Holy Cross seeks boost in renewable energy

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The power company that serves a large portion of the Roaring Fork Valley is trying to significantly boost the amount of renewables in its power mix by enlisting help from entrepreneurs.

Holy Cross Energy issued a request for proposals this week for up to 10 megawatts of generation from renewable sources. It wants proposals submitted by Jan. 31, 2011.

The power sources must be located within the Holy Cross service area, which includes the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys and the Interstate 70 corridor west of Glenwood Springs. Realistically, any proposals will likely be for solar farms, biomass plants and hydro-electric projects, said Del Worley, Holy Cross CEO. A wind farm of significant size probably isn’t feasible in the area at this time, he said.

Holy Cross has won acclaim for its “green” programs and is regarded as a leader among small utilities. Between 9 and 10 percent of its current power mix comes from renewable sources, Worley said. If the full 10 megawatts of additional renewable energy being sought is provided, that would boost its green power by about 5 percent, he said.

In addition, the company put out a separate request for proposals in June that sought up to one megawatt of solar power specifically. Those proposals are due at the end of the month.

In the case of both requests for proposals, Holy Cross will sign contracts for long-term power purchases from projects it deems technologically and financially feasible.

In a separate project, Holy Cross teamed with the town of Basalt to finance a 40-kilowatt micro-hydro plant in the hills above the town. Construction will take place this summer and fall. The plant will supply power for about 25 homes.

Worley said Holy Cross is pushing to add renewable sources to its power mix because repeated surveys show its members support renewable energy and energy efficiency, and are willing to pay more for programs that promote them. The company serves about 55,000 customers in the region.

The Holy Cross board of directors set a voluntary goal years ago of supplying 20 percent of the electricity used by its customers from renewable sources by 2015. The last two elections for Holy Cross board of directors seats have been dominated by professionals or activists in green energy fields, so the utility’s goals may become even greener.

The amount of renewable energy in its power mix dipped slightly this summer when the Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant opened near Pueblo. Holy Cross invested more than $110 million in the plant, making it an 8 percent owner, Worley said. The new unit, combined with two previously existing units, will produce electricity for about one-third of Colorado. It’s the first coal-fired electric generating plant built in Colorado in nearly 30 years.

Xcel Energy, which supplies a major share of Holy Cross’ power, is the major investor in the Comanche plant. Once the plant came on line in July, that diluted the amount of power Holy Cross gets from renewable sources, according to Worley.

Comanche might be the last coal-based power plant of its kind approved in the state. Although it is low polluting and highly efficient, coal-fired plants are controversial because of their production of greenhouse gases. A new Colorado law requires Xcel to replace other coal-fired plants with natural gas.

Worley said Comanche 3 was a good investment for Holy Cross because it will provide power at a stable price for members of the energy cooperative for years to come. The investment will save Holy Cross between $100 million and $400 million over 30 years, depending on a number of factors, including whether or not a federal carbon tax is applied to greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Information about the Holy Cross requests for approval can be found online at