Need for reasonable carbon-free/renewables transition: SMMPA CEO

There should be time for a reasonable transition when it comes to a utility’s move to a 100 percent carbon free or renewable energy portfolio, said Dave Geschwind, executive director and CEO of Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) on June 10 at the American Public Power Association’s 2019 National Conference in Austin, Texas.

“The message that we give to our regulators when we’re talking to them – in the state primarily – is that we need time for a reasonable transition, and be mindful that when you set a 100 percent carbon free goal, the cost of that last 20 percent could be very high, at least compared to what folks are ready to deal with right now,” Geschwind said.

“Also, the details matter,” he went on to say. “When people talk about going to 100 percent, or 80 percent carbon free or renewables, what specifically does that mean?”

Geschwind participated in a panel at the conference, “The 100% Renewables Bandwagon: Should You Jump On?” that was moderated by Paul Zummo, the Association’s Director of Policy Research and Analysis.

SMMPA is a not-for-profit joint-action agency that has 18 member-cities that it provides wholesale power and energy to in Minnesota.

Two SMMPA members are taking action when it comes to renewable/carbon goals. Rochester, Minn., has set a goal to attain 100% renewable energy by 2031, while Grand Marais is developing a plan to be carbon neutral by 2040.

SMMPA currently generates 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

In addition to owning six wind turbines, SMMPA purchases all power generated from a 100.5-megawatt wind farm through a power purchase agreement with EDF Renewable Energy and will begin purchasing an additional 100 MW beginning in January 2020.

In May 2016, SMMPA made its first investment in solar generation when it signed a 20-year agreement with Lemond Solar Center, LLC, to purchase all output from the 5-MW Lemond Solar Center.

Ways to achieve goals

During his remarks, Geschwind outlined for session attendees options for achieving renewable/carbon-free goals.

One option is what he said is on the “easy end” of the spectrum, namely the purchase of renewable energy credits.

A second option is to generate with renewables/carbon-free to achieve intended percentages, but also retain fossil generation, primarily for reliability.

The third option, which is “more of a difficult reach,” is generating with renewables/carbon-free on a 24 by 7 basis, “so basically real time there are no fossil resources on the system,” he said.

Minnesota has long pursued environmental goals

Geschwind noted that Minnesota has long pursued environmental goals. In 2007, the state enacted a renewable energy standard that currently sits at a 17 percent requirement, then moves to 20 percent in 2020 “and then for public power entities it’s 25 percent” in 2025.

‘However, with this most recent legislative session that just concluded, the focus seems to be shifting now from percentage of renewable targets to percentage of carbon free targets,” he said.

Geschwind noted that Minnesota is split politically, with the state House Democrat-controlled, while the Senate is controlled by Republicans. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is a Democrat.

Walz has called for the state to be 80% carbon-free by 2030 and 100% carbon-free by 2050.

“But for that divided government, we would probably be looking at a brand new requirement,” the SMMPA official noted.

DOE official notes “all of the above” strategy, highlights SMRs

Another speaker on the panel was Doug Little, Senior Advisor, Office of Electricity at the Department of Energy.

Little said that the DOE “is much in favor of an all of the above strategy. We do not believe the government – especially the federal government – should be picking winners and losers.”

At a later point, Little highlighted the benefits of small modular reactors (SMRs). Specifically, he noted that SMRs are zero-emitting and much less expensive to deploy than traditional nuclear reactors.

In addition, the DOE official noted that the components are all factory built and then shipped to the site and assembled at the site.

“I think the advantages are there in terms of flexibility and reliability and zero carbon,” Little said. There are “a lot of advantages to SMRs,” he said.  

NuScale Power is working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) on the nation’s first commercial small modular reactor project. Twelve small modular reactors will be installed in Idaho, each capable of delivering 60 megawatts of zero-emission energy. UAMPS plans to have the plant in operation by 2026.

UAMPS is a public power joint action agency that provides wholesale electricity to more than 40 community-owned electric utilities in the Intermountain West.