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Wednesday August 21st 2019

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That's what she said

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Leslie Glustrom is Trying to Save the World—and She May Just Succeed


Leslie Glustrom was trained as a biochemist. But in 2004 she quit her job running a research lab in the CU biochemistry department and decided to devote herself to fighting climate change. “What would I do and how quickly would I act if my house were burning down with my children inside?” she said she asked herself. “Climate change is actually worse, because houses can be rebuilt and, as devastating as it would be to lose your children, there are other children in the world. But we know of no other planet that supports life.”

Among her climate action endeavors, Leslie is a member of the Decarbonization Tech Team appointed by the City of Boulder. At a PLAN-Boulder County forum on April 26 Leslie and the Decarbonization Tech Team called for Boulder to become a laboratory to demonstrate the feasibility of implementing an accelerated decarbonization regime undertaken in relatively small steps. “We know the carbon-free technologies are ready to be developed in Colorado and that they are likely to be cost-competitive,” she said. “Now we need a community such as Boulder to pioneer an effort to move as quickly as possible to a very high level of renewable energy.”

More specifically, the Decarbonization Tech Team is advocating a goal of a 30 percent increase by 2012 in the production of energy used in the City that is generated from renewable energy and an effort to reach 80 to 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Boulder’s peak energy use is approximately 300 megawatts (“MW”)—about four and a half percent of Xcel’s peak demand of 6,566 MW. (A megawatt is enough electricity to fulfill the demands of about 750 dwelling units.) The stepwise decarbonization program proposed by the Tech Team could be accomplished by a ten percent increase (about 30 MW of capacity) each year in renewable energy production to serve Boulder. After each increase, the impacts on rate-payers would be assessed, and any issues would be identified and resolved before the next one.

Leslie pointed out that preliminary calculations indicate that decarbonizing 30 percent of Boulder’s electricity would enable the City to meet approximately 78 percent of its Kyoto Goal. The remaining 22 percent could be reached and exceeded through the City’s Climate Action Plan.

Leslie asserted that increasing the use of renewable energy sources would be feasible and likely to help lower future costs of producing electricity in a carbon-constrained world. She recounted that in April, 2009, Xcel requested proposals for renewable energy projects that could be implemented in the next five years. It received proposals for over 10,000 MW of wind energy, over 3,000 MW of solar energy, and 1,000 MW of biomass and other renewable energy sources. In comparison, Xcel’s peak electrical production in 2009 (including a 16 percent reserve margin) was 7,617 MW.

Leslie also claimed that the National Renewable Energy Lab, in conjunction with the Governor’s Energy Office, has estimated that over 96 gigawatts (“GW”) could potentially be produced from relatively accessible wind energy sites in Colorado, as well as 200 GW from relatively accessible solar energy sites. (A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts). In contrast, present peak electricity demand in Colorado is below 12 GW.

Leslie divulged that Dr. David Mills, an energy expert in California, has calculated that 90 percent of the electricity needs of the 48 contiguous states  could be supplied by Concentrating Solar Power systems using current thermal storage technology and an area of land 100 miles by 100 miles.

According to Leslie, there are a growing number of signs that the cost of electricity from renewable resources is competitive with fossil fuels and likely to fall further in future years. For example, she noted that in recently agreeing to a new state mandate that 30 percent of electricity it produces by 2020 be generated by renewable sources, Xcel  indicated that it expected to be able to meet the new mandate with the same two percent rate impact that it had been using to meeting the existing 20 percent-by-2020 standard. Similarly, a study conducted by Xcel in August, 2009, concluded that the incremental costs of wind and solar energy will help reduce system costs as we move into a carbon-constrained world.

In contrast, coal costs have been increasing much more rapidly that Xcel anticipated, rising over 10 percent a year since 2005. Xcel has received three rate increases since 2006 to recover the burgeoning costs of its fossil fuel system. Xcel recently predicted that coal costs would increase by 25 percent in 2010. Leslie remarked that Americans are just beginning to understand the implications of the fact that coal is a non-renewable resource and that less than 20 percent of America’s coal supply is “economically accessible.”

If the City of Boulder and Xcel implement the stepwise decarbonization program proposed by Leslie and the Decarbonization TechTeam, and if that program is then replicated around the United States, and if it is then replicated in the other developed and developing nations of the world, climate change would probably be curtailed. Those are big “ifs,” (particularly the second and third ones), but they could be achieved.

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