Renewable goal estimated to cost $284K |

Renewable goal estimated to cost $284K

Aspen’s push to source all municipal operations with 100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2015 is expected to cost the city about $284,000 in the upcoming year, an official told the Aspen City Council on Tuesday.

The 2015 push is expected to forgo nonrenewable energy source purchases — coal, gas and nuclear — in favor of a city portfolio consisting entirely of hydroelectric and wind. This means the city no longer plans to purchase landfill gas, an energy source the city initially considered despite its questionable legitimacy as a renewable product. With that product, Aspen would have been using a coal-based energy source while enabling customers in the Midwest to purchase cleaner landfill gas.

Through additional wind purchases, Aspen’s Renewable Energy Manager Will Dolan said he is confident that Aspen can cover its renewable-energy shortfall, which he estimates to be between 18,000 and 20,000 megawatt hours a year. According to Dolan, landfill gas costs about $90 per megawatt hour while wind costs about $73 per megawatt hour.

When the city first announced its plans to phase out coal purchases, its energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, balked. This was due to the fact that the energy provider’s business model is based largely on the energy source.

Dolan said Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska’s recent plan to restructure will help allow Aspen to meet its renewable goal.

“The MEAN staff has voiced an increased level of confidence in getting us there to the point of almost a guarantee,” Dolan said. “On the cost issue, that’s where I have less certainty.”

In preparation for the 2015 budget, staff budgeted additional costs to achieve 100 percent renewable energy at $283,940. This number reflects costs over and above the option of forgoing any new renewable energy sources. Additionally, structural changes to Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska’s business model, and likely increases to Aspen’s fixed wholesale electric costs, have the potential to push the cost higher, to an additional $100,000, Dolan said.

“I concur with staff that (landfill gas) is kind of a half truth,” Councilman Dwayne Romero said. “If we can get there in a more pure and authentic way then let’s do so. … I appreciate the fact that budgets are just that, estimates at the front end.”

Officials also touched on the issue of water rights related to the Castle Creek Energy Center, with City Attorney Jim True saying the city can expect lengthy discussion in January. Earlier this year, the city filed a federal permit allowing hydropower to remain an energy option for Castle and Maroon creeks. The city’s next filing is scheduled for February, and True said officials need to make a decision on the future of hydro and microhydro.

Microhydro, which uses the natural flow of water to produce energy on a smaller scale than hydro, is a non-Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska source the city is exploring on Maroon and Castle creeks with Holy Cross Electric. Dolan said the city is also weighing Aspen solar projects and a hydro source in Provo, Utah.

On solar, the city has been in discussions with Yellow Brick and Red Brick staff about installing solar gardens on the roofs of their buildings, which would eliminate Aspen’s land cost associated with the product. The city expects to use these smaller projects to gauge the feasibility of larger ones.

In Utah, officials have had conversations about the Olmsted Hydropower replacement project. The city has inquired about whether agencies would be interested in using Aspen’s unused hydroelectric equipment, including its turbine, generator and controls, at the Provo site.

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