Saturday, June 12, 2010

Xcel Energy Files to Reduce Colorado Solar Projects; Cites Concerns over Timing of Future Transmission

Bummer. Looks like I'm not going to get my wish for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in southern Colorado. I'm really torn on this San Luis Valley issue now. I've learned from a scientist at NREL before that we could power all of Colorado and then some by placing CSP plants on just 2% of the San Luis Valley. Just 2% (roughly 160 of the 8,000 sq. miles of the valley. That's a 13 x 13 mile plot!) of the land to reduce our carbon footprint immensely, rid ourselves of dirty coal emissions, and showcase to the world that Colorado powers itself with 100% renewable energy. However, these CSP plants are water intensive and need new high voltage transmission lines built over the hill for many miles to the load centers on the Front Range. I'll be frank, large high-voltage power transmission lines are unattractive. If I lived in the beautiful San Luis Valley I probably wouldn't want them. But would I think about compromising to have a large majority of our power produced from the clean and free sun?

Then there's the distributed generation (DG) folks who make a good case for solar PV or thermal on rooftops in the valley and around Colorado. Putting solar rooftops on every residential and commercial building would go along way to lessening the environmental impact and the need for high-voltage transmission lines, but I believe (no facts to back this up yet), doing it piece meal like that wouldn't be as cost-effective (unless economies of scale kicked in at some point) and wouldn't provide nearly as much wattage as a CSP plant on 2% of the land in the San Luis Valley.

I don't know what the answer is. I imagine that it all depends on how quickly we have to get off of fossil fuels. Let's hope we come to some type of compromise sometime soon.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see someone blogging on this important issue. I live in the San Luis Valley and, similar to you, I've been researching RE issues for a couple of years now. Many of us in the SLV have come to the conclusion that DG really is the fastest, cheapest, smartest and greenest approach to solar energy development in Colorado.

I've compiled mountains of information on renewable energy and DG in particular that I would be happy to share with you. For purposes of addressing your blog entry, I can tell you with confidence that individual commercial PV installations (400 kW and greater) are being built in CA at <$5/Wac. RETI estimates
the cost of central station solar thermal at ~$5.50/Wac. So, DG PV installations 1/500th to 1/1000th the size of typical solar thermal plant cost less to build. That's without factoring in the considerable costs and losses of long-distance transmission. Viable alternatives have and will continue be proposed to the PUC as it moves forward on a decision on Xcel/PSCo's proposal for a new transmission line.
Xcel/PSCo want remote CSP because it fits its business model, not because its the only, least-cost or best way to develop Colorado's solar resources. NREL has embraced the outmoded utility model although its produced some good reports on FITS and DG that have essentially been ignored. There's lots more information on the San Luis Valley Renewable Communities Alliance blog at:

Justin A. Rickard said...


I appreciate you bringing up the, "outmoded utility model" theory. I had a hunch that our utilities have not found (or refuse to find) a short-term, cost-effective way to make money off of DG. If you can guide me to those DG and FITS reports by NREL I would appreciate it. Thanks for pointing out your blog to me. I am now following it through Blogger.

Keep up the good fight and let me know if there is anything I can do here on the Front Range.


-Justin Rickard

Hybrid said...

Alternative energy is the answer. Thanks for this blog.

Follow me on Twitter @ or check out my blog @

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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