Monday, April 13, 2020

Colorado Springs Utilities committee sees draft options for retiring coal plants

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2020 at 10:53 AM

click to enlarge Drake will likely need to be retired by 2030 to comply with state law. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Drake will likely need to be retired by 2030 to comply with state law.

The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee has been meeting since last summer to hear presentations from Colorado Springs Utilities staff to get public feedback and form recommendations to the Utilities Board about which energy portfolio it should choose.

On April 1, the committee met via an online teleconference where staff presented a draft outline of different portfolio options with various timelines for retiring coal resources and adding renewables, such as wind and solar power.

CSU is also soliciting feedback from the public in a new survey that came online April 1, to help inform UPAC's formal recommendation to the Utilities Board in June.

During the April 1 meeting, Michael Avanzi, energy planning and innovation manager at CSU, walked through 16 potential portfolios including options for retiring the coal-fired units at the Martin Drake and Ray Nixon power plants to achieve different goals for carbon-free and renewable energy.

Carbon-free resources include more options than just renewables, Avanzi explained. Resources that aren't considered renewable but are carbon-free include natural gas with carbon capture technology and modular nuclear reactors.

According to CSU's current plan, or "reference case," Drake and the George Birdsall Power Plant (which runs on gas, and is used infrequently), would be retired in 2035. That's the existing timeline, but it likely doesn't align with state legislation passed last year, which set goals for statewide carbon emission reductions.

"To meet the 50 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon emissions — which is the minimum state requirement that's been put forward by legislation — to meet that requirement, we're essentially looking at having to retire the Drake plant no later than 2030 to meet that requirement," Avanzi said.

The current outline for IRP possibilities groups the portfolio options into five different "pathways," which have various energy goals.

Pathway C, for example, would replace coal resources with renewables such as wind and solar, along with something called "demand-side management," or DSM, which is essentially finding ways to reduce the amount of energy that residential and commercial customers consume. (Any IRP that the Utilities Board approves will require some amount of DSM, Avanzi said.) The options in that pathway would mean CSU would be powered by 100 percent renewable resources by 2050.

Portfolio 15 — one of the options in Pathway C — is perhaps the most ambitious, and would require switching to 100 percent renewable resources by 2030. To achieve that, Drake would be retired by 2026, and Nixon and Birdsall would be retired by 2030.

When looking at the timelines for retiring Drake, most of the portfolios fit somewhere between the reference case and the Pathway C portfolios — and it's difficult to compare them without looking at how each option will affect energy costs, a factor that won't be analyzed until later in the IRP process.

The next UPAC meeting in May will include more information on how each portfolio would affect energy costs and customer rates.

click to enlarge Staff presented a draft outline of 16 different portfolios for the Integrated Resource Plan. - COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Staff presented a draft outline of 16 different portfolios for the Integrated Resource Plan.

Pathway A, which is closest to the reference case, would retire Drake by 2030 and Birdsall by 2035, replacing those plants with either gas or renewable resources like wind and solar. Pathway A does not include retiring Nixon before 2050. This pathway would half CSU's carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve either 90 percent carbon reduction or 100 percent renewables by 2050.

In pathway B, Drake would be retired by 2026 and Birdsall by 2035, reducing carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050 — with multiple options for retiring Nixon depending on the timeline of reduction goals. Drake, Nixon and Birdsall would be replaced by gas resources and demand-side management.

Pathway D has the goal of 100 percent carbon reduction by 2050, and would retire Drake by 2026, Nixon by 2030 and Birdsall by 2035.

"Pathway D is similar to Pathway C except it opens up additional resource options to us such as nuclear and carbon capture resources," Avanzi explained.

Then there's Pathway E, which includes two portfolios that Avanzi said were added at the request of local clean-air advocates. That pathway would entail retiring Drake by 2023, Nixon by 2026 or 2030, and Birdsall by 2035. This would mean replacing Drake with aeroderivative gas turbines, powered by natural gas with fuel oil available as a backup. (Natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal.) The Pathway E portfolios would achieve 90 percent carbon reduction by 2050.

Replacing coal with aeroderivative gas is "the only scenario where we can retire the Drake plant by 2023," Avanzi said.

Clean-air advocates say it's imperative to retire Drake as early as possible in order to alleviate air pollution and protect the public health.

"A 2023 close date for Drake benefits our whole community," local Beyond Coal activist Lindsay Facknitz told the Indy in a recent text message. (Beyond Coal is a national campaign run by the Sierra Club, a national environmental group.) "Retiring Drake and Nixon coal plants will protect our community's health, save CSU customers money, and to do our part to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.”

A Denver Post analysis recently found that Drake is the second-biggest nitrogen oxide polluter in Colorado. However, it's important to note that Drake has the capability to run on either coal or natural gas, and the plant doesn't always run.

"We constantly evaluate the lowest cost source of energy and at times we will not run units at Drake as we commit other energy sources, such as renewables (solar) and natural gas fired sources," a CSU spokesperson explained in emailed answers to the Indy's questions. "Due to the price of natural gas as a fuel source and the fact that our demand is lower during this time of year, our Front Range Power Plant has been able to generate the majority of energy for our community."

The customer survey (open until May 3) aims to get a sense of customers' preferred pathway. It asks customers to indicate how much more they'd be willing to pay on a monthly utility bill to implement each pathway's goals for reducing carbon emissions and switching to renewables.

Residents can also send feedback on outlined portfolio options to Given the current COVID-19 crisis, the public workshop scheduled for May 7 will become a telephone town hall.

The town hall is tentatively scheduled for May 14 at 6 p.m., the CSU spokesperson said. More information on how to participate will be available on CSU's website when the details are confirmed.

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