Tag Archives: wind

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.

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)
Share and RSVP on Facebook.
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


Big Energy Seminar

Mark Z. Jacobson, Director of the Atmosphere Energy Program , Stanford University

February 20th, 2014, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Bechtel Collaboratory, Discovery Learning Center
Engineering Dr, Boulder, CO 80302

50 State plans for powering the U.S. with wind, water, and solar power for all purposes

Global warming, air pollution, and energy insecurity are three of the most significant problems facing the world today. This talk discusses the development of technical and economic plans to convert the energy infrastructure of each of the 50 United States to those powered by 100% wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes, including electricity, transportation, industry, and heating/cooling, after energy efficiency measures are accounted for. The plans call for ~80% conversion by 2030 and 100% by 2050 through aggressive policy measures and natural transition. Wind and solar resources, footprint and spacing areas required, jobs created, costs, air pollution mortality and climate cost reductions, methods of ensuring reliability of the grid, and impacts of offshore wind farms on hurricane dissipation are discussed. More information can be found here.

Presenter Bio

Mark Z. JacobsonMark Z. Jacobson is Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment and Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy. He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering with distinction, an A.B. in Economics with distinction, and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University, in 1988. He received an M.S. in Atmospheric Sciences in 1991 and a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences in 1994 from UCLA. He has been on the faculty at Stanford since 1994. His work relates to the development and application of numerical models to understand better the effects of energy systems and vehicles on climate and air pollution and the analysis of renewable energy resources. He has published two textbooks of two editions each and 135 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. He received the 2005 American Meteorological Society Henry G. Houghton Award for “significant contributions to modeling aerosol chemistry and to understanding the role of soot and other carbon particles on climate,” the 2013 American Geophysical Union Ascent Award for “his dominating role in the development of models to identify the role of black carbon in climate change,” and the Global Green Policy Design Award for the “design of analysis and policy framework to envision a future powered by renewable energy.” He co-authored a 2009 cover article in Scientific American with Dr. Mark DeLucchi of U.C. Davis on how to power the world with renewable energy, served on the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, and recently appeared on the David Letterman Show to discuss converting the world to clean energy.

Now We’re Hedging With Wind

Price is not the only economic variable to consider in deciding what kind of generation a utility should build.  Different kinds of power have different risks associated with them.  This is important even if we set aside for the moment the climate risk associated with fossil fuels (e.g. the risk that Miami is going to sink beneath the waves forever within the lifetime of some people now reading this).  It’s true even if we ignore the public health consequences of extracting and burning coal and natural gas.  As former Colorado PUC chair Ron Binz has pointed out, risk should be an important variable in our planning decisions even within a purely financial, capitalistic framing of the utility resource planning process.

Utility financial risk comes largely from future fuel price uncertainty.  Most utility resource planning decisions are made on the basis of expected future prices, without too much thought given to how well constrained those prices are.  This is problematic, because building a new power plant is a long-term commitment to buying fuel, and while the guaranteed profits from building the plant go to the utility, the fuel bill goes to the customers.  There’s a split incentive between a utility making a long-term commitment to buying fuel, and the customers that end up actually paying for it.  Most PUCs also seem to assume that utility customers are pretty risk-tolerant — that we don’t have much desire to insulate ourselves from future fuel price fluctuations.  It’s not clear to me how they justify this assumption.

What would happen if we forced the utilities to internalize fuel price risks?  The textbook approach to managing financial risk from variable commodity prices is hedging, often with futures contracts (for an intro to futures check out this series on Khan Academy), but they only work as long as there are parties willing to take both sides of the bet.  In theory producers want to protect themselves from falling prices, and consumers want to protect themselves from rising prices.  Mark Bolinger at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs took a look at all this in a paper I just came across, entitled Wind Power as a Cost-effective Long-term Hedge Against Natural Gas Prices.  He found that more than a couple of years into the future and the liquidity of the natural gas futures market dries up.  In theory you could hedge 10 years out on the NYMEX exchange, but basically nobody does.  Even at 2 years it’s slim!

Average Volume and Open Interest in NYMEX Gas Futures Contracts

Continue reading Now We’re Hedging With Wind

What Value Should We Place on Our Future?

Courtesy of the Old Marlovian
Courtesy of the Old Marlovian

By: Alexandra Czastkiewicz

October 2013

The social cost of carbon might not be a conversation that comes up at the dinner table, but realize it or not the implications of global climate change are far reaching and daunting. How important is the fate of the future generation? When your children grow up, what kind of world do you want them to experience? Putting a numeric value on the future is difficult, but it must be done if we are to change the direction of our energy future, and introduce cleaner energy technologies that produce less harmful pollution and emissions.

Coal is perceived as a more economic energy source then many renewable technologies. The Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences recently published an article about the implications of modernizing our electricity systems. The US government needs an official cost estimate associated with the production of CO2 from fossil fuels. According to report, without counting pollution and carbon emissions, coal, on average, costs 3.0 cents/kWh versus wind energy (8.0 cents/kWh) or photovoltaics (13.3 cents/kWh) (Johnson et al. 2013). The government is now trying to take into account the environmental costs of using fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. This includes adding a cost of potential damages caused by the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. These potential and already realized costs include damages and deaths incurred from drought, floods, heat waves, hurricanes and other natural phenomenon that have been exacerbated given human induced climate change. Additionally, the social cost of carbon has serious public safety and health implications. Increased pollution has led to increases in asthma, water contamination, and rises in climate sensitive diseases. Every day our health and wellbeing are being compromised and if we do not change our current energy practices, and it will only continue to worsen for our futures. Continue reading What Value Should We Place on Our Future?