Tag Archives: solar

Latest ERCOT projections suggest adequate resources for next few years — buoyed by wind, gas and solar

ERCOT has recently released a series of biannual reports suggesting adequate electric resources in Texas over the coming months and years. While “resource adequacy” has been a buzzword in Texas in recent years, due in part to a series of unfortunate outages from fossil fuel plants and extreme weather events, the ERCOT reports released today suggest a healthy reserve — in normal weather situations. This is due in part to the continued use of energy efficiency and demand response, as well as significant investment in new power plants, including wind, solar and natural gas. 

According to its 10-year projection report known as the “Report on Capacity, Demand and Reserves in the ERCOT Region,” ERCOT expects that Texas will meet its current reserve target of 13.75% in 2015, 2016 and 2017. By 2018, reserves would dip under the current target, falling to 12.3%.It is important to note, however, that ERCOT — as per its current board policy — continues to discount the capacity of wind resources to only 8.75% at peak demand since wind values tend to be lower on a hot summer day. However, recent ERCOT proposals suggest that West Texas wind should be valued closer to 15%, while Coastal wind resources actually provide closer to 40% at peak times. Making those adjustments would raise the reserve margin. According to ERCOT’s latest Planning Report, also recently released, over 8,712 MWs of wind power is expected to be added over the next three-and-a-half years, bringing total wind capacity to some 19,777 MWs by 2017. That report also highlighted some 3,000 MWs of solar that is being developed in Texas, though only a few of those projects have signed interconnection agreements. 

The report also used ERCOT’s latest load forecasts, which take into account the impact of energy efficiency, while also giving credit for demand response programs run by both ERCOT, as well as transmission and wire companies. Thus, the report assumes that at least 1,900 MWs of these demand response programs will be available to the market should they be needed. 

A shorter term forecast — known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy — shows some concerns for the upcoming summer, however. ERCOT reports that the summer will start with tight reserves, but that six new gas and wind generating projects will add some 2,122 MWs of power by the end of the summer. ERCOT states that in normal weather there should be sufficient reserves, though in extreme weather situations, or should several large units have issues, they would need to rely on their demand response products, operating reserves and a call for additional energy conservation. 

Sierra Club believes that new generation — particularly from wind and solar — along with continued investment in demand response and energy efficiency should keep the lights on in Texas for years to come. Among our recommendations are increasing the required utility energy efficiency goals to 1% of peak demand by 2018, increasing the budget for Emergency Reserve Services, and allowing demand response companies to bid in directly into the energy market. Stay tuned for more. Click here for access to several of the ERCOT reports. 

Austin City Council approves negotiation with SunEdison for 150 MWs of West Texas Sunshine!

Yesterday, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to direct Austin Energy to negotiate a deal to procure up to 150 MWs of solar power from West Texas through a Power Purchase Agreement with SunEdison. Austin Energy will return next week to City Council with a more detailed contract for final approval. Under the limited information that has been released publicly and discussed at City Council yesterday, Austin Energy GM Larry Weis explained that the deal was a take and pay contract where Austin Energy is only obligated to pay for any electricity generated by the plant at a fixed rate of roughly $50 per MWh or 5 cents per KWh. That is well below the retail rate paid for by Austin Energy consumers and is often below the wholesale market rate of energy in Texas, especially during hot summer days when solar produces the most electricity.

While recent press articles suggest that some California utilities are pursuing even cheaper PPAs, the announced price of $45 to $55 per MWh would represent the lowest price in the US that we could find thus far and is a game-changer in the energy industry. As an example, Austin Energy’s deal with the Webberville solar PV plant costs roughly $165 per MWh, and was only built four years ago. While AE was originally only looking for 50 MW of solar capacity in this latest request, they took a larger position because the price is so much cheaper than expected. Weis said on Thursday that while more solar was available at similar prices, his recommendation for the moment was not to go beyond the 150 MWs of additional solar to be built by 2016 until Austin Energy does a fuller review of all its energy needs, future costs and scenarios. Previously City Council has asked Austin Energy to consider doubling their solar goal from 200 to 400 MWs by 2020, as recommended by the Local Solar Advisory Council, a position supported by the Sierra Club. Austin Energy has said wait until we update our generation plan.

 

The Webberville Project: Near Austin, Texas

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Separately, the Austin City Council is expected to name an Austin Energy Generation Task Force to begin looking at Austin Energy’s medium-range plans for future generation through 2024, including solar energy, its use of the existing coal and gas plants and the role of energy storage and demand response. In fact, Mayor Lee Leffingwell went ahead and announced his pick to the Generation Task Force: Spansion Facilities Engineer Barry Dreyling, who should be well versed on energy issues for large industrial consumers. Stay tuned for more info next week

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

Texas Renewable Energy Keeps Growing: Both Austin and ERCOT Showing it Can Be Done

Ok I’ve written about this before but the pace is getting to be mind-boggling. Every month, ERCOT releases its Monthly Status System Planning Report and the amount of proposed generation keeps growing. And in particular what appears to be winning is wind power, and increasingly solar. The February 2014 Monthly Status Report shows that ERCOT is currently tracking 219 proposed projects totaling over 55,300 MWs, about half – 26,700 MWs in all — of which is wind. The latest to sign what is known as a Generation Interconnection Agreement with the local transmission company is the Briscoe Wind Farm, a 300 MW facility located in West Texas. Just earlier this month we announced that Austin Energy had negotiated a cheap wind deal with Lincoln Renewable for 300 MWs in Castro County.

Here are the latest numbers from ERCOT.

Confidential Projects Projects under Study Projects with Signed Agreement Total
Natural Gas 3,544 11,437 9,521 24,502
Coal 0 30 240 270
Wind 5,538 12,777 8,413 26,728
Solar 1,335 1,414 198 2,947
Storage 0 874 0 874
Nuclear 0 0 0 0
Petroleum Coke 0 0 0 0
Total 10,417 26,532 18,372 55,321

What is pretty interesting is the geographic distribution of these projects. If you look at ERCOT’s five traditional load zones — Panhandle, West Texas, North Zone, South Zone and Coastal Zone, future natural gas projects dominate in the South and North Zone — where wind and solar resources are just not as strong. But from the Coastal Zone — where gas and wind split the pie — to West Texas and especially the Panhandle, wind and increasingly solar beat out gas projects.

Coal you might ask? Two projects – a tiny 30 MW proposed project in Milam County and the long-awaited IGCC project by Summit in Ector County, which has been delayed three times, and is currently scheduled for 2018.. maybe. Petroleum Coke, like those proposed Las Brisas and White Stallion projects that SIerra Club fought?  Dead. none. What about nuclear? Didn’t NRG and Luminant promise to build us new reactors? Dead.

In fact, other than gas, wind and solar, the only projects are three proposed storage facilities which could revolutionize the use of renewable energy, making it dispatchable just like gas.

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Webberville Project — three times more expensive than the new one they are talking about.

Now back to Austin Energy. While two weeks ago we told you about a deal to purchase wind at a bargain rate of $26 to $36 per MWh that City Council recently approved — a price rivaling what we pay for our dirty coal power — this Thursday Austin Energy will be proposing to City Council that they authorize negotiations over two utility-scale solar plants to be constructed by SunEdison. While the exact price can not be revealed, Austin Energy is reporting that it is between $45 and $55 per MWh, making it the cheapest solar deal in the country. The two plants will total up to 150 MWs of capacity, and be located in West Texas. If these deals come to fruition, Austin Energy would not only meet its 35% renewable energy commitment four years early by the time the plants come online in 2016, but even its 200 MW solar goal. With the Local Solar Advisory Committee recommending that Austin Energy double its goal to 400 MWs by 2020, Austin Energy’s initial negative reaction — based on a belief that solar would cost more in the $80 to $100 per MWh range — now seems well.. so last year. In fact, Austin Energy reports that they had over 125 proposals for utility-scale solar from 66 separate projects, and $100 per MWh was the very highest they got. In fact, most were in the $60 dollar range. Remember in 2009, we negotiated a deal for 30 MWs of solar for around $165 per MWh. So that means for Austin Energy solar energy prices got chopped by some 70% between 2010 and 2016 when the latest solar projects get built.

Folks, the news for renewable energy in Texas just keeps getting better. Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

Victory! Austin City Council Votes 6-0 In Favor of Generation Plan Task Force

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 12.56.57 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 6, 2014

Contact: Dave Cortez, David.Cortez@SierraClub.Org, 512-736-7600

Austin City Council Votes to Create Austin Energy Task Force

AUSTIN, TX – Today, in a 6-0 vote, city council members voted to create the Austin Energy Resource Generation Task Force as part of the 2014 update process to the city’s existing energy plan.

The task force is directed to provide recommendations to council members for how Austin Energy should meet existing goals for renewable energy by 2020, as well as opportunities for strengthening and expanding those goals through 2024. Task force members will include one member from the Electric Utilities Commission and one from the Resource Management Commission, as well as seven other members appointed by city council.

Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer David Cortez
issued the following statement in response:

“Public participation is always a win-win in our book. Today, the people of Austin and Central Texas communities impacted by climate disruption won a major procedural victory for clean energy, transparency and good governance. This task force will provide environmental, low-income, renewable energy and industry stakeholders their best opportunity to review Austin Energy’s approach and set a clear path for making Austin a leader in the clean energy economy.

Austin Energy ratepayers have made it clear that they want this process to expand our clean energy goals, phase out our over-reliance on dirty coal and fracked gas, as well as preserve our affordability targets. We see this task force as the best way to ensure those demands are met.

The Sierra Club and our 4,500 Central Texas members and supporters applaud City Council for their leadership in making this process more accessible to all Austin Energy ratepayers.”

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Austin’s 10-Year Energy Plan: Ramp Up Renewables, or Double Down on Fossil Fuels?

Stop Dirty Coal Rally, Austin, Texas

***MEDIA ADVISORY FOR TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25th***

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES

Contact:
Dave Cortez, Sierra Club Beyond Coal,
David.Cortez@SierraClub.Org, 512-736-7600
Kaiba White, Public Citizen, Kwhite@citizen.org, 607-339-9854

Austin Energy Ratepayers Rally to Expand Affordable Renewable Energy Goals in Energy Plan Update 

WHAT: Clean Energy Rally Following First Austin Energy Stakeholder Meeting

WHERE: Front Lawn, Austin Energy HQ, Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road
WHEN: Tuesday, February 25th at 12:15 pm
(following the conclusion of Austin Energy’s first stakeholder meeting)

WHO:  Hosted by the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign and Public Citizen

VISUALS FOR CAMERAS: We’ll have 30 Austin Energy Ratepayers wearing yellow shirts and holding clean energy signs next to a large solar panel. A coal lobbyist clad in a suit and a large black smokestack costume will be doing all he can to remove the solar panel from the rally. Parents and children will also be in attendance to highlight the need to plan for clean future for our kids.
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Coal Monster
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FULL SCHEDULE OF AE STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS: 

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 – 10 a.m. to Noon
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 – 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Austin Energy Headquarters
Town Lake Cntr
721 Barton Springs Road
First floor assembly room

AUSTIN – On Tuesday, February 25th at 12:15 PM CT, dozens of yellow-shirt clad Austinities will rally in support of clean energy and moving beyond fossil fuels outside of Austin Energy headquarters following the first of three stakeholder input meetings on the proposed 10-year update to the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan.

Austin Energy has given no indication that it will incorporate City Council’s recommendation that the solar energy goal be expanded to 400 megawatts by 2020 – enough to power about 50,000 homes. Nor has it suggested increasing the overall renewable energy goal, despite the fact that it’s already has contracts to meeting the current goal 4 years early. Instead, the utility is proposing to keep the Fayette coal plant running through 2025 and to build an additional 800 megawatt fracked gas plant.

The rally is hosted by the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign and Public Citizen.

New Study Finds 4,100 Solar Jobs in Texas: Texas Jumps to Sixth Place in National Rankings

AUSTIN, TX – A new report from The Solar Foundation (TSF), a national non-profit research organization, finds more than 4,100 Texans are now working in the solar power industry, marking a 28 per cent increase in solar jobs in one year. In addition, Texas has moved up to sixth place in national rankings for solar jobs, from eighth in 2012. Texas is also leading the nation in wind power production, and today’s new solar report clearly positions Texas as a clean energy leader. Growth in Texas solar power has been spurred by strong public policy, public and private investment that will continue to pay dividends and create jobs.

“Falling solar prices combined with enormous solar resources will make Texas a huge solar market. With some smart policy, jobs in the solar industry could easily double or triple in the next three to five years,” said David Dixon, Chief Operating Officer for Native Inc. Native and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter have partnered to bring residential rooftop solar and green building upgrades to Sierra Club members across Texas.

Texas’s largest municipal electric utilities – CPS Energy in San Antonio and Austin Energy in Austin – have enacted strong residential policies and incentives for rooftop solar power, spurring growth and leading to hundreds of rooftop solar installations in the two cities, enough to power hundreds of homes and small business. In addition, CPS Energy announced a contract with OCI Solar to build 400 MWs of utility-scale solar by 2017, powering 10 per cent of homes in the San Antonio area. CPS Energy will flip the switch on its first solar power project this year, producing the first utility-scale solar power for the utility.

“Smart policies and investments have expanded the solar economy in Texas, making these outstanding jobs numbers possible,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We have the opportunity to do more to grow solar jobs in 2014. Here in Austin, the city council has asked Austin Energy to double our solar goal. If Austin takes this smart step forward, we’ll see more solar systems on homes and businesses in Austin being installed by local men and women in Austin’s solar industry.”

In addition, in 2011, the Texas Legislature listened to solar advocates and passed two statewide laws, including legislation to allow third-party leasing and financing of solar in Texas’s competitive electric areas. These laws have helped spread solar development in areas like Houston and Dallas.

“We want to see these figures increase, and we’re counting on municipal utilities like Austin Energy to lead the way by expanding job-creating solar policies,” said Dave Cortez, organizing representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign in Central Texas. “When Value of Solar and our ten-year solar goals are scaled back, that drives down investment and kills well-paying jobs in Austin’s solar industry. For Austin Energy, the right choice is clear: more solar means more jobs.”

Texas will see two private solar projects begin to produce power for the grid in 2014. First Solar began the groundbreaking on its Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County near Fort Stockton, which would sell its output into the competitive market. White Camp Solar in Kent County, near Lubbock, has announced that it will begin operations of a 135 megawatt utility-scale solar plant by the summer. A variety of other utility-scale projects are being planned throughout Texas in 2014 through 2016.

State solar employment figures were generated using thousands of data points from a combination of high-quality sources, including TSF’s highly-acclaimed National Solar Jobs Census 2013, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s National Solar Database, and other sources. While the margin of error for some of the smaller solar jobs states remains wide, these numbers are believed to be the most credible and up-to-date state-level solar jobs numbers in existence. The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership with support from The George Washington University’s Solar Institute.  The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 and separate district-level Census reports for California, Arizona and Minnesota, are available at www.tsfcensus.org.

About The Solar Foundation: The Solar Foundation® (TSF) is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to increase understanding of solar energy through strategic research that educates the public and transforms markets. Since 2010, TSF has published its annual National Solar Jobs Census, which established the first credible solar jobs base line for the U.S. TSF is considered the nation’s authority on the solar labor force and advises many organizations on the topic. TSF is also a leading provider of educational materials on the economic impacts of solar for local governments through its work with the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, TSF chairs the National Solar Schools Consortium, a group of stakeholders seeking to make solar a larger part of the national K-12 system. More at http://TheSolarFoundation.org.

Latest Brattle Report Suggests Either Energy-Only Market or Capacity Market will keep lights on in Texas

In a long-awaited report ordered by the Public Utility Commission, the Brattle Group’s study entitled “Estimating the Economically Optimal Reserve Margin in ERCOT” was released last week and showed that Texas has many options to keep the lights on, including potentially doing nothing.

The study was ordered by PUC Chairman Donna Nelson to determine the most economic reserve margin – literally the amount of supplies over the amount of demand – in Texas. The answer? A reserve of only 10.2 % would be the most economic approach and the good news is based on normal weather patterns Texas’ market would actually provide a 11.5 percent reserve margin in the coming years. In other words, in purely economic terms, Texas’ energy-only market would provide reliable and economic electric power. In fact, in normal years, one would expect less than an hour of reliability issues out of 8760 hours in a year.

Nonetheless, the study also presented an alternative market structure, and suggested that a 14.1 % required reserve margin would be more reliable long-term though slightly more expensive to maintain. The study did suggest that in extreme weather situations – like the 2011 heatwave – the 14.1% required reserve margin would be cheaper during that year because energy prices would  volatile in any energy-only market. Thus, overall a capacity market during an extreme weather year would cost consumers $3 billion less because of lower power outages, while during a normal year, a capacity market would be about $400 million more expensive.

Table. What the Brattle Study Says about the Reserve Margin

Category Energy-Only Case Capacity Market Case Difference
Equilibrium Reserve Margin 11.5% 14.1% 2.6%
Loss of Load Events Per Average Year 0.33 0.23 (-.1)
Loss of Hours Average Year 0.86 0.23 (0.63)
Energy Price  -$/MWh $58 $48 (-$10)
Capacity Price ($/kW-yr) $0 $39 $39
Total Customer Cost ($B/YR) $35.7 $36.1 $0.4
Extreme Weather Year Energy Price $99 $65 (-34)
Extreme Weather Year Capacity Price 0 $76 76
Total Customer Cost (Hedged) $44.7 $41.5 (-3.2)

It is important to note that the Brattle report – like all economic studies – made assumptions about load growth, weather, the impact of demand response, and the amount of wind generation at peak – all of which can be challenged. As an example, the study still assumed that wind production only generates 8.7% of its total capacity during peak summer hours, a number that has been shown through repeated studies and actual data to significantly undercount the value of wind. Thus, the assumed margin are probably in reality higher than reported in the Brattle report.  But the essential message – that the energy-only market in most years would provide reliable and economic energy – at least gives policy makers breathing room and time to make any needed changes to the market.

The Sierra Club believes the answer is actually somewhere in the middle – that a required reserve margin slightly above the economically optimal reserve may be needed assuming that extreme weather events continue to face Texas. As an example, the report notes that assuring a reserve margin of 12.9% would meet the Southwest Power Pool’s reliability standards even in extreme weather events. We believe that assuring some build-out of new generation and new demand response programs – largely through expanded ancillary services — could assure this targeted reserve. Thus, the long-term solutions are not necessarily the imposition of a forward capacity market as has been imposed in markets like PJM and New England at great costs to consumers, but rather targeted programs meant to grow new resources like energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage and solar to meet Texas’s growing electric demand and supply needs. Paying older power plants a capacity payment just for being around is not the way to meet these new needs.

Texas will need to make significant investments in new transmission grids, continued smart meter development and other technologies like energy storage and demand response, while making the market work for these new technologies. It will also need to economically retire its older, dirtier power plants and transition to cleaner forms of energy. Look for our solutions soon!

In the meantime, PUC is expected to schedule a workshop on the Brattle report, as well as an additional study looking at the cost and benefit of each approach to keeping the lights on and ERCOT’s latest supply and demand projections, which are still being debated at the ERCOT Board of Directors.