Longmont power provider platte river power authority advised to go fully renewable by 2030 – longmont times-call

A consultant last week recommended the Platte River Power Authority ignore previous advice to invoke a zero-net carbon model of electricity production in which a yet-to-be-built natural gas burning facility would be used as backup to renewable energy sources.

Instead of a zero-net carbon approach, the guidance from Salt Lake City-based Energy Strategies is for Platte River — the power provider for Longmont, Estes Park, Loveland and Fort Collins — to build a profile exclusively of renewable energy, or a carbon-free approach.

Energy Strategies was contracted by Northern Colorado Partners for Clean Energy, which consists of environmental groups from each of the four cities as well as the Sierra Club, for its critique of a December report from Pace Global, a Platte River-hired firm that declared a zero-net carbon energy portfolio feasible by 2030.


In the Pace proposal, the natural gas facility would supplement when cloud cover and lack of wind slow renewable production, and it included a model to re-sell excess energy collected during especially sunny or windy conditions to offset emissions from gas burning.

But Energy Strategies claims the Pace study was overly conservative in its respective extrapolations of the declining cost and increasing capability of lithium ion battery storage technology, as well as future expense of carbon dioxide emissions.

"The zero-net carbon analysis went a long way towards making the economic case for Platte River to begin to transition to a zero-carbon or 100 percent renewable resource portfolio," Zach Pierce, of the Sierra Club, said in Sustainable Resilient Longmont news release. "The use of more reasonable and current cost assumptions for renewable energy and battery storage could easily have resulted in the ZNC portfolio actually being the ‘least cost’ portfolio."

Officials with Platte River, a nonprofit utility owned by the four cities it serves, will start drafting an integrated resource plan late this summer to decide how much renewable energy versus generation from fossil fuels — as would be provided by a new natural gas facility — will flow through its grid.

While murmurs that Platte River may close its Rawhide coal plant by 2030 continue, a hands-on chance to test the efficiency of lithium ion battery storage of excess renewable energy will arrive for the power provider in 2020, when it hopes to open a new, 20-megawatt solar generation facility with up to five megawatt hours of battery storage capability. The project has already received 30 to 35 separate construction bids, according to the utility’s spokesman, Steve Roalstad.

"We wanted to see how well we could integrate and manage battery technology at this scale," Roalstad said. "We have seen some decline in the cost as well as improvement in the technology. It could follow the same trajectory that wind and solar have. We don’t know at this point in time. It’s just about as difficult to predict as the Colorado weather."

Some of that energy stockpile may be pulled from central United States electricity provider Southwest Power Pool, if a group of power providers known as the Mountain West Transmission Group, of which Platte River is part, can come to an agreement on rates at which to transfer power between each other’s networks.

Bagley, however, also mentioned a contract Colorado State University is considering to buy exclusively renewable energy from Platte River as a potential mitigant to the costs of continued expansion of renewable harvesting, as the school would have to pay a higher rate for its specifically-sourced power.

"We don’t want to commit to battery storage that has yet to be proven, but we also don’t want to commit to building a combined natural gas facility when battery storage has not yet been unproven," he said. "Until battery storage is a known, until our (deal with) Southwest Power Pool is a known, until CSU is a known and all these other factors are a known, I don’t think anyone is scheduling a shutdown of Rawhide."

While Platte River etches its future of providing power and how reliant on renewable energies it will be, utility customers in Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and Estes Park can reduce their individual carbon footprints with devices available on the Efficiency Works program’s newly launched online store, such as "smart" thermostats, LED light bulbs and low-flow showerheads.