Boulder Colorado and the Quest for Local Control of Energy

September 12, 2013

One feature of the changing landscape of energy distribution  is the movement in some communities to gain local control of their electrical supply. It’s not a new thing, many communities around the country have their own utility system. But its a model that, understandably, large electric monopolies are deeply frightened of.

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8 Responses to “Boulder Colorado and the Quest for Local Control of Energy”

  1. andrewfez Says:

    Those of you whose hobbies include countering disinformation in comments sections (or the like) around the net might want to temporarily allocate some time toward focusing on local media directed at, or generated from, Boulder.

    We would do well to get a ‘sun and magnifying glass’ effect started here, where distal support backs that of the local variety, resulting in a significant push against the first domino in this particular set, whose toppling aligns with a cleaner, cheaper, more energy independent, less monopolistic, etc. future, and whose members may indeed be laying shadows upon your own local communities; pay it forward.

    The short sighted and indecisive components among us may find the German model ‘too far away to count’, or if they own televisions, ‘only works because they have a lot more sun’. But the more U.S. models that pop up, the more reality cannot be denied locally: I’ve yet to meet an internet disinformation agent that has competently countered the idea that Iowa is running huge amounts of wind on their grid and has lower rates and lower rate hikes that the national averages: http://climatecrocks.com/2011/08/12/iowa-81-percent-support-from-those-that-know-wind-power-best/ or the idea that Duquesne Light in PA offers a wind and hydro package that’s cheaper than the traditional electricity source package.

    • andrewfez Says:

      http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_24029024/after-upworthy-exposure-new-era-crowdfunding-campaign-blistering?source=pkg

      Now I have no idea whether the municipalization model is the ‘best’ one to use to bring in enough green energy to get us out of the red regarding climate and fossil depletion.

      Seems to me, at the town and city level, what could be most effective is getting every building retrofitted to use less energy (Rock Mountain Institute style often offers costs which are paid back with in three years from the retrofit). So if your town becomes 30% more efficient downstream, that means you only need 0.7x amount of green energy (as opposed to x amount) to replace the coal plants, and the cost is only 0.7c (as opposed to c), and the overall system saves huge amounts of money.

      But I’ll cheer these guys on just to see if it works…


  2. Are they actually achieving local control of energy, or are they outsourcing major functions like reactive power and spinning reserve to outside agencies?  (Of course they are.)

    Are they paying full freight for these services they consume?  (Very likely not.)

    This will not end well.

    • andrewfez Says:

      There’s lots of things here that utility expert could answer, where i’m just an amateur speculator/observer. It’d be nice to have some journalists that were more in depth than just the local paper happening here.

      I can speculate against the cost of a corporate bond or loan as compared to a municipal bond or some muni-energy hybrid bond, and then try to fit that piece of the puzzle into place. I can further speculate about the projected costs of coal versus wind and solar, and so on, and how much the latter might offset the cost of ‘learning curve’ mistakes that will occur when government tries to take the baton from experienced private management. I can just keep speculating to no avail.

      Yet there are generalizations that can be had: the cost of fossil stuff is getting most expensive as the cost of sustainable stuff is getting cheaper; there’s probably less price volatility in sustainable stuff as there isn’t anybody speculating on the sun as they do on the price of gas/oil; solar eats into the most expensive part of the day helping costs; getting rid of coal can reduce healthcare costs in the areas around the plants; etc…

      I say let them try. They may fail. We may learn from such and do better next time. Even if all that happens is that Xcel agrees to put more green energy up, or give fair value to solar roof folks then that’s a start. What we can’t do is stagnate in the face of resource depletion.


      • There’s lots of things here that utility expert could answer, where i’m just an amateur speculator/observer.

        There are a lot of things you can answer just from looking at the laws on the books.  “Net metering” customers do not pay for reactive power or harmonic content.  Industrial customers do.  “Net metering” customers don’t pay to transmit their power over the grid, they actually get paid for their use of the utility’s lines.

        These things aren’t any trouble when there are just a few people doing it, but when they really do become the next granite countertops, the naïve ways will cause the grid to break.  Somebody has to generate the reactive power, provide the regulation and spinning reserve, and soak up the harmonics (mosty 3rd harmonic) or stuff just fails.  If nobody’s getting paid to do it, it won’t get done.  The result is a grid that goes down all the time, something that’s supposed to be a third-world trait.

        To make this work, people have to pay for transmission services, pay for the value of dispatchability, pay for reactive power, or take themselves completely off the grid.  Of course there are people who do that, but they pay both financially and in other ways.

        I say let them try. They may fail.

        Only if they’re not propped up by subsidies so that they “cannot fail”.  But that only fails bigger and harder up the line.

        We may learn from such and do better next time.

        Only if those running the show allow the lessons to be learned.

        What we can’t do is stagnate in the face of resource depletion.

        Earth’s rivers deposit 30,000 tons of uranium into the oceans every year.  The entire world’s energy consumption is equivalent to fission of 5,000 tons per year.  There’s your renewable resource right there.

        • andrewfez Says:

          Well, the technical problems can be worked out via clever design. Maybe they could hire some German consultants – some of the states (counties) there are running huge amounts of wind and solar at given points.

          The Euro folks even use industrial heat waste to heat buildings and such. Would there be any way to design a harmonic sink so that its heat is used to heat a building in the winter?

          I believe the objection to nuclear lies in the capital intensity of, and high probability of budget over-runs during construction, and the reliance on the government to put billions on the table, secondary to a significant risk in completion failure of a project. Private money is shy here.

          How much energy would it cost to grab all that uranium out of the rivers/ocean?


          • Maybe they could hire some German consultants – some of the states (counties) there are running huge amounts of wind and solar at given points.

            If their recommendation is to shut down paid-off, zero-carbon nuclear baseload plants and install fast-responding lignite-fired boilers to accomodate the variations in wind and PV output, what would you do?  Would you praise them as visionaries, or fire them and demand their retainers be refunded?

            Would there be any way to design a harmonic sink so that its heat is used to heat a building in the winter?

            If someone was particularly clever and there was enough harmonic power in one place, it could be cycloconverted and fed back to the grid at the fundamental frequency.  As for heating buildings in winter, most people don’t like living next to substation transformers, and moving heat any distance is very expensive and lossy.  If not for that, it would be a no-brainer.

            I believe the objection to nuclear lies in the capital intensity of, and high probability of budget over-runs during construction

            The objection is to the word “nuclear”.  This is why “nuclear magnetic resonance” was re-titled “magnetic resonance imaging”, or MRI.  Most cost overruns are caused by lawsuits and capricious regulatory changes, not technical problems.

            How much energy would it cost to grab all that uranium out of the rivers/ocean?

            It’s hard to convert from the units given to energy, but the price tag with the best current technology is well under $200/lb.  This is a multiple of current futures prices, but if the technology shifts from LWRs at 0.5% utilization to FBRs at 99+% utilization, the per-kWh cost of uranium (other than U-235) becomes insignificant even at $200/lb.


  3. […] Boulder Colorado and the Quest for Local Control of Energy20 (Climate Crocks) […]


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