Holy Cross lobbies state for wind power measure | AspenTimes.com

Holy Cross lobbies state for wind power measure

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Colorado Legislature is debating whether to prod power companies to use more alternative energy. The company that serves 50,000 customers in the Roaring Fork Valley area doesn’t need more prodding.

Holy Cross Energy already has one of the most successful small utility programs in the country and has its sights set on tapping more alternative sources.

“Our board has made the decision to be greener,” said Dave Church, who heads alternative energy programs for Holy Cross.

One step the company wants to take is to convince more of its consumers to buy wind power. A company survey last year showed that nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 consumers were interested in purchasing a portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

“On the one hand, it’s a mandate almost,” said Church. But when it’s time to pay, customers haven’t been so green. About 2,500 consumers, or 5 percent, pay extra to buy alternative energy.

A consumer can buy a block of wind power for $2.50 per month in addition to their regular bill.

Although the percentage of consumers participating in the wind power program is relatively low, it’s high enough to gain Holy Cross national attention. The company was recognized as the Wind Cooperative of the Year for 2003 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Power in America program and an association of rural electricity suppliers.

Holy Cross is tied for fourth in the nation among small utilities for the amount of alternative power provided. About 8 percent of its power comes from renewable sources, mostly wind and hydro. It’s considering increasing the amount of renewables in its power-supply mix.

Most of the wind power Holy Cross purchases is from Xcel Energy, formerly known as Public Service Co.

Both of the utility companies have lobbied for a bill in the state Legislature that would require firms like Xcel to increase alternative energy sources.

The Renewable Energy Standard was passed by the House by a 39-26 vote earlier this month. It requires Xcel and another company called Aquila to provide 500 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2006. The amount required would increase to 900 megawatts by 2010.

To show the significance of that amount, Holy Cross buys about five megawatts of wind power from Xcel, according to Bob Gardner, general manager of support services for Holy Cross.

Although the bill wouldn’t directly hit Holy Cross with quotas, Xcel’s cost of developing alternative sources would be passed on to Holy Cross and its consumers, Gardner said. Nevertheless, the company supports renewable energy sources because it reduces production of greenhouse gases. The burning of coal or natural gas at power plants releases those gases, which many believe contribute to global warming.

Buying wind power, Gardner said, “is one of the most effective steps you can take.”

Holy Cross will continue lobbying for approval of the renewable standards bill as debate starts in the state Senate, according to Gardner. “Moving in that direction is consistent with what we’re trying to do,” he said.

That stance earns praise from environmental organizations.

“Holy Cross has been an incredible leader,” said Stephanie Bonin, a lobbyist with an organization called Environmental Colorado, which supported the bill. Holy Cross not only leads by purchasing renewable power, it’s promoting greater use of renewables by the utility industry, she said.

The Renewable Energy Standard goes before the Colorado Senate’s Local Government committee on Tuesday. If passed there, as expected, it will be taken up on the Senate floor.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com