Exploring the future of Colorado Springs energy

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FOUNTAIN, Colo– When Colorado Springs Utilities flips the switch on their 500-acre solar farm in December, the utilities’ electricity from renewables will increase five fold.

“You’re going to see the fossil fuel portion of our portfolio shrink as we add more renewables and more storage.” said the Chief Executive Officer for CSU, Aram Benyamin.

Two solar farms off of Squirrel Creek Road and Birdsall Road combine for a 500-acre farm with over 220,000 solar panels will become operational in December, generating 60 megawatts.

Construction on the project began in March and will be operational by the end of the year as one of the first major steps in decommissioning the Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs.

“We’re looking for reseliancy, we’re looking for reliability, we’re looking for some innovation in the transition and we’re looking for affordability.” said Benyamin.

Fossil Fuels will still play a considerable role in the utility’s generation going forward Benyamin says, but additional solar capacity is continuing to be a priority.

The Palmer Project will come online with the 35-megawatt Grazing Yak Project near Calhan. Combined with 10mw coming from the Clear Spring Ranch facility that sits on 156 acres adjacent to I-25, and the utility will generate 95mw of emission-free electricity by the end of 2019.

By 2023, CSU plans an additional 150mw to be installed at the Palmer Project sites.

“We will cross the 20 percent [of renewable energy generation] by 2023 or so.” Benyamin said.

That would be enough electricity to power over 75,000 homes.

The cost to CSU is spread over a 20-year contract, though the amount of the contract is “confidential.”

CSU is in a contract with Boulder-based juwi inc. (pronounced u-v) for construction and Duke Energy Renewable for maintenance of the area. Duke says, they’re also able to leverage tax incentives not available to a public utility.

“If a solar facility is working the way you want it to, you turn it on and it essentially just runs.” said Steve Ihnot, CFO for Juwi, “These can be unmanned facilities and can run for weeks and months at a time without anybody having to visit.”

Because of that, Ihnot says more than 90% of the cost is upfront, making it on par with wind energy and natural gas.

For CSU, those costs are spread out over the 20-year contract.

“Having price stability for the next 20 years, that’s something to be said about the volatility we see in the fossil fuel market,” said Benyamin. “So, that is a benefit that customers will see on the stability of that price for the next 20 years.”

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