Lovely wasn’t it. All that green ink in the middle of winter in the latest Co-op “Enchantment” newsletter. Brilliant marketing.
Thank you, Tri-state Generation and Transmission Association, you are doing well with renewables. Tri-state has about 2.2 percent solar including the 3.85 megawatts capacity added in October 2018 (national utility average is 1.3 percent). In January, they announced building an additional 100 MW solar farm which would increase the total percentage to 4.6 percent.
The cost of solar generation dropped to 3 cents per kWh in Southern California in 2018, but the number I hear bandied about in New Mexico is about 4.5 cents.
Tri-state’s wind power generation capacity is 9.2 percent which is better than the national average of 6.3 percent, at a national cost of about 1-2 cents per kWh.
Hydroelectric is Tri-state’s major strength: 18.5 percent at a cost of about one-half cent per kWh with the national average of 7.4 percent.
Tri-state has less than 1 percent geothermal generating capacity and nationally that number is about 0.4 percent.
Three renewables: solar, wind, hydroelectric, are what keep Tri-state’s wholesale price at about 8 cents per kWh because about 55 percent of Tri-state’s generation capacity is coal-fired and coal generation costs more than 8 cents.
But keep the following in mind. First, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has issued a call to seven states, including Arizona and New Mexico, to consult with them about how to manage the water levels in lakes Mead and Powell, because the watersheds of the rivers feeding those reservoirs are being affected by serious to exceptional drought. More than half of Tri-state’s hydroelectric power comes from Lake Mead.
Second, when reading about a 100 MW solar addition to electricity generation, I saw nothing about retiring coal plants.
Third, Mr. McInnes and I agreed in the last Northern Rio Arriba Electric Cooperative annual meeting, that the price of coal was only going to increase.
Fourth, the Energy Information Agency January 2019 Annual report predicts the national reliance on coal generation of electricity will drop to 24 percent by 2020.
The problem for Tri-state is mostly the need to reduce their reliance on increasingly expensive coal. We have an opportunity to influence them to invest in more renewables, such as wind and solar in New Mexico, rather than natural gas. Natural gas was an obvious choice in the early 2010s for many generating utilities because it became cheaper than coal.
In about 2016, a new Canadian generation plant with a first of its kind, coal emissions scrubbing technology did not live up to the hype. As this became apparent, a new coal fired plant in Texas that Tri-state invested in, was switched to natural gas a year before it went online.
The cost of a kWh generated by natural gas is about 6 cents. The problem is that retrofitting or building a new plant commits the generation utility to keeping that plant going for long enough to make a profit—think decades. Natural gas is not really the transition that some people would have you believe- it’s more like a substitution that’s arguably as dirty as coal.
We need to push Tri-state co-op members to invest in renewables as they eventually retire coal generation, rather than into natural gas. Renewables are, right now, just cheaper.