Purchase of wind energy depends on availability
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Times File
Seen here is the substation for the City of Gunnison.
Seen here is the substation for the City of Gunnison.

The City of Gunnison is narrowing in on its goal of becoming “net-zero” in its electric power supply next year.

City leaders have set aside $250,000 in the 2020 budget for power purchases from the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) to achieve the goal. In total, city leaders have budgeted about $4.3 million to purchase power next year, compared to $3.7 million budgeted this year.

According to Electric Superintendent Will Dowis, in order to become a net-zero utility the city would have to purchase 46,350 megawatt-hours of wind power.

The current resource mix for the city’s utility is comprised of 59 percent non-carbon emitting sources, such as solar and hydropower. The remaining 41 percent of Gunnison’s power portfolio comes from fossil fuels.

For city electric customers, the potential change would mean a shift for the utility’s remaining 41 percent to wind power already connected to the grid. And according to city leaders, the change wouldn’t require rate hikes in addition to those already planned for next year.

Even under a net-zero scenario, the city would still rely on power generated by fossil fuels at times — for example, when wind turbines aren’t turning. However, the total purchase of renewable energy would offset that use.

MEAN representative Sarah Jones said the agency is currently working with city leaders to craft a new resource portfolio to meet Gunnison’s net-zero goal.

“We are actively working with them to achieve their goals right now,” said Jones.

Jones pointed to two other communities in Colorado, Aspen and Glenwood Springs, that have followed a similar path of pursuing renewable energy in lieu of reliance on fossil fuels.

Both those municipalities served by MEAN are now sourcing energy from non-carbon emitting sources to be 100 percent renewable.

However, according to City Manager Russ Forrest, while the goal is to be net-zero, there are still contractual details to be worked out.

“It’s a matter of what’s still available and how many megawatts are available from a wind farm, a nuclear power plant, a coal-fired plant,” said Forrest.

The city may be able to purchase a greater percentage wind power, but it may not be enough to call the power provider netzero, he added.

The available wind power comes from a wind farm located in Kimball, Neb., constructed on private and municipally owned agricultural land. It has a generation capacity of 30 megawatts, which supplies electricity under a power purchase agreement with MEAN.

The Nebraska-based wind farm has an estimated annual energy production of 124,300 megawatt-hours, comprising an estimated carbon offset of 78,930 metric tons each year.

According to MEAN, today’s wind turbines are more efficient than the first generation of turbines constructed in the early 2000s, due in large part to taller towers, longer blade lengths and overall improved technology and reliability.

Recent studies also have shown that wind speeds are getting faster worldwide, making wind power even more feasible with renewable energy production. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found since 2010, the average wind speed globally increased from about 7 miles per hour (mph) to about 7.4 mph.

For the average wind turbine, that translates to a 17 percent increase in potential wind energy.

The study also raised concerns for long-term wind power planning, given the natural ebb and flow of global wind speeds.

Forrest said while the goal is for the city to purchase more wind power through mean in 2020, there are a variety of scenarios that could take place over the coming year.

“I think it could be a situation of here’s how much (wind power) you could buy today, and here’s how much you could buy in six months,” explained Forrest.

 

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com .)