Group Warns Zero Net Carbon Model Explored by Longmont Power Provider Would Cause Significant Rate Hike

October 2, 2018

Custom Solar's Shravan Joshi, left, and Tanner Garrett prepare to check under a panel on the roof of the St. Vrain Hub on Monday. Longmont's wholesale power provider Platte River Power Authority is starting to engage in a process to evaluate what its energy production portfolio will consist of into the future.

If you go

What: Platte River Power Authority town halls

When/where: 6 to 9 p.m.

• Oct. 25 Hilton hotel, 425 W. Prospect Road, Fort Collins

• Nov. 1 Estes Park Town Hall, 170 MacGregor Ave.

• Nov. 5.Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road

• Nov. 15 Embassy Suites hotel, 4705 Clydesdale Parkway, Loveland

Cost: Free.

Details: Residents can provide input into sources of energy production Platte River Power Authority should prioritize adding to its portfolio by 2030

As an outside group last week warned that the wholesale power provider for Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and Estes Park would have to substantially raise electricity rates to achieve a “zero-net carbon” profile.

A review published Friday by an independent consultant claims electricity rates charged to residential customers of Platte River Power Authority would increase 39 percent from 2016 rates under the zero-net carbon model explored by the utility in 2017 .

But Platte River, a nonprofit owned by its four member cities, is ignoring the noise, as it has already begun the first stages of forming its “integrated resource plan” that will analyze how it should generate power well into the future in much more depth than recent studies. It is set to hear from residents later this month and into November about how it should source energy for decades to come.

Conflicting studies

The claims in the Friday report by Virgina-based Energy Ventures Analysis attempt to debase the findings of a consultant hired by Platte River that said a zero-net carbon energy production portfolio is feasible.

Zero-net carbon by 2030 was recommended to Platte River by its consultant, Pace Global, instead of a zero-carbon model, since Pace found eliminating all sources of carbon-emitting energy production would come at an unrealistic cost.

The study performed by Pace recommended Platte River build a natural gas facility to supplement when cloud cover and lack of wind slow renewable energy production, and Platte River would balance its carbon emissions by selling excess energy produced from renewable sources to other providers in the state.

Energy Ventures, though, anticipates the capital required to replace Platte River’s coal-burning facilities with natural gas and expand renewable energy production enough to sell excess power would outweigh the benefits of such a plan.

The Energy Ventures review of the Pace study also is counter to another rebuttal of Pace’s claims — funded by the Sierra Club and environmental groups from each of Platte River’s municipalities — advising that the power provider could go 100 percent renewable by 2030.

The fully renewable guidance was given in April by the environmental groups’ consultant, and was based on a prediction that Pace was too conservative in its extrapolations of the declining cost and increasing capability of lithium ion battery storage technology, as well as future expenses of carbon dioxide emissions.

“Wind and solar are good options for supplementing base load generation, but they are intermittent. There are new storage battery technologies with promise, but for the foreseeable future they are not affordable and reliable. Using them at scale to meet the needs of large communities is unrealistic,” Seth Schwartz, President of Energy Ventures, said in a statement.

He estimates a 100-percent renewable profile would drive up residential customer costs by far more than the 39 percent his company predicted for the increase caused by zero-net carbon.

Coal still efficient

Platte River’s current energy production portfolio is dominated by coal — with 29 percent of its 931 megawatts coming from solar, wind and hydropower, and its natural gas and coal-burning Rawhide units north of Fort Collins near the Wyoming border accounting for the bulk of the rest.

“The data from Platte River’s Rawhide coal unit is compelling,” Schwartz said. “Rawhide Unit 1 is one of the lowest-cost power generation resources in Colorado and the entire United States. It also provides extraordinary reliability.”

The Energy Ventures review disputing Pace Global’s finding that a zero-net carbon model is feasible for Platte River was commissioned by major power users in Northern Colorado, according to the company, but Schwartz declined Monday to specify who funded the report.

Because Platte River is required to closely analyze the reliability, environmental sustainability and cost implications of all energy production options for its portfolio for the next several decades, the Energy Ventures report is falling on deaf ears.

“We’re not going to be studying any study of a year-old study,” Platte River spokesman Steve Roalstad said, noting the utility will even be examining the reductions in power demand offered by residential conversions to LED lighting and rooftop solar power generation.

Resident input desired

Platte River will take input from residents of each of its member cities on the energy sources it should prioritize at a series of town halls that start later this month, including one Nov. 5 in Longmont.

“We will move in a direction that our owner communities want us to go. ... We encourage business owners and large energy users to take part,” Roalstad said. “We know that this is a pivotal time, and the decision we make now will be with us for decades to come.”

Longmont City Council is so far the only group of leaders from municipalities served by Platte River to adopt a goal of converting to 100 percent renewably sourced power by 2030, but Fort Collins City Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to adopt a similar resolution.

“Emissions from fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, the effects of which can be seen directly right here in Longmont. ... We must prioritize opportunities to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy,” said Abby Driscoll, chairwoman of Sustainable Resilient Longmont, one of the groups that funded the report pushing Platte River to commit to 100-percent renewable.

“We hope (these town halls) will be a chance for Longmont to voice our clear preference for renewable energy,” she added.

Platte River hopes to have its integrated resource plan finished and awaiting federal approval by early 2020.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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