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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The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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