In this issue:
Summit envisions tri-county solar network, joint projects
A new effort to ramp up renewable energy projects in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties is moving forward, thanks to a “solar roadmapping” summit last week in Glenwood Springs.
The summit was organized by CLEER and Garfield Clean Energy, and facilitated by staff from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Over 60 representatives of local governments, utilities and other stakeholders attended.
Building on numerous previous discussions, the regional effort offers a powerful vehicle for boosting economic development, diversification and resilience. By working together at regional scale, our three counties can best seize the opportunities of the growing clean energy economy.
Participants at last week’s summit tentatively agreed to align their efforts across the three-county region with the state’s current goal of achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2040. They also identified opportunities to collaborate on projects such as utility-scale and rooftop solar and region-wide electric vehicle infrastructure.
Opportunity abounds, thanks to a number of ongoing developments. The cost of installing solar has fallen to the point where it’s as cheap as conventional energy. Electric utilities and local governments in our region are helping speed the transition by adopting strong clean energy targets. And the state’s new 100%-by-2040 goal – one of the most ambitious in the country – is sure to drive demand.
“Our region can and should do its part to help reach the state’s clean energy targets,” said CLEER board chair Nancy Genova. “And we’ll benefit from doing so.”
Recent utility commitments indicate the potential for growth. Holy Cross Energy, whose service area overlaps with Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, has set a goal of increasing the renewable-energy content of its electricity from the current 40% to 70% by 2030. Xcel Energy, the other big electric company serving the region, has set a Colorado-wide goal of 80% renewable energy by 2040.
While much of the new electricity is expected to come from wind farms on the Eastern Plains, there are good reasons to try to steer more investment in clean energy to our region.
Building new solar farms and rooftop solar is a way to create jobs and diversify a local economy that’s long been based on energy production, noted Katie Mackley, Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation assistant director. She added that clean energy offers common ground in a politically diverse region, since it appeals to shared interests such as saving money, convenience and self-reliance.
It also makes for a more resilient electric grid – recall last summer’s Lake Christine Fire, which came close to cutting off power to the Roaring Fork Valley.
CLEER solar energy program director Katharine Rushton noted that working together as a regional network will enable the three counties to benefit from economies of scale, pool resources, and access potential funding. She said the next steps for the participating partners are to confirm which projects would work best at a regional scale and to continue to develop a regional network or collaborative structure.
While details of the three-county network’s structure remain to be worked out, elected officials expressed support for the concept.
“The original inhabitants of these beautiful places we live, the Utes, would be most pleased that we’re coming together here today to sustain this land by advancing renewable energy,” said Glenwood Springs City Council Member Rick Voorhees, who also sits on the board of Garfield Clean Energy.
“I’m happy to report that every member of our county board is enthusiastic and engaged in this energy moonshot – that we will be focused on it in 2019 and beyond, and that we are eager to cooperate with our neighboring counties, municipalities and utilities,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky pointed out that while local renewable energy projects can help diversify the economy, the region needs to be aware of the role that severance taxes and property taxes paid by the natural gas industry play in supporting libraries, local governments and schools. “We will need to find a way to ensure that funding for public services remains stable.”
The event attracted representatives from all three counties, multiple towns, Xcel Energy, Holy Cross Energy, Eagle Climate Action Collaborative and Walking Mountains Science Center, the City of Aspen’s climate protection program, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Aspen Skiing Co., Colorado Mountain College, RFTA and a number of solar firms and finance companies.
“The shift toward 100% renewable electricity and zero-emission vehicles is happening quickly, and we need initiatives like this to stay connected and on track. Thanks to CLEER for bringing solar resources in the region together,” said John Gitchell, Eagle County environmental manager.
Garfield County logged clean energy gains in 2018
The numbers are in, and 2018 was a banner year for rooftop solar installations in Garfield County – especially in Glenwood Springs.
CLEER staff, who provide energy coaching throughout the county on behalf of Garfield Clean Energy, assisted in 35 home and business projects in 2018. Those arrays added 255 kW to the county’s installed capacity, and spurred $850,000 in local investment.
A special shout-out goes to Glenwood Springs Electric, whose customers accounted for over half the installations. Our staff were able to help 18 residential and 3 commercial property owners score GSE rebates, totaling over $46,000 to lower the costs of their projects.
At the utility scale, Xcel commissioned a series of arrays totaling 11,000 kW in Garfield and Mesa counties. Construction on several of them began in 2018, and most or all are due to come on line this year. We don’t yet have a final breakdown of how many kilowatts will be sited in each county, but it’s worth noting that the great majority of the power generated by the projects – even the ones in Mesa County – will be purchased by Garfield County subscribers.
2018 was also a busy year for energy-efficiency upgrades to the county’s homes and businesses. Our staff helped 144 homeowners access over $330,000 in rebates and make $1.2 million worth of improvements, which will save them an estimated $84,000 a year in energy costs. Of those, 40 were income-qualified families assisted through the CARE (Colorado’s Affordable Residential Energy) program, which CLEER pioneered in Garfield County.
As for the commercial sector, we helped 37 businesses plan and finance retrofits worth $477,000. These investments were particularly profitable – with rebates factored in, they had an average payback of just over two years!
Check out CLEER’s new website
CLEER has a new website! Give it a spin, if you haven’t already. A good place to start is the Impact section, which tells compelling stories of how the clean-energy transition is transforming a region, improving lives and helping curb climate change.
Here’s an event presented by a partner organization that may be of interest:
Thursday, March 14 – HomeFit for Seniors
4-6 p.m., Third Street Center, 520 S. 3rd St., Carbondale
Pitkin County Senior Services is presenting this free session about how to make easy home modifications to allow you to age in place longer. The presentation will include information on home weatherization, energy assessments, accessibility modifications, financing and rebates.
CLEER, which is one of the co-presenters, will have a booth with information and free LED bulbs. RSVP to email@example.com.
(The same presentation will be given again on March 20, 4-6 p.m., at the Pitkin County Library.)
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