Carbon Eraser™ September 10, 2018

The Profitable Path to a Carbon-Clean Future

Carbon Eraser (CE) is an idea for a “born in Boulder” Colorado suite of decarbonization enterprises that provide a carbon-free alternative to activities that now add carbon to our air. These ventures can be coordinated with each other or they can stand alone. Together they create a metaphorical shade of green and an energy ecology that is both economically rewarding and environmentally sustainable. CE is good for communities like Boulder, Colorado, for the environment, for partners like the University of Colorado and Xcel Energy, and for the power grid.

Why you may want to offer Carbon Eraser advice or be our partner

Decarbonization is the world’s ultimate asset utilization opportunity, providing a profitable path to a carbon-clean future because it allows energy providers, regardless of private or public ownership, a better profit margin with beneficial social and environmental impacts. The following illustrates relationships in a Carbon Eraser energy ecology:

1. CE Solar Roof and Garden Plan.

Every new building in Boulder, with a few exceptions, would be required to have the largest PUC/Xcel-allowed photovoltaic system sized at this time to 120 percent of its estimated energy use, or to participate (as regulations allow) in a solar garden.

Solar gardens will be located in several locations that, to the extent possible, are evenly distributed throughout Boulder. In the last few years several solar gardens were built in Colorado with an average size of 10 acres. However, to date, none have been built in Boulder, despite the many promising sites available. Total annual carbon-free energy production resulting from the CE Solar Roof and Garden Plan would quickly reach hundreds of megawatt hours of installed capacity. 

Carbon Eraser Solar Garden partnerships among businesses, institutions, and communities facilitate both economic and environmental sustainability by guaranteeing the debt service.

As explained further below, Solar Gardens are good for energy providers. Even developer challenges of the transition from private to public electric distribution, known as “municipalization,” i.e. ownership of the poles and wires, during a period of possible change of system ownership, can be easily mitigated. There are historic examples where publicly owned power has been great for American communities. Boulder’s effort to municipalize is a study that will determine if municipalization debt can be sustainably serviced or our energy’s carbon content can be further reduced in an environment where energy companies are aggressively decarbonizing, as opposed to adding coal capacity as was the case when Boulder’s effort to municipalize began.

Garden developers concerns about municipalization, which have resulted in Boulder’s not yet having a solar garden, center on cash flow uncertainty and on meeting regulatory and subscriber obligations that are easily mitigated in the following examples:

-A 10- or 20-acre solar garden is made a part of the University of Colorado’s 308-acre South Campus project. Half of the carbon-free energy is subscribed to by CU and the rest by other local users. The developer cash flow certainty, requirement is met with CU’s guaranty to use and pay for any electrons unmonetized in the unlikely event of disruption resulting from the municipalization project. 

-A second example is serving as a wonderful public benefit for a project like the proposed senior living community on Mapleton Hill. A solar garden could provide up to half the carbon-free energy subscribed to by nearby residents on Mapleton Hill who can’t put arrays on their own homes. The energy needs of the 108-home Academy, and a permanently affordable senior housing building at the Fruehauf’s site near 30th and Arapahoe could easily guarantee compliant monetization.

Trading the fuel, operational and logistic costs of handling coal, natural gas and oil for managing the overproduction of our rooftops and gardens… is part of a sustainable and reasonably profitable future for Xcel that improves all participants’ economic social and environmental outcomes.

2. Zero Carbon Mobility.  

Another path to a CE carbon-free future is mobility decarbonization. More than 30 percent of the carbon added to our air results from carbon-powered mobility. The CE mobility goal is to get people and things to their destinations with the lowest cost in carbon and dollars per mile traveled. CE enterprises stimulate decarbonization and prove that carbon-free is as economically rewarding as it is environmentally imperative.

Utilize a significant portion of the $7,500 EV (Electric Vehicle) federal tax credit to benefit non-taxpaying 501(c)(3) nonprofits, organizations, and state and local governments, as provided for, but not now used in Internal Revenue Code Section 30D. Nationally, the consequences include moving over a billion dollars a year from operations to mission, while funding market-driven carbon-free mobility innovation. If proven possible, this would be an amazing leadership gift from Boulder, CE and you.

Creating an electric vehicle point to point mobility option in Boulder with a CE app on smartphones, supported by an Uber and Lyft partnership, could bring the closest-available carbon-free EV to users. Several app strategies are now being explored. This enterprise’s incentive, beyond great PR, would be the market power of a lower cost in both carbon and dollars per mile traveled. Strategies have been demonstrated by the Door to Downtown test designed by Rocky Mountain Institute and the City of Boulder.

Carbon Eraser TM: September 10, 2018 – The Profitable Path to a Carbon-Clean FutureA coordinated program with an organization like Boulder’s Via bring last mile and paratransit into the CE carbon-free mobility story.

3. Establish an annual CE Head and Bed tax.

This proposal would promote a shared annual tax on businesses, employees, and residents to fund free electric buses. If a CE mobility program is funded by everyone who enjoys a positive impact, the price is modest and more affordable than present options. As an example, the best system we can likely negotiate with RTD is improved regional service with Via-provided local electric buses, paid for by an annual tax of $50 per job and $50 per legal bedroom in Boulder, possibly including dormitories, hotels, and even hospitals. A single in-commuter working in Boulder would pay $50 per year for free bus service and a family of four with two jobs and two children in a three-bedroom home would pay $250 per year. The positive CE mobility impact includes something for everybody, starting with cleaner air and economy but also including congestion relief for automobile drivers.

5. Launch 1000 kW CE blockchain token and Searchable Catalog.

A 1000 kW CE is a trading unit that utilizes blockchain to create a self-contained carbon market. This is not a cryptocurrency like a bitcoin; however, it may result in green speculation.

A 1000 kW CE is title to the non-energy attributes of carbon-free generation of 1000 kilowatt hours of energy. Each block in the chain is title to a specific 1000 kW hours of carbon-free energy generated at a specific location, e.g. a particular hydro turbine, windmill or rooftop solar address. The blockchain ledger memorializes the data attributes of a REC (Renewable Energy Certificate), including its history from generation through monetization and retirement.

The advantage of what CE calls “Coin & Catalog” over other energy credit token designs is that it facilitates both a high volume of small transactions, e.g. rooftop REC contract sales, as well as large and complicated carbon offset contracts. The CE point of differentiation is the ability to quickly find and execute a transactional solution that maintains the mission integrity of the credit while fulfilling the buyer’s economic goals.

The 1000 kW CE would allow a business, such as Boulder’s Whole Foods, to illustrate that the amazing 100-year old hydroelectric turbine in Boulder Creek  is powering the store. The cost premium of the energy from the turbine would be like priced with Xcel’s Windsource program for “green” energy (RECs) generated at a windmill hundreds of miles away.

This process would effectively create a carbon market, reversing the current decline in REC valuations while providing a vehicle for rooftop solar owners to cash out of ridiculously low monthly REC payments.  For example, a residential energy consumer with a solar array receiving REC payment checks for just $2 or $3 a month for 10 years could cash out and receive a single payment. Results beyond Boulder would include stimulating carbon-free distributed energy generation and innovation. Reversing negative REC values is akin to a tax cut and will immediately increase installed distributed generation capacity e.g. rooftop and solar gardens.  A recent validation of the coming decarbonization and REC remonetization can be seen in the University of Colorado Athletic Department’s surprising July 26 2018 announcement.

Perhaps the most important reason to implement a coordinated suite of CE decarbonization strategies in a city like Boulder is the local energy security and control that distributed-generation-based grid resiliency can provide. For technical clarification please see this NREL report titled Distributed Energy Generation for Climate Resilience


An important environmental outcome of the coordinated CE energy ecology is having enough installed capacity of carbon-free electricity generation to economically transition away from being a city mostly heated by natural gas to a distributed generation Carbon Free community.

Importantly, getting away from natural gas is also a factor in how Xcel Energy can be a partner in achieving our Carbon Free Community goals, yet continue to be able to afford the outstanding service we are accustomed to: the lights are on, the grid poles and wires provide backup. Being unburdened of the operational and logistical expense of handling most of the coal and natural gas portion of today’s operations, and instead managing the overproduction from our rooftops and gardens can be a sustainable path forward.

Redeployment of more than 500 acres at the Valmont power plant as a Boulder’s Carbon Eraser Energy Park could be our crowning accomplishment. Microgrid switching could be added to the current switching station, and homes could be provided for a several hundred MW utility grade solar garden, and possibly some concentrator solar or other distributed generation. Additionally, the adaptive reuse of the massive retired coal turbine space would be an amazing memorialization of our decarbonization and house one remaining natural gas turbine, providing our carbon free resiliency future’s backup.

The adaptive reuse and redeployment of this acreage will require coal ash cleanup as a substantial component of payment for the land, which would benefit our economy and environment, in many ways bringing Boulder hundreds of megawatts of carbon free energy. In addition, low-cost land with a beautiful views would provide space for affordable housing of a variety of descriptions. These well-located acres could also house other hard-to-meet city and county needs, like affordably priced 501c3 office space, arts venues and studios, and of course, some well-located open space.

Additional innovation on our part and that of others could include a transactive system that allows for peer-to-peer transactions of distributed generation, allowing users to over-generate and donate to their churches/schools, sell to their neighbors, sell to utilities as ancillary service, pair with direct current fast charging for EV’s, and a variety of not yet imagined wonders. 

CE requests your partnership and comments, as well as to point out that decarbonization involves billions of dollars of opportunity, some in adaptive reuse and redeployment opportunities, some in connection with reduced health care and energy costs. Please help this to happen.

Thank you,

Richard Polk

Solar News

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