Electricity

All too many people think that electricity comes out of two holes in the wall. Few people realize that about half of the nation’s electricity is generated in coal-fired power plants. Still fewer realize that the United States is the world’s largest generator of electricity from nuclear power plants. Although Colorado generated electricity from nuclear energy for about thirteen years, that plant now generates electricity with natural gas to create the steam.

Coal – Colorado gets most of its electricity from coal-powered plants and, of necessity, will continue to do so for a long time into the future. Fortunately, Colorado has an abundant supply of clean coal.

Natural gas – Natural gas is the second leading fuel source for power plants in Colorado. It is considered to be a cleaner-burning fuel and has been increasing in use throughout the United States. Colorado is fortunate to have an abundant supply of natural gas. Indeed, we have the 7th largest natural gas field in the United States just north of Denver.

Nuclear – Colorado had a short-lived experience with nuclear-fueled, electric generation. The Fort Saint Vrain nuclear power plant near Platteville was built in the 1970s. This was an experimental type of facility and proved to be so expensive and problem plagued that after thirteen years of operation it was converted to a natural-gas-powered plant. Unless the nation as a whole decides to return to nuclear-fueled power plants, it is unlikely that nuclear will be a factor in Colorado electricity generation.

Renewables – In 2004, the voters of Colorado passed a Renewable Energy initiative, the first-ever statewide initiative in the country. It requires that 10% of our electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2015. Renewable energy resources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, small hydroelectricity, and hydrogen fuel cells.

Wind presently generates only 0.2% of our electricity. However, new wind farms are springing up in many places. The technology of wind generators has improved considerably over the past two decades. It is likely that much of the required new sources in the initiative will be from wind.

Dams generate 3% of our electricity. Today, it is extremely difficult to build new dams in the state. Therefore, it will be difficult to realize much growth in this power source.

Presently, solar energy is predominantly used for generating electricity onsite for electronic instruments in remote locations. This technology has advanced significantly, but is still quite expensive. However, entire houses in Colorado are now powered completely by solar energy. The technology will continue to advance and prices will continue to come down.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance ranks Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest energy supplier, as the eighth largest solar power producer in the USA based on Megawatts of capacity.

The association ranks Colorado among the top seven states for potential solar power generation.The table shows solar potential, not actual constructed capacity. Colorado covers 104,094 square miles, with 2,124 square miles regarded as having high potential for solar power generation. This represents 2.04% of the total surface area of the state.

Solar Potential From Very Large Scale Solar Power Plants:

State

Land Used
(sq miles)

Potential
(GWp)

Annual Generation
(TWh)

Arizona

19,729

2,468

5,837

California

6,853

877

2,075

Colorado

2,124

272

643

Nevada

5,589

715

1,692

New Mexico

15,156

1,940

4,588

Texas

1,162

149

352

Utah

3,564

456

1,079