RFTA sets policy on natural gas purchases

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE – When the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority starts powering part of its bus fleet with natural gas next year, it aims to find a supplier that provides gas extracted in the most environmentally responsible way possible.

RFTA’s board of directors approved a natural-gas-procurement policy Thursday in Carbondale after wrestling with it for nine months. RFTA staff consulted with environmental and energy-conservation groups to draft the policy.

The policy says, in its entirety, “RFTA expects the gas and oil industry to adhere to industry best practices when exploring for, extracting, and delivering the energy resources upon which RFTA relies and, to the best of its ability, RFTA will attempt to do business with only those that do.

“When evaluating bids or proposals from gas suppliers, RFTA will consider both price and the policies and practices that suppliers have in place or are willing to put in place to mitigate the negative environmental and community impacts of resource extraction, development, production and transportation.”

The towns and counties that belong to RFTA and have a seat on the board of directors approved the policy, 8-0. Despite the vote, the value of the policy came into question.

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, a RFTA board member, said the policy is largely symbolic and a “feel-good measure.”

But RFTA planner Jason White, the leader of the team that proposed the policy, said the state government is interested in assessing RFTA’s policy for possible use in its natural-gas-procurement process.

Mona Newton, executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, agreed that RFTA could be in a leadership role because of the policy. Newton was on the committee that produced the proposal.

Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson, also a RFTA board member, asked why the agency didn’t expand its policy to cover its purchases of diesel and unleaded fuel. The response from other board members was that the natural-gas-procurement policy was a place to start and something the agency can build on.

RFTA has placed an order for 22 buses that will run on compressed natural gas. Four will be delivered in January. The other 18 will be added to the fleet in September, when RFTA’s service expands. The agency is building a multimillion-dollar compressed-natural-gas-loading facility in Glenwood Springs.

RFTA will put out a request for proposals for gas suppliers early next year for a long-term contract. RFTA President and CEO Dan Blankenship said it appears that there are about half a dozen natural-gas suppliers that could potentially bid for the RFTA contract. Suppliers must use pipelines and facilities owned by SourceGas, which is one of the suppliers.

A best-practices questionnaire to help determine whether suppliers meet RFTA’s policy is under development. Prospective suppliers will be required to fill out the questionnaire. It will try to find out issues such as whether the gas sold comes from wells that are close to water sources, schools or environmentally sensitive areas.

“The gas procurement process is being designed so that bidders will not be penalized if they do not adhere to a specific best practice,” a memorandum from the RFTA staff to the board stated. “Instead, those bidders that do adhere to specific best practices will be awarded bonus points that will be added to their final evaluation score.”

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said it is important to him that RFTA use its policy to support the concept that some areas are too environmentally sensitive for natural-gas extraction. Other board members concurred.

But one outstanding issue wasn’t resolved. There is no firm policy on exactly how price will fit the policy. If one supplier that doesn’t get best-practices bonus points is 20 percent below competitors that meet the goals, it’s uncertain how RFTA staff will proceed.

In a “perfect world,” the low-price bidder also will earn best-practices bonus points, said Todd Horsley, RFTA chief operating officer.