Holy Cross makes clean energy pledge

The Basalt transmission substation on July 4.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The electric co-op that provides power to Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties officially committed Wednesday to use clean, renewable energy sources for 70 percent of its power supply by 2030.

In addition, Holy Cross Energy pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions associated with its current power supply by a corresponding 70 percent by 2030, while at the same time not increasing the cost of energy for customers, according to a statement Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled to hear they’re moving forward with this, … to change electrification so it’s much cleaner,” said Mona Newton, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen. “It’s great to have this co-op thinking so progressively.”

The utility’s board of directors officially adopted the new goals — called “SeventyThirty” — at a meeting Wednesday in Glenwood Springs.

“With today’s announcement, HCE is leading the responsible transition to a clean energy future,” Bryan Hannegan, the co-op’s president and CEO, said in the statement. “Thanks to advances in technology and changes in energy markets, we have the opportunity to bring on new renewable energy resources at costs comparable to our existing supply.”

Holy Cross plans to “increase its purchases of renewable energy while reducing its dependence on coal-fired generation,” the statement says.

Holy Cross currently receives 39 percent of its power from renewable sources, including biomass, coal mine waste methane and solar and hydro-power facilities, according to the statement.

CORE takes the fees collected from property owners who consume large amounts of energy in Aspen and Pitkin County and turns them into grants and advice that enable clean energy for local projects. The fees are collected through the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program established in the 1999 Aspen-Pitkin County Energy Conservation Code.

Newton, who attended the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange Conference on Wednesday at the Aspen Institute, said Holy Cross’ announcement puts the utility at the forefront of clean energy.

“Holy Cross is a leader, absolutely,” she said.

And, despite the Trump administration’s emphasis on coal power and rolling back Obama-era clean energy goals, other companies and utilities in Colorado are following Holy Cross’ lead, Newton said.

For example, Xcel Energy recently received permission to close two Pueblo-area coal-fire power plants, which the company plans to replace with wind and solar energy, she said. Utilities are finding clean energy to be an economic boon, Newton said.

That’s because people attracted to the option of clean energy means more customers for the utility, she said. Also, technology to generate solar and wind power is becoming less expensive and new methods of storage to combat the intermittency problems caused by green energy are coming online, she said.

“They may not be environmentalists, but they see it as an economic opportunity,” Newton said.

One aspect of Holy Cross’ plan Newton emphasized was its desire to build renewable energy projects in the communities it serves. The utility recently began a partnership with the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District and a private company to try and build a 33-acre, 5-megawatt solar farm in Woody Creek.

If built, the project could be isolated to specifically support Pitkin County, she said.

Such efforts also fight climate change, which could be a reason for more frost-free days in the high country and more intense, drought-caused wildfires, Newton said.

“Customers are asking for (clean energy),” she said. “It will require all of us to participate.”