On the Rise

Environment Colorado

Denver, CO – Colorado’s sunny skies are an endless vein the state can tap to supply clean renewable energy to meet growing U.S. demand for pollution free power, this according to a panel of energy advocates, industry experts, and legislators at a briefing today at the Colorado state capitol. 

Environment Colorado and Interwest Energy Alliance sponsored a media briefing in advance of a Governor’s Office briefing on the potential of solar power plants. Environment Colorado also unveiled its new report, On the Rise, which shows for the first time that Colorado can be a national leader in cutting global warming pollution by developing solar power plants.

“Our state’s energy future rises every morning. By investing now in solar power plants, we can make sure that we ride this rise to cheaper energy, cleaner skies, and good paying green-collar jobs.” said Keith Hay, Energy Advocate at Environment Colorado. “Colorado’s sunshine is a new goldmine. Solar power plants can keep Colorado’s energy economy growing while cutting the state’s global warming pollution.”

Joining the briefing were Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) and Representative Judy Solano (D-Brighton), both of whom sponsored legislation this year directing the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to consider the economic and environmental benefits of solar power plants when making resource decisions about where and how we get our electricity.

While investment in solar power plants has been stimulated by state initiatives to reduce global warming pollution, the report argues that reaching science based goals will require federal action. On the Rise highlights several policies that would increase the development of solar power plants in the United States, including:

  • Enacting a national Renewable Electricity Standard
  • Enacting a cap on global warming pollution
  • Expanding and extending tax credits for investment in renewable energy
  • Providing transmission access for central-station solar power

“Nationally, we have the resources to meet new energy demand with solar power plants. The question is not one of resources, but of creating the markets and putting in place the policies that will get those resources to market,” stated Holly Gordon, Vice-President of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs for Ausra Inc. 

Several types of solar power plants exist. Environment Colorado’s report focuses on, concentrating solar plants. Nationally, the Southwest have the potential to provide over 7,000 gigawatts of generating potential, more than 10 times current U.S. demand.  In addition to supplying power while the sun is shining, these plants can store the sun’s heat efficiently and effectively (using thermal storage) for between six and twelve hours, meaning that they can dispatch power on demand.  In a few years, as this capacity grows, these plants will be able to displace coal or natural gas to meet base load demand, meaning long-term reduction in global warming pollution. 

“Concentrating solar power plants are finally having their day in the sun. Right now over 4,500 MW of concentrating solar power plants have signed power purchase agreements and, if the Federal investment tax credit is extended by Congress, they will be built,” said Scott Frier, COO of Abengoa Solar. “This technology has been producing reliable power for more than 20 years in the U.S. Because these plants can meet our future energy needs with pollution free, dispatchable power, we are seeing more and more utilities making the smart decision to purchase their output for their present and future energy needs.”

As part of the state’s Climate Action Plan, utilities agreed to voluntarily reduce global warming pollution by 20 percent by 2020. Reaching this goal will require a combination of energy efficiency and the use of central station solar power plants. For the first time, On the rise shows that replacing just half the state’s current electricity demand with pollution free solar power would mean cutting global warming pollution by an amount equal to taking almost 2 million cars off the road. 

Global warming is a primary factor driving interest and investment in solar power plants across the nation. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, cutting global warming pollution from power plants by 20 percent by 2020 will require developing between 158 GW and 257 GW of renewable energy, an amount equal to between 15 and 24 percent of the U.S. electricity. Colorado, with resources of over 270 GW, could play a major role in helping to meet that demand. 

In addition to supplying power that is free of global warming pollution and other toxins, solar plants bring economic development opportunities, especially to states like Colorado which could be among the first to deploy the technology. Environment Colorado’s research shows that developing 1 GW of concentrating solar power would bring between 3,000 and 4,000 construction jobs, over a thousand permanent, green-collar jobs, and between $2 and $4 billion in private investment.

Basic Facts About Solar Power in Colorado and U.S.

  • Colorado’s potential for electricity production from solar power plants is roughly 270 GW
  • Using only 2 percent of the best resources in the San Luis Valley would provide 5.5 GW, or about half the state’s electricity needs. 
  • Producing 5.5 GW of energy from central solar power plants would cut global warming pollution by an amount equal to taking 1.9 million cars off the road. 
  • Generating potential in the Southwestern U.S. is 7000 GW 
  • Building 80 gigawatts (GW) of concentrating solar power plants in the Southwest, which is possible with the right policy support, would cut carbon dioxide pollution by 152 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 28 million cars from the road.
  • A single 200 megawatt (MW) solar power plant supplies enough energy for roughly 62,000 homes.