Routt County GOP: Colorado, we have a problem — reliable energy delivery

Heather DeVos
Routt County GOP

Going back to the Apollo 13 mission, the phrase “Houston, we have a problem” has been used to describe the emergence of an unforeseen potential catastrophe. In Colorado, indeed the whole United States, such a problem is real and immediate. The delivery of electricity will experience supply interruptions if coal plants are shut down, resulting in no reliable base load generation of electricity, and no reliable technology to replace them.

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a power plant rule in 2024 that will cripple America’s electric generation, and usher in a new era of energy scarcity. The rule requires existing coal plants and natural gas plants to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by using “carbon capture” technology starting in 2032. The new standards will be impossible for utilities to meet, and will result in significantly higher consumer utility bills.

The Energy Information Administration expects all coal plants (including our own Hayden and Craig coal units) to shut down by 2032 under the irresponsible ruling. And meantime, the rule has already frozen investment in combined-cycle natural gas plants that are critical to our country’s reliable power grid delivery infrastructure. With coal eliminated (mind you, we have over 300 years of coal supplies per EIA, much of which we are shipping to China) and new natural gas plants becoming extinct, relying on intermittent solar and wind will mean intermittent power supply. The truth is “renewable” resources are not considered reliable base load since solar and wind can go near zero without sun or wind. Do you want four hours of electricity a day?

The Hayden and Craig coal fired generators, equaling 1,726 megawatts (1 MW of coal generation provides instantaneous supply to 750 homes), are already scheduled for closure between 2025 and 2028, to satisfy Colorado legislation (SB 19-236). The EPA proposed power plant rule would guarantee these closures, even though there are no power plants in existence that can replace the shuttered units. Of the more than 3,000 coal power plants in North America, exactly two of them — one in Saskatchewan and another in Texas — have generating units that currently use carbon capture and storage on a commercial scale. Both units capture far less than 90% of their emissions (the EPA requirement), and do so at enormous cost to the consumer.

So, what other options are being touted as alternatives to reliable coal generation? Let’s start with battery storage. Do batteries make intermittent solar and wind reliable? Bottom line is … no. Battery storage is expensive and can only provide limited capacity. The National Renewable Energy Lab stated, “For example, a battery with 1 MW of power capacity and 4 megawatt-hours (MWh) of usable energy capacity, will have a storage duration of four hours.” Also, batteries catch on fire with serious human health risk.

Batteries have been positioned to meet a false narrative as a climate savior versus the reality of their harm and inefficiency. Think about it, the child labor used in gathering nasty metals, the subsequent manufacturing processes and shipment of battery energy storage systems is far more harmful than a coal plant ever will be, and coal-fired generation is already here.

Recently, Xcel announced a demonstration-scale, 10 MW (1,000 MWh) iron-air battery system to be installed on five acres of land in Becker, Minnesota. Five acres for 10 MW? The batteries for this project are inefficient, expensive and of limited use. Iron-air batteries have a round trip production efficiency of only 35-38%, meaning for every 2.63 MWh of electricity sent to the battery, it will be able to discharge one MWh. Furthermore, while the industry claims the facilities can last for 20 years, they also mentioned the battery cells would need to be replaced after just 10 years. Coal plants last an average of 30-plus years with routine maintenance and can be easily retrofitted without significant cost to consumers.

What about pumped-storage? Pumped storage hydropower technology generates power through the movement of water between two reservoirs — one at a higher elevation than the other — and essentially acts as a battery. When energy supply exceeds demand across the local grid, the excess power is used to move water from the lower to the upper reservoir. Conversely, when the grid’s supply falls short of demand, the system funnels the water down through turbine generators, which produce energy to fill the gaps in supply. The $1.5-2 billion (and counting) proposed project southeast of Craig would take about five to six years to complete, and would be capable of producing only 600 MW of power over eight hours. What happens after eight hours and the grid is still short of supply? Better have your iPhones and computers charged.

Xcel Energy is proposing the creation of a 19 MW biomass plant at the Hayden Generating Station — 19 MW instead of the 230 MW currently supplied is completely inefficient and costly to the consumer. Where will the lost 211 megawatts come from? Biomass power plants emit more carbon dioxide from their smokestacks than the coal plants they intend to replace. A statement from John Sterman, an expert on complex systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states, “Because the combustion and processing efficiencies for wood are less than coal, the immediate impact of substituting wood for coal is an increase in atmospheric CO 2 relative to coal. This means that every megawatt-hour of electricity generated from wood produces more CO 2  than if the power station had remained coal-fired.”

How about green hydrogen? According to energy experts, converting clean energy into hydrogen to generate more electricity is, in most cases, a bad idea. The main concern for green hydrogen is that the process will end up wasting enormous amounts of clean power. The fundamental problem lies in the laws of physics. Between 50-80% of the energy value of clean electricity is lost in the process of making hydrogen and then burning it to generate electricity. Some of those losses occur in the electrolysis process, which is roughly 70-75% efficient.

But the lion’s share of losses come in burning hydrogen to spin a generator, a process that at best is roughly 64% efficient using the latest combined-cycle gas turbines, and can drop to 35-42% efficiency in older combustion turbines. According to one of the preeminent experts on clean energy systems, Michael Liebreich, chair of Liebreich Associates, hydrogen has other problems. It is difficult to store, because it passes through metal damaging the crystal and grain microstructure. Further, the explosive range of hydrogen in air is significantly greater than that of natural gas. Remember the Hindenburg?

So, Houston, we certainly have a problem caused by our fixation on reducing “greenhouse gas” emissions (the benign carbon dioxide molecules responsible for all plant and animal life) that have existed harmlessly for eons, and currently comprises 0.4 of 1 percent of atmosphere. The proposed cure is far worse than the fictitious ailment. We must warn the public, and insist that our political leaders repeal the egregious carbon dioxide banning legislation, thereby saving our reliable electrical energy delivery system.

Heather DeVos is the chair of the Routt County Republican Central Committee. For more, go to

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