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Colorado Springs Utilities CEO details renewables strategy, battery benefits

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In a recent interview with the American Public Power Association, Aram Benyamin, the new CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, discussed the utility’s strategy related to renewable energy supplies and outlined how adding battery storage to its system is “going to give us a whole new view of what the world will look like 15, 20 years from now.”

(This story is the second of a two-part article based on an interview with Benyamin. The first article focused on Benyamin’s priorities for the public power utility from both an internal and an external perspective).

Renewable energy and battery storage

Colorado Springs Utilities has been actively adding renewable energy to its generation portfolio, in particular solar energy.

In July, the utility said that it had signed agreements with developers for two utility-scale solar projects that will total 95 megawatts.

More recently, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board in September approved an additional 150 megawatts of solar generation plus battery storage to its system by 2024.

The move will bring Springs Utilities’ carbon-free energy mix to more than 20 percent by 2024, the public power utility said on Sept. 20.

During the interview, Benyamin was asked to describe the current landscape for renewable energy and whether solar is more attractive to Colorado Springs Utilities when compared with other renewables such as wind power.

“We are basically neutral on technology when it comes to renewables,” he noted. “What’s important for us is that we have a diversity of generating resources in our portfolio at various locations.”

Benyamin said that when Colorado Springs Utilities conducts evaluations on renewable energy sources, “we’re looking at geographic diversity and a mixture between solar and wind,” given that the two renewable energy sources are good for different parts of the day.

“From a technical perspective, we are evaluating how we can add renewables in a way that minimizes costs for our customers while maintaining our high level of reliability.”

Benyamin noted that renewable energy costs have plummeted, with solar and wind offering attractive pricing these days.

The challenge with these renewable sources is that “we need to have a resource that is dispatchable to balance the system.”

Batteries are becoming a more attractive option to reliably bridge the gap between renewables and dispatchability, Benyamin went on to say. He relays that battery technology is better today than it was five years ago.

“Having a battery in your mix right now might be a very good thing. Utilities need to start discovering the gaps between the workforce of today and that of the future. Our workforce development needs to keep up with technology.”

He said that having a battery is “going to give us a whole new view of what the world will look like 15, 20 years from now. Storage will be part of our system balance. We need to know how to best to optimize, dispatch and maintain these resources while safely integrating them into our system.”  

Electric vehicles

Meanwhile, Benyamin discussed the utility’s EV strategy. “We want to be ahead of the curve from an infrastructure perspective. We are evaluating our distribution system so that we are prepared for a greater penetration of electric vehicles.”

 “We want to ensure we have enough bandwidth for us to carry the charging load and ensure our system is reliable as we move forward with this technology,” he went on to say.

Benyamin said that Colorado Springs Utilities is partnering with auto dealerships to provide educational materials to EV customers. “When a customer comes in to buy a Leaf, for example,” the utility provides a packet of educational materials.

From a regional perspective, several western states including Colorado have entered into a regional collaboration related to EV corridors, he noted. The idea is to make sure that there are fast charging stations along major transportation arteries “where people can stop and charge in ten minutes and then keep on going for another 200 miles. These efforts will help reduce range anxiety for those traveling between states.”

Benyamin on Oct. 2 was formally sworn in as CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. He succeeds Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO of the utility. The CEO position was offered Sept. 17, 2018, to Benyamin, who previously served as general manager of Springs Utilities’ Energy Supply Department, after a unanimous vote by the board of the utility. 

Before coming to Colorado Springs Utilities, Benyamin spent about 35 years with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, serving as senior assistant general manager of the public power utility’s power system. There, he oversaw about 4,000 employees and an annual budget of $3.9 billion.

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