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DIVERSE PORTFOLIO: City Utilities officials say a variety of electricity sources limits its reliance on more unreliable sources like solar and wind power.
SBJ graphic by Cynthia Reeves
DIVERSE PORTFOLIO: City Utilities officials say a variety of electricity sources limits its reliance on more unreliable sources like solar and wind power.

CU satisfied with renewable energy goal

Posted online

Growing alongside national trends, City Utilities of Springfield has been increasing its use of renewable energy.

As of 2020, 45% of CU’s electricity comes from renewable sources, with 84% of that generated by wind, 14% by hydro and 1% each from solar and landfill gas. Of the remaining energy segments, 23% is produced by coal, 3% by natural gas and 29% is market purchases.

By late 2018, CU had increased wind production 21% with a target of reaching 40% renewables by 2019.

The U.S. wind industry had its strongest year yet in 2020 with the majority of growth taking place in the fourth quarter, according to the American Clean Power Association’s fourth quarter 2020 market report. In the quarter, 10,593 megawatts of new wind power capacity were installed – the highest quarter on record – for a nationwide total of 122,468 megawatts of operating wind power. Missouri has 1,987 MW of wind power capacity, according to the report.

On the breeze
Cara Shaefer, CU’s director of communications and energy services, said CU utilizes wind power because it’s readily available in the Midwest.

“Overall, in the whole Midwest section from Oklahoma up to the Canada border – it’s just a vast resource of wind, and because of us being situated in the Southwest Power Pool, and since all of that energy is produced within those borders, that allows us to take advantage of the wind farms that are being developed and that wind energy,” she said.

Little Rock, Arkansas-based nonprofit SPP works with customers across 14 states, including CU and other municipalities, vertically integrated utility companies and cooperatives. According to SPP data, 27% of the SPP’s energy production as of January 2020 was provided by wind, with other renewables making up about 13% of total renewable energy.

Since 2009, CU has been purchasing 50 MW of electricity from the Smoky Hills Wind Farm near Salina, Kansas, and in 2016 CU began receiving 200 MW of purchased wind energy from a wind farm in northern Oklahoma operated by Duke Energy Renewables. Agreement terms list the cost for CU at about $17 per megawatt hour with an estimated annual cost of $12.5 million, according to past reporting.

In 2018, CU signed a 20-year contract with SPP member Diamond Vista wind farm, also near Salina, for 100 megawatts, or 197,000 MWh. According to CU’s proposed 2021 fiscal budget, the Diamond Vista deal is estimated to deliver 370,000 MWh in fiscal 2021.

As the U.S. wind industry expands, Shaefer said CU is holding steady with its use of renewable energies, including wind. The company’s most recent Integrated Resource Plan – used to determine the best mix of power generation resources – does not include expansion of renewable energy, but Shaefer said CU is always looking for opportunities to expand.

Pros and cons
The difficulty of utilizing and expanding renewable energy comes down to the reliability of where the power comes from – sunshine and wind.

“They’re not a source of power that you can turn on and off,” Shaefer said. “You have to take the wind energy when the wind turbines are turning. You have to take the solar when the sun is shining, and then be prepared for cloud cover that comes in and changes that.”

Having a mixture of energy sources is important for a utility company, Shaefer said, to keep up with demand from customers in case one source or another does not produce enough.

Although having a mixed portfolio helps, it won’t solve every issue when outside factors increase demand or lower supply.

CU, along with other utility companies in the region, struggled to keep up with energy demand and decreased supply during record-low temperatures in February, causing rolling blackouts and natural gas curtailment in Springfield and worse outcomes in other areas.

“That affected coal plants, natural gas plants and they even had to shut down some of the wind turbines because of ice on the blades,” Shaefer said. “It does take a balanced portfolio, and I think that’s what really got us through it – to have the different types of generating units. But in this event, all of them were impacted.”

Natural gas market prices rose from $3 per dekatherm to almost $400 per dekatherm, causing CU to spend an unanticipated $40 million on natural gas in February.

Battery technology for renewable energy is behind as well, Shaefer said. Storage capacity limits mean sometimes more energy can be produced than can be utilized.

“As battery storage is more fully developed, that will give us more opportunity to take advantage of renewable resources, so that you can store the energy when it’s being produced which is not always when customers are needing that energy,” Shaefer said.

“Most wind energy, unfortunately, comes at night when the demand on our system is very low.”

Shaefer said as battery technology improves, CU will look into utilizing the improvements for its renewable energy producers.

Along with reducing carbon emissions, utilizing renewable energy provides a financial benefit for the company and customers.

Sources like wind cost less to produce than traditional energy sources like coal, Shaefer said. The 2018 wind contract with Diamond Vista provided wind-generated energy for less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour, Shaefer said.

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