New renewable energy mandate will likely bypass local utilities |

New renewable energy mandate will likely bypass local utilities

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Legislation requiring large utilities to generate an even greater amount of electricity from renewable sources could be introduced as soon as this week in the Colorado Statehouse, but the bill is not expected to affect the dominant electricity supplier in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Rural electric utilities such as local supplier Holy Cross Energy, and small municipal utilities such as Aspen’s, won’t be covered by the bill as it’s envisioned, according to Todd Hartman, media relations manager with the Governor’s Energy Office. Rather, large suppliers Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy would be required to generate at least 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.

The state already requires large utilities to get at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, while smaller cooperatives, including Holy Cross, have to get to 10 percent by then.

Xcel Energy, a major supplier on Colorado’s Western Slope, is on target to hit the 20 percent mark five years early, according to spokesman Mark Stutz.

“We believe it’s feasible to get to the 30 percent level, with or without legislation,” Stutz told the Summit Daily News.

Holy Cross, too, hopes to exceed the standards it is required to meet.

“We have an internal goal to be 20 percent renewable by 2015,” said Steve Casey, the company’s member services and marketing administrator.

The GEO’s Hartman was not surprised.

“Holy Cross is one of the more progressive rural districts,” he said.

Holy Cross, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, serves consumers in Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Mesa and Gunnison counties, including much of the Roaring Fork Valley. It has 40,000 members, or customers, and serves 55,000 meters in an area that stretches along Interstate 70 from East Vail to the Garfield-Mesa County line. West of Glenwood Springs, Holy Cross serves a territory south of the Colorado River, while Xcel Energy serves the area north of the river. Carbondale is split between the two providers, while central Aspen is served by its municipal utility, with Holy Cross serving customers outside the town core.

Aspen’s utility, with 2,371 customers, gets more than 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, mainly wind and hydroelectric power. With a long-term goal of claiming 100 percent renewable sources by 2020, the city is currently exploring the potential to tap geothermal sources of power and working on a solar project, according to its website.

Summit County legislators have expressed hope that biomass energy will be included under the renewable energy umbrella. Pine beetle infestations have decimated large areas of the county and have affected about 2 million acres of Colorado forests. Burning the dead trees has been identified as a potentially cleaner energy source than fossil fuels, though there are pollutants associated with biomass, according to the GEO.

The switch to renewable energy sources can have an impact on costs to consumers, but environmental stewardship ranked higher than affordability in a 2007 survey of Holy Cross customers, Casey noted. The reverse was true in a 2003 survey. Reliability was the highest priority in both surveys.

Holy Cross is currently surveying customers on carbon dioxide emissions and the costs associated with a cleaner mix of energy sources. Customers can go to to take the survey.

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