Tag Archives: solar

New System Should Connect Wind and Solar Supply with Demand

While the clock ticks on climate change, Coloradans are blessed with an abundance of low-cost wind, solar and storage projects. Sadly, our current regulatory system doesn’t allow this clean energy to be delivered at high levels to the communities that want it.

It is now clear that it is past time to rethink whether Colorado should move beyond the monopoly (and near monopoly) structures that are keeping Colorado communities from decarbonizing their electricity as quickly and as cheaply as they could be. Recently, the city of Boulder conducted a “request for indicative pricing” and found that if the city could “go to market” (you know, like we do for everything from potato chips to cell phones) there is a significant number of providers willing to bring the city high levels of renewable energy in the early 2020s (e.g. 89%) at a cost well below that of Xcel Energy’s expected price.

In 2018, Xcel’s electricity generation in Colorado was still 73% fossil fuel — 40% coal and 33% natural gas. Xcel’s 27% renewable energy in Colorado in 2018 is better than it used to be, but it is still too little, too slow — and too expensive. Most recently, Xcel has brought on the Rush Creek Wind Project (without going to bid) at about $29/megawatt-hour when the price of competitively-bid wind farms would likely have been less than half of that.

By David Monniaux – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=308998

Since the beginning of this century, Xcel has been allowed to spend about $1.5 billion on new and old coal plants in Colorado — expenditures that are now widely recognized as mistakes. Clearly our current “regulated monopoly” system has not served the state well when we have made $1.5 billion of mistakes.Advertisement

Recently the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (which is supposed to protect ratepayers from Xcel’s monopoly power) has begun assigning accountability for Xcel’s mistaken investments in excess coal capacity. The PUC’s decision: 100% of the accountability goes to Xcel’s customers, who not only are expected to pay for the mistaken expenditures on coal, but also they are expected to pay Xcel its full level of profit on the mistakes. Clearly the Xcel-PUC system is broken.

Similarly, the city of Boulder has been trying for almost two decades to exercise its constitutional right to municipalize in order to reduce the carbon intensity of its electricity and make rapid progress in addressing the ravages of climate change. During this time, Xcel has done everything it can (which is a lot) to block Boulder’s progress. Most recently, Xcel has been allowed to back out of a property transfer agreement that Xcel and Boulder spent over a year negotiating, further delaying Boulder’s efforts to decarbonize its electricity supply. Again, it is clear the Xcel-PUC system is broken.

Outside of Xcel territory, much of rural Colorado is served by Tri-State, which also uses its power to keep communities from accessing the low-cost, low-carbon wind and solar that abounds in our state. In comparison, Holy Cross Electric, which serves the area around Aspen, set carbon reduction goals in 2018, and a few short months later they were able to enter into an agreement with Guzman Energy, which will take Holy Cross to almost 70% renewable electricity by 2021, without increasing costs. The difference is that Holy Cross was not served by Tri-State and was not hamstrung by the regulatory system that governs communities in Xcel’s territory.

While there are reforms that can be undertaken to improve the PUC’s regulatory process, it seems likely that the cumbersome regulatory system will not bring us optimal solutions — i.e., the most renewable energy at the lowest cost, the way a more competitive system would.

A group of citizen energy analysts from Boulder County, under the name of Energy Freedom Colorado (energyfreedomco.org) has prepared a white paper of options to help bring Colorado communities more energy options. The Community Energy Options analysis can be found on EFCO’s website, and citizens are working hard to bring these energy freedom options to Colorado.

Having witnessed the failures of Colorado’s regulated monopoly system, it now seems apparent that if Colorado allows market forces, competition and innovation to work, communities will be given more freedom to connect with our abundant low-carbon, Colorado-grown wind and solar electricity at the best possible prices.

U.S. Energy Information Administration Projections Far from Accurate

EIA projections missed unprecedented growth in solar PV installations and a sharp downturn in coal production over the last decade.

For a more detailed analysis of inaccuracy in the EIA’s projections, see CEA’s white paper on the topic here.

Policymakers, utility commissions, investors, and energy companies rely on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) data for a wide range of energy analyses and while the historical data provided by the EIA has been extremely useful in many arenas, the EIA’s projections of future trends are often far from accurate. Our research summarizes a few examples of previously reported inaccuracies in EIA projections (for example, here, here, and here), but also provides what we believe to be the first look at the EIA’s inaccurate projections of U.S. coal production in almost a decade.

The projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) have invariably overestimated the cost of renewable electricity generation and fallen sadly short of predicting new additions of wind and solar capacity. For example, Figure 1 shows that the projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook repeatedly underestimated U.S. utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity from 2011 to 2015 and continue to predict that solar installations will largely stall through about 2025.

In reality, however, solar PV capacity is growing at an unprecedented rate. The Solar Energy Industries Association reported that by the third quarter of 2016, the cumulative U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity (including capacity which was under contract but not yet operating) exceeded the AEO2015 projection for capacity in 2039. Accounting for planned capacity which had been announced but was not yet under contract by Q3 2016 indicates that utility-scale solar PV capacity will soon far surpass all AEO projections for 2040.

Solar PV Capacity and Projections
EIA reference case projections of U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity and historical data (black, bold) as well as points which include planned capacity under contract in Q3 of 2016 and announced but pre-contract installations as of Q3 2016. Projection data taken from the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook, historical data taken from Solar Energy Industries Association’s U.S. Solar Market Insight Reports.

In addition to missing the sharp rise in solar photovoltaic installations, EIA projections also missed a dramatic downturn in coal production over the last decade. They failed to pick up on the trend year after year and still predict flat or rising coal production through 2040, as shown in Figure 2.

History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 1997 to 2040. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook.
History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 2006-2015. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook.

Disruptive innovations tend to precipitate new market trends that are notoriously difficult to predict. Just as the invention of the personal computer led to an abrupt decline in the typewriter industry in the late 1900’s, a massive transition toward renewable resources is transforming U.S. energy markets and so far EIA projections have failed to keep up with this transition. Every year, EIA forecasts predict a return to the trends of the 90’s, but the technological and political landscapes surrounding the U.S. energy industry are changing rapidly and historical precedent suggests that energy markets may never return to those of past decades.

For more details, readers are encouraged to download the full CEA White Paper here.

Community Energy Fair: Speaker Lineup Announced!

2015 Community Energy Fair ̶ Picnic Table Talks

Saturday June 20, 2015 

10 am- 4 pm 

Join the event on Facebook!

We’re excited to announce our speaker lineup for the 2015 Community Energy Fair! Picnic Table Talks will be about 15-20 minutes with time for Question and Answer afterwards.

10:30 am—Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) Part I ̶ Dan MacDonald

CCL is a non-partisan organization that trains everyday citizens to help build the political will for a livable world by reflecting the true cost of carbon-based fuels via a revenue neutral carbon fee that is returned as a household dividend. Learn how you can help.

11 am—Triumph of the Sun! ̶ Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions

Hunter Lovins, an attorney, teacher and world-famous leader in the sustainability and clean energy movements, brings good news from around the world and shows us why what Boulder is doing is important.

12 pm—Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) Part II ̶ Tim Bailey and Tim Wagner

CCL is a national organization that exists to empower citizens to help our country make policies that will address Climate Change. CCL is rapidly gaining momentum across the US. CCL works to shift us off carbon-based fuels and save us money all at the same time.

12:30 pm—How One Citizen Helped Move the Climate Conversation ̶ Julie Zahniser

When Julie Zahniser, a speech pathologist, parent and outdoor enthusiast, wanted to help address climate change issues, she found opportunities right here in Boulder through Clean Energy Action and Boulder’s clean energy campaigns. You can help, too!

1 pm—The Science of Climate Change ̶ Why It is Serious and What We Can Do About It—Chuck Kutscher, PhD

Chuck Kutscher is a dynamic speaker who has been leading many of the National Renewable Energy Lab’s most effective programs for over 30 years and has been Chair of the American Solar Energy Society. Don’t miss Chuck’s inspiring presentation!

2 pm—100% Renewable Energy ̶ Yes We Can!  Ken Regelson, EnergyShouldBe.org

Ken Regelson has helped move energy policy in Colorado for the last decade. He is an electrical engineer, founder of EnergyShouldBe.org and an expert on the real potential of transitioning to Renewable Energy. His talks always have a fun surprise element.

3 pm—Standing Up for Solar Rights in Colorado—Jessica Scott, Vote Solar

Jessica Scott moved from serving Denver to working in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona to make solar a mainstream energy resource. Jessica is an advocate for Vote Solar whose mission says, “The sun got up this morning ready to help, did you?”

3:30 pm—The US Coal Industry is in Dire Straits and I’m Terrified—Huh?? Leslie Glustrom, ̶Clean Energy Action

Co-founder of Clean Energy Action, Leslie Glustrom is one of the nation’s coal industry experts. She has worked tirelessly to build Beyond Coal campaigns in Colorado and the US, but now she is concerned about the rapid US coal industry demise! Come learn why.

2015 Community Energy Fair

CEA 2015 Community Energy Fair

10am to 4pm
Saturday, June 20th, 2015
Scott Carpenter Park
SW corner of 30th and Arapahoe
Boulder, CO (map)
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Sign Up to Become a Sponsor!

Fun & Games, Speakers, Exhibits,
Something for the Whole Family!

CEA Energy Fair Flyer

Join our community in celebrating clean energy and the Summer Solstice at CEA’s first Community Energy Fair!

For the Grownups:

  • Nationally-Known speakers: Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions; Chuck Kutscher, National Renewable Energy Labs; Ken Regelson, EnergyShouldBe.org; and Leslie Glustrom, CleanEnergyAction.org.
  • Exhibitors: highlighting local clean energy and energy efficiency oriented companies and organizations.
  • Picnic Table Talks: Informal discussions with an array of different advocates and experts in energy policy and technology.  Have a burning question?  Get it answered!
  • Alternative Vehicle Demonstrations: Take an electric car for a spin or try out a family cargo bike.  We may even have a fuel-cell based vehicle from NREL.
  • Silent Auction: fundraiser for CEA, with lots of great schwag donated by local businesses!

For the Kiddos:

  • Ride the CEA energy bike, and see just how much work it takes to power a light bulb!
  • A “Capture the Coal Plant” family field game.
  • Carnival games and art activity booths.
  • Connect with other youth working on climate change.

For more information or to volunteer at the Community Energy Fair, email our organizing team at energyfair@cleanenergyaction.org.  If you would like to become a sponsor or exhibitor at the fair, please fill out this form online, and select your desired sponsorship level.

Note that all sponsors of CEA’s 2015 Community Energy Fair must be committed to maximizing energy conservation & efficiency, and achieving a renewable energy-dominated electricity system in Colorado no later than 2030.

A special thanks to our sponsors, Boulder Weekly and Boulderganic!

Boulder Weekly

Boulderganic

Meet GRID Alternatives: Solar for Everyone

Get to know GRID Alternatives

Monday, May 18th, 2015
6:30-8:00pm

Boulder Main Library
Creek Meeting Room
1001 Arapahoe Ave.
Boulder, CO 80302

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Join CEA and Empower Our Future in getting to know GRID Alternatives, Colorado, a nonprofit organization that makes renewable energy technology and training accessible to under-served communities. GRID uses a model similar to that of Habitat for Humanity, training volunteers in how to install distributed solar PV systems. Along with these volunteers, GRID brings together community partners and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for low-income communities, providing energy cost savings, and valuable hands-on experience, while expanding solar access throughout the state.

If you’ve ever thought you might want to learn how to do rooftop solar installations, or if you’re passionate about making sure that the developing renewable energy economy is accessible to everyone,  come learn more about GRID Alternatives.

Learn more about them and their work over on their website.

Presenters:GRID_logo_fullcolor_Colorado
Emily Birk, Outreach Manager
Kristina Sickles, Development Director