Renewables now cheaper that coal generation

From the Router 50 newsletter today –

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Two Electric Utilities Have Promised to Go 100% Carbon-Free

SHUTTERSTOCK

The shift is in part driven by cities’ policies.

Two U.S. electric utilities recently declared something remarkable: It’s cheaper to tear down their coal plants and build renewable-energy plants than to keep the old boilers running. For the utilities, the goal is now to retire their coal plants and exceed the economy-wide climate targets set in the Paris Agreement: an 80% reduction of carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.

It’s a surprising move by two (primarily) coal-powered utilities in the American West, but get ready for more. Economics, and politics, are fast converging on a consensus. Committing to a 100% carbon-free goal, even before we quite know how to reach it, is good for business.

The first to make the announcement was Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million people in eight states from Minnesota to New Mexico. On Dec. 4, the company said it would hit an 80% reduction target by 2030, and eliminate all carbon emissions from its power plants by 2050. Two days later, Colorado’s Platte River Power Authority (an Xcel competitor) approved its own goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.

Jason Frisbie, general manager of Platte River Power Authority, said it was just an admission of economic realities, not a political statement. “This whole thing started because the board wanted to recognize the shift that has already been taking place in the business for several years,” he told a local newspaper. Cities buying its electricity were demanding clean energy, and the price of renewables had tumbled below even the cheapest fossil fuels.

Costly coal

Although the announcements came in quick succession, they’ve been a long time coming, says Mark Dyson of the energy nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. At least 90 cities have declared their intention to adopt 100% renewable energy goals. Utilities can accept this, or risk losing their biggest customers.

Two major defections recently drove home the point. In Boulder, Colorado, the city council voted on Dec. 4 (the same day Xcel made its announcement) to leave the utility to pursue its own 100% renewable electricity generation two decades earlier than Xcel. In Silicon Valley, San Jose left the utility PG&E this year to offer a 100% renewable option from San Jose Clean Energy. (PG&E is only delivering 80%.)

After years of hedging their bets, utilities can’t ignore the numbers anymore. PacifiCorp, which relies on coal for 59% of its fuel, recently said it’s more expensive to run 13 of its 22 coal units than to retire them and switch to renewables. The company estimated it could save money by shutting down 60% of its units by 2022, an assessment largely in line with the Sierra Club’s calculations. Globally, at least 42% of the world’s coal power stations are operating at a loss, estimates the research nonprofit Carbon Tracker.

Dyson says it’s just a matter of time before more utilities across the US reach the same decision to replace old coal with “crazy cheap” new renewables. In Colorado, bidders are selling wind for as little as $12 per megawatt hour (MWh) and solar for $23 per MWh. Even after adding batteries to solar farms to keep supplying power into the evening, the cost rises to just $30 per MWh. That’s before income tax credits of 30%  for new renewables built by 2023. Those prices are well below the average US price of nuclear ($105/MWh), coal ($67/MWh), and even low-cost natural gas ($39/MWh), according to Ravi Manghani of energy research firm Wood Mackenzie.

Steel for fuel

With prices so low, investing in new renewable-energy infrastructure instead of fuel is a no-brainer. In fact, that’s the basis of Xcel’s new business model: “steel for fuel,” with steel meaning new wind turbines and solar arrays. Xcel, like most vertically integrated utilities, is a regulated monopoly. A state commission sets customers’ prices so the utility can earn a reasonable rate of return on what it builds without overcharging. More stuff on the ground equals more money. In the case of renewables, argues Xcel CEO Ben Fowke, “everybody benefits.” Xcel earns money on the new “steel” and customers get lower prices far into the future.

More utilities are following its lead. The Southern Company’s CEO said in April that the utility will be “low to no carbon” by 2050. Earlier this year, New Mexico utility PNM said (with no publicity) it will exit all coal generation by 2031. In October, northern Indiana’s Public Service Company said it will save $4 billion by replacing all coal generation with renewables by 2028.

Yet some are still fighting to make coal great again. In the same week of Xcel’s announcement, Wyoming’s Black Hills utility proposed buying an existing coal power plant as the cheapest option with “long-term price-stability,” a characterization that left some analysts scratching their heads (jobs may have something to do with it). Meanwhile the Trump administration is rolling back environmental rules such as the Clean Power Plan and promoting a Coal FIRST initiative to keep coal plants open. But Moody’s Analytics, a financial analysis firm, said these actions “will not materially derail decarbonization trends.”

Built-in climate catastrophe

Accelerating those trends is critical to avert catastrophic climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions have already baked at least 2°F into the climate, and just 15 years remain to avoid another one-degree rise. Stopping the construction of new, long-lived power plants that emit carbon for decades is the only way to avoid this. ”Most warming anticipated this century is from infrastructure yet to be constructed,” writes Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University.

For now, the grid is not quite ready for 100% renewables. Far more storage will need to come online. High-voltage transmission lines must ferry energy from (often remote) wind and solar arrays to their final, urban destinations. With utilities set to approach 80% renewables in the next decade, the last 20% of carbon-free electricity will be the hardest to achieve.

“Technical options exist but it does get costly,” says Tom Wilson, a renewable-energy expert at the Electric Power Research Institute. Right now, the only cost-effective commercial options running at scale are nuclear reactors (very pricey) and large hydroelectric facilities (hard to site new ones). While geothermal, carbon sequestration, revolutionary batteries, and experimental small reactors are among future cost-effective possibilities, utilities are betting the right solutions will come on time. “If you have the vision, and the need to get there, sometimes the technology shows up,” says Wilson.

Michael J. Coren is a reporter at Quartz, which originally published this article.

 

Agenda (as revised) for 12/18

TOWN OF MEDFIELD MEETING NOTICE I POSTED: TOWN CLERK .·.t.t_;r.:.i 'iEu . ;_;r;,-, ·J MEDFIELD. MASS. POSTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF M.G.L. CHAPT030Cii.EtlI~ 22:A~ AMENDED. PLACE OF MEETING ; ,:~Tfr;::. PF THE Board of Selectmen *Revisionfn:~;~i" rt ERK Board or Committee DAY, DATE, AND TIME Town Hall, Chenery Meeting Room 2nd floor Tuesday December 18, 2018@ 7:00 PM 7:00 PM Call to order Disclosure of video recording AGENDA (SUBJECT TO CHANGE) We want to take a moment of appreciation for our Troops serving in the Middle East and around the world 7:05 PM Town Clerk Carol Mayer Discuss Town Clerk duties 7:25 PM State Hospital Development Committee Discuss RFI responses Citizen Comment Resident Nate Bazinet - to discuss commercial property speed limit concern Action Items Town Counsel Mark Cerel has prepared Special Legislation document regarding leasing the Lee Chapel and the Infirmary Building to Cultural Alliance of Medfield for the purpose of developing an arts and cultural center Town Planner Sarah Raposa requests the Selectmen vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci to sign 40B Technical Assistance Agreement regarding Medfield Green Director of Public Works Maurice Goulet requests Selectmen vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci to sign amendment to the existing contract for the Town's consultant Weston and Sampson to extend services as the acting Chief Operator at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Town Counsel Mark Ce rel amended agreement by adding: Except as expressly modified by this AMENDMENT NO. 1, all provisions of the original AGREEMENT between the Town of Medfield and Weston & Sampson Services, Inc. shall remain in full force and effect. Selectmen are requested to vote to approve the following 2019 Common Victualler Licenses: Medfield Donuts (270 Main St and 563 Main St); Medfield Griddle Cafe; Town Talk Mediterranean; Italian Groceria; Donut Express; Medfield Subway; Royal Pizza; Starbucks; Blue Moon; Papa Gino's; Casa-Bella Pizza; Cutlets; China Sky; Go Fresh Youth Outreach Director Dawn Alcott requests the Selectmen vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci to sign the Payment Voucher Input Form regarding the Earmark Contract - to provide public awareness and education on suicide prevention Discussion Items Discussion of FY2020 budget and Board of Selectmen review of department budgets; budget plan for FY 2020 Pending Fire Chief Carrico requests the Selectmen vote to accept the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant provided by MEMA; vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci sign the Standard Contract Form; and vote to designate Kristine Trierweiler as the Authorized Signatory Name Town Wide Master Planning Committee Charter and appointment of members Licenses and Permits (Consent Calendar) Director William Pope, Zullo Gallery requests one-day wine and malt beverage permits for: First Thursdays January 3; February 7; March 7; April 4; May 2; June 6, 2019 Saturday January 5 I High School Alumni Jazz Jam Saturday February 7 I second Songwriters Showcase Town Administrator Update Discussion of Meals Tax distribution Discuss draft of 2019 Annual Town Meeting Articles Review Board of Selectmen Action List Selectmen Report Informational Copy of Town Counsel letter to Boston Dog Lawyers regarding alleged zoning violation - .. ~ :-J rE -:~ -::J ,-..., :::0 :x .·.~ T••• ~·-· ..,.,.,h•• .. .. : c.-: -ri ·-4 ::r: r1 ....... ) c c.;:,, = ",_ c,,::.·, -':.:-.· 1 ("") :X(~ fTi ,~ . C20181218-agenda-2_Page_220181218-agenda-2_Page_320181218-agenda-2_Page_420181218-agenda-2_Page_520181218-agenda-2_Page_6

BoS 12/18

Background materials can be found here – 20181218-agenda & materials

 

                TOWN OF MEDFIELD POSTED:

 

 

 

           MEETING                              TOWN CLERK
             NOTICE  
 

POSTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF M.G.L. CHAPTER 39 SECTION 23A AS AMENDED.

 
                                Board of Selectmen  
                                   Board or Committee           
 

 

PLACE OF MEETING DAY, DATE, AND TIME
Town Hall, Chenery Meeting Room 2nd floor

Tuesday December 18, 2018 @ 7:00 PM

   

 

AGENDA (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)      DRAFT

 

7:00 PM   Call to order

Disclosure of video recording

We want to take a moment of appreciation for our Troops serving in the Middle East and around the world

 

7:05 PM  Town Clerk Carol Mayer

Discuss Town Clerk duties

 

7:25 PM  State Hospital Development Committee

Discuss RFI responses

 

Citizen Comment

 

Action Items

Town Counsel Mark Cerel has prepared Special Legislation document regarding leasing the Lee Chapel and the Infirmary Building to Cultural Alliance of Medfield for the purpose of developing an arts and cultural center

 

Town Planner Sarah Raposa requests the Selectmen vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci to sign 40B Technical Assistance Agreement regarding Medfield Green

 

Director of Public Works Maurice Goulet requests Selectmen vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci to sign amendment to the existing contract for the Town’s consultant Weston and Sampson to extend services as the acting Chief Operator at the Wastewater Treatment Plant

 

Selectmen are requested to vote to approve the following 2019 Common Victualler Licenses:

Medfield Donuts (270 Main St and 563 Main St); Medfield Griddle Café; Town Talk Mediterranean; Italian Groceria; Donut Express; Medfield Subway; Royal Pizza; Starbucks; Blue Moon; Papa Gino’s; Casa-Bella Pizza; Cutlets; China Sky;

Go Fresh

 

 

 

Discussion Items 

Discussion of FY2020 budget and Board of Selectmen review of department budgets; budget plan for FY 2020

 

Pending

Fire Chief Carrico requests the Selectmen vote to accept the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant provided by MEMA; vote to authorize Chairman Marcucci sign the Standard Contract Form; and vote to designate Kristine Trierweiler as the Authorized Signatory Name

 

Town Wide Master Planning Committee Charter and appointment of members

 

Town Administrator Update

Discussion of Meals Tax distribution

Discuss draft of 2019 Annual Town Meeting Articles

 

 Review Board of Selectmen Action List

 

Selectmen Report

 

Informational

Copy of Town Counsel letter to Boston Dog Lawyers regarding alleged zoning violation

Copy of letter from MSBA inviting Medfield to partner with them conducting a Feasibility Study for Dale Street School

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Steve Nolan received the APA’s citizen planner of the year

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MSHMPC award at our table

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MSHMC GETS ITS AWARD

MSHMPC gets APA award

At This University this afternoon.