GLENWOOD SPRINGS — State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, is the sole Colorado legislator working on an ongoing effort to devise a nationwide energy plan that its creators hope will be implemented state by state.
Schwartz, who at one time represented the entire Roaring Fork Valley including Glenwood Springs, told the Post Independent on Thursday that she has been working for about two years on the energy plan as part of the Task Force On Energy Supply, a committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Currently, Schwartz represents only the upper half of the valley after the Colorado General Assembly redrew the state’s legislative districts in 2012.
The energy-plan task force met on Dec. 3-4 in Washington, D.C., and although Schwartz did not attend she submitted information and materials to the discussions. She said a report about the group’s work is due out in a matter of weeks.
“In order for Colorado to remain a leader and innovator in energy production and resources, we must continue to look outside our state boundaries for great ideas and best practices,” said Schwartz in a prepared statement prior to the task force meeting. “I’m looking forward to sharing Colorado’s many energy successes with the task force and learning about pioneering concepts and solutions that could benefit our state.”
“There are 23 of us [on the task force], people that are very engaged and focused on energy policy in different states,” Schwartz said on Thursday, explaining that a total of 19 states around the U.S. have passed comprehensive energy plans, though Colorado is not one of them.
“We’re so lucky, as a state, we have such diverse resources,” she said, mentioning 50,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry, the existence of 10 working coal mines around Colorado, and the state’s drive toward greater use of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, biomass and hydroelectric generation technology and more.
For example, she said a new biomass generation plant in Gypsum produces 11.8 megawatts of power, 10 MW of which is bought by the Holy Cross Energy cooperative. The plant, she said, burns “slash and brush” cleared out of the state’s forests, as well as material gathered up after the recent floods on the Front Range, along with some beetle-killed trees and some live trees, too.
“We’re looking at densities that support a viable ecosystem,” she added, by thinning out the dense growth that feeds forest fires and harms the forest health. She said the bill was opposed by some environmental activists, because of concerns about overharvesting live trees, but it passed anyway.
Other initiatives being explored, she said, include capturing methane escaping from coal mines, whether the mines are operating or shuttered, and making use of the state’s considerable wealth of geothermal reserves.
In the North Fork Valley west of McClure Pass, for example, The Vessels Coal Gas company is using a “thermal oxidizer” to capture excess methane gas venting from the Oxbow Mine, and other such projects are being contemplated elsewhere. The Oxbow project was funded by the Aspen Skiing Co., Schwartz said, and is now owned by Holy Cross Energy, which uses the methane to generate power.
And, she said, “we are moving toward emission standards that will cut emissions [of methane] from oil and gas activities,” by capturing the methane and either piping it away to be processed and sold, or finding alternative ways to use it that do not contribute to the formation of greenhouse gasses.
A major goal, she said, is to achieve a balanced approach that incorporates traditional energy resources such as oil and gas, but also looks to energy conservation measures, renewable energy initiatives and “things of that nature” that states can use to come up with their own, individual comprehensive energy plans.
“The focus,” she said, “is pretty much on what we can do on the state level, since there’s not a lot happening on the federal level” as far as a comprehensive national policy on energy conservation and a turn toward greater reliance on alternative energy.
Schwartz sponsored legislation, approved last year, that made methane eligible for the state’s renewable energy standards, which has made such projects possible, she said.
She also attended and spoke at a Nov. 13 energy forum in Carbondale, sponsored by Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) and Garfield Clean Energy, with whom Schwartz has been working as part of her contributions to the NCSL task force.
“I think her work is really important,” said CLEER director Alice Laird, who said Colorado has been slipping in national energy efficiency ratings, and currently is 16th in the nation.
“It was 14th last year,” she said.
Pushing for greater energy efficiency standards, more use of alternative energy and similar goals is “one of the most important things we can do to strengthen the national economy,” said Laird, adding that Schwartz’ work on the task force is helping Colorado and the nation move in that direction.