By - Jim Vess

Platte River Power Authority unveils plan to go ‘net zero’ on carbon emissions by 2030

Energize Weekly, December 13, 2017

The Platte River Power Authority, which serves part of northern Colorado, unveiled a plan Dec. 7 that would transform its generating portfolio to “net zero” carbon emission by 2030.

The plan calls for ceasing all coal-burning energy production and making up the difference with increases in natural gas, hydro, wind and solar power. About 75 percent of the customer load would be served by renewables and 25 percent with natural gas-fired generation.

The authority would reach net zero emissions by selling excess renewable energy to the market on an annualized basis. It now generates about 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

As recently as 2014, the not-for-profit electricity wholesaler was generating three-quarters of its power from coal-fired plants. The authority’s customers are municipal utilities in Fort Collins, Estes Park and Loveland. Fort Collins, which has its own climate action plan, has been instrumental in a push for more clean power.

Consulting firm Pace Global LLC, operated by Siemens Inc., developed the plan for Platte River. It envisions the closing of all coal-fired units by 2030, and retaining combustion turbines and existing hydropower resources.

The Pace study found that a net zero carbon energy portfolio would require considerably more renewable generating capacity than what Platte River envisions in its current, long-range Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), as well as extra natural gas-fired capacity. 

Pace estimated that an additional 600 megawatts (MW) of solar, 350 MW of wind and 286 MW of natural gas combined cycle generation would be needed when the coal-fired Rawhide Unit 1 would be retired in 2030. Lithium-ion battery storage was considered by Pace, but was determined to be less cost effective, with less capacity, than traditional resources at this point.

Still, even Pace’s least-cost model comes with a price tag. “We estimate Platte River’s energy production costs to achieve a zero net carbon portfolio would be approximately 20 percent higher in 2030 than they would be under current forecasts within Platte River’s current IRP,” Gary Vicinus, a managing director for Pace Global, said in a statement.

While risks to system reliability are dealt with through the additional natural gas-fired generation, Vicinus noted that market access and price risks may rise as more utilities build renewables and sell excess power into the marketplace.

Vicinus said that Platte River may need to sell renewable energy into the market at lower rates than anticipated, for example, to meet the requirement of achieving net zero carbon emissions throughout a given year.

The plan was unveiled at a meeting of the Platte River Board of Directors, which also approved the purchase of 150 MW of new wind power.

“If we move forward with 150 megawatts of new wind, we will have a generating portfolio that is nearly 48 percent carbon-free,” Jason Frisbie, the authority’s CEO, said in a statement.

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