Tri-State Generation & Transmission, the regional power provider for rural electric co-operatives across several western states, has been facing increased scrutiny recently about its resistance to allowing more sustainable local power generation. This pressure is compounded by the continued decline of coal markets and higher costs of coal generation.
Clean Energy Action has urged Tri-state to be more responsive to local requests and more supportive of local clean energy. Check out this new video by Jared Nast for more information about Tri-State and how you can support clean rural power. Share with your friends!
Read the report mentioned in Jared’ piece for more details.
Community Choice Aggregation is an energy freedom program that permits a community to directly access the competitive market to procure power from the energy supplier they choose. This is in contrast to much of Colorado’s current situation in which a monopoly utility (in Boulder this is Xcel) is granted exclusive rights as a region’s energy supplier by the state. The benefits of a free energy market are many; competitive markets can lead to lower rates, the ability to choose sustainably generated power, and the ability to invest in local solutions which create jobs and keeps money in the local economy. CEA endorses policies for energy freedom, and fortunately, local legislators and non-profits like Energy Freedom Colorado are working to make a path to energy freedom for Colorado.
To give you a better understanding of how it works, let’s begin with the power grid. The three main components of a power grid are energy generation, transmission (of electricity over long distances from power plants to local substations), and distribution (of electricity from a substation to the consumer). Community choice aggregation (CCA) is a cooperation between municipal utilities and investor-owned utilities (IOU) in which the municipal CCA purchases power independently, but the transmission, distribution, and customer interface are maintained by the local IOU as shown below. CCAs served about 3.3 million people in 2016 and are growing rapidly in the eight states where they have been legalized, allowing municipalities in these states to choose their power sources in a way that reflects the values of their community, which include factors like cost, environmental impact, and supporting local energy businesses.
To implement CCA in Colorado, our legislature would need to enact CCA legislation, and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) would need to adopt corresponding rules and regulations. Several structural aspects of Colorado’s electricity grid could make this process more complicated than it has been for other states. For example, most states with CCA had already restructured their IOU to make separate companies for power generation and delivery, which simplifies the process of transitioning to municipally controlled power generation. Further, Colorado is not part of a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO), which is an independent, non-profit operator of a large, integrated transmission grid. Instead, each region’s transmission lines are controlled by the local utility, which complicates the task of transporting power from the generation site across a number of independently owned transmission systems to the municipality. Despite the challenges, we can overcome these obstacles and make the change. If you would like to learn more or help move Colorado forward, here are some links for you:
This month, I had the opportunity to represent Clean Energy Action at the Sierra Club’s ‘Building a Carbon Free Grid’ conference in New Orleans, where hundreds of lawyers, energy economists, policy experts and organizers convened to strategize over the technical and movement-building requirements to achieving a just transition away from fossil-fuel powered electricity system towards one that is powered by renewable energy. Over the course of three inspiring, information-rich days, dozens of panelists provided a broad survey of the work that is being done across America to facilitate the transition to a renewably-powered future; the grassroots campaigns, the economic analyses and the legal battles. Since the conference, a few realizations have been solidified in my mind and they’re mostly good news:
The movement for energy democracy is alive and well.
Perhaps the most inspiring takeaway is the realization that the fight for energy democracy is alive and well and the fight is taking place across the United States from California and Colorado to Mississippi and Philadelphia. Take for example the work of Soulardarity, a non-profit in Highlands Park, Michigan that is combatting energy poverty by installing community-owned solar powered street lights after their utility, DTE Energy removed over 1000 streetlights from the community to cut costs. Or consider the work of One Voice, a non-profit from Jackson, Mississippi that is educating and empowering historically disadvantaged community members to run for leadership positions within Mississippi’s rural electric cooperative utilities that provide electricity to 50% of the state’s population. These are just two examples among many of organizations that are harnessing the opportunity to regenerate economic and political power amidst the transition towards a clean, affordable, flexible energy system.
Clean energy portfolios are a cost-effective and technically-feasible alternative to natural gas generation.
A second huge take away from the Building a Carbon Free Grid conference is the understanding that as coal-fired power plants are retired across the country, utilities need not rush to build new natural gas plants. Rather we can replace coal-fired generation capacity with clean energy portfolios and expect similar or cheaper electricity rates, lower emissions and similar or better grid-reliability services compared to natural gas-fired electricity generation. Consider findings from a report by Rocky Mountain Institute titled ‘The Economics of Clean Energy Portfolios,’ which demonstrates that our vision for a 100% clean energy system is the least cost option AND it is technically feasible, today. The report features 4 real-life case studies of utilities across the country that are considering their options for building new electricity generation, showing that in each case, building out clean energy portfolios would be cost-competitive, equally reliable and allow utilities to circumvent ill-advised investments in natural gas plants that may become stranded assets sooner than we expect.
There are multiple paths towards a clean energy future.
The last key takeaway, and perhaps a launching point for further discussion, is the realization that multiple paths exist towards the destination of 100% clean energy — paths that differ in notable ways. Some paths prioritize policies that regenerate political and economic power within communities most-impacted by climate change. Others define success more narrowly as the integration of large amounts of renewables + storage as quickly as possible by whatever means available. As society moves towards a carbon-free grid we would do well to explore all possible paths that exist and weigh the respective benefits and drawbacks of each. Key questions that will help communities assess their options are: ‘Who will foot the bill for bad investments in coal and natural gas?’; ‘who will own the solar panels,wind turbines, storage devices or even the local grid when they are built?’; ‘who will determine how our energy dollars are being invested?’; ‘how will the eventual savings realized from making the switch to RE + storage and microgrids be passed onto average citizens?’.
Overall, the Building a Carbon Free Grid Conference was inspiring and refreshing — I am now certain that we will win this fight. We are already winning across the country at the state and local level thanks to the many individuals and organizations that have dedicated their lives to the vital work of transforming our energy system.
Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy