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The roundabout road to a renewable revolution
Glenwood Springs becomes latest local burg to go green
Solar array
Solar array, pictured near Roaring Fork High School in this 2018 photo. - photo by Craig Turpin

There was big news in Glenwood Springs last week from an energy standpoint, as the city announced that it was moving to 100 percent wind power in a new deal with its wholesale energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN). The announcement means that Glenwood will be joining other area municipalities in getting all of its electricity from renewable sources.

The city of Aspen, which also buys energy from MEAN, achieved the feat in 2015, becoming just the third city in the U.S. to do so. The Valley’s other towns, as well as much of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, get most of their electricity from Holy Cross Energy, a local cooperative with over 55,000 members (individuals, businesses and municipalities) across western Colorado. Through the company’s Renewable Energy Purchase Program (REPP), Snowmass Village, Carbondale, Basalt and Eagle County all made the move to 100 percent renewable sources for their Holy Cross accounts earlier this year.  

The REPP doesn’t come free. It’s an effort that was allocated $10,000 in the Basalt Green Team’s budget for 2019, although the true costs will likely be lower, according to Sara Nadolny, staff planner for the town of Basalt. It’s a small price to pay for going green, and on the surface it seems like an obvious thing to do. A look at the numbers, however, shows it’s not exactly all it’s cracked up to be.

Basalt’s renewable energy will come from Holy Cross’s solar-power suppliers from around the West. Those suppliers contribute to the roughly 39 percent of Holy Cross’s overall energy that currently comes from renewable sources. A large portion of the rest comes from Xcel Energy’s massive coal-fired Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, the state’s largest power plant (although Holy Cross is transitioning out of that setup).

With 61 percent of its energy still being generated by non-renewable sources, that means that if Basalt, Carbondale, Snowmass Village and Eagle County are taking up most of the renewable energy, Holy Cross’s other members – including Pitkin County – are going to get a higher percentage of non-renewable energy to offset the difference. A similar pattern holds true for Aspen, Glenwood and MEAN, which gets 61 percent of its energy from coal, according to a report published last February by Sustainable Development Strategies Group.

Still, it’s a measure worth taking, and as more and more of its members sign up for the REPP, costs will come down and Holy Cross will have to move swiftly toward its 70-70-30 initiative, which aims for 70 percent renewable energy and 70 percent carbon footprint reduction by 2030. It’s a goal that the cooperative expects to reach before that deadline, according to Mike Steiner, a key accounts specialist with Holy Cross Energy.

“We have a large, 100-megawatt wind farm that we’re going to swap out with the energy from our Comanche plant, so we’re replacing that with wind,” said Steiner. “And we also have large-scale solar projects on the Front Range. That should, hopefully, get us beyond that 70 percent.”

For the town of Basalt, the choice to make the switch to 100 percent solar energy was fueled less by the prospect of Front Range projects than it was a desire to shop locally – when and if they’ll be able to.

“First and foremost, if we could get the renewable energy locally, that’s where we want to be pulling from,” said Nadolny, who is also a member of the Basalt Green Team, a board that advises the town council and helps educate the public about energy-efficiency and carbon-reduction efforts. “When and if solar farms get up and running in Woody Creek and Gypsum, ideally, we’d like to be supporting those projects so that it’s a very localized energy source.”

Founded in 2007, the Green Team has overseen numerous measures to help the town and its residents reduce their carbon footprints. The latest, signing on to the REPP, is a big step toward achieving the Basalt Climate Action Plan, a resolution adopted by the town in 2017 that aimed to reduce the community’s carbon emissions – measured at approximately 63,239 metric tons annually by the 2014 Basalt Greenhouse Gas Inventory – by 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

The move is also recognition of the fact that, while we may think of car and truck exhausts when we think of greenhouse gases, by far the largest contributor to Basalt’s carbon emissions is buildings.

“That was something that really spoke to the Green Team as an area we needed to be focusing on,” said Nadolny, who noted that the town council has been very supportive of the team’s endeavors in that direction. “They’ve really helped the team guide and focus our efforts, and they’ve stepped up when it comes to carbon reduction in the town of Basalt.”

The last time CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency) did an assessment of Basalt’s CO2 emission distribution, buildings accounted for 60 percent, more than twice as much as vehicles, which were second at 27 percent. An updated assessment is due out any day now, but sources at CORE expected the percentage for buildings to be similar to last time.

Now, however, with Basalt signing on to the REPP, and with energy-efficient changes being made this year to municipal buildings, that percentage should be coming down, along with our overall carbon emissions. That means that residents of Basalt will soon be leaving smaller carbon footprints – even if residents of Pitkin County are leaving bigger ones as a result.