Action urged for local energy innovation
A clean energy workshop Friday put the spotlight on local resources that could be developed to produce electricity for the grid, heat for buildings and fuel for vehicles.
“People talk about a local food supply. Is that a possibility for our power?” asked Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky to start the workshop, “Clean Innovative Energy Sources to Power Our Region.”
The 15 energy experts speaking at the workshop confirmed that local resources as diverse as abandoned coal mines, landfills, wastewater plants, beetle-killed timber, water pipelines, dams, gas pipeline compressors, sunshine and even the ground beneath our feet contain energy that can be tapped to help communities meet their clean energy targets.
“The takeaway here is ‘Do something.’ Unless you take a project and move it forward, it’s pie in the sky,” said Matthew Hazleton of TRC Cos.
TRC was commissioned by Garfield County to research and produce the Garfield County Energy Atlas, published in 2014. That report evaluated a dozen types of energy resources, identifying which areas of the county offered prime potential for energy development.
Since its publication, there’s been little action to use that information to develop projects. Friday’s workshop, hosted by Garfield Clean Energy, CLEER and CORE, was meant to move the ball forward for Garfield and neighboring counties.
Interest was high, with more than 100 people attending from Garfield, Gunnison, Delta, Mesa, Pitkin, Eagle and Routt counties. The workshop was held at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
Speakers urged community leaders to get started on energy-producing projects, citing “screamin’ deals” on financing for small hydropower projects, financially attractive renewable energy credits for methane capture, and declining costs for solar energy.
Elected officials in the room said the energy projects deserve close attention.
“I was so impressed with the depth of the presentations,” said Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman. He called for Garfield Clean Energy, CLEER, CORE and others to “look for the big ideas, and pursue a clean energy economy for the Roaring Fork, Colorado and Eagle valleys.”
Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said, “My biggest takeaway is the role of a county commissioner on these issues. Climate action and clean energy are important.”
New Castle Trustee Greg Russi suggested a regional energy district to develop major clean energy resources.
The workshop’s energy experts said clean energy projects help the climate and environment by either generating energy while producing no carbon emissions, or by capturing methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, and converting it to less-potent carbon dioxide.
“If we can do something with it, methane is a great energy source, and we might actually see something change from its capture,” said Michael Coté, president of Ruby Canyon Engineering, a Grand Junction company that certifies carbon emissions from innovative energy projects.
Coté used the Elk Creek Mine methane capture project as an example. Methane emissions from the coal mine near Somerset, in Delta County, are captured in the underground mine, piped to the surface and used to fuel a generator that produces 3 megawatts of electricity.
Vessels Coal Gas Inc. runs the project, which was funded in large part by the Aspen Skiing Co. The electricity is wheeled through other utilities to Holy Cross Energy, which then provides the power to Skico.
A similar project is underway at the Golden Eagle Mine near Trinidad. Together, the two projects capture more than 1 billion cubic feet of methane per year that would otherwise have been vented directly into the atmosphere, Coté said.
Dan Tonello, Grand Junction wastewater services manager, explained how Grand Junction and Mesa County are capturing methane that was being flared from the Persigo wastewater plant. The waste gas is now scrubbed, pushed through a five-mile pipeline and used as compressed biogas to fuel the city’s garbage trucks, dump trucks and transit buses.
Tonello said the EPA’s program to track ethanol also works for his biogas project, generating income from a national renewable energy trading program for every gallon of fuel pumped to the city’s truck fleet.
Evan Vessels, of Vessels Coal Gas, said state and federal policies add to the financial viability of coal mine methane projects, too. Coal mine methane qualifies for Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard, producing valuable renewable energy credits. And the project sells carbon offsets on California’s carbon cap-and-trade market.
Vessels called for a cap-and-trade system to be established in Colorado, to create new capital for clean energy and methane capture projects.
Other speakers explained the potential for small hydropower projects, ground source geothermal heating for buildings and greenhouses, biogas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, recycled energy from industrial operations, and solar electric projects.
Kurt Johnson, a Telluride hydropower consultant and president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association, said small hydropower projects can be developed almost anywhere water is flowing through a pipeline or canal. Colorado agencies offer grant programs that help with project planning, low-interest loans for construction, and free technical assistance to get projects moving.
Johnson said cities, towns and water providers can install small hydropower turbines wherever a pressure relief valve (PRV) is needed in a pipeline system.
“There are hundreds of thousands of PRVs in water systems in the U.S., and thousands could become small hydro projects, but people don’t know it’s possible,” Johnson said. “We have a huge amount of work to just get the word out.”
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