Utility Plan Sees Future in the Sun Report Outlines How State Could Tap Solar Market
By Gargi Chakrabarty
Electricity produced from Colorado’s bright, hot sun could supply half the state’s peak demand during summer, helping 1.7 million homes crank up their air conditioners and coolers.
That solar power would replace electricity generated by burning traditional fuels such as natural gas or coal, helping reduce emissions of carbon – a global warming pollutant – by 10.45 million metric tons, equal to taking 1.9 million cars off the roads.
These conclusions were detailed Tuesday in report called On the Rise by Environment Colorado.
“As cost of natural gas skyrockets, it is time to look at the potential for utility-scale solar plants,” said Rep. Judy Solano, D- Brighton, speaking at the event at the Colorado Capitol. “Large- scale solar plants have the potential to complement other renewable energy resources such as wind and geothermal.”
Solano and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, sponsored a bill this year that allows the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to consider the environmental tangible benefits of large-scale solar power plants when making decisions about where and how the state gets its electricity.
Today, solar power is more expensive than power from coal or natural gas. But the advent of cheaper solar technologies in the coming years would make it more attractive, experts say, especially when compared with natural gas and coal, which could be slapped with some kind of carbon tax.
Dozens of solar companies from around the world such as Abengoa Solar, Ausra, BrightSourceEnergy and SunEdison have established their presence in Colorado to tap into the growing local market.
Xcel Energy – Colorado’s biggest utility with 1.3 million electric customers – has submitted a plan that calls for 225 megawatts of large-scale solar power projects to be completed by 2015. The plan also requires its customers to install 29 megawatts, such as rooftop solar panels.
The state utilities commission is reviewing Xcel’s plan.
Those proposed projects would catapult Xcel into compliance with state laws that require larger utilities to receive 20 percent of their electricity from solar, wind or biomass sources by 2020.
Xcel expects to meet the power-generation goal at least five years before the official deadline.
SunEdison’s Rick Gilliam said Colorado’s solar market is becoming large enough to accommodate a variety of companies – from those specializing in photovoltaic technologies to those focusing on concentrating solar power technologies. SunEdison has built a 8.2- megawatt PV plant in the San Luis Valley, with Xcel buying the solar power.
The solar industry, however, remains concerned about inadequate transmission lines and siting issues. It is worried that a federal law that allows solar-project owners to pocket 30 percent of the project cost in an investment tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year.
If Congress doesn’t renew the credit, the industry would expect to see a net loss of 40,000 jobs and $8 billion in missed economic investment.
“Nationally, we have the resources to meet new energy demand with solar power plants,” said Holly Gordon, Ausra’s vice president of regulatory and legislative Affairs. “The question is not one of resources, but of creating the markets and putting in place the policies that will get those resources to market.”
By the numbers
270 gigawatts: Colorado’s total potential for solar power generation.
11 gigawatts: Colorado’s peak power demand in summer.
1.7 million: Number of homes in Colorado that could be served if even half the state’s peak demand, or 5.5 gigawatts, is met with solar power.
1.9 million: Number of cars and their emissions equivalent that could be reduced with the generation of 5.5 gigawatts of solar power.
Originally published by Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News.
(c) 2008 Rocky Mountain News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.