Aspen energy not all ‘green’ | AspenTimes.com

Aspen energy not all ‘green’

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen will participate in the construction of a new coal-fired power plant with the renewal of its contract with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, a wholesale supplier of electricity.

Although the city prides itself on its increasing reliance on environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources, it depends on MEAN to supply some energy that doesn’t come from wind turbines or hydroelectric plants, according to Phil Overeynder, city utilities director.

The new contract with MEAN is scheduled for formal approval on Nov. 25. City Council members voiced no objections to participation in the power plant project during an informal discussion on that aspect of the contract Monday.

The MEAN board of directors has agreed to enter into a joint ownership agreement with MidAmerican Energy Co. and other public power utilities to design, build and operate a new coal-fired power plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It would be the fourth plant at the site, and has been dubbed CB-4.

When it goes on line in 2007, it would allow MEAN to replace energy it is currently purchasing from other, less efficient sources with energy produced at CB-4, according to William Leung, chief operating officer for the agency.

“It’s one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants to be built,” Leung said.

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“This will be much cleaner, because it’s 20 years newer, than the resource we’re replacing,” Overeynder said. “If you go out and look at the market, it’s unlikely you’ll find a better source.”

Aspen could continue to purchase power from MEAN but not participate in the new power plant, according to Leung. In that case, the city would become a “contract purchaser,” buying a fixed amount per month at prices that would likely see much more fluctuation than the fairly stable energy prices MEAN has been able to offer its members, he said.

Currently, the city’s contract with MEAN allows it to purchase energy from whatever alternative power sources it wants to, and MEAN supplies whatever additional power is needed to fulfill Aspen’s needs, Leung said. The power MEAN currently supplies comes from a mix of sources, including other coal-fired plants.

Under the new contract, the city could participant in the power plant project but choose to purchase renewable energy for all of its energy needs at some point and not use any coal-generated energy, he said.

“I think you need to do this,” City Manager Steve Barwick told the council. “Even if we end up at 95 percent green in the future, you still need something like this as a backup.”

Currently, 54 percent of Aspen’s energy is purchased from renewable resources, primarily hydroelectric power, Overeynder said. On Nov. 1, the city upped the amount of wind-generated power it uses from 3 percent to 5 percent of its total energy use. The wind power is now coming from MEAN’s new wind farm in Kimball, Neb.

There isn’t enough renewable energy yet available for purchase to let the city rely strictly on “green” power sources, Overeynder said. The new power plant is a bridge to getting to that point, he said.

Aspen’s participation in the power plant simply means its contract with MEAN will be among the various contracts the agency has with municipal power utilities that are used essentially as collateral to secure financing through revenue bonds for the project, Leung explained. The city has no direct liability for the debt, he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]