Aspen aims for all hydro and wind by 2023
October 7, 2014
Aspen officials hope to supply municipal operations entirely with hydroelectric and wind energy by 2023, projections from the city's renewable energy manager show.
But the success of that lofty projection — along with the city's 100 percent renewable-energy goal in 2015 — will be based largely on current negotiations with its energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.
Doubling the hydro supply at Ridgway Reservoir and phasing out landfill-gas purchases are two things Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska will have to approve for Aspen to meet 2023 projections, but Aspen's Renewable Energy Manager Will Dolan is confident he can reach agreement on both.
"I think there's a way to do it," Dolan said Monday. "I think they've voiced an interest in additional Ridgway energy, and they've also voiced a willingness to taper off the landfill-gas energy if we needed to."
In its 2015 goal of powering municipal operations with 100 percent renewable energy, the city of Aspen will have to rely partly on landfill gas, an energy source with questionable legitimacy as a renewable product. Essentially, Aspen would still be using a coal-based product, but it would be purchasing the cleaner landfill gas for customers in the Midwest.
The coal-based product is Schedule M energy, which is made up of about 80 percent coal, as well as small portions of natural gas, oil, wind, hydro and nuclear. Aspen would pay $29 per megawatt hour on top of the Schedule M price, which allows the energy agency to deliver landfill gas elsewhere.
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According to Dolan, Aspen is between 18,000 and 20,000 megawatt hours short per year of its 100 percent renewable-energy goal, with an annual demand of about 75,000 megawatt hours.
The city had initially planned to phase out coal purchases entirely, but because MEAN's business model is based largely on the energy source, organization leaders are reluctant to agree to such a move, Dolan said. Though new purchases will include both landfill gas and wind, Dolan said he has seen willingness for more wind.
Dolan said the city will look to phase out landfill gas in 2023, when Aspen has the option to double its output at Ridgway, boosting supply from 9,800 megawatt hours to about 19,000 megawatt hours. As negotiations proceed, Dolan said it will be key to find some flexibility.
"We don't want to hem any future councils in," he said. "As highly desirable resources like Ridgway become available, we want to be able to take advantage of those."
While Dolan remains hopeful, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska officials said in an email that it will be up to the energy cooperative's board of directors, which includes officials from 63 different municipalities that have long-term agreements with the organization.
"If Aspen enters into an agreement for landfill gas, they have contractual obligations through the term of their service schedule agreement with MEAN," Andrew Ross, of NMPP Energy, wrote. "If at some point in time Aspen desired to phase out the landfill-gas agreement, MEAN would need to evaluate the potential impacts to the rest of the total requirements participants, and present that information to the board for approval."
According to Dolan, Aspen's energy portfolio is currently made up of 49 percent hydro, 28 percent wind, 20 percent coal/gas and 2 percent nuclear. Dolan's 2015 projections show 47 percent hydro, 41 percent wind, 11 percent coal/gas and 1 percent nuclear. The 8,500 megawatt hours of coal/gas would be offset in 2015 by the purchase of about 9,300 megawatt hours of landfill gas in the Midwest.
City projections for 2023 show 58 percent hydro and 42 percent wind.
Dolan said that if the Aspen City Council elects to revisit the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center, the city could explore the possibility of tapering back its wind supply. To date, the city has invested about $7 million in the estimated $10.5 million project, which was halted in 2012 when 51 percent of Aspen voters shot it down during an advisory election.
Aspen's current contract with Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska expires in 2037, and any new contract will have to be approved by the council, as well as the energy agency board. Dolan estimates that getting out of the current contract would cost about $8 million in exit fees and, additionally, Aspen would need to find a similar energy provider.
Dolan's next check-in with the council is in December.