Fort Collins’ electricity provider predicts divesting from fossil fuels by 2030 would risk reliability issues and more-than-double wholesale electricity rates.
Stopping just short of that would likely prevent those consequences, according to modeling presented at Platte River Power Authority’s Thursday board of directors meeting.
Platte River is nearing completion of its Integrated Resource Plan, which will serve as a 20-year road map for electricity sold to Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park and Longmont. Staff laid out four potential plans for the IRP on Thursday.
Three of the four options involve shutting down Rawhide Unit 1, the coal plant that supplies about two-thirds of Platte River’s delivered electricity, over a decade ahead of schedule. Rawhide Unit 1’s useful life ends in 2047.
The “continuity” option would mean business as usual for Platte River, reaching about 60% noncarbon electricity by 2030.
The “zero coal” option would mean retiring the Rawhide Unit 1 coal plant by 2030 and achieving about 90% noncarbon electricity through a combination of wind, solar, battery storage and natural gas-powered combustion engines.
Under the “zero carbon” option, Platte River would achieve its goal of 100% noncarbon electricity by 2030 through a combination of wind, solar and a huge influx of battery storage.
And the “integrated utilities” option achieves the zero coal goals on a slower timeline, shutting down Rawhide coal plant by 2035 and achieving 90% noncarbon electricity in 2036.
The numbers, calculated through months of modeling, are neither bulletproof nor binding. But they offer a glimpse of the successes and trade-offs that Platte River leaders will have to contemplate as they map out the future of power generation.
Here’s a closer look at the options, which will be up for discussion at a series of public forums in March. Platte River staff plans to make a recommendation in April. But the decision is ultimately up to the board, which is made up of two representatives from each owner-community (usually the mayor and utilities director). They’re not obligated to choose one of the four options detailed here.
Note that wholesale rates are different from community electricity rates. Platte River sells electricity to Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Estes Park at the wholesale rate, but municipal utilities set their own rates for customers. Utilities would pass wholesale rate increases to the consumer, though.
Platte River currently delivers about 30% renewable electricity to its owner-communities. Current projects could double that by 2024.
In a nutshell: This option would continue Platte River’s existing MO: Add renewable electricity and retire coal units when it makes sense financially, and maintain 99.99% power reliability.
Results: 60% (or more) noncarbon electricity by 2030; 65% by 2035
Wholesale rate increase: 2.2% annually, on average; 24.3% cumulatively between 2021 and 2030
What would happen: Rawhide Unit 1 would stay in operation past 2040 (the IRP doesn’t plan beyond that, so there’s not a specific year). Craig Units 1 and 2, which Platte River partially owns, would retire in 2025 and 2028, respectively. Platte River would add renewable electricity and battery storage whenever it makes financial sense.
In a nutshell: This option would retire all coal units by 2030, supplementing renewable sources with battery storage and a relatively small amount of natural gas-powered RICE (reciprocal internal combustion engines). RICE units are more efficient than Platte River’s existing natural gas units.
Results: 90% (or more) noncarbon electricity by 2030; 95% by 2035
Wholesale rate increase: 2.6% annually, on average; 29.3% cumulatively between 2021 and 2030
What would happen: Rawhide Unit 1 would retire by 2030. Craig Units 1 and 2 would retire in 2025 and 2028. Platte River would continue using its natural gas units and have RICE units in operation by 2030. New solar, wind and battery storage would fill the rest of the gap.
In a nutshell: This option is the only one that achieves Platte River’s goal of 100% noncarbon electricity by 2030. Platte River leaders are concerned that huge increases in battery storage, wind and solar would still not be enough to ensure reliable power. Electricity rates would climb rapidly to fund the new infrastructure.
Results: 100% noncarbon electricity by 2030
Wholesale rate increase: 8.7% a year, on average; 130.3% cumulatively between 2021 and 2030
Reliability: Unknown. The issue here, according to Platte River staff, is the “dark calms” — those times when a broad geographic region sees little or no wind or sunshine. Battery storage would help account for this, but batteries need to be charged. An extended “dark calm” could eat up the power stored in the batteries before wind and sunshine return.
What would happen: Coal and natural gas units would retire by 2030. Platte River would make deep investments in solar, wind and battery storage. The additional battery storage — an estimated 2,400 megawatt-hours by 2030 — is eight times the battery storage estimated in the zero coal scenario.
In a nutshell: This option includes very optimistic assumptions about technological advancements. It assumes rapid increases in electric vehicle adoption, rooftop solar panels and integration of transmission and distribution systems. (Transmission gets electricity from wherever it’s generated to a substation; distribution gets it from the substation to the user. Integration means making the two sides work together with more fluidity.)
Results: 65% (or more) noncarbon electricity by 2030; 90% noncarbon by 2036
Wholesale rate increase: 2.8% a year, on average; 31.8% cumulatively between 2021 and 2030
What would happen: Craig Units 1 and 2 would retire in 2025 and 2028. Rawhide Unit 1 would retire by 2035 because noncarbon electricity sources would be more economical by then. Platte River would fill the Rawhide gap with solar, wind, RICE units and battery storage.
How Platte River came up with the numbers
The model used predictions about electricity demand and the costs of renewables, batteries, gas and carbon, among other things. It assumes that a carbon tax will go into effect by 2025, the social cost of carbon will climb over time, and the cost of gas will rise as coal units retire.
Platte River general manager and CEO Jason Frisbie cautioned that the estimates are useful for planning, but the power provider isn’t claiming clairvoyance.
“Whatever one we ultimately recommend, this is what I can promise you 100%: In 2030, it will be different than what we told you it was in 2020,” he said. “Guaranteed.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
Learn more and make your voice heard by attending one of Platte River’s upcoming community focus groups. Attendees will review the four resource mixes mentioned in this story, along with their forecast capital, operational, fuel and environmental (carbon tax and social cost of carbon) costs.
6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 12, Drake Centre, 802 W. Drake Road, Suite 101
6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 11. Embassy Suites, Devereaux Room, 4705 Clydesdale Parkway
6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 5, Ridgeline Hotel, Ballroom/Salon DE, 101 S. Saint Vrain Ave.
6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, 17th Avenue Place Event Center, 478 17th Ave.
Community members interested in attending a focus group session are encouraged to RSVP online or call 970-229-5657.
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