The Reality of Fort Collins’ Renewables

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We are living in the age of climate change action plans. Does your city have one? If not, they probably will soon. The city leaders will come together, ignore the fact that 100% renewable energy is impossible, and will pass a resolution. That is what happened in Fort Collins, Co. Their resolution has them depending completely on renewable energy by 2030. I hope they enjoy being cold during the winter.

The Nexus of the Issue

So far, they have managed to get to around 50% renewable energy. But the other half of the goal might be a harder play to pull off. A study by Vibrant Clean Energy found “ the massive undertaking could be more efficient by only requiring 90% or even 80% renewable energy and allowing natural gas to act as the nexus.” I looked up the word “nexus” just to be completely clear on its meaning. Here is what I found: Nexus, 1. A connection or series of connections linking two or more things 2. A connected group or series 3. A central or most important place.

So, renewable energy is going to need a 20% boost from coal or natural gas. And that boost is the nexus, the “the thing that connects” Colorado residents and their electricity; the “most important place” without a doubt. Without coal or natural gas, someone (most likely many someones) are going to be very hot in summer, cold in winter, and they had better enjoy candle light.

It never hurt to have a backup

Vibrant Clean Energy isn’t the only one realizing the impossibility of completely renewable power. Eric Blank, co-owner and director of Community Energy says: 

The best way to do this is not going to 100% electric, or even trying. The smart thing to do is electrify buildings and transport and go to 80% or 90% electric. Natural gas can help for the foreseeable future as coal plants retire and we build new wind, solar and storage. In the end, it will also be a critical piece of backup power when there isn’t a lot of wind and solar in the winter. 

Now, instead of the nexus, natural gas and coal are “critical pieces” of “backup”. It doesn’t sound like backup to me, but it does sound critical. To provide enough power to potentially come close to replacing all their current coal and natural gas power plants, they would need to add 4.5 more square miles of solar panels on top of what they have now or build many more wind turbines than are now being built. Sounds pretty pricey. (And we’ll let it go for now that fossil fuels are required to build those panels and turbines.) The only other way to achieve 100% renewable dependence would be to increase their battery storage. Unfortunately, at this time the Colorado utility has battery storage that holds only two megawatts at a time. That is enough power for about 1,600 homes. They fail to mention how long these 1,600 homes would have sustained power before that little bit of storage is depleted. 

The small detail that is reality

I’m sure they would invest in batteries possessing the capability of holding all the excess power their wind turbines and solar panels would produce, except for one little problem: They haven’t been invented yet. But, hey, why let a little thing like reality hold you back from your climate action goals?

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