The leading Republican in the Colorado House says it’s about time that pumped hydroelectric power plants are considered recycled energy that counts under the state’s renewable energy standard.
One of the reasons why it isn’t already counted as a renewable energy is because, unlike conventional hydroelectric power plants, pumped hydro requires additional power to move water uphill to an upper reservoir so that it can flow downhill to a lower reservoir through a turbine to generate electricity.
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, told the House Energy & Environment Committee on Wednesday the technology now exists to do that either with traditional renewable energy or at least to make it all work carbon neutral.
“We have so many resources available today to ensure that the input to pump that water back uphill presents a zero carbon solution,” McKean told the committee, which includes two Western Slope lawmakers, Reps. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Perry Will, R-New Castle.
“One of the things that we really need is very rampable energy, and by rampable I mean things that can be brought online in a big hurry,” he added. “As we start to see the mothballing of various facilities like (coal and natural gas power plants) go offline, what we need is the ability to bring power online when we need it.”
McKean said that most pumped hydroelectric plants don’t generate nearly as much electricity as those fossil fuel plants, but they often are used to help keep power costs to consumers down during peak usage times.
The beauty of them is they can augment power during peak times when costs are higher, thus reducing those costs, and use less expensive electricity to pump the water back uphill during non-peak times, such as late at night, he said.
McKean also said the pumped hydroelectric plants don’t require a lot of energy to pump that water uphill, adding that it can be done in a number of ways, including through stored power from solar, wind or rechargeable batteries.
The measure, HB1052, which the committee discussed but hasn’t yet voted on, has support from several rural electric associations, the Colorado Farm Bureau and some environmental groups, such as Trout Unlimited, but only if the bill is amended to ensure guardrails are in place to protect aquatic life from being harmed, something McKean said he plans to do.
Colorado’s renewable energy standard, first set in 2004, now calls for investor-owned utilities, such as Xcel Energy, to get at least 30% of their electricity by 2020 from renewables, a goal most reached years ago. The law also requires electric cooperatives to be at 20% by 2020.
In 2019, the Colorado Legislature approved a bill requiring utilities that serve more than 500,000 customers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Gov. Jared Polis, however, wants all power suppliers to be at 100% renewable by 2040.
Xcel said Wednesday that it expects to reduce its carbon emissions 85% by 2030, the same year it expects to generate 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, earning immediate praise from House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver.
“Two years ago, the Legislature acted boldly to require utilities to reduce dangerous emissions that are threatening our planet,” Garnett said. “By meeting and exceeding their targets for emissions reductions, utilities will help make significant progress toward reaching our climate goals.”
Currently, there are only five hydroelectric pump storage stations operating in the state, all of which are located on the Front Range or Eastern Plains, according to a database maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
That agency also lists 64 conventional hydroelectric plants operating in Colorado, including many on the Western Slope.
, such as Shoshone, Blue Mesa and South Canal, which is operated by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association.