by Jacy Marmaduke, Coloradoan
Colorado State University officials are wading through about 75 proposed projects to help the school reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
The university received bids from 27 companies, some of which proposed multiple projects, CSU energy engineer Carol Dollard said.
“We got a lot more responses than we thought we would,” she said. “It was, frankly, a little overwhelming.”
CSU President Tony Frank signed a Climate Reality Project renewable energy pledge in January 2017 following a student- and faculty-driven effort that included more than 4,300 petition signatures. The university put out a request for proposals later in 2017.
A team of CSU officials and community members is now reviewing the bids, which include solar and wind projects, Dollard said. Details on the bids are scant as the review process continues, but Dollard said the team hopes to have “more clarity” in March.
“We’re in the process of figuring out how to make it work,” she said. “It’s messy and complicated.”
The process is complicated for a few reasons, Dollard said. For one, Colorado lacks “retail choice” for electricity, which means electricity users can’t pick and choose among different providers. CSU, a land grant university, touches the boundaries of 19 electric utilities throughout the state and must work with each to coordinate deliveries of electricity.
About 85 percent of CSU’s electricity load comes from Platte River Power Authority via Fort Collins Utilities, 10 percent comes through Xcel and the remaining portion is split among 17 smaller providers throughout the state, Dollard said.
Fort Collins Utilities has been “very responsive” to CSU’s renewable electricity efforts, Dollard said.
The city of Fort Collins is working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and Platte River Power Authority recently sealed the deal on a 150-megawatt wind farm that could make Fort Collins electricity nearly 50 percent renewable.
The university also hopes to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
CSU’s electricity resource mix is near-identical to that of Platte River Power Authority: roughly two-thirds coal, 19 percent hydropower, and about 13 percent wind and solar.
CSU’s planned pivot to renewables will influence greenhouse gas emissions in Larimer County, where the university is the fifth-largest polluter. About half of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions came from electricity, according to university data.
The switch to renewable energy is also expected to lower electricity costs for the university, which are projected to more than double in the next two decades. Electricity costs currently total $12 million but are projected to jump to $30 million by 2037.
Officials aren’t interested in pursuing a renewable energy path paved by renewable energy certificates, Dollard said. Renewable energy certificates (RECs) are tradable credits that allow an entity to legally claim the “green” benefits of renewable energy without necessarily using that energy.
“It’s sort of an accounting way to say, ‘I helped a wind farm get built in Texas even though my university is in Boston,’” Dollard said. “I don’t want to argue with that, but that was not our goal. We’re not supporting (renewable energy resources) that can’t physically get here.”
That conviction makes CSU’s goal more complicated. CSU is one of the first large American universities to pursue 100 percent renewable energy without RECs.
“There are other institutions of higher education and green-minded corporate consumers behind us, cheering and saying, ‘OK CSU, you figure that out and we’ll be right behind you,’” Dollard said, laughing.
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