Renewable energy a contender to natural gas as second source of power for Colorado; coal still leads | MyWindsorNow.com

Renewable energy a contender to natural gas as second source of power for Colorado; coal still leads

Katarina Velazquez
kvelazquez@greeleytribune.com

— Renewable energy appears to be taking the lead over natural gas power generation in Colorado, but coal-fired energy remains the leader by a substantial amount.

In a presentation Wednesday to reporters, Erica Bowman, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, discussed the future of the oil and natural gas industry at the Colorado Petroleum Council's office. She highlighted the oil and gas industry is turning around after two years of depressed prices, and Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado office, said the state now has 26 drilling rigs up-and-running — a dramatic up-tick from about 15 rigs in the lows of 2016.

Bowman presented data from Electric Power Monthly that showed in October 2016, coal-fired power generation in Colorado was at about 2.3 million megawatts used per hour. In second was nonhydroelectric renewables — which includes wind and solar energy — at about 800,000 megawatts used per hour, with natural gas behind at about 750,000 megawatts used per hour. Hydroelectric was last with about 150,000 megawatts per hour.

This ultimately points to a Renewable Energy Standard set by the state Legislature in 2004. In 2010, the Legislature required investor-owned electricity companies, such as Xcel Energy, to generate 30 percent their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. Bentley noted the incentives and tax credits those companies receive for incorporating renewable energy per the bill, which is why a high use of renewable energy power over natural gas didn't come as much of a surprise to her.

“Other utilities are looking at what we’ve done and how we’ve presented it to our governing body, … and they’re using it as models for their paths forward.

— Michelle Aguayo, spokeswoman for Xcel Energy

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Bowman said the coal-fired generation will likely decline, with natural gas and renewable energy continuing to increase. She noted the types of energies being used are ultimately market-driven, and there might be a slight coal climb under Donald Trump's administration, but not as much as the administration's rhetoric insinuates. She said the state's production of natural gas production has remained steady, which is notable given their unconventional prices the past few years.

"There is an opportunity in Colorado to use more natural gas in power generation and use domestically produced gas," she said. "From our perspective, natural gas is a very affordable, reliable, power-generating resource."

Bowman said API is not necessarily threatened that renewable energy will entirely take over as a main source of energy for the state, but she said the markets should drive what energies are being used.

"In some ways, Colorado has been blessed with everything," she said. "It has a good wind resource, it has great sun for solar and it has natural gas. But from our perspective, we think you should let markets decide what the best option is, and if you're putting in mandates to mandate a certain technology over another, you're certainly raising costs for consumers to do that."

The news renewable energy is a contender to natural gas came as no surprise to Michelle Aguayo, spokeswoman for Xcel Energy. She said the company has been taking on multiple initiatives in the past year to make renewable energy a feasible source for its customers, including building and owning a wind farm in eastern Colorado called Rush Creek and coming to an agreement with solar installers on increasing solar energy. All of this is part of a larger initiative for the company called "Our Energy Future."

"We've been leading the way with renewable energy for years," Aguayo said, noting the company has been the No. 1 wind provider in the U.S. for the past 12 years, and in the top 10 for solar energy. "Other utilities are looking at what we've done and how we've presented it to our governing body, which is the (Colorado Petroleum Council), and they're using it as models for their paths forward."

What is the Renewable Energy Standard?

In 2004, Colorado passed the Renewable Energy Standard requiring electricity providers such as Xcel Energy to have a minimum percentage of renewable energy sources in their power generation. Since then, that minimum percentage has changed three times, and it is now 30 percent by 2020.

The most recent update was in 2013 with Senate Bill 252, which requires rural cooperative utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020, according to Colorado’s Energy Office.