This Coal State Holds The Key To 100% Renewable Energy

In the topsy-turvy world of today’s renewable energy landscape, odd things are happening. One good example is the western US state of Wyoming. It is the nation’s single most coal-producing state, and yet it is also set to play a critical role in the 100% renewable energy plans of the City of Fort Collins, just across the border in Colorado.

Is Wyoming cutting off its nose to spite its face, coal-wise? Good question! There’s an interesting energy storage angle in play, so let’s take a closer look and see what’s going on.

Wyoming’s Wind Profile Coming Into Focus

First off, consider that Wyoming outstrips any other US state for coal production by more than triple. The 2016 update from the US Energy Information had Wyoming at just under 297 million tons or about 41% of the nation’s total. Next-closest was West Virginia at a mere 80 million tons.

Now keep in mind that Wyoming is the least populated state in the US, and you can see where the export angle comes in. Wyoming exports coal all over the country (in addition to overseas), accounting for 15 to 20% of the nation’s total electricity production.

Despite its low population, Wyoming already ranks 16th in wind capacity with a total of 1,489 megawatts installed. That’s not particularly impressive, until you factor in the 3,000 megawatts that are already under construction.

Put it all together, and you have the nation’s top coal exporter on track to become the nation’s leading wind exporter.

Renewable Energy As An Export

In the latest development on the wind export score, our friends over at Wyoming News have the scoop on a proposed wind farm in Laramie County (follow the link to support local journalism and get many more details). The 150-megawatt Roundhouse Renewable Energy project would be constructed entirely with the export market in mind, aiming at the Colorado communities of Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and Estes Park.

In another surprise twist, the project would be managed by Enyo Renewable Energy, which is based in Utah. That state ranks down at #27 for installed wind capacity and has 0 (yes, zero) projects in the pipeline.

Utah may be a miserable place for wind farms, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inhospitable environment for renewable energy companies.

Enyo currently accounts for a big chunk of Utah’s 391 megawatts in installed wind capacity, with two wind farms totaling 79 megawatts. Now the company appears to be eyeballing greener pastures elsewhere. It already has one 80 megawatt wind farm under its belt in Wyoming, and the new proposal would be almost double the size.

For those of you keeping score at home, Enyo’s three existing wind farms were all developed by the company’s founder, Christine Mikell.

100% Renewables And Energy Storage

So, this is where things get interesting from an energy storage perspective. If all goes according to plan, electricity from the Roundhouse project will help the City of Fort Collins achieve its 100% renewable energy goal.

The Coloradan has the scoop in this one (follow the link etc.). The city’s renewable energy plan is still a work in progress, but the idea is to reach 100% by 2030:

Meeting the proposed goal would mean a major cut in greenhouse gas emissions and a paradigm shift for Platte River Power Authority, the electricity provider for Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park and Longmont. But the goal will need sign-off from Fort Collins City Council and the Platte River board of directors to become official.

If that sounds complicated, it is. The good news is that Platte River is on board with the proposal. According to The Coloradan, the utility itself is already on track for 50% wind and solar by 2021, with solar as well as wind.

In yet another interesting twist, Platte River currently produces “extra” electricity from its fossil fuel power plants, which it sells on the market. However, it is taking a hard look at an early retirements for its primary and secondary coal power plants. Another secondary coal plant is already scheduled to close in 2025.

All this renewable energy activity places an increased urgency on developing an energy storage strategy. One potential solution lies in Wyoming’s unusual wind pattern, which tends to peak at different times than wind in other western states. That provides an opportunity for a kind of virtual energy storage solution.

As for why not use lithium-ion batteries, the problem is that battery technology hasn’t yet caught up with the economics of utility scale energy storage. For all the progress in technology over the past few years, batteries still account for just a small fraction of the US market. Pumped hydropower is the dominant force, accounting for 97% of utility scale storage.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to Fort Collins for an update on the energy storage angle, so stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, judging by the experience of other 100% renewable energy cities (Georgetown, Texas is a good example), Fort Collins will see its electricity rates go down and its green branding opportunities go up.


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