Proceed Thoughtfully on 100 Percent Renewables

There have been several news stories recently about a group pushing the Fort Collins City Council to adopt a resolution supporting 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Though interesting, maybe even desirable to many people, it is not a good idea in the short-term.

The following is a message I sent to the Fort Collins City Council on the issue, which they are discussing at tonight’s City Council Work Session.

Mayor Troxell, Mayor Pro Tem Horak, and Council Members Overbeck, Martinez, Summers, Stephens, and Cunniff,

Prior to your discussion tonight about climate action and renewable energy, I wanted to provide a few thoughts.

The issue of 100 percent renewable energy sounds attractive. However, it is a very complex and nuanced idea with big consequences, some obvious and others less so. Traditionally, you are a thoughtful group and here’s hoping you take that approach with this issue.

First, intermittent renewable energy sources are highly unreliable and much more costly than traditional fuel sources. Some may argue that last point, but at this time renewables are only competitive because they are highly subsidized.

Places that have made the political decision to go 100 percent intermittent renewables (without also considering economic consequences) are plagued with high electricity rates and unreliability. This is not good for residents or businesses. Dramatically higher electric rates due to intermittent renewables come with significant social and human costs as more people live in energy poverty. This is an issue that needs much more study before charging down this path.

Second, please be thoughtful about what messages you are sending to the employer community. Primary employers, manufacturers in particular, depend on affordable and reliable electricity. When electricity generation decisions become political (instead of economic) employers wonder if local government will be a reliable partner in the future. This can adversely impact capital investments and the jobs that go with them.

Third, let Platte River Power Authority do its job. PRPA has the professional responsibility for providing its community-owners, and subsequently their residents and businesses, with electricity that is affordable, reliable, and produced cleanly. It’s a three-part mission. Putting an arbitrary political requirement of 100 percent renewables on them undermines two parts of that mission. I heard recently that PRPA is planning to update its integrated supply plan. Let this conversation play out there.

Finally, we believe intermittent renewal energy should be in our region’s portfolio. Further, we believe the share of renewables can be grown over time as technology advances, especially battery storage. However, it would not be prudent public policy to depend on 100 percent intermittent renewal sources anytime in the foreseeable future. Nor, is it prudent to signal to employers policy uncertainty about electricity rates and reliability.

Thank you for your time and your leadership,

David May
President & CEO
Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce