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.
WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City. The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energygasifier power plant.
Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.
Leading in renewables South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.
A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.
In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plantdisplaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.
The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.
Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.
Conserve, reduce, manage Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.
When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.
The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.
To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Poolmarkets.
Practicing stewardship South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.
Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’sTree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.
Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.
Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.
Partners make it happen Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.
South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.
The institutional WAPA customer is investigating installing solar panels on four campus buildings to serve those facilities’ energy needs and reduce electricity costs. The solar generation would replace supplemental power from Black Hills Energy and save BHSU an estimated $10,000 in the first year, according to information from the South Dakota Board of Regents.
The process began with a Climate Action Plan, and includes participation in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). The voluntary self-reporting system helps colleges and universities to assess progress in meeting sustainability goals and sustainability leadership. STARS ratings are based on three main categories: education and research; operation and planning; administration and engagement. On Earth Day 2014, BHSU received a STARS Silver rating, making it the first South Dakota university to achieve that international rating.
Among the “green” initiatives that helped BHSU earn its rating are strong building efficiency standards, a robust recycling program and a campus community garden. Campus dining facilities The Hive and The Buzz Shack both achieved Green Restaurant Certification in 2014, the first university-attached restaurants in the state to do so.
The university has already made small forays into the use of renewables, installing solar-powered lighting at campus entrances and a 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the student union. “It puts a small amount of generation back onto the grid and provides an introduction to renewable energy for students and visitors,” said Corinne Hansen, BHSU director of university and community relations.
Everyone involved BHSU students, faculty and staff serve on the Sustainability Committee, which recommends strategies to advance BHSU’s climate goals. This committee meets every semester to plan activities that promote sustainability efforts on campus, and to educate the campus community on sustainability issues.
Successful strategies include faculty carpool and bike leasing programs to cut down on emissions from commutes around town and between Spearfish and the BHSU Rapid City campus. Landscaping with a stormwater management system slows and diverts runoff.
Sustainability concepts have been incorporated into lesson plans and even art projects, including an exhibit at the student union of sculptures made from recycled materials. The school received a national grant to fund a research project on solar cell materials and students have developed business plans for an innovative mobile recycling business.
Building for future As part of the Climate Action Plan, all new buildings and major renovations at BHSU are built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or higher standards. The David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union was the first state building to earn this standard, earning LEED Gold after its 2009 renovation.
The LEED Silver Life Science Laboratory has been chosen as one of the four sites for the solar arrays. Features that earned the building its LEED rating include a design that maximizes daylighting; the incorporation of recycled and local materials during construction; low-flow plumbing fixtures and low emitting carpet, paint, adhesives and sealants.
The other three buildings identified for the solar project include the Young Center, Woodburn Hall and the library, with the Young Center to be the first. “All four buildings have new roofs and good solar exposure,” explained Hansen. “The Young Center has the biggest roof by square feet.”
Lighting retrofits have helped to reduce the electrical loads in the Young Center and the library.
More to come The university expects installation of the solar panels to be completed this summer, but sustainability is more than just clean energy. BHSU aims to decrease its waste stream by 25 percent from 2014 to 2018 by expanding recycling initiatives and introducing a user-friendly, desk-side disposal system. Going beyond recycling, a plan to discourage the use of disposable water bottles was launched in 2014 with the installation of filtered water bottle-filling stations across campus. Facilities Services will continue to replace traditional water fountains with water bottle-refill stations as needed.
Building upgrades will continue to increase campus energy efficiency, especially areas where electricity or heating demands can be significantly reduced. A complete upgrade of the building automation system is planned for 2018. Also in the next year, BHSU is planning an energy savings performance contract covering all campus academic buildings.
Ultimately, these projects and new ones that will arise as BHSU moves toward climate neutrality are as much about the future of the students as the future of the planet. Renewable energy systems, energy efficiency and recycling will reduce the university’s operating costs over the long term, and the savings can be channeled into improving education. More importantly, embracing sustainability principles prepares students for a rapidly changing world in which they will have many opportunities to achieve their own “firsts.”
As many California utilities scramble to replace hydropower megawatts drying up in the ongoing drought—and raise their rates sharply to pay for that electricity—Silicon Valley Power’s (SVP) more moderate increases keep their rates among the lowest in the state, thanks to a diverse portfolio.
“For utilities with more than 5,000 customers, Silicon Valley Power’s average system rate is thelowest in California [EIA – form 861, 2013 data],” stated Larry Owens, SVP customer services manager.
SVP’s decades-long investment in a diverse mix of resources saved its customers more than $100 million last year, compared to the rates paid in neighboring communities. The city of Santa Clara municipal electric utility credits the “whole portfolio” approach with its ability to maintain a rate advantage over surrounding communities during historic drought.
For 2014, more than 36 percent of SVP’s electricity came from renewable resources including geothermal, solar, landfill gas, wind and eligible hydropower. Natural gas and large hydropower from Western make up the bulk of the conventional generation, rounded out with a small amount of coal and other resources.
Diversify three ways Fuel sources are not the only thing about SVP’s portfolio that is diverse, but it is primary to their approach. Power comes from wind turbines in the state of Washington, geothermal and small hydro from all over northern California and a utility-scale solar plant in Kern County, California. In-town resources include a 147-megawatt (MW) combined-cycle plant, a 7-MW co-generation plant, 750 kilowatts (kW) of landfill gas power and 500 kW of solar.
Geographic diversity—when power resources are spread over a wide territory—helps reduce single-point-of-failure risk from extreme weather, transmission congestion and even earthquakes.
Ownership is the third aspect of the “triple diversity” strategy SVP uses to balance its portfolio. Most of the electricity is purchased through power purchase agreements and joint power agency contracts, but SVP owns or co-owns a natural gas power plant, some hydropower facilities and photovoltaic arrays. In addition to the SVP-owned local arrays at Jenny Strand Research Park and the Tasman Parking Structure at Levi’s Stadium, business and residential customers contributed 11.4 MW of installed capacity in 2014. “By not relying too much on one particular provider or one type of contract, SVP has created a very stable platform to keep rates affordable,” explained Owens.
Playing long game That was the scenario that originally motivated SVP to pursue diversification in the 1980s when it was still a full-service taker from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). “The first energy embargo was a wake-up call for our city leaders. They realized that moving away from a profit-motivated, sole source provider and seeking freedom from volatile fuel prices was key to providing affordable, reliable electricity to its customers,” Owens said. “Renewable energy in particular could help SVP achieve its environmental goals.”
Hydropower from Western and wind from the Altamont Pass wind turbines were the first carbon-free resources into SVP’s (power) pool in 1985, followed by geothermal power from the North Bay Area in 1988. “Geothermal is a great fit for our needs,” said Owens said. “It is such a reliable base-load resource for our customers.”
The solar power portion of SVP’s portfolio has been growing rapidly in the last few years, thanks to dropping equipment prices, the utility’s generous support for customer systems and California’s renewable portfolio standard. The state must get 33 percent of its retail electricity sales from renewables by 2020.
SVP has already met the state’s 33-percent goal, but the utility will continue to evaluate new renewable resources to meet its continued growth in retail sales and to address the expectation of even higher renewable requirements. Currently, SVP has more capacity than load, “So we can shop around for the options that best meet our ‘triple diversity’ criteria,” observed Owens. “Even though we are in a severe drought now, equipping existing small hydro dams with high-efficiency turbines is an approach that still has some potential opportunities,” he added. “With a surplus of both capacity and renewable energy, SVP has many opportunities to sell into the renewable and non-renewable markets available in California.”
Recognizing opportunity and knowing when to seize it has given Silicon Valley Power a drought-resistant portfolio, brag-worthy rates and a solid foundation for meeting future challenges. Because keeping rates low, complying with regulation and protecting the community’s resources for the next generation is simply too big a job for one resource alone.
Staring down a future of potential environmental regulations and uncertain production tax credits, Lincoln Electric System (LES) in Lincoln, Nebraska, is surging forward on “greening up” its power portfolio.
The municipal utility closed 2014 with a power purchase agreement to add 173 megawatts (MW) of wind energy and 5 MW of solar energy to its power supply resource portfolio by 2016. The move will reduce coal resources from 43 percent of LES’s installed nameplate capacity to 34 percent.
This latest acquisition is not part of a predetermined goal, but simply a good business decision, observed LES Administrator and CEO Kevin Wailes. “When viewed as a package, our wind and solar contracts are expected to save LES customer-owners approximately $429 million over the next 25 years,” he pointed out when announcing the agreements.
LES Communications Manager Kelley Porter added, “Responding to customer input and being good environmental stewards is part of doing business as a public power utility.”
Wind brings development The wind additions, spread across two contracts with developer Invenergy, involve the 73-MW Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center in northeastern Nebraska and 100-MW Buckeye Wind Energy Center in north-central Kansas. The projects will bring LES’ total wind portfolio to 304 MW, and increase the utility’s renewable generation portfolio to the equivalent of 48 percent of LES’ retail energy.
Prairie Breeze II is an expansion of Invenergy’s first Nebraska wind farm, which began operation in May 2014. The developer expects to complete Prairie Breeze II by the end of 2015. The project will create an estimated 90 jobs during the construction phase, and is expected to require seven permanent full-time employees to operate and maintain the 41 turbines.
Let the sun shine Cost savings from the wind agreements will help supplement customer participation in LES’s new SunShares community solar program. LES launched the program in partnership with its customers to bring a community solar project to the Lincoln area. The 5-MW solar array—the largest in the state—will provide the utility with valuable solar experience.
The solar contract was in response to an LES survey indicating customers were willing to support more local solar energy. About 44 residential customers take advantage of LES’s renewable generation program and net-metering policy, but the city has a lot of older neighborhoods with large trees, Porter noted. “The solar project offers an affordable alternative for customers who would like to be involved with solar but don’t have the ideal circumstances,” she said.
The enthusiastic response to the solar farm indicates that a good many LES customers fall in that category. The program launched on Aug. 1, 2014. “We held a press conference to announce it on Aug. 2, and 1,200 customers had signed up by the time we signed the agreement,” Porter recalled.
Marketing of the solar installation was not limited to the news conference. LES enlisted the same local environmental groups and citizens who had pushed for the project to speak to community groups. Promotion also included a two-month blitz of social media, radio interviews, posters, newspaper ads and bill stuffers.
Future builds on past Now that LES has had a chance to gauge the real interest in the solar project, the promotion has entered its second phase. “The site is highly visible from Interstate 80, so the community can watch as the project is constructed and feel like a part of it,” Porter said.
The solar farm will significantly increase the amount of solar power in the municipal utility’s resource mix. In addition to the customer rooftop systems, LES recently added 50 kilowatts of solar energy through a rooftop solar array on one of its service buildings.
LES prides itself on a history of aggressively building its renewable energy portfolio, starting with two utility-owned and customer-financed wind turbines in 1998. The new solar program further diversifies an energy supply that includes 4.8 MW generated by the Bluff Road Landfill waste-to-energy facility, commissioned in 2013.
The new wind and solar contracts are only the latest example of the municipal utility’s move toward greater sustainability. In a changing industry, this openness to innovation has helped LES control costs, ensure reliable power delivery and keep rates affordable for its customer-owners. As Wailes explained, “We make decisions to best reflect the values of our community.”
In less than a decade, community-shared solar has gone from an idealistic dream to a viable renewables development strategy employed in some 50 communities nationwide. Utilities can choose to ignore this trend or seize the opportunity to partner with their customers and communities, while meeting their own clean energy goals. Find out What’s New in Community Solar and Wind on Nov. 18, a Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA) Lunchtime Webinar.
The presentation will cut through the confusion surrounding the many different paths to project development. Get an overview of emerging trends and take a closer look at a few projects, including utility-owned and third-party models, with a focus on lessons learned from prior green power and community wind programs. The webinar will also examine how community renewables can bring utilities and community members together to achieve shared goals.
CEA members will be familiar with speaker Jill Cliburn, a leader in the field of shared renewables. Her experience includes working on municipal utility and electric cooperative projects involving both solar and wind.
The free Lunchtime Webinar Series share winning strategies for energy efficiency and renewable energy development with community-owned utilities. For more information about webinars or other CEA programs, visit Clean Energy Ambassadors on the web or contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.
DOE announced on Feb. 16 that 19 clean energy projects by tribal nations would receive more than $6.5 million to support tribal energy development. The competitively selected projects in 10 states will allow American Indian tribes to assess local energy resources, develop renewable energy projects and deploy clean energy technologies within their communities. The projects will help save money and create new job and business opportunities.
The projects selected for awards fall under three project areas:
Renewable energy development projects
Thirteen tribes will use the funds to study the feasibility of developing renewable energy resources or installing renewable energy systems on their lands to reduce energy use by 30 percent. For example, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Pablo, Mont., will evaluate the technical and economic viability of a co-generation biomass-fuel power plant that uses fuels from tribal forest management activities to provide up to 20 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
Three renewable energy development projects will receive pre-construction funds for new renewable energy generation and one will significantly cut the need for diesel heating fuel. In one case, the Penobscot Indian Nation in Old Town, Maine, will complete the preparation needed to secure funding for the proposed 227-megawatt Alder Stream Wind Project.
Also receiving funding are two projects to deploy technologies that convert waste and biomass into energy. The Oneida Seven Generations Corp., De Pere, Wis., will build a state-of-the-art waste gasification energy recovery facility capable of converting 150 tons of municipal waste into 5 MW of electricity per hour. See the DOE press release, the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, and the project descriptions.
Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 2/22/12