Xcel Rate Forecast, 1990-2030. The cost of electricity is shown in dollars per kilowatt-hour, based on historical data through 2010 and then on Xcel's rate projections for their plan approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in late 2010. The red curve is as filed with the PUC by Xcel and is the most relevant for Lafayette (the green curve is estimated for Boulder and is lower due to a greater number of business customers). One scenario has no future cost of carbon emissions (dashed) and the other reflects plausible carbon pricing through a carbon tax or carbon trading system (dotted). [Source: Energy Baseline Report prepared for Boulder by Nexant, 2011, page 46]
Xcel's Projected Fuel Mix, 2015-2030. Data provided by Xcel to the City of Boulder in 2010. The decline of coal in favor of cleaner natural gas and renewables is very slow, and the rate of adoption of renewables slows in 2020 after Xcel meets its obligation under Colorado's renewable energy standard. The continued heavy reliance on coal in these projections is unwise and unrealistic given the rapid decrease in the cost of renewables, where solar is projected to be at cost parity with coal in most places in the U.S. and the world by 2017. Long-term investments in coal puts Xcel investors at risk of stranded assets, and puts ratepayers at risk of higher rates. Graph by Tom Asprey at RenewablesYes.org
To Allow Lots of Renewables, Baseload Coal & Nuclear Must Go.
This clear 3-minute video shows why renewables (mainly wind and solar) don't work well in combination with coal. Coal plants can only chug along providing a constant amount of baseload power, so natural gas is used to account for both the inflexibility of coal and the variability of electricity demand and the daily load cycle. Gas plants can ramp their power up and down quickly, and gas complements the variability of renewables just as it complements the variability of electricity demand and the inflexibility of coal. But inflexible coal does not complement variable renewables well, so the only way to avoid ever-increasing amounts of "curtailment" (turning off wind power and wasting it) is to reduce the amount of coal power that is online as more renewables are brought online. Just adding more wind power without closing coal plants leads to wind power being curtailed when there is too much power on the grid, because coal plants can't be ramped up and down. Clinging to coal prevents the transition to higher levels of clean and sustainable power from renewables. Video produced by energyshouldbe.org
Xcel Coal Plant Retirement Dates. Xcel's long-term plan includes coal through 2069, with almost 2000 megawatts (MW) of coal power even after reaching Colorado's Renewable Energy Standard of 30% renewables by 2020. With this much coal, there are times when wind energy must be "curtailed", meaning turned off and wasted, in order to burn coal since coal plants can't be ramped up and down very much. Xcel's customers have to pay not only for the coal power but also must pay the wind farm owners for the time that their turbines are shut down. Be sure to watch the 3-minute video explaining why gas peaking plants rather than baseload coal plants are more compatible with high levels of renewables, and why Xcel's doubling-down on coal is a poor strategy for both their ratepayers (us) and their investors.
Colorado Average Coal Costs, 2004-2011. The average rate of increase in the cost of coal over the 7 year period was 11%/year. Much of Xcel's rate increases in recent years are explained by the increase in the price of coal. Meanwhile, renewables (solar, wind, and geothermal) have zero fuel cost, and the capital and financing costs of renewables have been declining substantially. For example, solar is projected to be cost-competitive with coal and gas in most of the country by 2017. It is not a good time to be tied to Xcel's expensive long-term investments in coal plants. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) / Electric Power Monthly, Table 4.10.B, Electric Generation by State, Year-to-Date]