Holy Cross Energy sees the light — sets plan to be 100% clean energy

New plan is to have 100% clean energy sources by 2030

Flowers and vegetation bloom at a solar farm near Carbondale with a view of Mount Sopris in May 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Holy Cross Energy solidified its role as an innovator in the power industry Monday with an announcement it will speed up its efforts to convert to 100% renewable sources.

The electric cooperative unveiled its 100×30 initiative — providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

Its previous goal was to achieve 70% clean energy by 2030.

“Make no mistake, this is an ambitious goal,” HCE president and CEO Bryan Hannegan said Monday during a video conference. “It’s one of the most aggressive renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions goals anywhere in the country.”

Holy Cross serves 44,000 members in the Roaring Fork Valley and along the Interstate 70 corridor in western Colorado. For residents and businesses that want to offset their carbon emissions, Holy Cross’ direction will be a major step in achieving the goal.

Dave Munk, chair of the Holy Cross board of directors, said the cooperative’s actions reflect its members’ demands.

“There are many voices calling for bold action on climate,” Munk said on the video conference. “Many of our members are among those voices.”

The move was hailed from outside the organization as placing Holy Cross at the forefront of battling climate change. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said when he was campaigning for his position two years ago, he announced a goal of the state achieving 100% clean energy by 2040. Holy Cross is “setting the bar,” he said.

“Today’s announcement shows that even though at the time my ideas were bold, apparently they weren’t bold enough for Holy Cross,” Polis said on the conference. “I’m so excited to see Holy Cross leading the way.”

Amory Lovins, co-founder, chief scientist and CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute, said coal-fired power plants are inefficient to operate. The investment in solar and wind power is offset by less expensive operating costs.

“Holy Cross is among the first that figured this out,” he said.

He credited Hannegan, a former leading researcher with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, for taking what he learned and applying it “in the sandbox.” The actions of Holy Cross could inspire other energy providers to follow its example.

“Holy Cross is small enough to be nimble but large enough to be effective,” he said.

Auden Schendler, senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement at Aspen Skiing Co., was among members of the public who watched the Holy Cross video conference Monday.

“Think about it: less than a decade from now, every hotel, every restaurant, every ski lift (in Holy Cross territory) will be running carbon-free.” — Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.

“This is the pure vision, pure leadership, steel-in-the-ground workmanship we need right now,” Schendler said via email. “Think about it: less than a decade from now, every hotel, every restaurant, every ski lift (in Holy Cross territory) will be running carbon-free. And less than 20 years ago, Holy Cross was 5 percent renewable and had just purchased part of a new coal plant. This is what it looks like to solve the climate problem.”

Hannegan stressed during the announcement that Holy Cross’ goal was not just aspirational. Holy Cross established a “line of sight” in September 2018 when it set its 70%clean energy goal for 2030.

In 2017, the company was at 39% renewable energy. It is now up to 44% and positioned to climb fast. It’s contracted for development of 100 megawatts of new wind resources and 30 megawatts of new solar resources, according to its website. It has also arranged to sell off the 60 megawatts of energy output from its share of the Comanche Unit 3 coal-fired plant in Pueblo.

Holy Cross also is finalizing contracts to buy power from several clean energy projects in its service area, including a 5-megawatt solar project near Woody Creek, scheduled for ground breaking in the spring, and a 4.5-megawatt project at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus outside of Glenwood Springs.

With the 70% renewable plan by 2030 ahead of schedule, the HCE board “felt it appropriate to set a more ambitious clean energy goal in response to the growing urgency of addressing the risks posed by climate change,” the company’s website said.

A parallel goal is to offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2035. In addition to providing 100% clean and renewable energy five years earlier, it wants to make 100% of its operations carbon-free, including fuel for its fleet of vehicles.

As part of its 100×30 strategic plan, Holy Cross will continue to work with residential and business members on energy efficiency, provide rebates for many projects undertaken.

Holy Cross also has pledged that its push to renewable energy won’t come at the expense of members’ pocketbooks.

Munk said switching to renewable energy actually will bring down costs.

“We do anticipate keeping our rates down at least through 2021,” he said.

Lovins noted that President-elect Joe Biden has set a goal of carbon-free electricity by 2035. Achieving the goal will depend on innovation such as that displayed by Holy Cross Energy, Lovins said.

“It’s terrific leadership,” he said.