Still Cheaper Than Coal: A Report on the Economics of Solar Power in Colorado
By Rama Zakaria and Graham McCahan
A newly-updated report is shedding light on what President Trump's solar trade tariffs may mean for one state—and underscoring a tremendous opportunity to move forward toward clean energy, with all the benefits it can bring.
Xcel Energy filed its 30-day bid report update with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on March 1. The update follows Xcel's filing at the end of last year, in response to an "all-source solicitation," as part of its Electric Resource Plan and its proposed Colorado Energy Plan.
Xcel's plan would shut down two units at the Comanche coal plant in Pueblo, Colorado, and replace the capacity with a mix of lower carbon resources. Earlier results were unprecedented, with more than 80 percent of the bids coming from renewable energy and storage at incredibly cheap prices.
Xcel then provided bidders an opportunity to refresh their bids following President Trump's final decision in the Suniva/SolarWorld trade case in January, which imposed tariffs on imported solar equipment.
The refreshed bids in Xcel's updated report show minimal change relative to last year's results and confirm that new wind and solar power in Colorado continues to be cheaper than existing coal plants—despite the trade tariffs.
According to the report, Xcel "received bid affirmation and refresh responses from all but one of the 400 plus bids."
Of these responses:
"58% of the bids affirmed no change in pricing, 16% increased pricing, and 26% decreased pricing."
The solar photovoltaic (PV) median bid price increased by only $1.5 megawatts per hour, and the median bid for solar PV with battery storage increased by $2.3 megawatts per hour—still the cheapest solar plus storage bids in the U.S. to date.
Based on analysis by Carbon Tracker, this means that the median bid price for solar is lower than the operating cost of all existing coal units in Colorado, while the median solar plus storage bid is lower than roughly 70 percent of operating coal capacity.
Federal renewable energy tax credits are likely buffering some of the solar trade tariff effects. While recent analyses show significant cost declines for renewable energy, with wind and solar becoming increasingly competitive with conventional generation even on an unsubsidized basis, the renewable tax credits are still a significant factor contributing to favorable wind and solar economics in the short-term and in the face of the Trump solar tariffs. That said, it's important to recognize that coal generation has enjoyed state and federal incentives for a century, and continues to do so.
The tax credits are being phased down in the next few years, with the production tax credit for wind phasing out in 2019 and the investment tax credit for solar in 2021. So it will be critical to act now to take advantage of those credits to deploy clean energy at lowest cost and secure the associated economic and public health benefits.
Colorado is an example of this tremendous opportunity to move forward now to lock in incredibly low-cost resources, with no fuel costs and therefore no medium- to long-term volatility or risk to consumers. The Xcel bids show that there is a lower-cost clean energy alternative to keeping the polluting Comanche units online in Pueblo, and it no longer makes sense to continue to operate and maintain these units at the expense of Colorado customers and Colorado air quality.
There is even the potential for low-cost utility-scale on-site solar to be used by Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel—a steel mill and the single largest manufacturer in Pueblo and largest producer of premium rail in North America—to help cut costs and keep manufacturing jobs in Pueblo.
Evraz is Xcel's largest retail customer in Colorado, and the 175-200 megawatt Evraz solar project that the company is considering would provide a cost-effective option to meet Evraz's growing needs, help guarantee Evraz low and stable electricity rates in the future, and therefore help keep Evraz in Colorado.
We are already witnessing some of the impacts of Trump's solar tariffs on jobs in some areas of the U.S., and the potential for these tariffs to stall American competitiveness and innovation—for instance, American solar company SunPower recently announced that it will lay off hundreds of workers, largely from its research and development and marketing positions.
But the Xcel refresh bids in Colorado—a state blessed with high solar and wind potential—provides an important first look at what the solar tariffs mean for the competitiveness of clean energy in a state where clean energy conditions are favorable.
In Colorado, it is clear that the advantages of clean energy for consumers and the local economy remain compelling. Despite the tariffs—and in the presence of renewable tax credits, rapid technological advances, and plummeting costs of solar and storage technologies—solar still outcompetes fossil fuels. It also helps lower costs to consumers, and protects local manufacturing jobs.
The state should act now to lock in those benefits for the people of Colorado.
The Facts About Trump’s Solar Tariffs – Who Gets Hurt? Who Gets Helped? https://t.co/VMF7n3pMyH @SolarEnergyNews @solarfeeds— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519431606.0
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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