly, these are “wrench ready” bids. (3)

Modeling Analyses Indicate that Renewable Energy Is Now Cost Competitive

Adding more renewable energy to Xcel’s system is likely to drive system costs down, not up according to Xcel’s modeling of the bids it received using the assumptions approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. As the costs of fossil fuels rise and as efforts to address pollution from fossil fuel burning increase, the costs of operating fossil fuel generating resources mounts while the costs of renewable energy resources fall. This means that shifting to renewable energy can not only be cleaner, it can help reduce the cost of electricity in the 21st century. (4)

Setting “Stretch” Goals Drives Innovation and Economic Success

The entire history of human civilization is driven by the setting of “stretch” goals—and the individuals, companies and countries that set those goals and meet them invariably profit tremendously. China has strong clean energy goals. The United States is caught in policy gridlock in Washington DC. Every utility in the United States will need to decarbonize in the next 1-2 decades. Either our country will fall into mass chaos or the companies and communities that foresee this need and align themselves according will profit immensely from this need. Will this be Boulder or some other community?

Is There an Electric Provider Willing to Partner withBoulder in Meeting These Decarbonization Goals?

At the present time, it is unclear whether Boulder’s present electricity provider, Xcel Energy, is willing to partner with Boulder in meeting the decarbonization goals that are needed to address climate change, drive economic development and avoid fossil-fuel driven utility rate increases. If Xcel Energy does not want to become a willing partner in this effort, citizens will suggest that it is time to find a new electricity provider and not renew the Xcel franchise agreement that expires in late 2010.

References on the reverse side.

References for Stepwise Decarbonization—Is It Feasible  v 1.1 2010-04-30

1) Information on Colorado’s potential for wind and solar can be found in the Governor’s Energy Office report, Connecting Colorado’s Renewable Resources to the Markets, available at http://www.energy.ca.gov/reti/documents/2007-12-21_CO_%20SB91_Task_Force_Report.pdf . Information on the 96 GW of wind potential in Colorado is on pages 8-11. Information on the over 200 GW of Concentrating Solar Power potential is on pages 12-15 and 63 and 64. See especially the bullets at the bottom of page 64. Colorado’s peak electric demand is presently under 12 GW.

2) Information on the 15,000 MW of clean energy bids submitted to Xcel in April 2009 can be found in the “30 Day Report” (submitted May 2009) and the “120 Day Report” (submitted August 2009) to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in Docket 07A-447E, the 2007 Resource Plan. The reports can be downloaded fromhttps://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/efi/EFI.Show_Docket?p_session_id=&p_docket_id=07A-447E .

3) For the information on bids ready for development in 2011 and 2012, see pages 4 and 5 in the 30 Day Report submitted in May 2009 in the 07A-447E Resource Plan Docket. The report can be downloaded from https://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/efi/EFI.Show_Docket?p_session_id=&p_docket_id=07A-447E.

4) Information on Xcel’s modeling of the April 2009 bids can be found in Figures 15 and 16 in the “120 Day Report” submitted in August 2009 to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission  in the 07A-447E Docket. The report can be downloaded from

https://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/efi/EFI.Show_Docket?p_session_id=&p_docket_id=07A-447E .

Further information and references available from

Leslie Glustrom at lglustrom at gmail.com or 303-245-8637.

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

Colorado’s_Billion_Dollar_Mistake_Unit_3_Pueblo_v 1[1]

Xcel’s 2009 Coal Prices Match Price Predicted for 2035–Ooops…

In its last Resource Plan Xcel predicted that its coal prices would stay relatively flat–increasing about 2% a year for the next several decades. Historical prices back to 1998 can be seen in LWG 1-4, part (b).  Until Xcel’s long term coal contracts began expiring in 2005, the average price paid for coal was under $1/MMBTU (million BTUs).

Once the long term coal contracts expired, Xcel’s coal costs have been mounting significantly-averaging over 10%/year. In 2009, Xcel paid over $1.50/MMBTU. In Xcel’s 2009 Annual 10-k report submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Xcel reported paying $1.52/MMBTU for its coal in Colorado. (See page 21 for Xcel’s Colorado coal costs.) In response to the Discovery Question LWG 5-3 (Docket 09A-772E), Xcel provided a 2009 coal cost of $1.61/MMBTU. The reason for the discrepancy is not clear–but either way this is a 50% increase in price in four years–way beyond the 2% per year price increase that was predicted in the last Xcel Resource Plan.

With a coal price in excess of $1.50/MMBTU in 2009, Xcel paid a price for coal in 2009 that it didn’t expect to pay until 2035. Ooops!

A careful assessment of production statistics and the geology of existing coal mines and an analysis of future constraints on coal production indicate that future price increases for coal are likely. While all fossil fuels are subject to complex forces of supply and demand and their price is volatile, the fact that coal is a solid, makes it difficult to work around the very real geologic constraints that exist on economically accessible coal.

More information on coal supplies is available in the extensive Clean Energy Action report issued in February 2009 entitled, “Coal–Cheap and Abundant–Or Is It?”