Could Allam Cycle Be a Cleaner Solution for Colorado’s Electric Co-op Coal Plants?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan raised more questions than answers since the rule’s finalization in August 2015.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative that provides supplemental power to rural electric cooperatives in nine states, including Colorado, has an energy portfolio that includes coal, gas, oil, nuclear, distributed and renewable energy. With nationwide focus shifting toward renewable energy, Basin Electric’s leadership understands the cooperative must evolve to continue growing in a carbon-constrained world. One technology that is flashing economical carbon-reduction potential is the Allam Cycle.

The vision for the Allam Cycle consists of gasifying lignite coal to produce synthetic natural gas, which would then be used along with oxygen and carbon dioxide to drive a turbine generator.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-1-51-41-pm-copyThis working fluid is then cooled through a heat exchanger and water is separated from it to create a nearly-pure CO2 stream. The CO2 stream is pressurized and a majority of the flow is fed back to the combustor as the working fluid to begin the cycle again. The remaining part of the CO2 flow is collected and put into a pipeline without increasing the power plant’s cost of producing electricity.

The technology could provide Dakota Gasification Company another source of marketable CO2 to be used for enhanced oil recovery or other purposes, and provide Basin Electric a more efficient and CO2 emission-free way of generating electricity using lignite coal.

Jim Sheldon, Basin Electric senior research and design engineer, heads the cooperative’s Horizons Committee. The group is responsible for monitoring and disseminating information regarding major environmental issues and new technologies — one being the Allam Cycle.

“This cycle uses CO2 as the working fluid instead of water, which we currently use in our coal plants. The first advantage is the dramatic efficiency gain using CO2 since it stays in the vapor phase instead of changing from liquid to vapor and back,” Sheldon says.

“Secondly, the combustion products in this cycle can be sent directly to a turbine to generate electricity.”

To research further development of Allam Cycle technology and its use with lignite coal, Basin Electric; the Energy & Environmental Research Center; 8 Rivers and ALLETE, Inc., along with ALLETE subsidiaries BNI Coal and Minnesota Power, were granted $1.48 million toward the total $3.18 million one-year research project.

Basin Electric and ALLETE also committed to contributing matching funds and in-kind services supporting the work.

A first-of-a-kind plant using natural gas will start up in Texas in 2017, along with a more in-depth study using lignite to make synthetic natural gas in North Dakota. Basin Electric will monitor the technology’s development and participate in the North Dakota study.

“If the first-of-a-kind plants prove out the initial work, this technology could be an economical means of using coal in a CO2- and emissions-constrained future,” Sheldon says.

Community Solar Coming for West Slope Co-op

Delta-Montrose Electric Association, which serves Delta, Montrose and Gunnison counties, partnered with GRID Alternatives to develop a 150-kilowatt community solar array, specifically for members qualified as low-income. Once the project is complete, participants can take advantage of locally-produced solar power and experience long-term energy savings. Other benefits include energy efficiency and basic solar education, full support and paperwork assistance, and no maintenance or installation requirements for participants. On average, participants will save up to 50 percent on their bill.

Electric Co-op’s Solar Garden Creates a “Better Solution”

A crowd of employees, partners and members recently gathered for the Yampa Valley Electric Association Community Solar Farm Raising. The 145-kilowatt solar garden, made up of 558 panels, was made possible through the combined efforts of GRID Alternatives Colorado, the Colorado Energy Office and Yampa Valley Electric Association, with offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs. The three partners brought their unique resources together to create a solar garden that will provide renewable energy at a reduced cost to approximately 35 income-challenged YVEA households.

In this case, the output from the array goes to offset the electric consumption of YVEA members who are struggling financially. Those who benefit met specific qualifications and made a commitment to support the project by helping with installation or participating in some way.

After months of planning, construction and site work began August 2016. Rogue Enterprises prepared the site and contributed to reduce costs while teams from YVEA and GRID went to work on member outreach, sending letters to previously weatherized members in its territory and hosting two educational/qualifying workshops. Other teams reached out to potential corporate sponsors and volunteers.

The onsite work continued with racking and fencing and volunteers installing all components of the garden. September 9-11, GRID and YVEA hosted 45 members of the Women in Solar effort for a weekend of camping, networking, workforce development and long hours spent volunteering at the worksite.

It all came together on September 16 when YVEA employees spent the day lifting the final panels into place and installing the last of the micro-converters. YVEA hosted more than 100 people for a celebration luncheon including representatives from GRID and the Colorado Energy Office, Rep. Diane Mitch Busch, Greg Winkler, the regional manager for DOLA, along with members whose energy costs will be reduced.

“This solar project is a demonstration of what can be achieved when we believe answers to problems exist,” said YVEA President and General Manager Diane Johnson. “This project brought together people from all over the country who believed in a better solution: A solution that trains more skilled workers in the solar field. A solution that gives YVEA the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with solar by owning and maintaining a solar array, recognizing that the future holds diverse fuel choices and that it is our responsibility to understand and embrace various technologies on behalf of our members. And, a solution that helps to bridge what is sometimes a divide between solar advocates and electric utilities. Many “right” answers exist for the future of energy and we expect to embrace varied and innovative fuel choices, together.”

Solar Farm ‘Flips the Switch’ for Co-op Members

United Power, Inc., and Silicon Ranch Corporation announced that the largest co-op solar farm in the state of Colorado is now live and generating renewable energy for United Power members in northern Colorado.

The solar farm, approximately 4 miles east of Fort Lupton on Highway 52, occupies 90 acres and features a single-axis tracking system to allow 160,000 panels to follow the sun across its daily arc. The 13-megawatt project produces enough carbon-free electricity to help power more than 2,500 homes and businesses in Weld County.

The project itself is the result of an initiative by United Power to incorporate cost-effective renewable energy sources to complement its generation portfolio. United Power is the rural electric cooperative responsible for providing electric service to more than 78,000 meters representing more than 200,000 customers in Colorado’s northern Front Range. Under its agreement with Silicon Ranch, which will own and operate the facility, United Power will receive all the energy produced over a 20-year period. In July, the Smart Electric Power Alliance recognized United Power as one of the top 10 electric cooperatives in the country in all six solar categories evaluated. United Power was named as the number one co-op in annual megawatts.

“United Power is excited that this partnership with Silicon Ranch is allowing us to add clean, renewable energy to our power mix,” said Darryl Schriver, United Power CEO. “It illustrates how United Power is trying to strike a balance between traditional and renewable energy sources on our system. The project is also part of a concerted effort by the cooperative to diversify our power sources to provide more predictable power costs for our members today and into the future.”

Silicon Ranch President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Kisber said, “The leadership at United Power deserves tremendous credit for their vision and commitment to provide competitively-priced, renewable power to their membership. As long-term owners of our projects, we take great pride in being active members in the communities we serve and are excited about the economic and environmental benefits this solar farm has brought and will continue to bring to Fort Lupton and the surrounding region.”

McCarthy Building Companies was contracted by Silicon Ranch to build the facility and hired more than 100 workers, the vast majority of whom were hired locally, for the seven-month construction effort. McCarthy has an office in the Denver area and is one of the largest American-owned construction firms in the country.

“We have been fortunate to develop a number of meaningful relationships here in Colorado, not only with our partners at United Power, but also with Upstate Colorado Economic Development, the Weld County Board of County Commissioners, the Fort Lupton City Council, local city and county planning departments, and our local project partners,” Kisber said. “We celebrate the commissioning of this solar plant as a true group effort, and we are grateful for all who had a hand in making this facility possible.”

United Power and Silicon Ranch held a dedication ceremony at the solar farm on Monday, September 26. In attendance were local, regional, and state officials, representatives from the project team, and students from Fort Lupton High School, who received a special tour of the facility.

Small Hydro Pioneers Create Big Waves

In Western Colorado, there is a group of small-hydro pioneers working with their local electric cooperatives. These individuals re-contextualized a very old and well known concept and are truly transforming the regional and national opportunities for hydropower generation. To successfully develop a small hydro generating system it takes vision, persistence and risk. Three of these pioneers are members of San Miguel Power Association:

Project One: Owned by the city of Ouray and built off an abandoned 6-inch water line that ran through town, this hydro facility is the product of a visionary citizen and former mayor of Ouray, Bob Risch. Up against funding, engineering and construction challenges, Risch’s vision became a community-building, energy-harnessing, money-saving reality.

Project Two: The San Juan Historical Society Mayflower Mill hydro-plant in Silverton. In order to become a legally established generator, small hydro plants such as this one had to tackle onerous federal regulations originally developed for projects like the Hoover Dam. Usually, such regulations become deal breakers for such small systems. But because of the influence and persistence of Mayflower Mill developers like Beverly Rich and Kurt Johnson, federal regulations were drastically improved to make licensing for small hydro projects attainable. New regulations for this and other small hydro projects were established because of their persistence.

Project Three: Located in Nucla and single-handedly developed by Terry Boekhout, this hydro facility came to be despite the risky environment that shrouds nearly every aspect of hydro-electricity generation. Unknown project costs, elusive government and utility incentives, tricky National Electric Code requirements and the utility net metering policy were all obstacles in the development of this small-hydro facility. Boekhout was the glue that kept the construction of the project, including the penstock, the inlet and outlet, the generator house, the overall design of the site, and all the other unknowns, from flying out of control.

While the challenges are many, each project has been made possible through the efforts of these passionate individuals and the cooperation of their local electric cooperative. Each hydro project is vastly unique, but each is also driven by individuals who are willing to transcend the risk move ahead with their vision. This is the true mark of a pioneer.

New Community Solar Project Helps Income-Qualified Households

Households in Colorado with income less than 80 percent of the area median, also known as income-qualified households, may face utility bills up to 15 percent of their net household income, depending on the season, reports show. In comparison, non income-qualified households typically pay less than 4 percent for their utility bills.

To help alleviate a portion of this utility cost burden, Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy is partnering with GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office to implement an income-qualified community solar array project.

Currently underway at the Cooley-Mesa campus in the town of Gypsum is the construction of a 145 kilowatt solar photovoltaic array. The estimated cost of the array is $450,000. However, this cost will be reduced by a $205,000 grant awarded to the project. HCE will own, operate and maintain this array. When completed, the array will produce approximately 218,000 kWh/year of clean, environmentally friendly electric energy – enough to meet the needs of 18 to 20 local homes this year.

The project is designed to help establish monthly electric bill credits for eligible income-qualified households that receive service from the electric cooperative for a two-year participation period. On an annual basis, this program is expected to provide a 50 percent reduction in the participant’s electricity bill, resulting in tangible utility savings for income-qualified households.

All eligible participants receive, with no up-front cost, a pro rata share of the generation capacity of the solar array. This percentage is applied to the actual monthly production of the array. Their calculated kilowatt-hour production is then multiplied by a preset energy rate to determine the bill credit. Though bill credit amounts may exceed the actual amount due, a minimum electric bill will be paid monthly by each participant. Any excess bill credit amount will carry forward to the next month.

A unique feature of this project, intended to manage overall costs, is the community “barn-raising” approach for installing the array. There will be several volunteer day opportunities for qualified program participants, elected officials, HCE employees and board of directors, and others to roll up their sleeves and furnish some sweat equity for the benefit of the project.

GRID will be responsible for the administration, coordination and selection of the first group of income-qualified households to participate in the project.

Electric Co-op Adds Additional Solar Farm

A 130-acre solar farm three miles east of downtown Fort Lupton is now producing power. The project began in late 2014 after Brighton-based United Power initiated an effort to incorporate cost-effective renewable energy sources to help meet renewable energy goals.

Partnering with solar developer Silicon Ranch Corporation, Silicon Ranch will own and operate the solar farm, while United Power receives all the energy produced over a 20-year period.

The 13-megawatt farm is expected to produce about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year from approximately 150,000 solar panels – enough to power 3,100 homes. The solar field is a single axis tracker, which means that the panels follow the sun throughout the day. This generates about 25 percent more energy than a traditional fixed panel system.

“Not only does this solar field significantly contribute to United Power’s overall renewable generation portfolio,” said Jerry Marizza, new energy program coordinator at United Power. “But it also makes business sense by helping United Power stabilize future rates to all its members.”

The Fort Lupton solar site, along with other renewable projects, helps United Power meet its statutory legal requirements to have 20 percent of its generation produced with renewable energy. It also generates a margin for United Power which correspondingly helps all its members by stabilizing future rate increases.

Solar Facility Under Construction in Electric Co-op Territory

Another two-megawatts of solar energy is coming to Fort Collins, increasing Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association’s energy portfolio. Through a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Silicon Ranch Corporation, over 24,000 more solar panels will be added at the existing Skylark Solar Facility in Weld County.

“With the continuation of added load to our system and the competitive pricing large-scale solar projects offer, adding another source of renewable energy to our members’ local electric grid makes sense,” PVREA CEO Jeff Wadsworth explains.

Dubbed Skylark II, construction recently started and PVREA hopes to see these panels energized by the end of 2016.

Learn more about PVREA’s renewable energy projects at

Group Effort Generates New Solar Garden in Southwest Colorado

Josh Dellinger (foreground) and Clint Rapier measure the framework that will hold the solar panels.

Josh Dellinger (foreground) and Clint Rapier measure the framework that will hold the solar panels.

A collaborative effort between three renewable energy supporters made Empire Electric Association’s Solar Assist Cooperative Garden a reality. The story of the partnership between the Cortez-based electric co-op and GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit from California, started when GRID reached out to EEA through the Colorado Energy Office.

By February 2016 the agreement was in place between EEA and GRID and construction began. The arrays were completed in April, thus making EEA the first system in the state of Colorado to partner with the Colorado Energy Office and GRID.

GRID received $1.2 million in grant money from the Colorado Energy Office to partner with Colorado co-ops and bring community solar to low-income families. GRID made a proposal to EEA for the installation of the 70 solar photovoltaic panels that produces 21.35 kilowatts in these arrays. In addition, GRID promised to be on site to train and lead teams of community volunteers and job trainees installing the solar structure. Through this program, five to 10 qualifying EEA members will see a reduction on their electric bills depending on how much energy the arrays generate.

EEA General Manager Josh Dellinger said, “The board feels that projects like this that benefit our community are in the best interest of our members as a whole. EEA has a long history of donating to organizations with various needs in our community and is glad to support our members.”

The volunteer solar installers included three Empire Electric employees, including Dellinger, as well as Montezuma-Cortez High School senior students, potential solar subscribers, student trainees from the Navajo Technical University in New Mexico and residents from Cortez.

The preparation for the expansion was completed and ready for the volunteers to finish the project in two days. Upon arrival, the volunteers were issued a hard hat, safety glasses, work gloves and a reflective vest. GRID divided the community volunteers into work teams headed by a GRID team leader. The volunteers got to work and eagerly helped assemble the arrays.

Dellinger volunteered on the first work day, helping install the framework for the solar panels to rest on. Dellinger said it was great to see potential subscribers contributing to the project. “It was also good to see volunteers from the high school participate,” he said. “It is nice when people come together on a project that will benefit members of our community.”

Day two included a dismal forecast of rain and snow. The job for the day was to secure and connect solar panels to the gleaming double tracks that were installed the previous day. Panel cables were attached to the inverters and the panels were secured using special fasteners. Once the cables were attached, a light flashed on the inverter, completing the connection.

Cold, wet and job complete, the volunteers pose for a group photo.

Cold, wet and job complete, the volunteers pose for a group photo.

EEA system engineer Clint Rapier volunteered at the project and was impressed by the preparation GRID Alternatives made: the preassembled tool kits, personal protective equipment, safety plan, briefing and organization. “It was apparent GRID had done this before and had refined the process,” Rapier said.

“Volunteering brings a sense of pride when working on projects for our community,” said EEA communications specialist Denise Moore, who also volunteered on the project. “Even though it was cold and we were soaking wet, everyone was there to get the job done. Working with such positive people made the job go quickly, and it was an inspiration to be involved in this uplifting community project.

The Solar Assist Cooperative Garden is located on EEA’s property in Cortez where it is maintained by the cooperative. Members can lease solar panels for a 20-year period and receive credit for the power generated by their panel.

Green Power Program Still Benefiting Electric Co-op Members

Throughout the U.S., there is an increased demand to further develop sustainable and renewable clean energy sources such as solar power and wind energy to promote Green Power programs. Mountain View Electric Association, with offices in Limon and Falcon, started offering Green Power in 2000 at the cost of $2.50 per 100-kilowatt-hour block. Today, the cost is only 10 cents per 100 kWh block (in addition to the member’s base rate).

Co-op members who choose to participate in MVEA’s Green Power program are purchasing renewable energy credits, known as RECs, which are either purchased on the open market or from Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s own REC portfolio. Tri-State, MVEA’s power supplier, is dedicated to developing renewable sources of energy and incorporating them into its resource planning. Its commitment to ongoing development ensures Green Power is readily available to electric cooperative members.

Tri-State’s renewable energy projects in Colorado include wind farms, small solar farms and small hydropower projects. When members sign-up to participate in MVEA’s Green Power program, they are not only helping to fund these projects but also the creation and expansion of future renewable energy projects for future generations. Members who purchase RECs through MVEA’s Green Power program know that their money is going to support the continued development of renewable energy resources.

For the average residential consumer that uses 1,000 kilo-watt hours per month, opting in to MVEA’s Green Power program would be an additional investment of only $1 a month. For those wanting to contribute more or less, 100-kWh blocks may be purchased for 10 cents each.