Politics

It is dollars, not politics, that are driving Colorado’s accelerated adoption of solar energy

Hudson – Standing in the shadow of a massive array of large-scale solar panels on farmland east of Interstate 25, you don’t have to look far for real-time examples of renewable solar energy replacing fossil fuels in Colorado’s historic power supply arc.

Electricity generated from Rattlesnake Rattlesnake Solar Kit Loading to United Power’s local grid and then immediately downloads pumping out of Colorado’s cracked petroleum from the ground, within walking distance of the solar power plant.

Two and a half hours to the south, utility-scale solar arrays will be set up near Xcel Energy’s coal-fired Comanche power plant. Feed the expansion of the historic railway mill in the Pueblo.

Statewide, solar power will gradually increase – and then suddenly – a major part of overall electricity generation will add gigawatts of sunlight to the grid in the next three years, and more by the 2030 goal of reducing Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.

Low prices for solar panels in the past decade It means that the cost of generation by the sun is now only 11% than it was 10 years ago, and with various tax breaks, it is much cheaper than building fossil fuel stations.

For example, Tri-State Generation, Colorado’s second largest facility after Xcel, has identified 1,850 megawatts of renewable energy to add between 2024 and 2030, replacing highly polluting coal-fired units. More than half of that will be from large solar arrays. TriState has already contracted to obtain power from an additional 715 MW of solar power to start operating by 2024

United Power’s Rattlesnake Solar Farm is located 175 acres east of Platville. (Karl Pine, for the Colorado Sun)

Colorado Springs Utilities announced last June that it would remove one of its coal-fired plants by 2023, and the other by 2029, to be replaced by solar and wind power, with the battery stored until supply runs out.

“I would have chosen a global pandemic before Colorado Springs started a 100% renewable plan,” said Mike Krueger, president of the Colorado Solar Energy and Storage Association before 2020.

“One of the most conservative places in the state has totally embraced renewable energy, not out of a good heart, but because the price is so good,” he said.

Xcel is also shutting down Colorado coal plants early and replacing its energy with solar and wind power. Demand for Xcel transmission on a hot summer day is around 7 GW, or 7,000 MW, and the eight-nation facility already has just over 4 GW of winds installed in Colorado.

The power supply and emissions reduction plan that Xcel submitted to the Public Utilities Commission in late 2018 planned nearly 800 new megawatts of solar and 1,300 wind power, many of which are now in operation or being completed.

The price changed the dynamics of solar power generation

What transformed solar energy from a rooftop technology into a power generator measured in square miles of panels?

“The simple answer is price,” said Jonathan Adelman, Vice President of Excel for Planning and Strategy.

With tax credits provided by the government that support development, manufacturing growth reduces the price of solar panels by 80%, Installing solar power generation facilities is now cheaper than wind or natural gas power plants, And much cheaper than the new generation of coal.

When Xcel completed the Colorado Power Plan in 2018, and bidding for the solar and wind projects came under operating costs of coal plants that had already been built, “It was a real wake-up call for people across the country,” said Will Tor, CEO of the company. Gov. Jared Police Office of Energy in Colorado.

The lower price allows power generators pushed by Emission and Price Cooperation members, such as Tri-State, to commission more solar energy and still fulfill their mission of providing cheap and reliable generation methods and reducing emissions. Meanwhile, for-profit shareholder-owned utilities like Xcel can use increasingly efficient solar wind turbines and wind turbines to meet climate change demands without charging consumers more for unproven technology – and in fact, they could start lowering prices.

More: Tri-State’s clean energy battles with two Colorado electric co-ops now threaten the facility’s finances

Even with the limited growth of solar power so far, Colorado utilities say they are on track to cut climate change emissions by 80% by 2030, and 90% by 2050. Xcel executives said in interviews that they have already achieved 40% cuts. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap released by the Police Office will push utilities and regulators above the 80% target, given economic changes that favor renewables over coal.

Power generation may be the furthest of the three major emissions sectors bracing for sharp cuts in the nation’s battle on climate change. Other cuts – oil and gas production emissions, transportation and industrial emissions – will be targets for complex legislation and rule-making for state agencies in the coming months and years.

Wind turbine components await shipment at the Netherlands-owned Vestas Tower plant on January 19, 2019 in Pueblo. The facility is one of three plants in Colorado being operated by Vestas. The Comanche Xcel Energy coal-fired station is in the distance. (Mike Sweeney, Colorado Sun Special)

When the final greenhouse gas road map was launched in early January, Polis added that further cuts in power generation were still possible. “Our management sees 80% as a floor, not a ceiling, and will participate in PUC to get the biggest discounts possible,” Polis said.

The new round of solar arrays under planning or construction for the first time will include significant energy storage. On-demand power has always been a feature of fossil fuel energy sources: Crowds arrive home from work on a July afternoon and hop on the air conditioner and utilities can turn on an additional turbine almost instantly. The wind can persist through the night, but the sun usually wanes when demand peaks.

More: Tri-State Increases the Amount of Greenhouse Gases It Will Reduce in Colorado by Adding Wind and Solar Power Generation

Solar planners have studied various storage methods for decades, including high-capacity batteries, training sunlight on molten salt tanks that return energy overnight, pumping water upward in sunlight and allowing it to run down slopes to run turbines in the dark. Improvements in lithium batteries have pushed those to the fore, and some Colorado arrays will come with a large storage capacity for four hours to cool peak demand.

Keith Hay, director of utility policy at Colorado Energy, said advocates of renewable energy will also work to make the power grid more reliable by adding “distribution-level” storage, which means large backup batteries for key institutions like hospitals, schools and emergency responders. Office. Headquarters. center.

Connecting new generation sources to existing transmission lines in Colorado It remains an obstacle to the optimal development of solar and wind energyState experts said.

“We can build all of the solar power and battery we need in 36 months, but if it takes 10 years to build a transmission line,” said Kruger of Solar Energy Trading Group, the opportunities to cut emissions and save costs are lost. Colorado is not part of a regional transportation agency that can facilitate regulation and action across local governments, and major investors are afraid.

Some ready-made solutions are in progress. The large coal-fired turbines in Craig, northwest Colorado, will be shut down in the coming years. Kruger said this area does not have optimum conditions for generating solar energy, but it does have a transmission and solar arrays are likely to enter there.

Kruger noted that the lack of a transmission has largely blocked solar power under the state’s best sunshine – the San Luis Valley. “You can draw a line pretty much over 200 miles from Colorado, from Kansas to Utah, all the best spots, but none of them can be built there because of the transmission.”

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