ASPEN - The pursuit of renewable-energy goals remains at the forefront of the city of Aspen's collective mind, as was evidenced by an open house on the topic Wednesday night at the Rio Grande Meeting Room.
The friendly gathering - just 71 days after the narrow defeat of the Nov. 6 advisory question on whether the city should complete the Castle Creek hydroelectric-plant project - was designed to gather local opinions on various renewable energy sources and how they fit into the future portfolio of the city's electricity utility.
Currently, 75 percent of the utility's portfolio is made up of renewable sources such as hydroelectric and wind power, a more environmentally friendly way of generating electricity than nonrenewable sources such as coal and natural gas. When a contract to purchase hydropower from a plant in Ridgway, near Montrose, goes into effect in January 2014, the percentile will be in the upper 80s.
The city wants to hit its goal of 100 percent by 2015, and a City Council work session Tuesday will explore ways in which that aspiration can be achieved with or without a controversial hydropower facility on Castle Creek.
"The overall goal (of the open house) is to get some community input to find out what the community thinks and how they think we should be reaching our renewable-energy goals," said Will Dolan, city utilities specialist. "City staff is here primarily to listen and to answer any questions the community might have based on the various technologies that we have throughout the room."
The comments gathered in the meeting room will be shared with council members at the upcoming work session, Dolan said. Between 5 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, more than 40 people walked to the different stations set up at what was billed as the "100 Percent Renewable Aspen Electric Brainstorm" and provided answers to questions.
One question asked, "Would you support photovoltaic (solar) panels on your roof or property?" Near the end of the event at 6:30 p.m., 17 people indicated "yes," while one answered "maybe" and another said "no."
Another question asked, "What level of change in your cost of electric service would you support to achieve 100 percent renewable energy?" One person answered "none," while four people answered that a 5 percent cost increase would be acceptable and 20 indicated they would support a bill that's 10 percent higher or more.
Phil Overeynder, who handles special projects for the city Utilities Department, explained a color-coded chart that showed the makeup of various energy sources in the portfolio.
The city cannot rely too much on one source or the other, he said, because sometimes the cost of one, such as wind, will go up or down during certain times of year when production is low or high. At the same time, the cost of another, such as coal or natural gas, might fluctuate erratically because of a variety of factors such as supply and demand, the state of the national economy or political effects.
Eliminating the percentage of nonrenewable energy (coal, natural gas and other sources) it purchases from a wholesaler, the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, would mean that Aspen has reached its goal of 100 percent, Overeynder said. Lining up that last percentage of renewable energy (after the Ridgway plant comes on line) was what the city was trying to do - and might still accomplish if the community is willing to abide - through the Castle Creek hydro project.
Claire de L'Arbre, an Aspen resident for about the past 18 months, said that while the city seems committed to renewable energy, protecting the ecology of the area is just as important.
The amount of renewable energy generated by a new hydroelectric plant "is such a minuscule amount that's not worth depleting the streams," de L'Arbre said.
Connie Harvey, a Castle Creek resident and outspoken opponent of the city's proposed hydropower facility, attended the open house and made a point of talking with many of the representatives at the various stations. But she left the meeting largely unfazed.
"I think it was a generally nice thing to do, but I don't think I came away with any brave new insights," she said.