Rising Energy Prices Lead to the Highest Inflation Rate in 18 Months

June 24, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy 

By Henry Zhang

On June 17th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly consumer price index report. This included statistics regarding consumer prices in May 2014 and year-to-year inflation. Of note is that in the Western Region[1], from May 2013 to May 2014, electricity prices rose 2.8 percent and total energy prices rose by 3.1 percent.[2] Compare those figures to 2.3 percent increase in average consumer prices over the same time period. In fact, according to the Denver Business Journal, the year-to-year price gain in energy was tied with medical care for the largest price gain of any major category used to calculate inflation.[3]

(Here is a screenshot of the relevant BLS Western Region data. Energy prices are boxed in red)

Untitled1

Also from the Denver Business Journal article:

“The monthly increase [in the West] was largely influenced by higher prices for electricity,” BLS said. “Overall, energy costs advanced 4.6 percent over the month.”

Ten of the 13 states that comprise the BLS’ Western Region have some sort of renewable portfolio mandate over the next 15 years. This means that the state must generate a certain proportion of its electricity from renewable sources.[4] For states like Colorado that have been endowed with plentiful coal reserves, this requires replacing electricity from coal, which is relatively inexpensive, with electricity from wind and solar, which is relatively expensive. This, in turn, leads to higher electricity prices, which hurt businesses and consumers alike and can “inflict significant harm on the state economy.” [5]

On a national level, where 37 out of the 50 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards or goals, consumer prices rose 2.1 percent from May 2013 to May 2014 while electricity prices rose 3.6 percent and total energy prices rose 3.3 percent. For the US, like for the Western Region, energy prices experienced the largest percentage increase of all of the major consumption categories used to calculate inflation.

From 2004, when Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was passed, to 2012, the latest year for which data is available, the average retail price of electricity for all sectors increased from 6.95 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 9.39 cents per kWh, a 35 percent increase.[6] This is equivalent to a 3.76 percent average annual increase. For residential consumers of electricity, the retail price rose from 8.42 cents per kWh in 2004 to 11.46 cents per kWh in 2012. This is a 36 percent increase, equivalent to an average annual increase of 3.85 percent. In the eight years after the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are greater than the average rate of inflation.

For comparison purposes, in the eight years leading up to 2004 (1996-2004), average retail electricity prices only rose 15 percent, from 6.05 cents per kWh to 6.95 cents per kWh. This is an annualized growth rate of 1.73 percent. What more, for residential consumers, the annualized growth rate from 1996 to 2004 was just 1.46 percent. Thus, in the eight years before the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are less than the average rate of inflation. For a typical Colorado household,[7] which spends around $1065 per year on electricity,[8] the difference between an annual 3.85 percent rate increase and an annual 1.46 percent rate increase is an extra $270, per household, spent just on electricity over the course of 10 years. Furthermore, this number is much lower than the true cost of the RPS to Colorado households. It doesn’t take into account the billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to the energy sources, like wind and solar, which contribute to the rapid rise in electricity prices.

Affordable energy and electricity prices are the bedrock of a strong, healthy economy. Increases in the price of electricity that outpace inflation and real income growth squeeze the spending power of all consumers. Ordinary people like you and me need affordable, dependable electricity for a myriad of purposes that enhance our standard of living. Businesses need a steady electricity supply to produce the goods and services that we consume. A justification of the cost of rapidly increasing electricity prices would require more than the rhetoric of environmental benefits. It would require clear evidence, from detailed, rigorous analyses, that the added value of environmental benefits exceeds the lost jobs and economic malaise caused by higher electricity prices.

Henry Zhang is a Future Leaders summer intern. He is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, majoring in mathematics and economics.


[1] The Western region consists of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (link)

[2] BLS West Report (link)

[3] Mark Harden, Denver Business Journal. “Biggest annual price gain since 2012 in Colorado, the West” (link)

[4] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) map (link)

[5] Heartland Institute study on Colorado’s RPS (link)

[6] Data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) (link)

[7] US Census Bureau: Colorado Quick Facts (link)

[8] 775 kWh/month * 12 months/year * 11.46 cents/kWh * (1.0385/1.0146)10 = $1325, which is $270 greater than $1065

Print Friendly

Sputtering Wind Energy Prompts Transmission Cost Concerns from Xcel

May 28, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: preferred energy, renewable energy, wind energy 

Growing transmission costs for wind-generated electricity have prompted Xcel Energy to seek approval for rate hikes to smaller utilities using Xcel’s transmission lines to reach their consumers:

Xcel wants the utilities to pay for its costs associated with having supplies of reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies, said Terri Eaton, Xcel’s director of federal regulatory and compliance efforts.

Currently, those costs are paid by Xcel’s business and residential customers, Eaton said.

If the transmission lines customers can supply their own back-up power supplies, they wouldn’t be charged under the proposed rates, she said.

Readily available, back-up power supplies are critical to keep the transmission grid in balance and avoid blackouts that can occur when a big source of power suddenly disappears, Eaton said.

Xcel’s hikes would hit rural cooperatives and other utilities should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve the rate hike at the beginning of 2015.

But what, exactly, does Eaton mean when she refers to “reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies”?

“We’ve seen some dramatic wind fall-offs in really short periods of time,” Eaton said.

Xcel has already experienced such falls offs, when “several hundreds of megawatts of wind” drops dramatically — and swiftly — due to changes in the wind, she said.

“Sometimes the wind is just howling, and an hour later the wind has calmed — and it’s in those circumstances that we need to have reserves available to pick up the load,” Eaton said.

In such cases, backup power supplies typically come from natural gas-fueled power plants, she said.

The tariff proposed by Xcel would help cover the costs when the wind “suddenly dies.”

The intermittency of wind has been widely discussed, and no amount of forecasting or improved efficiency will spin a wind turbine’s blades if the wind isn’t blowing.

In 2012, a study examined wind generation in Illinois at the height of a summer heat wave, when energy demands rise to yearly highs. The author found that just 5 percent of installed wind capacity was available during that outbreak of record temperatures, and at times, “virtually nonexistent.”

Earlier this year, wind energy proponents touted the example provided in Texas–wind had saved the day. But a closer examination of the figures from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demonstrated that contrary to claims that wind had bailed out conventional sources of electricity by ensuring grid reliability, wind had actually fallen so substantially that Texas turned to other sources to meet the extra 1,000 megawatts of demand on January 6. Both scheduled and unscheduled plant closure elsewhere had left Texas with a gap during a record cold snap, a gap that wind was unable to fill.

As the Institute for Energy Research wrote in January, only 3.2 percent of the energy needs of the Texas grid operated by ERCOT came from wind, while 83 percent of Texas wind turbines “were unavailable during peak demand.”

ERCOT itself continues to rate its “wind power at 8.7 percent of its installed capacity” for 2014 during the periods of highest demands, which typically occur in mid-to-late summer. For nearly 12,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, only 990 megawatts are considered reliable for forecasts computed by ERCOT for 2014. That’s like having the equivalent of 12 1,000 megawatt power plants built and only 1 online when summer energy demand spikes.

As a percentage, ERCOT figures wind to provide just 1.3 percent of the total amount of energy it needs this summer, rising to 2.2 percent by 2017 according to its own projections.

As for Colorado, under Senate Bill 252, rural cooperatives must reach 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association spokesman Lee Boughey acknowledged the rising costs of integrating ever-greater amounts of intermittent energy supplies like wind.

“As more intermittent resources are added in the region, we understand the need to address the higher costs of integrating and balancing power,” Boughey told the Denver Business Journal.

Those costs were highlighted in a March post that examined the integration of wind and other intermittent energy sources to the reliability of the grid operated by Public Service and regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), under the state’s preferred energy mandate:

The concern over infrastructure costs and the cost to ratepayers, as well as the challenge of incorporating ever-larger amounts of intermittent generation sources like solar and wind, is not a new topic at the PUC.

In June 2012 comments by PUC staff engineer Inez Dominguez indicated that off-peak load and wind generation in particular was “alarming.”

The integration of intermittent sources like wind would overwhelm the system, either with higher costs or decreased reliability. Bringing in wind and curtailing conventional, coal-fired generation during off-peak periods would result “in an economic penalty to the Public Service customers because more expensive wind generation would be supplying their load.”

Cutting off the wind, however, would also penalize ratepayers, as the “take or pay” agreements give wind first priority.

But the Public Service engineer also highlighted reliability concerns. “In its simplest terms as it concerns the customers, reliability deals with keeping the lights on. This reliability issue may occur when the wind suddenly stops blowing and a significant amount of wind generation is lost to the balancing authority,” Dominguez said.

“When this event happens, the balancing authority needs to replace the lost generation quickly enough to keep from tripping off the load. This means that the generation in reserve to cover such an event has to be quick enough in its response to cover the lost generation,” Dominguez continued.

For Colorado ratepayers, this backup generation comes from “gas fired combustion turbine generation reserves” that displace “more economic base load coal fired generation,” only adding to the cost, and “complexity” of the load balancing requirements.

According to Dominguez, these examples suggested a “flag that Public Service may have too much wind generation.”

Print Friendly

Solar “Mega-trap” Kills Birds at California Power Plant

May 5, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy 

Solar power generating facilities in Southern California have been dubbed “mega-traps” for their ability to attract and kill multiple species in a variety of manners including solar flux injury, also known as “singeing,” according to a report from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory issued in April.

“At times birds flew into the solar flux and ignited,” the authors wrote.

The toll on Southern California wildlife from three solar power plants is just beginning to be revealed:

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant in the Southern California desert supplies enough carbon-free electricity to power 140,000 homes. For birds, bats and butterflies, though, the futuristic project is the Death Star, incinerating anything that flies through a “solar flux” field that generates temperatures of 800 degree Fahrenheit when 300,000 mirrors focus the sun on a water-filled boilers that sit on top three 459-foot towers.

“It appears Ivanpah may act as a ‘mega-trap,’ attracting insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar-flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death,” concluded scientists with the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in a report that investigated 233 bird deaths representing 71 species at three Southern California solar power plants.

“Ivanpah employees called such immolations ’streamers,’” said The Atlantic.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement staff “observed an average of one streamer event every two minutes.”

singeing small

From the report:

When OLE staff visited Ivanpah, we observed many streamer events. It is claimed that these events represent the combustion of loose debris or insects. Although some of the events are likely that, there were instances where the amount of smoke produced by the ignition could only be explained by a large flammable biomass such as a bird. Indeed OLE observed birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently becoming a streamer.

When the Ivanpah solar plant was inaugurated in earlier this year, we noted about reports of birds being killed–the “singeing” of birds in the air due to the reflective panels heating the surrounding air to such high temperatures near the California plant’s towers.

At the time, we wrote:

All power sources involve tradeoffs, but to date, wind and solar have generally avoided discussing the topic, often quickly shifting to pointing out the costs of other energy sources in defending their own environmental impacts.

Those tradeoffs included the very distinct possibility of harm to migratory birds and other wildlife.

According to the April report bats–also attracted by the insects drawn to the solar arrays–have also been found near the facilities. These include species deemed “sensitive” in California by the Bureau of Land Management.

Regulatory agencies considered those costs for Ivanpah:

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

Those full impacts won’t even be known for another couple years, as a two-year study is completed on Ivanpah’s effect on wildlife.

The report also notes that gathering specific data about the actual temperatures involved at Ivanpah have been difficult.

“Despite repeated requests, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining technical data relating to the temperature associated with solar flux at the Ivanpah facility,” the authors wrote.

The report authors quoted a Discovery TV channel program that pegged the possible top temperature at the top of the solar tower above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt steel. In order to regulate the tower at a much lower temperature, Ivanpah’s operators must turn only a percentage of heliostats at the solar receiver.

They estimated that temperatures across the solar field ranged from 200 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The solar facility at Ivanpah is a darling of the Obama administration and received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees.

“This project speaks for itself. Just look at the 170,000 shining heliostat mirrors and the three towers that would dwarf the Statue of Liberty,” said Ernest Moniz, Obam’s energy secretary, as reported by The Daily Caller.

Print Friendly

NREL Employee Threatens Reporter, Issues Internal Email About Threats To NREL

April 23, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, National Renewable Energy Laboratory 

From Watchdog.org:

A secret government energy lab here went on heightened alert after one of its employees used Twitter to threaten mass murder against Watchdog reporters, according to internal memos and emails received under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the added security measures utilized by the National Renewable Energy Lab weren’t to isolate and chastise staffer Kerrilee Crosby, who used Twitter in late 2012 to advocate what she called “a murderous rampage.”

Instead, the lab was concerned because an unidentified individual sent Crosby an email labeled “Because you deserve to die” — the same words Crosby used in her threat against Watchdog.

It was the subsequent threat from an unidentified individual (the name was redacted in the Freedom of Information Act documents released) that prompted this reaction from NREL:

“Details are still being assembled and the likelihood of making contact remains low.

A person named (redacted) has made a veiled threat against NREL employee Kerry Crosby.

Should we come into contact with (redacted) we are to call 911 immediately… Keep in mind, we cannot be sure this is the right name. Be very suspicious of anyone unexpected looking for Kerry Crosby.

Jeffco is already engaged in this issue.”

According to Watchdog, while the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department pooh-poohed the threat made by Crosby against the reporting outfit by refusing to take a police report, it appeared fully prepared to provide assistance to NREL–by opening a case and visiting the agency’s campus.

NREL’s security office issued these warnings to workers:

1. Be aware of an increase in anger at NREL and our mission
2. NREL Security will step up vehicle searches
3. Be prepared for an increase in press inquiries and amateur information seekers
4. Understand that this story may inspire others to be angry toward NREL, government spending, green energy, people who make threats, etc.

“The number of web-based news sources repeating the Watchdog story continues to grow,” the memo said.

Crosby drew in the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center director Amy Oliver Cooke into the original series of threatening tweets she made in late 2012 when she included a link to a photo of Cooke.

“I can’t remember where I left my gun, though. Found it! http://t.co/MuOpukem,” she tweeted. The original link has been removed.

Print Friendly

Colorado Green Schools

April 22, 2014 by jlongo · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

IP-1-2014 (January 2014)
Author: Todd Myers

PDF of full Issue Paper

Introduction:
According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Chipeda Elementary in Colorado’s Mesa Valley School District 51 is not simply a green school; it is in fact a green model for other schools.

The USGBC promotes Chipeda as a “case study” of what green schools can achieve in a range of areas, including reduction of environmental impact and lower energy use.1 The case study notes the school is more energy efficient and uses less water than other, comparable schools. Utility data, however, tells a different story. A look at the numbers shows the school actually uses more energy than do its peers.

Print Friendly

Colorado’s cruel approach to energy policy

February 25, 2014 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

By Amy Oliver Cooke

“Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun,” wrote environmental doomsday prophet Dr. Paul Ehrlich in 1975.

That’s a cruel statement directed at people who simply want electric lights so their children can read at night, a refrigerator to keep food from spoiling, or a heater to keep their homes warm during the winter.

Yet it seems to be the approach of Colorado’s environmental Left. Part of the problem is progressive leaders’ extremely narrow definition of “clean” energy that limits resource choices to more costly and unreliable wind and solar.

In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring Xcel Energy and other investor-owned utilities to use preferred sources such as wind and solar for 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users.

Since then the Colorado legislature has mandated increases in the renewable (or preferred) energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates. They also have higher electric rates than Colorado.

Last year the state legislature passed SB 252, a 20 percent preferred energy standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives. Now nearly the entire state must pay for a significant percentage of electricity produced predominantly from preferred “clean” sources wind and solar.

Since producing electricity from wind and solar is more expensive, Colorado’s electric rates have gone up along with the legislature’s mandates.

Not too long ago, our state enjoyed some of the cheapest electricity in the United States. In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh, equivalent to 9.89 cents in 2013 dollars. Instead, Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity, the highest rate in the Mountain West. California, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only Western states with higher residential rates.

Colorado’s electric rates are rising significantly faster than in most states. Last year rates across the U.S. increased on average 2.4 percent, compared to a 4.5 percent jump here.

These high rates couldn’t come at a worse time. Just this week the Denver Post reported that Colorado’s labor participation rate has fallen 6 percentage points since 2006, to its lowest level (67.3 percent) since 1976.

In addition, the number of Coloradans obtaining assistance from food stamps continues to mark all-time high numbers, Complete Colorado reports.

The second week of February saw a 42 percent increase in Coloradans asking government for help paying their heating bills, according to 9News.

The state legislature had an opportunity to modestly improve the situation. Rep. Lori Saine’s (R-Weld County) HB 1138 would have expanded the definition of “clean” energy to include hydroelectricity.

Under HB1138 many electric co-ops that serve Colorado’s rural communities could have met or at least come close to meeting SB 252’s increased mandate. Without the expanded definition, some co-ops will need to build additional capacity and expensive transmission lines, or purchase renewable energy credits from other providers. Some of Colorado’s poorest counties will bear the costs.

Despite HB1138’s bipartisan sponsorship, lobbying from the wind and solar industries and their advocates in the environmental non-profit world doomed the bill in committee.

Progressive state lawmakers’ definition of clean energy is also unique. Many states, including those in the eco-friendly Pacific Northwest, the Center for American Progress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our own Colorado Energy Office all consider hydro to be a clean, renewable source.

Our state’s extremely narrow definition of clean energy begs the question of whether progressive lawmakers simply seek to protect the wind and solar industry at the expense of ratepayers.

A 2012 Independence Institute study showed Xcel Energy ratepayers spent $343 million to comply with the preferred energy mandate, much of which ended up as surplus because supply exceeded demand. That’s $245 per ratepayer, nearly two months of average Colorado electricity bills, for electricity they didn’t use.

Affordable power is not mutually exclusive of clean power. Colorado should expand the definition of clean resources to include clean coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear. We also should encourage a least cost principle and let consumers decide.

Anything else is just cruel.

This opinion editorial appeared originally in the Greeley Tribune on February 20, 2014.

Print Friendly

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy

February 17, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, wind energy 

This op-ed first appeared in the Greeley Tribune

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy


By Michael Sandoval

When Coloradans flip on their lights or crank up their heat, they expect their electricity to be affordable, and at the very least, reliable. But the state Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper are forcing the opposite on Colorado — expensive and unreliable wind energy.

The wind lobby today is one of the fattest hogs at the corporate welfare trough. Rather than win customers through good prices and reliable products, the wind lobby uses political clout to force consumers to purchase its overpriced services. Currently, a state law requires that 12 percent of the state’s electricity be generated by so-called “green” energy. That mandate increases to 20 percent next year, and will jump to 30 percent by 2020 for investor-owned utilities. Senate Bill 252, signed by the governor last year, imposes a 20 percent mandate on rural cooperative electric associations. These jumps will only increase the cost of electricity.

icon_op_edThe wind industry is “green” in the sense that it lines its pockets with taxpayer subsidies. The federal $12 billion wind production tax credit was increased to 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2013. Although Congress decided not to renew this particular form of corporate welfare, the Obama administration has decided to keep the welfare money flowing anyway. The Internal Revenue Service issued guidance that allowed projects under construction and generating electricity by Jan. 1, 2016, to also claim the tax credit, which lasts for 10 years.

How dependent is the wind industry on government subsidies? American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan pointed to the steep declines in wind capacity installations when the production tax credit is allowed to lapse, as it was briefly at the end of 2012. Last year, total available wind energy output decreased 92 percent.

In other words, almost all the wind power construction today exists only because of taxpayer subsidies. Because the wind lobby has become addicted to corporate welfare, the wind welfare companies have failed to make the technological advances, which make wind power competitive in a free market. It’s easier to lobby Washington to get money extracted from the taxpayers, and to lobby Denver to force consumers to buy your product.

Besides being expensive, wind power is unreliable, as demonstrated by a near-record demand in Texas for home heating in early January, which put a strain on that state’s power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas noted that planned maintenance and unexpected weather-related outages of power plants elsewhere nearly brought on rotating outages.

Proponents declared triumphantly that wind had saved the Texas grid. But in reality, wind had failed.

Put simply, wind energy was unable to fill the gap created by a sudden increase in demand from the cold and the drop in capacity due to the scheduled and unscheduled outages that occurred the morning of Jan. 6. Just as the state experienced a spike in overall energy demand, wind power began to plummet, according to analysis of the council’s data by the Independence Institute.

That morning, wind output fell below 20 percent of maximum capacity by 7 a.m., just as the other power plants went offline. As a percentage of council’s total output, wind fell to below 10 percent and remained there until 11 p.m.

The Institute for Energy Research confirmed that a mere 3.2 percent of the energy supplied to the Texas grid covered by council came from wind. At the moment Texas residents needed reliable power the most, 83 percent of Texas’ wind turbines were unavailable “during peak demand.”

The only thing that saved Texas that day was importing nearly 1,000 megawatts from the eastern power grid and Mexico.

The Comanche Peak 1 nuclear plant fell to 72 percent of capacity on Jan 6. Meanwhile, actual wind output in Texas failed to reach 70 percent during any one hour, and remained below 50 percent in at least 20 of the 24 hours that day.

So when the winter chill hit Texas residents, wind power nearly left them out in the cold. Coloradans would be wise to not endanger their safety in their homes, and their pocketbooks, by forced reliance on an intermittent, subsidy-dependent power source.

Michael Sandoval is an energy policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

Print Friendly

Fried Birds: Green Energy Involves Tradeoffs Too

February 17, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy 

The Ivanpah solar plant went online last week, but the cost to wildlife–particularly birds–won’t be known for at least two more years.

Reports that the giant solar thermal array featuring more than 300,000 reflective panels and steam-driven turbine towers have been “killing and singeing” birds by heating the air to around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit near the towers, according to reports.

You can view pictures of the deceased birds here.

All power sources involve tradeoffs, but to date, wind and solar have generally avoided discussing the topic, often quickly shifting to pointing out the costs of other energy sources in defending their own environmental impacts.

Policy directives aimed to support the technologies often override such environmental concerns, as they did with Ivanpah:

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

The plant’s effects on birds is the subject of a current two-year study.

But the cost of electricity from solar sources is and will remain higher than other natural resources, like coal, for the foreseeable future, according to the Energy Information Administration:

The Energy Information Administration says that it will cost new solar thermal plants 161 percent more to generate one megawatt hour of power than it costs a coal plant to do in 2018 — despite the costs of solar power being driven downward.

On average, conventional coal plants cost $100 to make one megawatt hour, while solar thermal plants cost $261 for the same amount of power. This data, however, does not take into account the impact of federal, state or local subsidies and mandates on power costs.

The solar thermal installation built by BrightSource Energy received at $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2011. That loan was secured in no small part due to political connections, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Higher electricity costs as a result of policy directives and crony capitalism, something the Solar Energy Industries Association was readily willing to admit:

Resch said a key issue for the industry will be maintaining government policies that encourage development, including tax credits for solar projects that are set to expire in 2016 and government loan guarantees. “The direct result of these policies is projects like Ivanpah,” he said.

Once again, however, the claim that solar energy is a “free” or “no cost” energy source has been upended. Another BrightSource project is receiving similar concerns:

In response to BrightSource’s blueprint for its second big solar farm in Riverside County, near Joshua Tree National Park, biologists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told state regulators that they were concerned that heat produced by the project could kill golden eagles and other protected species.

“We’re trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities,” said Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the federal agency’s Sacramento office. “When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.”

Ivanpah may be the first large utility-scale solar thermal installation in California, and also the last:

Though Ivanpah is an engineering marvel, experts doubt more plants like it will be built in California. Other solar technologies are now far cheaper than solar thermal, federal guarantees for renewable energy projects have dried up, and natural gas-fired plants are much cheaper to build.

That means the private sector must fill the gap at a time when building a natural-gas fired power plant costs about $1,000 per megawatt, a fraction of the $5,500 per megawatt that Ivanpah cost.

“Our job was to kickstart the demonstration of these different technologies,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview high up on one of the plant’s three towers.

The plant is projected to produce approximately 380 megawatts “during the peak hours of the day,” according to BrightSource.

A technology that costs 5.5 times more to build and that delivers electricity that is 161 percent more expensive than coal, and that secures it’s funding through political connections is not the job of the Department of Energy–or taxpayers’ dollars–nor to “kickstart the demonstration of these different technologies.”

Not when it produces just 0.24 percent of the electricity in the United States in November 2013, according to the EIA.

Print Friendly

CO electric rates rise along with increase in preferred energy mandate

February 7, 2014 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

In 1999 Colorado enjoyed some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States and the Mountain West. In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring investor owned utilities to provide 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users to come from the preferred sources wind and solar.

Since 2004, the Colorado state legislature has mandated increases in the renewable portfolio standard, more appropriately titled the preferred energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates, and they also have higher electric rates than Colorado.

Last year the state legislature passed a 20 percent preferred portfolio standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives.

As the mandate to produce more electricity from wind and solar has increased so have Colorado’s electricity rates.

  • In 1999 Colorado’s electric rates were 5.9 cents per Kilowatt hour (kWh) and were the 18th least expensive in the country.
  • In the 1990s Colorado’s population increased by 30 percent, electricity demand grew 26 percent, yet real prices fell 25 percent in the same period.
  • If electric rates simply kept pace with inflation, Coloradans would have paid 8.4 cents per kWh in 2013 instead of 9.83 cents per kWh.
  • In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh; adjusting for inflation that’s the equivalent of 9.89 cents in 2013. Instead Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity.
  • Colorado’s current electric rate for all sectors is 9.83 cents per kWh, nearly 7 percent higher than the Mountain West average of 9.21 cents per kWh.
  • Colorado’s electric rates increased 4.5 percent last year while U.S. electric rates increased only 2.4 percent last year.
  • At 11.91 cents per kWh, Colorado has the highest residential rates in the Mountain West.
  • Colorado residential electric rates are the 20th highest in the nation, with California, Alaska, and Hawaii being the only western states with higher residential rates.

Most information available at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Table of “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customer by End-Use Sector.”

Print Friendly

HB 1113 Testimony, Bill Voted Down 8-5

January 31, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

Valerie Richardson of The Colorado Observer provides background on HB 1113’s 8-5 defeat in committee, as well as other efforts to deal with last year’s SB 252 impact on rural Colorado.


Full text of testimony presented by the Independence Institute:

Testimony on behalf of

HB 1113 Electric Renewable Energy Standard Reduction, Room 0112

January 30, 2014

House Transportation and Energy Committee

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

My name is Michael Sandoval. I am an Energy Policy Analyst and Investigative Reporter for the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of House Bill 1113.

At the Independence Institute, we are agnostic on energy resources. It is our strong belief that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups.

The goal of the Energy Policy Center is to promote a free market in energy production, where no protections, subsidies, or regulations result in energy winners and losers. We advocate that government remain neutral, which then encourages a level playing field. That is the best way to ensure that consumers reap the benefits of a healthy energy market – competition, lower prices, and more options.

Testimony

HB 1113 affords utilities the flexibility they need to meet electricity demand in the most cost effective way. HB 1113 is an energy freedom bill that does not preclude utilities from incorporating wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources from the achieving a minimum percentage of electricity that electric service providers must generate. Rather it allows utilities to achieve that mix in a way that does not force them to rush to comply in coming years.

HB 1113 would eliminate the step-increases mandated by previous legislation that would negatively affect utilities’ ability to respond to customer demands and force ratepayers to contend with ever increasing costs of energy in Colorado.

The most recent numbers from the Energy Information Administration indicate where Colorado sits vis-à-vis its neighbors when it comes to the average retail price of electricity to the residential sector. As of October 2013, Colorado ranks 27th, with a residential retail cost that exceeds that of Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, and Idaho.

When looking at the EIA’s census division of Mountain states, Colorado’s average retail price of electricity for residential customers is second behind only Nevada. When it comes to commercial and industrial electricity, Colorado’s average retail price is the highest in the Mountain region in both categories, for 2012 and 2013.

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, in 2013 Colorado renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent by 2020 is the highest in the entire Rocky Mountain region, trailing only the west coast state of California.

The Independence Institute believes HB 1113 addresses concerns about the state’s market-skewing renewable portfolio standard’s impact upon utilities and ratepayers. The step-change increases in the state’s renewable energy mandate over the course of the next few years will result in higher costs for utilities and ratepayers alike.

These increased costs will likely result in job losses, higher costs for consumers, and a loss of competitiveness for Colorado businesses in comparison to neighboring states without or with lower renewable energy standards. HB 1113’s 15 percent figure would bring the state more in line with states throughout the Mountain region.

Again, aligning minimums between investor-owned utilities and cooperative electric associations will level the playing field that will keep electricity rates competitive, but will not prevent individual providers from exceeding those minimums with a market mix of conventional and renewable sources, including wind and solar, that best fits their own market profile and satisfies the needs of their customers.

In conclusion, HB 1113 gives utilities the flexibility to adjust power sources as needed and respond to needs of consumers—and not the demands of special interests—from 2014 and thereafter.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning it is the strong belief of the Independence Institute that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups and we believe that HB 1113 is consistent with that principle.

Thank you.

Print Friendly

Next Page »