Holy Cross plan could spur local green energy projects | VailDaily.com

Holy Cross plan could spur local green energy projects

ASPEN, Colorado – A new initiative by Holy Cross Energy could spur development of solar and wind farms in the Roaring Fork Valley and possibly hydro and biomass plants.

The Holy Cross board of directors voted at its monthly meeting in May to move ahead with two projects: production of up to one megawatt of solar photovoltaic power and production up to 10 megawatts of non-solar energy generation.

Holy Cross currently has nearly 1.5 megawatts of locally produced renewable energy in its power mix, mostly from individual solar electric systems at homes and businesses, said Steve Casey, member services and marketing administrator. The utility cooperative has given $2.2 million in rebates to 260 projects that installed renewable power since September 2004, he said.

The two proposals are an attempt to ramp up the locally produced renewable energy.

If there are developers out there “raring to go,” there could be green projects producing power for Holy Cross as soon as late 2011, Casey said. The Holy Cross board will review any proposals that are submitted and make sure it can acquire the electricity at a favorable rate for its members before signing agreements, Casey said.

Any proposal that is accepted would be for home-grown projects in the Holy Cross territory, which includes parts of the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys as well as the Interstate 70 corridor in Garfield County.

One megawatt of solar PV is enough to fully power about 200 homes. Large-scale biomass and hydro projects operate full-time, round the clock, so their production of green energy is even greater. So, if projects with 11 megawatts of power are constructed it would add enough clean energy for thousands of a homes in the Holy Cross service area.

In addition to seeking the green projects, the Holy Cross board voted unanimously on May 19 to offer up to $250,000 in rebates for medium-scale renewable energy projects that produce between 25 and 100 kilowatts of clean power. The utility already is offering up to $600,000 for smaller renewable energy projects installed by its members, primarily home solar PV systems.

The Holy Cross board’s votes come at a time when the utility is under scrutiny by environmentalists for its energy efficiency and renewable energy practices. There are elections this spring for two of the seven positions on the board of directors. Incumbents are being challenged by candidates that want more action faster on efficiency and renewables.

Auden Schendler, director of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co. and a Holy Cross watchdog, criticized the utility for the timing of its actions on the renewable energy initiatives.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a coincidence or not,” Schendler said. “It’s easy enough for Holy Cross to ensure an untainted election by simply delaying by a few weeks anything at all that might influence the election.”

Holy Cross members received their ballot by mail in mid-May. They have until June 5 to vote. In the southern district, which stretches from Aspen to Missouri Heights, incumbent board member Bob Starodoj is facing a challenge from Dave Munk. Environmentalists have mounted a letter-writing campaign in favor of Munk.

In the northern district, in the Eagle Valley, incumbent Michael Glass is facing a challenge from William Maxwell and Erik Lundquist.

Holy Cross board chairman Tom Turnbull said the full board’s vote on the renewable energy initiatives was “absolutely not” timed to coincide with the election. The management, staff and directors have work underway on a wide variety of projects. Internal factors dictate when they are ready to be acted on, not politics, he said.

A press release was issued about the board’s actions because the entire board agreed Holy Cross needs to do a better job of informing members and the public about its activities.

“I see it as a change of philosophy from going about our own business to tooting our horn a little bit,” Turnbull said.

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