Towns explore renewable options

BOULDER – Already, 75 percent of the electricity distributed by the municipal utility department in Aspen comes from renewable sources, mostly wind. The city hopes to push that to 83 percent with installation of a small hydroelectric plant on a local creek.

Could something called a feed-in tariff push Aspen toward its goal of 100 percent renewable energy?

Feed-in tariffs provide generators of small to intermediate amounts of renewable energy fixed prices and long-term guarantees from their utility. The guarantee gives entrepreneurs easier access to financing.

“We are certainly going to look at it intensely to see if it has merit,” says Dave Hornbacher, the city’s deputy director of utilities and renewable energy. “It appears to have the potential to facilitate additional photovoltaic installations,” he added.

In the wonkish world of energy policy, feed-in tariffs occupy a particularly esoteric niche. But speakers at a workshop last week in Boulder said they will be crucial in accelerating the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re not thinking grandly enough, boldly enough,” said Randy Udall, an energy analyst and activist from the Aspen area. Feed-in tariffs, he said, are the only way to achieve the giant steps that are needed.

Jim Woolsey, a former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said they would also provide environmental benefits by reducing atmospheric pollution from mercury, nitrous oxide and other toxin byproducts of burning coal.

Woolsey said feed-in tariffs could also make the United States less vulnerable to terrorists by making our energy supplies less centralized. An ordinary squirrel in Ohio was able to put New York as well as other states and parts of Canada into the dark in 2003. He suggested a few people with far more malevolent intentions could do far worse.

The effect of the tariffs would be to substantially change the nature of our electrical supply. That existing system is centralized around large coal-fired plants. But feed-in tariffs would create more diverse and dispersed energy sources.

But price is a major stumbling block.  In the short term, renewables mostly cost more than fossil fuels. So why would a utility – and its customers – be willing to pay more for electricity from renewable sources?

Possibly because coal will become far more expensive in the long run – conceivably more expensive than renewables, even if you don’t account for the greenhouse gas emissions or the health impacts.

In Aspen, city officials expect price hikes of 8.5 percent each year for the next two years, with an unspecified increase the year after, for coal-generated electricity they purchase from Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska.

At the same time, the price of electricity from renewables has been plummeting. Wind has, at times and places, achieved parity with coal-generated electricity, and the prices of solar panels have dropped substantially in the last year as factories – particularly in China – have ramped production.

Vail wrestles with medical marijuana

MINTURN – Governments in ski towns and elsewhere in Colorado continue to wrestle with what to do about medical marijuana dispensaries. State voters authorized medical marijuana several years ago, and the Obama administration opened the gate by opting to not enforce federal laws with respect to medical cannabis.

Response of local governments has varied. Boulder didn’t attempt to throw up many roadblocks and may realize $260,000 in sales tax revenues. In Denver, radio ads have told listeners that no matter the hour, a doctor can be found to evaluate the medical need for marijuana. And in Summit County, the sheriff last winter made the wry comment that he’d never seen so many 21-year-olds with earaches.

But if a town’s voters supported medical marijuana several years ago, as was the case in Vail, how can a local municipality then close and bolt the door? That was the essential question posed by theColorado Independent after Vail Town Council members banned dispensaries.

Allowing pot shops “flies in the face of the tone we’ve tried to set in this community,” said Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland. He was backed by long-time council member Kevin Foley, a waiter by profession. “To me it’s just that when you’ve got guests coming here from all over the country and all over the world, I just don’t think we need to have it here in town,” he told theVail Daily.

Jackson Hole slashes season pass price

JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has slashed the price of a season pass by 25 percent, bringing it to $1,255. That’s the lowest price since the 1980s for a full-privilege ski pass. But, at the same time, the resort increased the cost of skiing for children.

Jerry Blann, the chief executive at the resort, said the reduced price was an effort to get adults who have been buying the 10- and 20-day packages to go forward with season passes.

“I think we will see some of our 10- and 20-day people move up,” Blann told theJackson Hole News&Guide. “We’re counting on that. We might even see some people with second homes here buy season passes.”

He also noted that Jackson Hole has improved its infrastructure, with a new tramway and other changes.

In slashing season prices, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has joined many other resorts in the West. The season-pass price slashing began in Idaho but was quickly picked up by major ski areas in Colorado.

But whereas those discounted passes were aimed at regional markets, especially the ski-happy Denver area, Vail Resorts upped the ante two years ago with a no-holds-barred Epic Pass. The pass this year costs $600 and is good at the corporation’s four ski areas in Colorado (Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge) and one ski area in California, Heavenly, along with Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin.

Telluride home scores gold LEED rating

TELLURIDE – Telluride now has a gold-rated LEED-certified home, a three-bedroom affair on the town’s main street. Gold is the third highest of four levels in the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system. The house has triple-glazed windows, a roof made of energy-tight structural insulated panels and a deck made from Trex.

Seeking LEED certification for the house cost at least $4,000 in added inspection costs, said Peter Sante, the architect. But that and other higher upfront costs will be offset by the lower cost of electricity, gas and water “forever,” he toldThe Telluride Watch.

Low-waste events sweep the West

VAIL – The idea of zero-waste special events has been spreading among ski towns. In Telluride, firefighters for the second year used compostable plates and cutlery for their community July Fourth picnic. Local environmental activist Kris Holstrom reported that 83 percent of trash was diverted from the landfill.

In Vail, a farmers market has become a big, big deal on Sundays. Recently, the town environmental sustainability coordinator, Kristen Bertuglia, enlisted cheerleaders from the local high school to encourage more recycling and composting at the weekly event.

Cold snaps knock back bark beetles

CANMORE, Alberta – It wasn’t much for people of Banff and Alberta who had broken out their shorts, but a spring cold snap apparently quelled bark beetles in local forests. It takes much colder weather during mid-winter to accomplish the same tricks, as the beetles have a sort of natural anti-freeze at that time. But apparently it did get cold enough last week, and stay cold enough, to do the trick. The Banff-Canmore area has nowhere near the number of beetles as has become evident in both Colorado and British Columbia. There, they’re still trying to cut down all the trees that have been infested, notes theRocky Mountain Outlook.

– Allen Best

 

In this week's issue...

May 2, 2019
In the flow

Rafting season is already under way on the Animas River, which has been flowing at near record levels and almost double the average rate for this time of year.

April 25, 2019
Laying down the law

Over the past couple decades, Jeff Robbins’ work as an  oil and gas lawyer – with a specific focus on serving local communities – allowed him to build relationships and gain the experience needed to carry out one of Colorado’s most sweeping reforms to oil and gas regulations, Senate Bill 181. 

April 18, 2019
A new kind of cold war

It’s a good thing Heidi Steltzer can’t tolerate the heat or the open ocean. “I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist, and I got seasick,” said Steltzer, a professor in the Biology Department and Environmental Science program at Fort Lewis College.