Intermittent Power Sources on the Rise in Colorado; more hydro can help with that – Complete Colorado – Page Two

As global energy demand continues to rise, the production of abundant energy is becoming increasingly important. To meet this increased need, as well as the state’s ambitious clean energy goals, Colorado must focus on developing affordable electricity for all.

And Colorado needs more hydroelectricity.

Hydroelectric facilities vary in size from a huge facility like the Hoover Dam to a small river facility. They often generate electricity through water flow and elevation differences from various reservoirs.

According to US Department of Energyhydroelectricity currently represents 37% of total electricity generation from renewable energy in the United States, making it one of the main sources of renewable energy in the country. In Colorado, hydroelectricity represents only 8% of renewable energy generation, but there are growth opportunities for hydroelectricity.

There are currently approximately 1,500 hydroelectric generating stations in operation in the United States, and 40 of these are pumped-storage hydroelectric (PSH) generating stations.

PSH is like a “green rechargeable battery”, according to the International Hydropower Association. The IHA estimates that PSH installations around the world can store up to 9,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity. It stores energy by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir, then releases the water downstream when power is needed.

The rapid growth of intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind power requires a reliable storage solution. PSH can store the electricity generated from this power source for later use. When these intermittent sources are not available and there is a high demand, the hydroelectric plant releases water from the upper reservoir to drive a turbine and provide electricity.

The recent news of possible power shortages in the summer of 2023 reflects that greater power generation and stable storage are needed in Colorado. PSH, which currently represents 93% of utility-scale energy storagecould provide the storage needed to combat future energy shortages.

In the United States, hydroelectricity is also one of the cheapest sources of energy, as it is produced for on average 0.85 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). This is equivalent to 50% of the cost of nuclear, 40% of the cost of fossil fuels and 25% of the cost of natural gas. Once these installations are installed, the energy is generated by the natural flow of water, which has no cost.

Electricity prices need not depend on fluctuating fuel costs. When pumping water to a higher reservoir, PSH uses minimal renewable energy such as wind or solar power during off-peak hours, further minimizing environmental and financial costs.

The lower cost of hydropower also translates into longer plant life and minimal maintenance costs. Although some may argue that the high upfront costs are the reason why hydroelectric facilities should not be invested in, National Hydropower Association notes that taking into account the fact that these installations can operate for more than 50 years, the costs are spread over a longer period.

Independent to research also suggests that hydroelectricity has prevented more “100 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the last 50 years aloneeven exceeding the emissions saved by nuclear energy. It’s like 20 years of total carbon footprint in the USA

In 2021, Colorado State Representative Hugh McKean and Senator Rob Woodward helped pass House Bill 21-1052, which defined hydroelectricity as renewable energy. It removed existing restrictions on hydroelectric installations and officially recognized the benefits of hydroelectricity.

Companies like Xcel Energy and the Bureau of Reclamation have since announced that they will pursue hydroelectric plants over the next decade. Xcel announced in January a plan to build a PSH facility at Unaweep Canyon to expand its hydroelectric power.

According Colorado Sun report, this project doubles the power output of two other existing PSH projects – Cabin Creek and Mt. Elbert. The number of megawatts (MW) produced will increase from 324 MW to 800 MW per day, serving approximately 326,000 families.

Building PSH facilities not only provides more energy, but also provides opportunities for recreation and municipal water storage to the community. The many advantages of hydroelectricity testify to its great potential for the future.

With increasing energy demand and a goal of providing 100% clean energy by 2050, Colorado should continue to support hydroelectricity.

Franny Shih studies environmental economics at the University of California, Berkeley. This summer, Franny is an intern in energy and environmental policy at the Independence Institutea free market think tank in Denver.

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