Dear Town Officials:
My background is primarily in astrophysics and climate science. I used to teach university courses about climate change and energy production, and I'm very concerned about how burning fossil fuels is driving climate change across the globe as well as here in Colorado. I'm concerned primarily for my granddaughters' future. Because I cannot be present during the PRPA presentation Tuesday evening, I'm writing now to comment about PRPA's continued burning of fossil fuels.
In Larimer County, PRPA is recognized as by far the largest source of climate-change-producing greenhouse gases (GHG)
as well as nitrogen oxides which lead to ground-level ozone and serious health impacts. It is responsible for emitting
roughly one hundred million tons of climate-warming CO2 since the 1980s, and PRPA continues to emit roughly 3 million tons of CO2 per year. Whereas the Rawhide coal plant is scheduled to close in 2030 (preferably before) due to state-required reduction in its
excessive nitrogen oxide emissions, PRPA has not committed to 100% clean energy production by that time.
A Sierra Club press release with the heading "PRPA vote
derails prior commitment to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030" points
out that "PRPA is now the only utility in Colorado with plans to build
new, permanent fossil-fuel-powered generation."
In 2017, PRPA hired a subsidiary of Siemens to investigate the concept
of a new natural gas plant that could be purchased from Siemens. The prospect
of moving away from coal was welcomed by stakeholders in the municipalities served by PRPA, but not the prospect of a fracked gas
plant which could result in worse greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal. Eventually, third
party consultants hired by stakeholders showed that the Siemens proposal involved seriously flawed
assumptions and faulty financial projections; and it was dropped.
In 2018, teams of
municipality stakeholders met with PRPA staff to discuss distributed
energy resources and sophisticated computer models. Unfortunately, those stakeholders
were totally disregarded. Instead, PRPA
surreptitiously hired Siemens again to produce more plans for new gas facilities (Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines or RICE) that could be purchased from
Siemens. Customers in the four
municipalities served by PRPA repeatedly voiced overwhelming opposition to
those new gas facilities, and prominent outside organizations pointed out that the RICE engines are unnecessary and would be costly stranded assets. Stakeholder organizations have requested detailed documentation
and cost projections from the new Siemens report, but PRPA has refused to release them, saying they are
Stakeholders have learned that the Siemens projections for battery costs are significantly higher than those put forth by reputable organizations like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL in Golden) and that the costs for an initial delivery of RICE engines is projected at around 140 million dollars. PRPA has claimed they will achieve 80 to 95% GHG reductions with new RICE engines. However, that is based on computations using seriously flawed information (global warming potentials too low by a factor of about 4 for methane). Some states like New York do not allow utilities to use such flawed information, and there are ongoing discussions here in Colorado to stop the practice.
In order to combat overwhelming public objections to new, polluting, unneeded fossil fuel purchases, PRPA developed a so-called "scientific survey." Only one question mentioned energy production, and RICE engines were not mentioned at all. The one energy question is shown below, as submitted by a business in Fort Collins. Based on this, PRPA announced that the stakeholders favor natural-gas burning RICE engines.
How much more would your business pay on your utility bill to receive noncarbon energy?
[ ] About 2.2% more each year to receive 60% noncarbon energy by 2030 with 99.99% reliability.
[ ] Approximately 2.6% more each year to receive 90% noncarbon energy by 2030 with 99.99% reliability.
] Approximately 8.7% more each year to receive 100% noncarbon energy by
2030 although Platte River cannot maintain system reliability.
] About 2.8% more each year to promote more efficiency, rooftop solar,
EVs, etc. You would receive 65% noncarbon energy by 2030 and 90%
noncarbon energy by 2035 with 99.99% reliability.
To be fair, I'll mention that RICE engines could run on hydrogen. However, most hydrogen is produced from a polluting process involving methane, and "green" (clean) hydrogen production from electrolysis using renewable energy is not yet practical for cost and efficiency reasons.
I'll end this comment with a potential bright note. After years of stakeholder requests for PRPA to hire a new staff person who can consider things like renewable energy integration and storage, PRPA has recently made such a hire. Perhaps there is hope.
Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, University of Michigan
Emeritus Zilker Distinguished Professor of Physics and Climate Science, Trinity University