Aspen sets its sights on wind |

Aspen sets its sights on wind

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The city government is set to buy wind power in Nebraska to further meet its environmental goals.

The Aspen City Council on Monday gave the go-ahead to draw up a contract with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) to buy seven megawatts of new wind energy from four new wind turbines. That translates to annual production estimated at 30 million kilowatt hours a year over a 20-year span.

The deal, which still must be approved by the council, would be made through a contract with Holy Cross Energy to sell the output from Aspen’s three hydroelectric facilities, which produce about 25 million kilowatt hours of energy a year.

The approach is considered creative in that Holy Cross Energy is limited in how much renewable energy it can purchase because of its contract with Xcel ” unless it buys wind energy through a qualified vendor, which Aspen’s hydroelectric plants are.

Xcel, which serves about 60 percent of the electric consumers in Colorado, has a backlog of requests for wind energy and is not in a position to offer new wind energy to Holy Cross that would meet the city of Aspen’s goals, said Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director.

The city’s municipal electric system currently harnesses about 75 percent of its energy from noncarbon sources. When the Castle Creek hydroplant comes on line in 2009, that level will rise to 80 percent in 2010. But by then, the city electric system likely will have reached its capacity for renewable generation and purchases, Overeynder said.

He noted that as a percentage of total energy supply, the Aspen electric system now purchases three times as much wind power when compared to the next largest purchaser of wind energy in the country.

Buying the new energy supply will allow the city government to achieve its goal of having 45 percent of its electric purchases come from noncarbon sources on a communitywide basis by 2012.

The annual energy production and purchases for Aspen in its urban growth boundary is about 200 million kilowatts “130 million from Holy Cross and 70 million for Aspen Electric. The current level of noncarbon electric energy purchases and production for the two utilities is about 60 million kilowatt hours.

To meet the 45 percent goal, 90 million kilowatt hours must be purchased and produced, leaving the additional need at 30 million. The Castle Creek hydroplant will reduce that unmet need to 25 million kilowatts, Overeynder said.

By 2012, full output of 30 million kilowatt hours a year will be available to Aspen for 20 years, if the council approves the contract with MEAN. The cost will be 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour at the beginning of the contract and will rise to 6.5 cents by the end of it, though final prices are subject to further negotiations.

The initial implications are that the revenue for the municipal electric fund will increase by about $1.43 million a year from the sale of hydropower to Holy Cross, while expenses would increase $1.65 million as a result of buying wind power from MEAN.

Overeynder said the net costs of wind energy purchases of about $220,000 per year can be recovered from increased sales to electric customers and increased rates.

In the end, less coal- and natural gas-powered energy will be purchased by Holy Cross, and the city’s electric system, and carbon emissions will be reduced by as much as 24,110 tons a year.

“It’s a significant reduction,” Overeynder said.

The Aspen Skiing Co. likely will buy some of the wind energy to further meet its environmental goals and lock in a fixed rate for energy, said Auden Schendler, the company’s executive director for community and environmental responsibility.

City Councilman Steve Skadron said he wonders when being environmentally responsible just becomes a catch phrase and impacts ” such as wind turbines ” are not considered. He also wonders when personal responsibility for using less energy is left by the wayside, he said.

Schendler responded that the impacts of wind turbines are less than coal in many ways.

The Skico currently is measuring wind on top of the Cirque at Snowmass Ski Area to determine whether it’s feasible to put three turbines there to generate its own energy.