Tom Asprey: Xcel's math doesn't add up for Boulder or the planetPublished on: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Boulder has committed to get electricity from 100 percent renewables by 2030, and overall city-wide carbon emission reductions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Xcel’s latest proposal would take us less than halfway to satisfying Boulder’s climate commitments. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking Boulder has extreme goals; many other Colorado cities also have laudable renewable energy goals. Denver, Pueblo, Aspen, Nederland, Lafayette and Frisco now have achieved or also have 100 percent renewable clean energy goals.
Xcel’s plan does not even double current renewable levels, increasing them by only 26 percent in 2026, hardly a great achievement. For large portions of Xcel’s customers, this is the best they may ever get. That’s giving Xcel and the Public Utilities Commission the benefit of the doubt that they will follow through with plans to retire some of their coal plants early.
Under current state law, communities do not have any way to get their electricity supply cleaned up beyond what Xcel and the PUC are willing to allow. An individual may install solar panels, but is limited to generating only 20 percent more than their current annual consumption, so they can only sell this limited amount into the grid and then only to Xcel. You cannot even sell electricity to or buy electricity from your next-door neighbor.
The only way for Boulder to obtain clean energy directly for its citizens is to operate our own electric distribution system with a municipal electric utility. Without a muni, a city cannot choose to buy clean electricity from local or independent suppliers to supply power to its citizens, or allow neighbors to share panels and sell each other stored energy. They can only sell or buy Xcel’s electricity, with its associated carbon emissions and rules.
It is not just our hopes for cleaning current electricity supplies that will be limited by Xcel’s plan. Getting a city to near zero carbon emissions requires more electricity for transportation (electric cars, buses and trucks), and for electric heat pumps to heat houses and commercial buildings. Not only do we need to convert our current electricity supplies to carbon-free power sources, we also need to increase electricity use to convert all other systems that will use electricity for transportation, heating, etc that currently burn fossil fuels.
If Boulder is stuck with Xcel’s 55 percent solution, then at least 45 percent of our energy in 2030 will still be produced from fossil fuels as we use additional electricity to clean up the rest of our energy use. Clearly we will then have fallen far short of one climate commitment, 100 percent electricity from renewables.
But, this also means reaching our overall goal of 80 percent reduction in emissions city-wide from 2005 levels requires about a 50 percent reduction in total energy use through conservation and increased efficiency, or more than doubling our expected emissions, assuming we cut all our emissions by the same 60 percent Xcel proposes.
Emissions from existing electric uses alone will exceed our target, leaving no room for addressing the transportation and heating conversions requiring additional electricity and that is using Xcel’s best case claim of “up to” a 60 percent emissions cut. Leaving 40 percent of our electricity supplier’s emissions uncut will also make further reductions to emission cuts above 80 percent nearly impossible or at least likely require unachievable changes.
Reducing our electricity use would be a very hard sell, considering that we have plenty of clean energy sources in sunshine and wind, and the reduction makes transition for the other areas even more difficult with much larger disruptions required.
Xcel’s proposed increase of renewables from 29 percent to 55 percent is an improvement, assuming Xcel follows through and the PUC approves, far from a done deal. Boulder, and frankly the rest of the state, the nation, and the world need more than a 55 percent solution though, very much more. Boulder should lead in emissions reduction rather than be a distant follower. A municipal utility is the only on-ramp to 100 percent renewables currently available in Colorado. So let’s take it. Aspen has done it. Why not Boulder?
This is why in this coming election, I’ll be voting “Yes” on ballot measures 2L, 2O, and 2P to Liberate Our Power. A yes vote will allow the city to move forward to increase our renewable energy, bring our energy decision-making home to Boulder, unleash energy innovation, and build a resilient 21st-century electric system. Don’t let last-minute proposals from Xcel trump Boulder’s climate goals.
This Letter to the Editor was published in the Daily Camera.