100% Renewable Energy Update

If you became a member of CforSE within the past year then you are probably one of the 2,300 people who signed our petition calling on Fort Collins City Council to set the goal of generating 100% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It is a goal that over 60 cities around the country have adopted including Longmont. A handful of cities claim to have already achieved this goal. I say claim to because what they are doing is "net 100%". They are still using electricity generated by fossil fuels but are buying enough renewable energy to offset the fossil fuel usage. This is a great thing to do, but it is a little disingenuous to claim 100% renewable. 

The Northern Colorado Partners for Clean Energy (of which we are a part) are pushing for 100% generated renewable energy by 2030. The difference is that we need to store excess energy generated by wind and solar for use when the sun don't shine and the wind don't blow. Storage technology isn't quite there yet to make this happen in an affordable way but is expected to be by 2030. Nay sayers say that we shouldn't set this goal because we don't have a clear path to achieving it. To which I quote President Kennedy. In 1961 he wanted the U.S. to go to the moon by 1969. We didn't know how to do it, but we set the goal and we got it done. Our goal is much more attainable.

In May we (Fort Collins Partners for Clean Energy) presented a draft resolution for city council to adopt this goal. Mayor Troxell balked at the idea of a "grand statement" claiming that the goal was only a political statement. Council directed staff to research the idea (see above). The funny thing is that to achieve our climate action goals we almost certainly have to achieve 100% REx2030. The Mayor loves the "grand statement" of our Climate Action Goals and touts it all across the country. 

You can help by writing Mayor Troxell and City leaders (cityleaders@fcgov.com) and asking him to adopt the 100% renewable energy by 2030 goal.

Fort Collins City Council fails through obfuscation and delay

Overall our City government performs very well, as evidenced by our many awards. However, there are... areas of opportunity. One such area is communication and accountability between council and staff. Council is supposed to give staff clear direction on a topic. Staff is supposed to follow that direction. Unfortunately the process frequently breaks down. This has happened recently with our campaign for the City to set a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and with our "rent your roof" campaign for the utility to rent roofs/parking lots for solar panels. 

Obfuscate - (verb) render unclear, obscure, or unintelligible

Regarding "Rent your Roof", council gave very confusing and weak direction to staff. One council-member timidly asked for a feasibility study, one asked for a scoping study, and the Mayor confused everything by asked for a study of all distributed energy models.  There was no consensus of what council was asking. The City Manager said that the direction was clear but gave no confirmation of what that direction was. To no surprise, the staff action plan was vague and mostly off topic. Council didn't correct staff, probably because they didn't know what it was they had asked staff to do. 

Delay - (verb) make something late or slow

This topic was assigned to a January work-session, then delayed to February, then delayed until May. Finally, after 7 months, staff presented the results of their work to council. This presentation would not have passed my undergrad classes at CSU back in the '90s. It was incomplete, inaccurate, and off topic. I know it was inaccurate because I pointed it out and staff made a correction. But council didn't understand what they were looking at because after all that delay we were back to our old friend, obfuscation. The result? More delay! Council gave staff another two years to do more of whatever it is they did and there is no expectation of concrete results. Staff could come back to council in two years with the same thing.

In the case of 100% renewable electricity by 2030 the direction was a little more clear, "Study the feasibility of achieving the goal". Staff delayed by waiting for a "Net Zero Carbon Study" from PRPA (our power provider). In this case they obfuscated by hiding their work behind the PRPA study and mixing it in with a Climate Action Plan update. No to worry, council wasn't upset. They simply asked staff to come up with something in a month's time. So staff got to work. They presented a set of obfuscated questions and topics to two citizen boards and spent the majority of time talking about the definition of "renewable electricity". Their report to council was due last week and it appears that they will ask for council for a... delay!

So what the hell are we gonna do about this? Well after 12 years of being on the citizen side of the podium, I've had enough! I've decided to run for City Council District 6. I'm running because I believe that I can help fix the process problems that are limiting the City's progress on a range of important issues facing our community. 

To deal with the obfuscate and delay problem I will require the City Manager to recite council direction when given. This will allow council to clarify any miscommunications right from the start. Next, the follow-up memo from staff should be signed off on by all council-members. Delays happen, but need stronger justification. When the topic does come up for discussion the original direction from council will be on the first page. Council can ask, "How does your work address our original concern?" These steps should provide clarity and accountability for staff and for council.

This problem is one symptom of a root problem of council not having the time and resources to do the best job that can be done. Right now council members are paid for about 7 hours of work per week (less than $10k/yr). Many people familiar with the council role say that to do the best job possible requires 40 hours per week. To address this root problem CforSE is advocating to make city council a full-time position paid at Area Median Income with reporting requirements so that citizens can see that their elected (and paid) officials are doing their job.

You can help in a few ways. From August to November we will be circulating a petition to get "Full-Time City Council" on the April ballot. We will need about 8,000 signatures. We would love to have your help gathering signatures, fundraising, or just signing the petition and spreading the word!

Thank you again!

Getting Fastrack back on track

In 2004, Boulder County citizens contracted the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to build a commuter rail between Denver/Boulder/Longmont by 2017. To date, taxpayers have paid over $180 million. Due to a lack of funding and increased costs RTD says the rail will not be completed until after 2040. The question now is, “What is the best path forward?”

RTD is studying Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Hwy 119. The idea is that the bus travels independently from traffic, and so, much faster. They expect to have the study completed by the end of the year.

RTD is also exploring a rush hour train. Three trains would run in the morning and evening. This would also be much faster than traffic and a direct step towards completing the promised FasTracks. RTD does not have an official study underway as they do for BRT.

The costs, funding sources, and feasibility of either option are still largely unknown. For this reason we believe RTD should complete a study of BRT and Rush Hour Rail, including all potential funding sources, before pursuing either or both.

Please share your opinion by writing a short note to the Boulder County Commissioners. Should RTD study both options thoroughly or move ahead with one or the other, or both? Without public input RTD may choose the path of least resistance. They need to hear from you!

Thank you!!

PRPA studies "Net Zero Carbon" by 2030

From our friends at Rocky Mountain Institute

 

Net-Zero Future at Cost Parity with Coal—In the Heart of Coal Country

March 8, 2018

Platte River Power Authority (PRPA), the generating authority that serves Fort Collins—a community Rocky Mountain Institute has been working with for a long time—and three other Colorado cities recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The results of the study, by a subsidiary of power-industry giant Siemens, are… electrifying. The study found that, using relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and without considering demand-side efforts, PRPA can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).

This is significant not only because the estimated (net present value) difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent. The Siemens study was conservative in its estimates of price declines for renewables over the coming years, and was released before the shockingly low bids for wind and solar that another Colorado utility, Xcel, received in an RFP were made public. The median prices of the 350 renewables-only bids that Xcel received were lower than any seen in the U.S. before. In fact, the median bids Xcel got in 2017 were 26 percent lower for wind power and 10 percent lower for solar power than the costs the Siemens study assumes will prevail in 2030, after 13 more years of price declines. The study was also conservative in that it didn’t consider any energy efficiency or demand-response strategies in its net-zero carbon portfolio, even though Fort Collins Utilities is already winning awards for its efforts in those areas, and plans to scale them up.

But it is most significant because PRPA is a power generator in the heart of coal country, just to the south of Wyoming’s vast Powder River Basin coal reserves. Wyoming produced 41 percent of U.S coal in 2016, and the majority of U.S. coal productioncomes from the Mountain states, including Colorado. PRPA owns three coal-burning power plants that produce most of its power, and even (together with three other electric utilities) owns and operates its own coal mine next to two of its power plants. The power that PRPA produces by burning coal is about as cheap as coal power can get, and its coal-fired facilities are among the highest-performing in the U.S.

PRPA is the lowest-cost wholesale power producer in the state of Colorado. If switching to a net-zero carbon generation portfolio is essentially cost neutral for PRPA, then coal’s time has truly run out.

Tweet

Fort Collins’s Path to Decarbonization

At the initial urging of Fort Collins Utilities—one of the four Northern Colorado municipal electric cooperatives that own PRPA—and ultimately at the request of all of its members, PRPA embarked on the study. When Fort Collins began asking for the study, it took the latest step in meeting its remarkably ambitious climate action plan. Starting in 1999, Fort Collins has been leading climate and carbon efforts, first by setting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals and offering clean energy to its customers. Then, in 2008, it set bolder GHG goals and founded FortZED, a zero-energy district and proving ground for energy innovations jump-started by a $6.3 million grant from the Department of Energy and matched by similar funding from the community. RMI and others supported FortZED, and RMI has been proud to work with Fort Collins ever since. Fort Collins has won severalawards for energy innovation.

In 2008, the City of Fort Collins initially aimed for an 80 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 but, with RMI’s help, revised that goal to reach an 80 percent GHG reduction 20 years faster. This wasn’t rash optimism; Fort Collins worked with RMI to do a full analysis of its energy use in the buildings, transportation, and electricity sectors that was modeled on the Reinventing Fire analysis. The goal of reaching an 80 percent GHG reduction is also 20 years faster than the Reinventing Fire vision for the U.S. economy, but is achievable for Fort Collins and its city-owned electric distribution utility, Fort Collins Utilities. One of the biggest hurdles to achieving that vision, however, had long been the city’s electric power supply, which comes from coal-heavy PRPA. With this study, that hurdle is down.

Renewables Can Compete—and Win—Anywhere

The Siemens study that PRPA commissioned is a game changer because it is not the result of a cost decline for a single resource like wind or solar. News of dramatically lower prices for single renewable resources have become commonplace. Instead, the new net-zero carbon study results show a dramatically low cost for the total cost of delivered electricity, incorporating transmission costs and balancing charges to meet the same level of service provided by PRPA’s current portfolio. It is proof that there are no hidden pitfalls that might somehow make cheap renewable resources inoperable in practice. And the fact that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal in coal country shows that renewables can compete anywhere.

Indeed, the median prices Xcel received from developers show that building new wind and solar generation sources is much cheaper than operating existing coal generation facilities—even wind-plus-storage came in below the cost of operating existing coal generation. The median price bid for wind power was $18.10/MWh, $6.51/MWh less than the study’s assumed cost of wind power in 2030. The median price bid for solar power was $29.50/MWh, $3.45/MWh less than the study’s assumed 2030 cost. On the other hand, purists might note that PRPA’s net-zero carbon portfolio does use natural gas, rather than batteries, for balancing variable renewables, and then relies on exports of renewables to achieve net-zero carbon. For those critics, we’d note that Xcel’s recent wind-plus-storage bids, at a median price of $21/MWh, are lower than the assumed current price for wind alone in PRPA’s study, suggesting that batteries are likely to edge out natural gas in the near term. By 2030, the costs of wind, solar, storage, and their combinations will no doubt drop further, but even if they were to stay level, the true cost of switching to net-zero carbon will be well below the 8 percent cost premium the study predicts.

Another major cost-reduction driver the study left out is demand-side management and energy efficiency. Fort Collins, one of the four consumers of PRPA’s power, happens to be a national leader in those areas. Fort Collins Utilities recently won a national award for its programs, which are part of an integrated utility services business model developed with RMI’s help. Fort Collins helps its residents achieve energy efficiency and participate in demand management by not only making proven programs available to them, but also by allowing them to finance up-front costs on their utility bills. Energy efficiency and demand management can have a dramatic effect on peak loads, reducing the need for high-capacity transmission systems or power generation, and thus reducing cost. The study also did not consider the potential for distributed energy resources like storage and demand response to reduce capacity charges still further. These, too, should keep the true cost of achieving net-zero carbon in PRPA’s system well below the 8 percent increase the study predicted.

An Unlikely Climate Hero

Fort Collins has earned a prominent place as a global climate leader over nearly 20 years. And another of PRPA’s municipal owners, Longmont, just adopted a goal to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030. Now, its generation and transmission utility is bidding to take its place beside Fort Collins Utilities and Longmont. PRPA’s CEO announced in January 2018 that the utility will immediately triple its portfolio of wind power with 150 megawatts of new wind capacity. PRPA, a coal-powered and coal-mining utility in the heart of western coal country, is an unlikely climate hero. But its clear-eyed, hardheaded calculations have put it on a path to decarbonize quickly and profoundly—to become net-zero carbon in 12 years. No matter how commonplace that becomes years from now, their market leadership is something to be celebrated, and emulated.

FTC Climate Action Plan

As a member of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Citizen Advisory Committee I get to meet with 20 other citizens from various backgrounds and with City staff every quarter to discuss CAP related issues. There are some things that are going well. There are some areas that present a lot of opportunity for improvement.

One thing that staff is doing well is soliciting input from a cross section of our community. There are energy experts, business people, school district representatives, and civic groups represented on the board. We sometimes have lively discussion! A common criticism is that our feedback does not translate into policy actions. For example, we are presented with budget requests after they are turned in for review. Our feedback doesn't inform the request. Staff is working on this problem.

The greatest opportunity for improvement may lay in prioritization of action. Instead of prioritizing stronger energy efficiency programs, more democratic solar policy, or electric vehicle incentives staff spent a ridiculous amount of time and money trying to change the name of the CAP. In the end (after about 6 months) they decided that our group was right and they should stick with "Climate Action Plan".

One area where staff wants to improve is in public outreach and education. I have explained to them that CforSE knocks on doors 5 days per week and that in a year we will knock on almost every door in town (~50,000 mostly single family homes). We would happily distribute City literature and talk to folks about the Climate Action Plan. So far they are not interested in our services and are instead struggling with on-line outreach and bill inserts. Apparently not many people read the bill inserts. Staff is not satisfied with their outreach results so maybe they will come around to using the citizen networks that are in place, like CforSE.

PVREA elections

March is PVREA election time. This year we have four amazing, forward looking candidates to put on the Board of Directors! If you are a PVREA member you can vote for all four. Ballots go in the mail March 7th and are postage paid, so no excuses for not voting!

The four candidates are: Karen Stockley, Karen Conduff, Adrian Sweeney, and David Pierson.

A little more about the candidates:

David Pierson - I have been a member of PVREA since 2002. As a retired Air Traffic Controller, I have spent my life in the background: processing data, formulating plans, making decisions, and acting from a dark room to protect the public. I feel that now is the time to step forward.

The energy needs of Northern Colorado and PVREA will do nothing but rise in the coming years, and meeting that need will be essential for our members. PVREA currently enjoys one of the lowest rates for energy in all of Colorado, and to continue that, we need to be proactive in planning for the future. I won’t make promises for specific proposals—doing so when you don’t have access to all data is disingenuous.

I do propose meeting our future energy needs through renewable energy, and replacing older energy sources whenever and wherever practical. The benefits of this approach are numerous: first, by building renewable energy projects locally, JOBS will be created locally; second, because these emerging technologies are currently cost-competitive, and getting cheaper every day, this will help KEEP OUR COSTS LOWER; third, it will help keep our environment CLEANER; and also, the costs to maintain these types of facilities will be LESS THAN current maintenance costs.

Karen Conduff - I want to be your representative on the PVREA board to help speed up this transition to renewable energy. I have worked in the solar industry for a decade, been a PVREA member since 1988 and  I would appreciate your vote if you think embracing the future is a sound business model. 

Adrian Sweeney - Rural Larimer resident, Adrian “Buzz” Sweeney, would bring a wealth of business experience to PVREA’s Board of Directors.

While most corporations are governed by their stockholders and aim to make a profit, the PVREA board exists to ensure our electricity is stable, affordable, and benefits our community. As a member of the democratically-elected PVREA board, I would work to ensure the customer always comes first, and that as much money as possible is staying in our local economy. 

I have hands-on experience in managing corporations, major purchasing agreements, and taking care of the customer. I will do my best as a board member to keep electricity rates low, ensure PVREA is making the best choice for our economy and environment by making smart transitions towards renewable energy, and represent our community values.

Karen Stockley - My name is Karen Stockley, and I’m running to represent you as a PVREA Director. As a local business owner and community leader, I will advocate for affordable, sustainable, reliable energy in our cooperative. I have lived in Colorado for over 50 years, and my husband and I reside west of Berthoud. We have raised 5 children (and many 4H-featured farm animals!) here. We love our rural home and are proud members of the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association. I have the public service and business experience necessary to lead the PVREA in the best interest of its member/owners. I’ve served the community for almost 30 years, volunteering in schools, Berthoud’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and as Treasurer on the Thompson Board of Education. I am also a local business owner, running Front Range Antiques for over 12 years. I know the importance of reliable, low cost energy for businesses and homeowners. My business experience and my budget expertise would serve our cooperative well on the board. Energy production and storage are rapidly changing, and PVREA must face these changes. Solar and wind energy are comparable in cost to coal; implementing cleaner energy into our portfolio is an exciting opportunity to save money and protect our community. New grid technology and storage possibilities can keep our grids safe, reliable, and affordable for generations to come. These exciting opportunities require leadership that explores new possibilities that benefit all members/owners. As your Director, I will steer PVREA towards an affordable, responsible future.

Solar on Open Space?

October memo to council about energy development on Fort Collins Open Spaces and Natural Areas.

**correction in comments below

Solar panels belong on parking lots and rooftops not Natural Areas and Open Spaces! In October city council received a memo concerning proposals to develop wind and solar resources on Fort Collins Natural Areas and Open Spaces. Fort Collins Natural Areas director, John Stokes expects this to be a "challenging conversation" with the community. I agree. We did not spent hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve land so that it could be developed as energy parks!

 

The memo refers to one specific proposal to put transmission lines across SoapStone Prairie Natural Area. This is a proposal that merits careful consideration. Soapstone was purchased by the City (for $11 million) to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the property. Potential wind resources lay on the other side of Soapstone and it would cost a lot of money to route the transmission lines around the property. So we will have a decision to make, as a community, about those transmission lines. CforSE will stay up to date as this project progresses and keep you informed and ask for your input at the right time.

 

The memo also mentions unspecified proposals to develop solar and wind resources on City owned Natural Areas. This we must not allow! 

Ken is not a bad guy

In August I met with Councilman Ken Summers. Our meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes and went for over an hour. I met with Ken because he is the new guy and we haven't met yet and because people told me that he was sort of the enemy. Terms like "climate denier" have been thrown around to describe Ken.

I think Ken has been mis-understood. He is not a "climate denier". He is a conservative person. He has conservative social and economic values and he values our environment too. He is wary of those he would call "envio-extremists" who don't take into account social and economic considerations. The impressions that some in our community have of Ken and his impressions of them is the result of poor communication.

Ken and I had a long conversation and decided that we like each other very much, but it took some patience and clarifying communication on both our parts to get there. He has said some things and written some emails that are easily misunderstood if you don't know him. For example, Ken thinks that some people think that Fort Collins' climate actions will save the world on their own. He made confusing statements about this that some people have taken as "climate denialism". He is not a climate denier, he just did a poor job of pointing out the reality that we can't save the world on our own. That doesn't mean that he thinks we shouldn't take action. He also points out that we need to consider social and economic implications of climate action. Again, that doesn't mean that he doesn't want to take action. He doesn't have a full grasp of FTC climate and energy goals (but neither does City staff, so...). He does have the wrong impression of the climate activists in town and they do have the wrong impression of Ken. I look forward to working with Ken, to bridging the divide in our town, to achieving our goals in an inclusive way, without labels and name calling. Sustainability is about all of us and Ken and I can work together to achieve our goals.

Here's Ken's response to his constituents about our Solar Rent Your Roof campaign:

Thank you for your feedback and support of Fort Collins considering leasing roof tops for solar energy. This is an idea that I have considered for a number of years as a good approach to meeting renewable energy standards. I am pleased to learn that there has been some progress in various communities to utilize this approach. I look forward to bringing a request to staff to consider this as an important approach for our solar energy program. Your continued interest and support will be most helpful.

Rent Your Roof to Solar

The idea of "Solar Rent Your Roof" (now taking suggestions for a better name) sprang from the realization that Fort Collins' solar policy is Old and in the Way (no, not the Jerry Garcia band). Our solar policy hasn't been substantially changed since inception in 2008. If you buy solar for your roof, Fort Collins Utilities will give you a rebate and pay you for what your panels generate. This excludes large segments of our population from participating in the solar economy while at the same time charging everyone to pay for the benefits of those who can go solar. As more people get solar Fort Collins won't be able to afford the current high payment system. This system worked well for the "early adopter" stage of solar technology but now it is time for a new addition. The Fort Collins solar program Ain't Broke, But it's Badly Bent.

One day Hank and I were brainstorming how to expand solar in a socially equitable and economically responsible way. The obvious answer is for the utility to own the solar panels. The utility can get the best price and quality, and everyone pays equally and gets the same benefit. There a few large tracts where a utility solar array could be installed near Fort Collins: The landfill, the old and new airports, Rawhide power plant. We certainly want to use these areas but to go much bigger would require using land that has other value. 

Fort Collins has already taken land out of agricultural production to put up solar panels (north of Vine, west of Taft). We don't want to do that, not when we have 2.5 sq. miles of available roof space in town, and that doesn't include parking lots. 2.5 sq miles is the size of six CSU campuses. So how do we utilize this space in an economically and socially responsible manner? The current program only works for owner occupied buildings so that rules out almost all of the commercial space and 40% of the residential space. Property owners also have to buy the solar panels. That puts up a financial barrier. And your solar ownership is currently limited to no more than 120% of your annual electric use. Those limitations shrink our potential 2.5 sq miles by 80%. We can remove all of those barriers if the utility simply rents roof space and installs their own panels.

With the Solar Rent Your Roof program anyone (with a good roof or parking lot for it) could rent their space to Fort Collins Utilities (FCU). The lease would have to be long-term, 25 years, and transferable to new owners. FCU would need roof access for cleaning and maintenance. That's about it for requirements. The amount of the rent check would depend on the square footage rented. The owners of a large warehouse or strip mall might make a pretty penny. The average rental home might bring in $20 a month. Alas, this is not an original idea, several utilities around the country are currently doing similar programs.

FCU would benefit by retaining control of electric generation and paying less than purchasing or leasing virgin land or paying solar owners for the electric that they generate. People would still be allowed to buy panels. The current program doesn't have to be replaced (but as is, it isn't sustainable in the long term). Employment is the local solar industry could skyrocket to meet demand. Contractors would bid on jobs much like they do now but would be dealing with FCU which would provide a greater level of quality control and simplify the contracting process. This can be a win for FCU, a win for property owners, a win for contractors, and a win for the overall community. 

That's why we asked City Council to direct FCU to research making this happen in Fort Collins and that's why council agreed that this is a good idea. Now we don't want to be Hard Hearted, but we can't allow FCU to be the Great Pretender on solar policy (Garcia fans get it :-) We need to hold them accountable to delivering a quality product and that is why CforSE will continue monitor progress and hold toes to the fire when need be.

Council hears your voice and directs action

Our canvassing team has gathered over 400 letters to council this summer requesting that council direct City staff to research a "Solar Rent Your Roof" program (more). On Tuesday Sept. 19th I went to council to present your letters and make our request. You can watch my short speech (90 seconds) on the City's video (25min 15sec into the show). 

Councilman Ken Summers introduced our request during "other business" (from 2:08:00 to 2:16:00 on the same video). Ken joked about this being his idea years ago. He said that the idea is "worthy of study". He mentioned his support of local renewable energy projects versus City support of out of state projects. And he mentioned that renting roof space is more socially equitable than the current system (more about Ken).

Councilman Ross Cuniff showed support and a recognition that this can really help landlords/tenants to get solar. Council Bob Overbeck voiced his support. Gerry Horak was not present but has shown his support to me in private meetings. Ray Martinez confused this with Solar City and didn't voice any opinion about it. Kristin Stephens didn't say anything. Mayor Wade Troxell voiced support but may have given staff an opportunity to delay by rolling this project into longer-term plans. He did direct Darin Atteberry (City Manager) to develop a "scoping paper". 

Staff expects to come back to council in January with a report. We will remain vigilant to see that staff takes this seriously and develops a scoping paper within a practical timeline.