Renewable energy sources continue to draw attention

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Interest in energy and the environment continues to grow among utilities and environmental groups in Colorado, and delivering that energy affordably is on the minds of consumers.

Last fall, Colorado Springs Utilities dropped the idea of a coal plant because of lobbying by Environment Colorado and concerns that were raised by residents during public meetings regarding the project. Questions about wind and solar power continue to be addressed at the state and local level.

The Colorado Renewable Energy Standard Bill, which is intended to increase the state’s use of clean energy, such as wind, biomass and fuel cells, continues to make progress. The bill, which has passed the House, requires Xcel Energy and Aquila to increase their use of renewable energy to about 8 percent by the year 2010.

Xcel Energy serves customers in Pueblo, while some northern El Paso County businesses and homes are Aquila customers.

The bill sets a state standard that applies to public-owned utilities, said Stephanie Bonin of Environment Colorado. Bonin works to promote the use of clean energy and energy efficiency in Colorado. She has built a coalition which includes 14 counties, agricultural, business and environmental interests to support renewable energy.

“This bill requires public-owned utilities to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy,” Bonin said. “This includes wind power, solar power, biomass, geothermal, small hydroelectric and fuel cells.”

Sponsored by Sen. Ken Kester, a Republican from Las Animas County, and Sen. Terry Phillips, a Democrat from Louisville, the standard will add more wind energy into the mix.

“Wind is one of the least expensive forms of new electricity, and will help protect ratepayers from natural gas price spikes,” said David Eves, Xcel’s vice president for resource planning.

The Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation, which is charged with demonstrating emerging technologies with renewable and traditional fuels, has public-private partnerships that promote Colorado’s renewable energy potential. Many of the office’s projects have been among the first in the state or the world: a fuel cell exhibit at a fire station; a micro turbine generating electricity from an anaerobic digester on a hog farm; and a micro turbine fueled by forest thinnings to generate electricity.

Colorado is ranked 11th among the 50 states by the U.S. Department of Energy for its wind potential.

The Department of Energy’s Wind Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory published a wind resource map for Colorado at the end of 2003. The map indicates that the state has wind resources consistent with utility-scale production.

As a renewable resource, wind is classified according to power classes, which are based on typical speeds. The classes range from one (the lowest) to seven (the highest). In general, class four or higher can wind can be used to generate power using large turbines. Class four and above also are considered good resources.

The eastern quarter of the state has contiguous areas of good resources with embedded regions of excellent. The exposed ridge crests of the Front Range, the Continental Divide and in western Colorado also have good-to-outstanding wind resources.

Bonin said Baca County and much of the eastern plains have “a lot of wind potential that can be funneled to larger cities along the Front Range.”

The bill also has economic and job development implications.

The Colorado Green Wind Farm in Lamar provides annual royalties to landowners of more than $350,000. Estimates from the Colorado Green Wind Farm show the farm will increase the Prowers County tax base by 29 percent. It has already provided 390 installation jobs.

Other Benefits

Renewable energy sources create “an incredible opportunity for area farmers and ranchers,” Bonin said. “The land owners produce electricity and get lease payments for their land. Generally, this consists of three to six thousand dollars per turbine per year.

“This bill will help to create a lot of economic development opportunities in rural counties,” she adds, “and has strong environmental impact as well.”

Though a similar bill failed to pass in a Senate committee last year, this year’s bill has protections for rural co-ops, municipal utilities and rural electric associations, said Justin Dawe of Environment Colorado.

“If this bill is passed into law, Colorado’s rural areas are likely to see more than $1 billion of new capital investment, which will generate important new local economic development,” said Craig Cox, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for New Energy Technologies. “Likewise, ratepayers of Xcel Energy and Aquila will enjoy stable, and possibly lower, electricity rates thanks to the affordability of wind and other clean, plentiful and inexhaustible renewable energy technologies.”

Kester, who represents southeastern Colorado, said the bill will assist in economic development in rural communities. Phillips said that consumers will realize savings through the use of clean energy.

“Investing in renewable energy sounds like a better idea to me every time I hear how natural gas’ unpredictability is driving utility bills through the roof,” he said.

Local Implications

Although the bill doesn’t apply to Colorado Springs Utilities, which is a privately-owned enterprise of the city, the company is looking at alternative energy resources, said Wayne Vanderschuere, manager of resource supply. The utility’s Electric Integrated Resource Plan was started at the end of January.

The plan is a long-term strategy about ways to supply electricity – a business planning document that is required to be updated every five years so the utility can purchase power from the Western Area Power Administration.

Colorado Springs generates some of its energy, said Rachel Beck, a spokeswoman for the utility, “but we also go to WAPA because sometimes it’s less expensive.”

As part of the Electric Integrated Resource Plan, Colorado Springs Utilities has held one public meeting, and plans a two more. At the meetings, residents can comment on energy forecasts, existing resources, new technologies and the Renewable Energy Strategy.

“The EIRP looks at wind power as part of the Renewable Energy Strategy,” Beck said. “It also evaluates conservation programs, and looks at managing demand.”

Demand forecasts have changed, she said. “Current forecasts indicate we’re going to need less (energy) than we expected. We take into account forecasted population growth and what we expect people are going to use. Taking good care of our environment locally is important to us at Colorado Springs Utilities.

The utility offers electricity generated by wind power to its customers, but Beck said it costs more and isn’t always reliable. Of the wind power that Colorado Springs Utilities has available, 80 to 90 percent is being used.

“Public participation is important to us,” Beck said. “It’s what’s driving the Renewable Energy Strategy. We want to keep our environment pristine.”

Ross Vincent, chairman of the Sangre de Cristo chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bill is “a big step forward to get us started down a path to a new approach to producing energy.

“Renewable sources are going to be the wave of the future,” Vincent said. “The days of affordable fossil fuels are going to be a thing of the past. Communities that embrace these new technologies are going to prosper.”