I read Alex Burness’ article about how Xcel is morphing into a green energy company (“Xcel an evolving opponent,” Daily Camera, Sept. 3), but there are points that need clarification. The article seemed more like a PR piece for Xcel and Fresh Energy than a critical analysis.
What does Xcel mean when they say they are currently at 30 percent “clean energy portfolio”? Are they talking about the nameplate capacity (measured in kilowatts KW) of their generation sources, or the actual energy produced by their system (measured in kilowatt hours KWh)?
What do they mean by “clean energy portfolio”? Is any energy contracted from a wind farm or solar farm considered “clean,” or only energy that is actually generated from non-carbon sources? The former gives renewable projects a pass on accounting their energy sources, while the latter requires them to demonstrate that all the clean energy delivery will come from carbon-free sources. If we don’t consider this we could end up with a 100 percent “clean energy portfolio” that still relies on natural gas for 70 percent of its energy.
For the sake of discussion lets say that Xcel has 1,000 MW of nameplate generation capacity. In a year, which contains 8760 hours, a 100 percent efficient generation system would produce 1,000 x 8,760 = 8,760,000 MWh of energy. If 30 percent of this, or 300 MW, comes from wind energy and 700 MW comes from gas, and the wind has a capacity factor of 30 percent while the gas has a capacity factor of 90 percent then the total energy produced by the system would be: 300 MW x 8,760 x 0.3 = 788,400 MWh for the wind, and 700 x 8,760 x 0.9 = 5,518,800 MWh for the gas, for a total energy production of 6,307,200 MWh. That’s 12.5 percent from wind, compared to a 30 percent portfolio, and the remaining 87.5 percent from the gas. This discrepancy between 30 percent nameplate and 12.5 percent actual energy delivery is why it is misleading for an energy executive to boast about the percentage of their inventory coming from “clean” sources. Xcel needs to provide us with a table of all of their energy production listed by source. That would show the real percentage of energy that comes from each and how much “clean” energy they really produce.
The other point that needs more detail is the statement that a new wind farm is cheaper than a fully paid for existing coal plant. This sounds too good to be true, and it probably is. How is the economic analysis being done? Are they including all of the tax and investment credits that are given to wind farms, but may not be in the future? Also, wind farms are given a right to sell all of their power to the utility at a subsidized rate, even at times when the utility has no need for the power. The coal plants have to sell their energy at the market rate, probably down around $.03/KWh.
Finally, if the wind farm relies on natural gas turbines to firm up the energy supply during 70 percent of the time when the wind isn’t blowing, then the system is really just a gas plant with some wind offsets. We need numbers to back up this contention.
Remember that Warren Buffet, one of the largest wind farm developers in the country, said that the only reason he invests in wind is because of the tax benefits, otherwise they make no sense. We have to think that Warren knows what he his talking about.
Finally, wind farms are highly destructive to the human and natural environment. People cannot live them without damage to their health, they take up huge amounts of land, kill birds, and don’t last as long as promised. Each turbine requires over 2,000 tons of raw materials, and most never generate as much energy as is required to produce and install them.
I support Boulder’s goal of a 100 percent carbon-free electrical system by 2030, but believe that irrespective of whether it is Boulder or Xcel signing the contracts, relying on wind and solar as the pathway for a carbon-free electrical future is a dangerous illusion. By the time we realize they can’t deliver on their promise, it may be too late to develop a true zero-carbon option. I urge all City Council candidates to give this serious consideration rather than just joining in with the renewables groupthink.
William DeOreo lives in Boulder.
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