After 15 months and review of 85 initial proposals, Colorado Springs Utilities will present nine portfolio options for its Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) to the public this week. This meeting, like last week's meeting with Utilities' Customer Advisory Group (CAG), comes in the final stages of evaluating Utilities' future energy needs, an effort that must be repeated at least every five years.
The EIRP process "focuses on safe, reliable power that is respectful of the environment, while minimizing costs to ratepayers," according to company data. It factors in nearly a dozen components, from commodities forecasts to interest rates and current renewable energy standards. This go-round, it must also factor in the Environmental Protection Agency's upcoming September update to CO2 regulations, meaning Utilities will run two sets of numbers for each portfolio: one assuming no regulatory change, the other accounting for emission rates the EPA proposed in June 2014 in its Clean Power Plan, says EIRP public process manager for Utilities, Gail Conners.
Project manager Katie Hardman says this EIRP evaluation, done internally by the utility, has taken longer than usual due in part to there being "so many questions" around the coal-burning Martin Drake Power Plant.
"We've got two different scenarios where the entire plant is decommissioned by 2030," she says. "One of them is a phased approach, where we take [Unit] 5 off, then 6, then 7 later. The other is a very short-term decommissioning where the entire plant is decommissioned by 2020."
The latter, of course, appeals more to a contingent of area environmentalists who've been outspoken on Drake's public-health impact for years. And likely to Utilities' CAG, whom Hardman says only proposed a single change (which Utilities accepted) to one of the nine portfolios: Exceed the goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 by setting up a new 30-percent-by-2030 objective.
Proposals can't be too idealistic, because they must meet a "minimum resource adequacy test" that, among other strictures, mandates excess capacity to ensure there is no outage time. So after the July 30 meeting, Utilities will perform a technical analysis of each portfolio option.
"We're looking at not only the cost, but regulatory risk, financial-price risk, and some of those intangible things like the societal cost," Hardman says.
Each will ultimately be given a score, and a September meeting will narrow the decision to one option to present to the Utilities board (City Council) in October. The public can view the proposals and track progress at bit.ly/1LFWZwV.
Meanwhile, many efforts remain underway to grow our renewables ratio while educating and incentivizing Utilities customers.
In one pilot program counting more than 500 homes, says Hardman, Utilities can remotely dial back air conditioning units during peak hours, allowing thermostats to play catch-up later. Even though a similar amount of energy may be consumed by day's end, the reduced demand at peak time yields the benefit of not needing to build more power plants to cover peak demand.
As she explains it, energy storage is costly, but Utilities must be able to supply customers' energy demands at any one time. "So it's sort of like building your house big enough to house your family at Thanksgiving, even though you know they're never going to be there the rest of the year."
Several portfolio options also call for more solar energy, which will be aided by the new 10-megawatt facility set to be built adjacent to Ray Nixon Power Plant, at Clear Spring Ranch; last week the Utilities board approved the contract-signing. Unsurprisingly, natural gas and coal still play a majority role in all portfolio scenarios.
With so many moving targets and variables the process is a lot like fortune-telling — one slide in a Utilities PowerPoint reads, "While we want to ultimately move the portfolio toward what we think are more likely futures, we also want to keep other possible futures in mind and consider the impact of any choices in case the future turns out to be something different."
Just one example of a potential curveball that we reported on back in June: Some speculators think Tesla's upcoming Powerwall home battery ("The Tesla effect," SimpliCity, June 3) might change the game for practical energy storage and help get more renewables onto the grid. Those people predict that utilities would be rendered more obsolete if they fail to adapt — just one more reason these periodic EIRP studies are so critical.