PRPA poised to embark on carbon-free future

FORT COLLINS — They asked for it, and it appears that Platte River Power Authority is positioning itself to deliver.

Executives of PRPA, which serves the cities of Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and Estes Park with electricity, announced Thursday that they see a path toward producing power with a “zero net carbon” impact by 2030. To that end, the power utility laid out findings from a preliminary study on how to achieve zero net carbon and also announced that the board of directors of the utility authorized on Thursday the addition of another 150 megawatts of wind power.

Gary Vicinus
Jason Frisbie

At a public meeting at the Fort Collins Hilton Thursday, the utility and representatives of a consulting company laid out a potential path forward. The details of the report, available on the PRPA website, were met with general approval by those in attendance, including numerous groups and individuals who have been pushing for greener generation of power.

In response to the positive support, Jason Frisbie, CEO of Platte River Power, said, “The enthusiasm in the room in great. But let me be 100 percent clear: The PRPA operates under three pillars, which are environmental responsibility, financial responsibility and reliability (of power). We won’t move forward without all three in place.” He then said that the study provided him and the board with a sense that they can achieve zero net carbon production for the four cities served by the utility.

The PRPA board, which is composed of the mayors and appointed designees from each member city, had authorized Pace Global, a Siemens business division, to study how to achieve zero net carbon power generation by 2030 using a “least cost strategy.”

The suggested strategy permits PRPA to continue to use natural gas, mostly to assure a minimum 15 percent reserve capacity, but to ramp up renewable methods such as wind and solar so that it has enough green power to sell to other utilities in the state or the American West. In other words, any power generated by natural gas would be offset by excess carbon-free power that is not needed at the time it is generated and can be sold elsewhere, thus reducing carbon generation overall in the state or region.[advert]

Pace Global examined the carbon impact of a mix of generation types. After numerous iterations, it found a mix that would achieve the goal by 2030, said Gary Vicinus from Pace Global, who delivered the report.

The plan retires all coal generation by 2030. PRPA’s Craig, Colo., power plant is already scheduled for shutdown. The Rawhide plant’s coal generators, located north of Fort Collins, would be taken offline by 2030.

The study examined use of lithium ion batteries to store excess power from solar or wind. While the utility will experiment with battery backup, the study concluded that the technology has not developed enough to make it fit within the least cost strategy. Eventually, batteries may play a larger role to store power for use when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Until then, continuing to use natural gas to guarantee a reserve capacity will likely be necessary.

Vicinus said that the mix of power sources was critical to achieving the zero net carbon result. He said solar is more economical than wind, because solar can be located within the existing transmission grid or near it, but that wind varies less than solar in its generating capacity.

He also said that the zero net carbon strategy will be more expensive — about 20 percent more expensive in 2030 than the utility’s integrated resource plan under which PRPA currently operates.

The plan comes with risks. It assumes that other utilities in Colorado will not follow the same course. If they do, then they will be less likely to buy green power from PRPA and the utility would be unable to sell units of power at the rates projected in the plan.

Some risks can be minimized, Vicinus said, by joining a regional transmission network, which would reduce transmission costs when power is moved outside of the PRPA grid. The utility has spent months working to join a regional network and expects initial approvals perhaps as soon as this summer, Frisbie said.

FORT COLLINS — They asked for it, and it appears that Platte River Power Authority is positioning itself to deliver.

Executives of PRPA, which serves the cities of Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and Estes Park with electricity, announced Thursday that they see a path toward producing power with a “zero net carbon” impact by 2030. To that end, the power utility laid out findings from a preliminary study on how to achieve zero net carbon and also announced that the board of directors of the utility authorized on Thursday the addition of another 150 megawatts of wind power.

Gary Vicinus
Jason Frisbie

At a public meeting at the Fort Collins Hilton Thursday, the utility and representatives of a consulting company laid out a potential path forward. The details of the report, available on the PRPA website, were met with general approval by those in attendance, including numerous groups and individuals who have been pushing for greener generation of power.

In response to the positive support, Jason Frisbie, CEO of Platte River Power, said, “The enthusiasm in the room in great. But let me be 100 percent clear: The PRPA operates under three pillars, which are environmental responsibility, financial responsibility and reliability (of power). We won’t move forward without all…