Colorado 350 Newsletter, October 2020
As we are enjoying the return of some beautiful, Colorado weather and smoke-free skies (some days, anyways!), how about some good news to go with dinner on the porch? Post-debate especially, we need it, so here is the good news!
It is still possible – just barely – to get on the 1.5 C path! Saul Griffith and colleagues made the calculations recently, and even Sierra Club and NRDC research this last week talks about how essential it is to close coal and get to 89-90% clean electricity by 2030.
While our individualistic society still pushes individual choices and virtue, if we press to shift larger systems like our electricity generation and distribution, we can get to the greenhouse gas reductions needed in-state by 2025. We are lucky to have a path that is possible, even if it means taking on a Goliath and the state’s largest lobbyist. Now, multiple independent studies have shown we must do two things and require it of our state’s largest utilities. If they do not want to do it, then we need a different Public Service Company of Colorado — not a greedy out-of-state firm, 70% dirty still at the end of last year, and that continues to put Wall Street returns over Colorado needs, desires, and values.
Xcel hasn’t been satisfied with mere profit. Instead, Xcel has chosen investment in dirty, death-dealing coal over and over again, spending $1.5 billion in this area this century, building one of the last and largest coal plants in the country, even over the last 12 years as coal has declined, been closed and phased out in so many places across the country. Recently I learned that Coloradans are paying $50 million a year in profit to Xcel for this plant, Pueblo Unit 3, which Xcel says they will run until 2070, and which is a lemon. It runs less than part-time and hasn’t been needed or used even in periods of high demand. Coloradans are spending about $15 million a year in ongoing repairs too.
Virginia and others have shown that it is possible and necessary to close coal statewide by 2024-2025.
As Griffith points out, we don’t have another month to waste. The state’s “it’ll be fine. We don’t have to do much” path is beyond dangerous. Delay is the new denial. This next month we are calling on Governor Polis (firstname.lastname@example.org) to follow the law and get the implementing regulations that were required by the end of the first half of the year, out by the end of this year at least. Currently this is not even on the state’s agenda or radar. Colorado’s HB19-1261, passed in spring 2019, and it is one of the strongest climate laws in the country. It requires a 26% economy-wide GHG reduction by 2025. The state is now being sued over this woeful disregard and Governor Polis has moved to dismiss himself from climate accountability.
Back to the clean air, clean energy and good future for Colorado that is possible though, Griffith et al. outline tell us we can make it if we insist on:
- No more fossil-fueled anything – no further delay — Anything new, any new housing, new vehicles allowed on the roads, needs to be gas or fossil fuel free. Moratoria are justified until this switchover can occur.
- Electrifying everything – This goes with the above. NEW houses can be affordably built without gas hook-ups, powered for electric heating and appliances, even in colder climates. Retrofitting existing gas buildings is less affordable. That’s where subsidies will need to come in. Let’s not add to that challenge by building any more housing that is not powered for this century. Likewise, NEW cars on public roads should not pollute our public and life-supporting air. We can engage this in the metro areas at least.
- Ramp up of renewables in the next 2-5 years to accomplish and enable fuel-switching for the above, as well as existing electricity loads.
- The most polluting sources, such as coal, need to be shut down. Virginia ordered the closure of coal plants by the end of 2024.
Economist Fatih Birol calculated and published in 2011 that by 2017, even with the most minimal lifetime usage assumptions (40 years for coal and gas plants that may operate 5-100% longer), we’d have built and put into service by 2017 all that would be needed to take the world over 2 C. So coal power needs to be shut down fast, and other infrastructure needs to be retired early as well. Stranded assets are uneconomic, reconfirming the first bullet: no more fossil-fueled anything, including fracking wells or O&G exploration. The time for this is over.
Likely no one on this list needs a refresher of how bad 2 C is and how necessary it is to get on a 1.5 C and below path. Mark Lynas gives us a summary though, in Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency. In our +1C world, there are some real problems with wildfires, Category 6 hurricanes, flooding and our shores threatened with two hurricanes at once. In Colorado we’re already on the path for 30+ year drought/Dustbowlification, obliterating agriculture, some of our recreational industries, and life as we know it here. It also represents an extreme failure in our stewardship responsibilities to this land, all our relations, and future generations.
So, if we were (or anyone was) waiting for the path to become clear or until there was no choice, the time is now. The weather’s beautiful and self-care may be essential, but we can also do more, accomplish much more, collectively than we think. It is time to bring about the bright, clean air future, greater health and well-being for all that we can have in Colorado and beyond. It’s time for Wall Street and fossil-fueled interests to leave this picture. Unfortunately, they are not giving up without more of a fight. Xcel had data over ten years ago showing a switch to renewables would be possible, publicly responsible, and even profitable. All the public testimony and their own data in this regard was not enough to get them to make the switch. (See 2009 All Source Solicitation, p. 72 and General Portfolio Observations, p. 66 of 2009 120-Day Report (07A-447E, Colorado PUC). Now is the time to listen to the younger folks among us who are saying, enough is enough. It’s time to leave Xcel and this destructive, extractive model behind. Xcel is an out-of-state monopoly, siphoning $578 million from Colorado pockets to after-tax profits on Wall Street last year (typically climbing 10% per year). Their moral or social license to keep claiming to be “Public Service Company of Colorado” is past.
Could stop here Julia!
Xcel spends a lot of Coloradans hard-earned money on advertising, greenwashing that fossil fuel interests on the east coast are now being sued over. Xcel alternately pressures, charms, and buys support where it can. Xcel’s current plan currently calls for Coloradans to go $7.6 billion in debt, none of that on renewables, 2021-2024. (See slide 61, Feb 2020 Xcel deck for East Coast investors).
Most of all, Xcel’s preferred path forward does not accord with health and safety, including climate safety, for Coloradans. Xcel shouldn’t be allowed to continue this monopoly. While Xcel might like to talk about “regulatory compact,” in fact this does not exist. As Ari Peskoe, Senior Fellow in Electricity Law at Harvard, concluded his analysis: “Framing utility regulation as a “compact” is a rhetorical device that has been invoked by industry to argue against competition and in favor of rate increases and cost recovery for investments that did not benefit ratepayers. While several PUCs have used the term as a shorthand description of regulation, no court or PUC has concluded that a utility is legally entitled to relief, such as cost recovery, under a ‘regulatory compact.’ On the contrary, PUCs and courts have explicitly rejected such arguments.”
We don’t often get a chance to comment to the Public Utility Commission on how our electricity is provided, but Xcel’s Energy Resource Plan due in early 2021 is an opportunity, and we should make our views known in advance. A substantial group is coming out daily noon – 1 pm, M-F at Xcel headquarters at 18th & Larimer, see Xcelisdirty@gmail.com or on FB or Instagram). We’re at 70% dirty electricity. Now we know we need to close the remaining gap towards a clean grid. The resource plan should fully consider:
- Energy efficiency due to net-zero building codes coming into use
- Transparent renewables forecasting and demand response allowing and encouraging ratepayers to choose to use renewables to maximize clean energy utilization.
- Projections of future flexible demand profiles that are compatible with renewables. Don’t use demand curves from 2018 to plan for 2028.
- Maximum integration of PV and wind
- Competitive bids for new generation as with the 2018 Colorado Energy Plan so that new generation is market priced and competitive.
- Full implementation of using the social cost of carbon in the economic analysis of scenarios as is now Colorado law
- Taking flexible EV charging and beneficial electrification into account as flexible assets to match demand and renewable supply
- Transparency of wholesale prices for electricity within Public Service Co Colorado to allow evaluation of cost/benefit of old assets for both cost and pollution of each plant.
In the clean energy bids Xcel received in 2017, they leftover 90% “on the table” despite their cost-savings, the cleaner air and preparation for the future they could have provided (Docket 16A-0396E). This is not to mention coal mines playing out, getting past what is economically recoverable, or the question of who pays for Xcel’s mistakes, such as investing in new, large coal generation this century. Xcel is collecting $50 million in profit per year on the lemon of Pueblo Unit 3 they like to call “Comanches.” It’s been down for most of the year, through peak periods, further demonstrating that it is unneeded and that further spending on it should be considered “imprudent.” Regarding efficiency and grid management: demand-side measures can do much to shape the demand curve and influence what supply-side resources are needed. We need much more demand management, demand response and demand flexibility–things that Xcel tends to use as afterthoughts instead of leading with these cost-effective solutions, that are less infrastructure and profit-heavy for them.
Colorado law requires minimization of the Present Value Revenue Requirement (PVRR) and as citizens have testified for years, that is likely to lead to a lot more renewable energy and demand-side measures. It’s time to make the rapid shifts we need and get to the good news, good air, good life for Coloradans and future generations that is so possible. We need ACTUAL public service for Coloradans, not Xcel’s service for Wall Street. If Xcel would rather not service us as scientists, professionals worldwide, and Coloradans see is needed, it is time for them to leave.