Council not blowing off wind energy |

Council not blowing off wind energy

It didn’t take Hurricane Katrina to convince Glenwood Springs City Council of how much power wind can yield.

But the storm’s aftermath is adding urgency to council’s interest in boosting the amount of wind power used by the city electric system.

How much more wind energy the city ends up using may depend on the outcome of an ongoing study of the city’s electric system rate structure.

At a workshop Thursday, some council members spoke of the value of diversifying the city’s energy sources. This week’s hurricane helped emphasize that point when the storm hit oil and natural gas facilities, causing spikes in already-high energy prices.

Wind energy is still more expensive than conventional energy sources. But city public works director Robin Millyard said wind energy prices aren’t rising, unlike the prices of conventional energy sources.

Council member Bruce Christensen said he thinks investing in more wind energy eventually will produce savings for customers, as it becomes cheaper than other sources.

“If we can do that and do something good for the world, it seems like the logical thing to do,” he said.

The city electric system, which serves about 5,500 customers, now gets 4 percent of its power from wind, supplied by turbines in Kimball, Neb. Council member Dan Richardson, who recently was hired as the city of Aspen’s global warming project manager, recently suggested Glenwood Springs increase its use of wind power.

If wind power supplied 8 percent of the system’s electricity, it would probably cost about 65 cents a month per customer, Richardson said.

“To me I think that’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said.

Wind energy now costs the city about a third more than its other energy sources. If the city boosted wind energy use by just 1 percent, to 5 percent, it would cost about 18 cents a month per customer, or a total of $11,730 per year.

At the high end, raising wind power to 20 percent of the city’s energy portfolio would cost $2.81 per customer, or nearly $186,000 per year.

City manager Jeff Hecksel recommended that the city complete its electric rate study before trying to decide how much more wind energy it might want to purchase.

“You want that information so you can know what you’re asking people to pay for,” he said.

Council member Larry Beckwith said the study may show that the city can purchase more wind energy without having to raise rates.

Randy Udall, of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency, an Aspen-based nonprofit organization that promotes use of renewable energy, told council Thursday that Glenwood Springs’ electric utility already ranks third-highest nationwide among 2,000 municipal electric systems in amount of wind energy used.

In a presentation to council about the nation’s energy outlook, he said more must be done to make the United States less dependent on fossil fuels.

“If we want to preserve our prosperity and place in the world we’ve got to become more energy efficient,” he said.

Hurricane Katrina already is helping drive gasoline above $3 per gallon, but also threatens to add to the soaring cost of natural gas just in time for the winter heating season.

“It could be a very interesting winter. We don’t know how this is going to shape up yet,” Udall said.

Rising natural gas demand already has helped make the Piceance Basin, centered in western Garfield County, one of the top 10 natural gas fields in the country, and it eventually could become one of the top five, Udall predicted.

Meanwhile, motorists are paying $1 more per gallon of gasoline due to a dramatic increase in demand from China, Udall said. And in western Colorado, the oil shale industry could make a revival due to today’s high cost of oil.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Rifle someday is larger than Grand Junction,” Udall said.

He sees wind energy as one means of the United States expanding its energy options at a time when conventional sources are dwindling.

“As a people, we’ve got to become more efficient. Everything is riding on it,” he said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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