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Energy & Environment Outlook: Doug Colvin

Nixa Utilities and Nixa Public Works Director

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Doug Colvin keeps his ear to the ground so Nixa stays up to date on all things energy. He rubs shoulders with colleagues at City Utilities of Springfield, through which his municipality buys 80 percent of its power. In 2018, Nixa celebrated the first anniversary of its 72-acre, 7.9-megawatt solar farm, reportedly the largest in the state.

2019 Projection: Batteries will become more mainstream in storing renewable energy power, so even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, there will be less reliance on coal.

SBJ: How would you describe the current state of the industry?
Colvin: The energy industry and the environmental side is in a constant state of change right now. We’ve got this ever-increasing move toward more renewable power, whether that be solar or wind. It’s resulted in new industries, such as battery storage, like Springfield is currently working with NorthStar Battery. Every day, as with technology, a better mousetrap comes out and people start testing things. It’s changed how the industry operates. When you start getting into battery storage or wind power, it affects not only us regionally but the national grid in how power gets moved. The ripple of that has a lot to do with policy and regulation.

Aging infrastructure, that’s also a big key in the changing state of what’s going on right now. You hear a lot about coal and coal plants being shut down because of the environmental factor. What people don’t realize is a lot of coal plants and nuclear plants are becoming mothballed, because they’re just flat getting old and they’re too expensive to repair based on the price of energy. You can go out and spend a lot less money and put up a bunch of wind turbines.

SBJ: Do you see an end in sight for coal power?
Colvin: I don’t for a long time. One of these days we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to figure out how to burn coal without hurting the environment at a cost we can all afford – which, boy, that’s a huge mouthful because who knows if that’ll ever happen. Eventually, coal’s probably going to go away. It just takes too much to get that air cleaned up, to get that exhaust cleaned up.

SBJ: Is pricing for renewables becoming more affordable?
Colvin: Oh, yes, definitely. Believe it or not, there is so much wind power in the middle of the country right now that it’s really driving market prices – as much as natural gas is. The technology and the manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels has become much more efficient because there’s so much of it out there.

SBJ: What are some of the moments or trends that will carry over into next year?
Colvin: The (Environmental Protection Agency) backed off of some of the regulatory things that were put in during the Obama administration. That loosened the belts, although I think a lot of those coal generators are still moving toward mothballing because it’s just not cost-effective. We saw more inclusion of battery storage in 2018 than we’ve ever seen in the past. That’s going to affect a lot of change in the coming year to 20 years out. We’re even going to see policy change at the federal level because we’re going to have to incorporate how that gets worked into the transmission grid.

SBJ: Is battery power the next trend in renewables?
Colvin: In effect, it is. Here in Nixa, as you can imagine, 60 percent of our workforce travels to Springfield to work every day. During the day, our electric usage is pretty short. About 6 o’clock after everybody’s home, we really spike power. That’s when we see our peak. The solar farm, it actually peaks at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Those peaks don’t line up. If I had several megawatts worth of battery storage sitting here, and during the day, that solar power was building up those batteries and then I released those at 6 o’clock, that drives my costs down. It’s a short-term version of a generator. That’s one of the hot-coming things.

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