The Rocky Mountain Institute analyzed a case study of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a coop that provides power to more than 1 million consumers in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. RMI found the coop’s customers could save over $600 million through 2030 if the co-op integrated more renewable energy resources instead of relying on its array of fossil fuel power plants. The savings could be realized by avoiding the operating expenses and fixed costs of the coop’s fossil-fuel power plants. RMI also just released a report on the subject.
Mark Dyson, Principal at RMI’s electricity practice and co-author of RMI’s report, answered some questions for Cleantechnica.
1. When you say consumers in the Mountain West could save $600 million in avoided operating expenses and fixed costs of legacy coal plants through 2030, does that mean mostly homeowners and business would invest in their own solar systems and maybe some energy storage, or does the scenario include utilities developing solar power plants?
The $600 million savings estimate assumes that coal-fired generation is replaced with new utility-scale renewable generation, as well as capacity purchases. This estimate excludes any savings potential from distributed generation or storage.
2. What is the cost of developing new solar power plants in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska vs. new coal?
We used benchmark pricing, revealed in competitive procurement processes from regional utilities (e.g., Xcel Energy and NV Energy), of $23-27/MWh for 2023 in-service date, utility-scale PV projects in CO and NV. We did not make separate estimates for each state.
3. Do you think consumers in these states generally are aware of how much more affordable solar power is now compared with five years ago?
It’s beginning to become apparent to many but I don’t think it is yet widely appreciated how competitive new renewables are compared to the costs of operating legacy power plants.
4. Do these states have enough sunlight that coal could be phased out there entirely?
We find that a combination of wind, solar, and firm capacity purchases can replace the energy and capacity currently provided by coal-fired power plants.
5. Will home energy storage systems be increasingly paired with home solar systems in these states?
We did not directly assess this in our study.
6. What will drive greater renewable energy adoption in these states?
The economics of new renewables will likely continue to get more compelling, and will be a leading force in driving adoption.
7. What are some of the barriers to this adoption?
There are issues related to sunk costs of existing assets, fuel contracts, and uncertainty of regional market access that may affect the speed of adoption for new renewables.
Image Credit: Jimmy Thomas, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0
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