El Paso Electric’s Future Power Plants and the Challenge of Carbon-free Energy
El Paso Electric’s controversial Newman 6 natural gas power plant is set to start running in December. However, this is unlikely to be the utility company’s last fossil fuel-based plant as El Paso Electric plans to add four more gas-fired power plant units by 2040, according to regulatory filings.
The Conflict with Carbon-free Goals
Adding natural gas turbines in the future will make it difficult for El Paso Electric to achieve its goal of generating 100% carbon-free power by 2050, according to researchers with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Aaron Shwartz and Caitlin Odom from RMI stated that adding new natural gas generators today is a losing bet from a climate perspective, let alone 15 years from now.
El Paso Electric’s Perspective
El Paso Electric officials, however, argue that natural gas turbines are the most cost-effective solution to meet the increasing power demand in the region. The utility acknowledges the climate-related goals to cut carbon emissions but states that advancements in technologies are necessary to provide reliable and economic electric service to customers.
The Strategy for Transition
El Paso Electric’s overarching strategy is to replace its aging power plant units with different energy sources. These sources include solar farms, batteries, and gas-fired combustion turbines. The utility plans to generate 80% carbon-free power by 2035 and eventually reach 100% carbon-free by 2050.
The Newman 6 Plant
The Newman 6 plant, with a capacity of 228 megawatts, is expected to cost around $200 million. It will contribute to El Paso Electric’s clean energy goals but will not be able to meet the entire target.
Increasing Solar Power
El Paso Electric has been investing in solar power. The utility currently sources around 47% of its power from zero-carbon sources, including the Palo Verde nuclear plant and solar panels. El Paso Electric plans to add more solar farms, with a 120-megawatt solar farm near Chaparral already supplying power. Other solar farms are under development in Santa Teresa, Luna and Doña Ana counties, and Fabens.
The Challenge with Solar Power
One challenge with solar power is that it is not available during peak demand hours in the evening. To address this, El Paso Electric must rely on quick-start natural gas turbines. The utility believes that there is a limit to how much solar power can be added before the contribution becomes too slim to justify further investments.
Integrating Battery Storage
To solve the mismatch between solar power availability and peak demand, El Paso Electric is developing big battery arrays. These batteries can store excess power generated by solar panels during the day and discharge it when needed. However, El Paso Electric states that storing energy in batteries is still more expensive than running gas-fired power plants.
The Role of Tax Incentives
Tax incentives provided by the federal Inflation Reduction Act are expected to lower the cost of batteries and other carbon-free resources in the future. This will make gas-fired power plants less competitive as cleaner and cheaper resources become more accessible.
The Potential of Hydrogen
El Paso Electric’s clean energy goals also involve exploring the use of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas. Hydrogen combustion produces water vapor instead of carbon dioxide. However, there are no firm plans yet to fuel the gas-fired turbines with hydrogen.
El Paso Electric faces the challenge of balancing its increasing power demand with its carbon-free goals. While natural gas turbines currently offer a cost-effective solution, the utility is investing in solar power and exploring the potential of hydrogen as a cleaner alternative. With advancements in technology and the support of tax incentives, El Paso Electric aims to transition to a more sustainable energy future.
Read More of this Story at elpasomatters.org – 2023-10-06 18:00:00
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