[Editor's Note: Peter Burrows' comments are posted in Libertarian Leanings on this site under columns.]
By Steve Fischmann, Democratic Candidate for PRC District 5
One of the great frustrations as a candidate for public office is dealing with folks who hear what they want to hear, no matter what you actually say.
Such is the case with Peter Burrows May 18 column. In his zeal to paint me as an eco-nut, he has repeatedly misrepresented what I said at a recent PRC candidate forum. He leaps to conclusions about energy storage and renewables with little understanding of electrical grid operation and economics.
First the misstatements.
Burrows claims I said storage is cheaper than natural gas generation. No. I said wind or solar generation paired with storage is cheaper than gas generation. One need only look at recent projects at Tucson Electric and hundreds of bids in Colorado to prove my point.
Burrows claims I misrepresented a “large-scale” behind the meter battery project in New Hampshire. I did not. I did say that both Vermont and New Hampshire had successful projects they are planning to expand.
He claims I said Austin Energy sells power to CPS San Antonio and falsely claimed cheap energy and 50% renewables for both. I did not. I did say Austin Energy was at 50% renewables. I was slightly off. They will be at 50% by 2020. Burrows claims PNM energy is as cheap as Austin’s and CPS. This ignores PNM fuel charges which add 25% to their bills, and the fact that 10% of Austin Electric and CPS revenues fund Austin and San Antonio municipal government.
Readers can view a recording of the forum online at the Daily Press Facebook page and judge the accuracy of Burrows’ statements for themselves.
Burrows has relented on one misstatement. In a correction to his original article, he admits that he overstated bids on renewable energy plus storage by a factor of ten. Then he concocts a horrifically misleading estimate of storage costs to claim his original premise that storage is not practical still holds.
This is what readers and Mr. Burrows need to understand about energy storage before making any assumptions about its value and potential use.
1. It serves multiple purposes. It can substantially reduce investment in transmission and distribution lines and substations. It can provide backup power and system reliability. It can provide frequency and voltage regulation, and it can reduce the need for expensive peak power.
2. You do not need 8-10 hour of storage to support renewables. Typically, only 2-4 hours of storage capacity is needed to extend solar power use to meet peak power needs on hot summer afternoons.
3. When you combine wind (typically evening and nighttime energy), solar (Daytime energy), storage, and purchased energy from other time zones, you have the ability to cover electricity demand for substantial portions of the day.
4. Peak energy for hot summer afternoons typically costs 5-10 times as much to produce and deliver as non-peak energy. Offsetting peak energy needs is where storage becomes particularly useful at today’s costs. Comparing storage to average energy costs ignores its usefulness in reducing much higher peak energy costs.
5. Energy storage, like solar energy, is scalable. You can install it one megawatt at a time. Building cost-effective fossil fuel plants and transmission lines often requires investments in 50 or 100 megawatts of capacity that goes underutilized for decades. Scalability is a huge cost advantage.
6. The cost of renewables and storage is falling so fast, and the reliability of battery technologies is improving so rapidly that you can toss past assumptions out the window.
7. It is saving consumers money in diverse applications from California to Arizona, the Carolinas, New England and New York.
Given that recent renewables plus storage quotes are roughly half the cost of the most efficient natural gas plants, I believe ratepayers should be demanding careful evaluation of these projects by utilities and the PRC.
General statements that storage has arrived or not arrived serve no purpose. The point is that storage is proving its usefulness in enough situations that it cannot be ignored. As your Public Regulation Commissioner, I will do the math correctly, I will examine investments with full knowledge of all the factors at play. And I will ensure consumers get the cleanest, most reliable, and most affordable energy possible.