Will electricity supply keep pace with #climate warming? — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate – Coyote Gulch
This cool late June period in Colorado is unusual. The trend is warm and hot. Denver in June tied a record set just a few years ago for the first time to hit 100 degrees. Last year, Grand Junction set an all-time high of 107.
What if the heat rises to 116 degrees, like that of Portland a year ago? Could Xcel Energy provide the electricity needed to cool the air?
It’s possible in 2022, the company says, but it has less confidence in 2023 and 2024 after a coal-fired plant shuts down. Xcel is concerned about the disruption of supply chains needed to add renewable energy generation.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Colorado’s second-largest electricity provider, also foresees supply chain issues as it replaces coal-fired generation with renewables. It extended the deadline for bids from wind, solar and storage project developers by more than two months, to September 16.
Colorado has experienced a bump in its energy transition. The climate is sending increasingly strong signals that we need to stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. After a slow response, Colorado rushed to pivot. Now inflation and other issues threaten to jam the switch.
The issue is big enough that Eric Blank, chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, asked Xcel representatives at a June 17 meeting whether it would be wise to keep Comanche I, the aging coal-fired plant in Pueblo, in operation beyond its planned retirement at the end of 2022.
“It kills me to even ask that question,” said Blank, a former developer of wind and solar energy projects.
In northwest New Mexico, the aging San Juan power plant was allowed to wind down several months after its planned retirement due to problems bringing a new solar farm online. Even so, the utility plans for power outages, as has happened in other states.
No outages were expected in Colorado. Xcel has a healthy 18% reserve margin.
But even if Xcel wanted Comanche 1 to continue running beyond 2022, it doesn’t have the necessary clearances to do so, company officials told PUC commissioners at a June 17 meeting to discuss the issue. “resource adequacy”.
In addition to supply chain disruptions, Xcel has not sufficiently forecast demand growth. Residential demand is expected to decline as people return to offices after the covid shutdown. They did, but less than expected. In addition, demand from wholesale customers of Xcel – which supplies electricity to Holy Cross Energy but also to other utilities – has increased more than expected.
“We cannot go into the summer of 2023 with less than 10% reserve margins,” Blank said. “We just can’t.”
Old technology, however, isn’t always a foolproof answer. Coal-fired power plants have to be shut down regularly for maintenance. Then there are the fiascos. Problems have repeatedly slowed Comanche 3, the state’s youngest and largest coal plant, in its 12 years. Cabin Creek, Xcel’s trusty pumped-storage hydroelectric project in Georgetown, is also down.
The power grid being assembled will be more diverse, dispersed and flexible. Many homes will have storage, electric vehicle batteries will be integrated into the grid, and demand will be shaved and then shaped to better match supplies. Megan Gilman, Edwards’ PUC commissioner, pointed out that this strategy could be a key response to tighter margins between supply and demand. Xcel has a small-scale peak reduction program in place, but will soon submit plans for broader demand management.
Meanwhile, it is getting hotter and hotter. Russ Schumacher, the state climatologist, says seven of Colorado’s nine hottest years on record have occurred since 2012. We haven’t had a year cooler than the 20th century average since 1992. Air conditioning has become the new standard for high-end real estate. real estate offers even in Winter Park, elevation 9,000 feet. It’s not just the heat. There’s also the issue of smoke, as more intense wildfires grow larger and also stretch over the calendar. For weeks, sometimes months, opening the windows is not an option.
Colorado’s record temperature of 115 degrees was set in 2019 near Lamar in southeastern Colorado. No one has yet made public the modeling of the potential for this kind of heat in Front Range towns, where 90% of Coloradans live. Last year, the deaths of 339 people were attributed to heat in the Phoenix area, where nighttime temperatures sometimes remain above 90.
The power outages in Texas in February 2021 were blamed – mostly unfounded – on wind farms. No one in Colorado wants to see a plausible excuse to blame renewable energy. The best way to avoid this is to keep air conditioners running.