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Swerdfeger's Follies

  The Pueblo Chieftain has been running a number of articles making a case for Rep. Keith Swerdfeger and other Colorado politicians that, changes to the state's clean energy legislation are needed in order to fund the South Slope Pumped Storage plant, a billion dollar plus construction project beneficial to their districts.  With so much being taken at face value as they rush this bill through the legislature, it might be time to pause and take heed of the assumptions and "facts" put forth in these articles. The claims are not what they seem......

House Bill 11-1083: A "good investment" for Colorado utilities and ratepayers?

Rep. Swerdfeger's House Bill 11-1083 adds pumped storage plants to a Colorado Statute originally established to promote new clean and efficient energy generation technologies. The bill subsidizes the investment and operating costs of pumped storage plants by providing tax, regulatory and financial incentives to power companies, funded by Colorado ratepayers and taxpayers. State Sen. Kevin Grantham's stated goal for this bill is to "grease the skids" for construction of Mark Morley's South Slope Pumped Storage project in his district.

Pumped storage is neither new nor efficient technology.  Even Swerdfeger, Mark Morley the developer, and their experts are quick to point out that “It’s a well-proven technology" dating back to 1917 and one that has become very expensive to build and operate. With high upfront costs, extensive environmental impacts, heavy regulations, and an investment return of over 20 years, pumped storage is no longer a viable energy project model. By reclassifying this old technology as new, HB 11-1083 simply  shifts the losses of this billion dollar project onto Colorado taxpayers and ratepayers. That will allow the developers, landowners and the power companies to realize profits on its construction and on the energy it stores but it will not create any new generation sources nor will it result in new clean, efficient or renewable energy for Colorado.

Pumped storage does not produce electricity, it simply stores it for later use. In fact, pumped storage wastes over 25% of the energy it stores due to inherent inefficiencies, evaporation and other losses in the pumping process. Even with such massive waste, the power companies can still make a profit by storing energy at times when it is cheap, and then reselling it into the energy market at times when they are allowed to charge higher rates. Colorado ratepayers will see both peak and off-peak rates increase as we shoulder hundreds of millions in construction losses,  pay for electricity wasted during pumping, and subsidize their profits as TransCanada and other investors but and sell our subsidized power on open markets.


Pumped storage is essential to solar and wind energy development in Colorado?

Solar power does not require pumped storage. The US has sufficient pumped storage, even for aggressive growth in other intermittent sources like wind energy.

Conventional thinking is that pumped storage must be increased as intermittent energy sources like wind and solar increase, because they may not always be available at times of peak electricity demand. Like pumped storage technology itself, this thinking is outdated. New technologies being deployed for smart grids will be able to effectively balance both peak loads and intermittent sources, with out the massive energy waste and environmental footprint of pumped storage. These and other factors are evidenced in the US energy plans for both conventional and renewable energy. The Department of Energy projections call for zero growth of new pumped storage.

Solar energy is produced during the day at times of peak demand so no storage is needed. Wind energy may be available at times of high demand but may also be available off peak demand hours like at night. Excessive wind capacity will  addressed with existing pumped storage, and emerging technologies like responsive gas generators, smart grid load balancing and forecasting, and favorable regulation for interstate and even international power sharing.

The expected growth of plug-In electric vehicles provides an extremely efficient and flexible  means of dynamically balancing energy loads and demands. Electric vehicles are off the grid during peak power demand, running on batteries. They plug in and recharge off peak hours at night and on weekends. Smart meters and charging stations are being developed to also let electric car owners sell electricity stored in the batteries back to the grid if needed.

In  2008 alone, the US added 8,500 MW of wind power, over 20 times the 400MW storage capability proposed for South Slope project, without the need for any new energy storage. Denmark the world leader in wind energy production has eliminated the need for energy storage by dynamically balancing every power grid, load and demand within, and outside its electrical system.


Pumped storage plants reduce carbon emissions?

A study of energy storage systems built as part of the Netherlands' wind program found pumped storage generally ineffective and unprofitable. The  most significant finding of the Dutch study was that  wind generators combined with energy storage resulted in increased pollution and CO2 emissions because the storage proved optimal for storing power from cheap coal plants and using it as a substitute for cleaner more expensive gas during peak demand. What's more is that over 25% of the coal used in such pumping processes, is wasted energy due to the inherent losses with pumped storage.


While big energy utility market players like TransCanada may no longer be able to justify the cost of pumped storage plants, they will welcome their construction when the losses and operating costs are subsidized by Colorado ratepayers and taxpayers. Ushered in on the pretense of wind energy with HB 11-1083, pumped storage lets power companies generate electricity off-peak with cheap sources like coal and nuclear and then sell it later in open markets in and outside of Colorado, at much higher profits.


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