Platte River Power Authority recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The study found that the northern Colorado generation and transmission utility can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).
A story in RMI Outlet, the Rocky Mountain Institute blog, noted that researchers used relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and did not consider demand-side efforts in their calculations. This is significant not only because the estimated difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent.
History of commitment PRPA and its municipal utility owners—Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland—have a long-standing commitment to clean energy and efficiency. The G&T contracts for approximately 198 megawatts of carbon-free resources from wind, hydropower and solar assets. In fall 2016, PRPA diversified its power production portfolio further by adding 30 MW of solar power at Rawhide Flats Solar.
Calculating total cost Technology company Siemens performed the study that is unique in showing a low cost for net-zero generation that incorporates transmission costs and balancing charges as well as fuel costs. RMI calls it proof that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal even in coal country and that renewables can compete anywhere.
WAPA celebrates PRPA and its members for their initiative and for showing that public power utilities can lead the way to a low-carbon future.
Western Area Power Administration published its Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, Jan. 31. This year’s theme, “Serving Communities, Saving Communities,” highlights WAPA’s accomplishments for the year and demonstrates how WAPA serves communities across the West by focusing on availability, reliability, security and quality.
“Delivering power is about so much more than moving electrons. Our power and our services make a difference in communities we serve,” said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel in his introductory letter. “We are honored to deliver reliable and renewable power to communities who need it most.” Read more.
Starting Jan. 1, 2018, electric utilities receiving federal hydropower in nine Rocky Mountain and northern Great Plains states will see lower firm hydropower rates from Western Area Power Administration for the second year in a row. The lower rates will result in savings of roughly $40 million dollars annually for customers.
Firm power customers with contracts with WAPA’s Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin – Eastern Division will experience a 15-percent decrease in the composite rate, and customers with Loveland Area Projects contracts will see a 14–percent decrease.
The two projects serve 415 electric utilities in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska with federal hydropower and related services. Read more.
The National Hydropower Association (NHA) and the Biomass Power Association (BPA) are teaming up with GEA to kick-start a conversation about the importance of baseload renewable technologies in a more diverse, less carbon-intensive energy supply. Geothermal, biomass and hydropower resources combined represent nearly two-thirds of US renewable generation today, yet they are frequently overlooked and undervalued in media discussions about renewable energy. All three industries face barriers at the political, financial and societal levels. The summit will focus on discussing the values, prospects and problems facing these technologies with an emphasis on highlighting potential solutions.
The agenda brings together experts from each industry, as well as utility, research and regulatory professionals and regional and federal officials. Panel discussions cover the role of baseload renewables in reducing carbon emissions, meeting clean energy goals and balancing the grid; market issues; new technology and hybrid project opportunities and policy challenges.
The Baseload Renewable Energy Summit offers utilities an excellent opportunity to make their voices heard to industries that can help them deliver a balanced portfolio and a cleaner energy future. Register before May 6 to receive the early-bird discount. Members of GEA, NHA, BPA, Geothermal Resources Council and American Council on Renewable Energy receive an additional discount.
Sponsorships and tabling opportunities are also available for the entire summit as well as networking events. Contact Rani Chatrath at 202-454-5261 for more information.
The utility industry is going through a period of intense change—some would say upheaval—that makes planning more important than ever and well worth the time involved. Just ask Jim Steffens of the City of Banning, California, Electric Utility. “I like that the integrated resource plan (IRP) touches on so many areas of the utility,” said the Electric Utility Power Resources and Revenue Administrator. “The process made us think about how all the different parts, like the distribution system, play into delivering electricity.”
California’s Public Benefits Charge of 2.85 percent of retail sales make the municipal utility eligible to file a minimum investment report instead of an IRP. Yet the city opted to do the full IRP process for Banning’s 2015 report. “Historically, our five-year IRPs were very simple and didn’t change much because not much had changed since we last did a full IRP,” explained Steffens. “Then over the last few years, due to legislative and regulatory mandates, everything started changing fast and we really needed the comprehensive picture you get from an IRP.”
Times a-changin’ Banning Electric gets the majority of its electricity supply through contracts with the Southern California Public Power Authority for coal, nuclear and hydropower. Because California law does not permit electric utilities to invest in coal-fired power, SCPPA will be divesting its part ownership of the San Juan Unit 3 coal plant in New Mexico in 2017. “So there goes 20 megawatts (MW) of baseload power, which is a big deal for Banning,” said Steffen, adding, “Yes, we are a tiny utility.”
Some of that power will be replaced by 9.6 MW of landfill gas power from the Puente Hills facility built by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. A utility-scale solar farm on the border of Kern and Los Angeles counties will provide another 8 MW. In other words, Banning is looking down the road at a whole new resource mix by 2018.
Being located in a state on the cutting edge of transforming the power supply means that the city of 30,000 will have to look for ways to innovate, and that is where planning comes in. California’s carbon cap-and-trade program gives utilities allowances for compliance that can be auctioned. The IRP helped Steffens figure out how much of the auction proceeds Banning can bank to help cover the cost of prematurely getting rid of the San Juan plant.
Steffens also used the plan to track the city’s progress meeting the state’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard. “It showed that we may come up slightly short in one particular year, so we can start planning for that year now,” he said. “However, we are very proud of the fact that the utility power supply will be more than 70 percent renewable by 2018.”
Evolving load Like the power supply, Banning’s load is also starting to change after decades of relative stability. Electricity demand dropped during the recession and has not yet fully recovered, but signs point in different directions.
In an economically challenged area, Banning residents have not adopted rooftop solar systems or electric vehicles (EVs) at the same rate as in other parts of the state. But both of these technologies are becoming more common and more affordable, so the city has to be ready. EVs could bring load growth, even as distributed generation reduces the utility’s load. Such uncertainties make the annual IRP progress report that much more important.
Population growth is putting more pressure on Banning too, with two large housing developments scheduled to start construction soon after 2020. “The past 10 years have been a real lesson in how quickly things we used to take for granted can change,” observed Steffens.
Plan points way Efficiency is also included in Banning’s plan for the future. “A good portion of our Public Benefits funding covers the low-income Banning Electric Alternative Rate, or BEAR, but we also fund rebates,” noted Steffens. “Efficiency programs are an important part of customer service.”
Residential and commercial rebates are available for Energy Star appliances, air conditioner replacements, shade trees, weatherization, low-flush toilets, new construction, renewable systems and refrigerator and freezer recycling. The utility just launched a new commercial efficiency plan, the Business Energy Efficiency Fund, or “The BEEF, developed specifically for our small and mid-sized business community,” said Steffens.
Most of the businesses in Banning are small mom-and-pop operations that often don’t have extra capital for upgrades but could benefit greatly from lower utility bills.
Participants receive a free walk-through energy assessment to identify potential energy-saving upgrades to lighting, heating and cooling, water heating, motors and refrigeration. The businesses can then select the retrofit that best meets their needs and the utility pays up to $2,750 for the project.
When asked what percentage of Banning customers were commercial, Steffens checked his IRP. “Twenty-seven percent,” he replied. “The great thing about the IRP is that I have the answer to questions like that right in front of me.”
Steffens pointed out that the benefits of the IRP go well beyond just getting information in one place. “When things are changing as much as they are for Banning, you need to see the big picture and dive deep into the details,” he said. “We didn’t have to do the full IRP, but it is a great exercise to show you where you are going.”
A decade of striving to build a clean energy portfolio culminated in success for Aspen, Colorado,when the city recently announced that its municipal electric utility now receives all of its power from renewable sources.
A contract the city signed in late August with its power wholesaler Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) replaces coal power—about 20 percent of Aspen’s electricity supply—with wind energy. The MEAN purchase, which put Aspen over the finish line, will initially add less than $2 per month to the average residential utility bill.
Aspen Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher praised MEAN, noting, “If it weren’t for MEAN we couldn’t be in this position. The members (of MEAN) are valued and proactive – this is a win-win for both organizations.”
Mixing it up The City of Aspen Utilities energy portfolio consists of about 53 percent wind power and 46 percent hydroelectricity, with small amounts of solar and landfill gas. The wind comes through MEAN from wind farms in the Nebraska cities of Kimball, Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Petersburg and Crofton Bluffs, and one in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. In addition to an allotment from Western, generators on Ruedi Reservoir, Maroon Creek and Ridgway Reservoir make up the hydropower portion.
“The challenge is to secure the most effective mix of renewables to meet the customer load reliably,” Hornbacher explained. “Each community’s energy use is unique, and each renewable energy source has its own personality.”
Getting the right mix means more than just resources, Hornbacher added. “The key is projects, conservation and efficiency and partners,” he said. “We are lucky to have such willing and supportive partners in MEAN, NREL [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] and Western.”
NREL worked with Aspen, MEAN and other agencies to define renewable energy, determine what projects would best fit with Aspen’s load and evaluate the utility’s conservation and efficiency measures. Those tools include a renewable energy mitigation program, green building code, tiered rate structure and energy performance contracting. “If you aren’t working with customers and managing your load, you could wind up using more energy,” said Hornbacher.
Community driven Customer support for a local renewable energy supply dates back to the 1980s when the Aspen city council decided to build the plants at Ruedi Reservoir and Maroon Creek. The community formalized the plan to go 100-percent renewable 10 years ago. “Aspen residents have always had very strong environmental values,” said Hornbacher. “It helps to live in a town where the civic leadership is representative of the community.”
Smaller municipalities so far have a clear edge on large metropolitan areas in “going green.” The mountain resort town of 7,000 joins Burlington, Vermont, (pop. 45,000) and Greensburg, Kansas,(pop. 800) in becoming the first cities in the nation to reach the all-renewable energy goal. Georgetown, Texas, (pop. 47,000) plans to follow these leaders next year with a 25-year contract to buy 150 megawatts (MW) of clean power from new SunEdison solar plants.
Hornbacher noted that being small is not necessarily an advantage, although a smaller load opens up the possibility of fitting smaller projects into the portfolio. “It is important to note that each of these communities took a different course to reach their goal. You have to look carefully at your own situation,” he cautioned. “One important takeaway is that renewable energy does not automatically translate to higher rates. Aspen’s residential rates are still among the lowest in the state.”
Going above, beyond Aspen’s vision does not stop at the city limits, however. Hornbacher hopes the city’s accomplishment will spark a dialogue on the state level and challenge other municipalities to engage with their energy supply.
The media beyond Colorado have taken notice as well. Television stations from California, Utah and China have interviewed the utility to find out how a small town in Colorado achieved the big goal of shifting its energy supply to renewable resources. “We’ve demonstrated that it is possible,” Hornbacher said. “Realistically, we hope we can inspire others to achieve these higher goals.”
That is the kind of attention Western likes to see its customers receive. We congratulate the city of Aspen on setting their sights high, sticking to their plan and creating a clean, reliable energy future.
The Loup River Public Power District, a wholesale customer of Nebraska Public Power District, built its 35-mile long Loup Canal, two powerhouses, a diversion dam and other facilities in 1933, bringing jobs and electricity to rural Nebraska.
The utility is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2013 as the first public power district in the nation’s only all-public power state. The National Register of Historic Places lists the Loup hydroelectric system, which is being relicensed this year. Loup is also a founding member of the American Public Power Association.
Loup River Power District’s story is related in a new Public Power magazine article, “An Economic Engine.” The article will be published in June in the magazine’s print edition. Source: Public Power Daily, 4/26/13