CREB plan fizzles; Skico steps in to finance C-dale’s solar system |

CREB plan fizzles; Skico steps in to finance C-dale’s solar system

Gina GuarascioGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colo. The federal government’s Clean Renewable Energy Bonds haven’t turned out to be what the town of Carbondale expected. Last November, 80 percent of Carbondale voters agreed that the town should pursue the CREBs and finance up to 250 kilowatts of solar power. The “interest free” bonds, included in the federal government’s 2005 Energy Bill, were offered to encourage renewable energy systems.The town was poised to issue the CREBs to finance a 150-kilowatt solar electric system on about an acre of land owned by the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, as well as a 50-kilowatt system at the old Carbondale Elementary School this year as part of a deal with Xcel Energy.But frequent problems with the CREBs have finally proven to be too cumbersome and costly, said local energy consultant Joani Matranga.Matranga and Randy Udall, the director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, have been working all year to, first, come up with a site for the “largest solar system in Western Colorado,” and also to figure out how to fund the systems using CREBs.After several updates from the consultants who said the CREBs would require more and more of a subsidy from the town to make the systems work financially, the Carbondale trustees unanimously decided on Tuesday night to turn over their envisioned field of solar dreams to the Aspen Skiing Co. Now the town will not own the system. It has agreed to sign over its 20-year contract with Xcel Energy for over $600,000 in Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for the CRMS installation. Xcel is also offering a one-time rebate of $2 a watt, up to 100,000 watts, once the system is up and running. Xcel is offering the rebates and incentives to help the company comply with Amendment 37, a measure passed in 2004 that requires major utility companies to provide 10 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2015. Xcel wants to see the 150 kilowatt system up and running at CRMS this year, but they have agreed to wait until next year for the proposed system at CES.”We’re 100 percent committed to trying to follow through on this. It’s a very complicated deal; it’s not easy to finance solar, it doesn’t have a great return, but we want to see it happen,” said Auden Schendler, Skico’s executive director of Community and Environmental Responsibility. “It would be a really cool collaboration between a corporation, a high school, a nonprofit (CORE) and the town. We see the town as a full partner even if they have no other contribution.”Matranga said Skico is asking the town to donate the money spent on consultants and legal fees up to this point.”Our owners, the Crown family, would make the investment. They would lose money because they could invest it at a higher rate, but this is looked at as part of our climate plan. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s an investment in the community,” said Schendler, who thought the company would know in about two weeks if they could make the investment work. He said Skico would end up investing about $1.1 million in the project.”This is not necessarily a compelling economic deal for Skico,” Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig said, adding that he was beginning to get uncomfortable with the amount of subsidy the system would need from the town using the CREBs. “They’re (Skico) doing it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of their story. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that this is the best course. I think it’s hugely preferable than to just walk away (from the project).”Added Matranga, “There will be a huge amount of visibility (for Carbondale) in the marketing; we will be a partner,” Matranga assured the trustees. “But you get to minimize the financial responsibility. I think it’s a great outcome. And if this works, the ski company will want to do more.”

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