Carbondale aims to be renewable energy Mecca
CARBONDALE – While the western portion of Garfield County is booming with oil and gas development, and the associated environmental impacts, the upper end of the county is looking in a different direction for energy production. Carbondale Question 2F on the Nov. 7 ballot will ask voters to allow the town of Carbondale to issue up to $1.8 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) to construct and operate two large-scale solar systems. The proposed systems would provide about 250 kilowatts (KW) of power. One of the systems would be the largest solar system in western Colorado, said local energy consultant Joan Matranga. Voting “yes” on 2F will increase the town’s debt, but will not raise local taxes. Revenue from the solar systems will pay off the bonds over the next 20 years. And, under a provision of the 2005 Energy Incentives Tax Act, the interest on the CREBs will be paid by the U.S. Government. “The citizens of Carbondale will be the first community in the state to be voting on this. It’s a precedent-setting vote,” said Randy Udall, the director of the Carbondale-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) that was the first entity in the state to offer incentives for renewable energy production. “I’m proud that we’ve come this far. It’s a credit to community that we’ve come this far.”Carbondale trustees unanimously decided to pursue the CREBs after the town’s advisory environmental board produced the Carbondale Energy Plan earlier this year. The plan outlines specific ways Carbondale can reduce its contribution to global warming. “The town can reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, improve the environment, support the local economy and invest in a clean energy future,” said Matranga, who added the town currently gets a majority of its energy from coal-fired power plants, which pollute the air and cause harmful greenhouse gasses. “The town is building on sustainability as an economic driver. Our PV (photovoltaic) systems will probably be a tourist destination,” she said. “The Carbondale Energy Plan talks about creating a strong local economy with more sustainable technologies. This is a way for municipalities to make a long-term investment in their future.”The town of Carbondale already boasts more solar capacity than almost any other municipality in the state. And that’s with only 4 KW on the roof of Town Hall and a new 6 KW system at the picnic shelter in Sopris Park. The proposed project would add 250 KW to the town’s renewable energy portfolio.”We have a strong solar history with Solar Energy International (SEI) bringing people from all over the U.S. and the world to learn about installing solar. We have Sunsense and now, Grounded Renewable Energy – all great solar installers – and (SEI co-founder) Ken Olson is also active,” said Matranga, mentioning a few of the renewable energy providers that operate in and around Carbondale. “We are a hotbed of solar action. These systems are the logical next step in making Carbondale a solar center.”The CREBs will fund two separate solar projects, one for 50 kilowatts (KW) and one for 200 KW. The 50 KW system will be located at the Carbondale Elementary School (the town is in negotiations with the school district to purchase the property) or the new recreation center and the larger system will be located either at Colorado Rocky Mountain School or at the town’s Roaring Fork water plant.Colorado citizens took action toward creating a more sustainable future in 2004 passing Amendment 37, which mandated that large utilities produce 15 percent of their power by renewable sources by 2017. Because of that mandate, Xcel Energy is not only building wind and solar farms to produce energy, they are offering incentives and rebates to people installing small residential systems. To meet the solar requirements of Amendment 37, Xcel Energy has also agreed to provide $300,000 in immediate rebates to the town of Carbondale for its proposed solar project and to purchase $1.2 million worth of solar energy credits over the next 20 years. The solar systems will be owned by the town, and the electricity they produce will be used in the town’s municipal buildings or by area schools.The solar system will continue to operate long after it is paid off, said Matranga, making it a great asset to the town especially considering the uncertainty of energy prices and availability in the future.”What made this whole thing possible was the confluence of a whole bunch of things – the CREBs and Xcel Energy came together in a rapid fashion earlier this year. All of a sudden we were looking at an attractive investment that we couldn’t have imagined last year,” said Udall. “There’s no guarantees that the stars will come into alignment like this again.”
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