Garfield Clean Energy continues to evolve |

Garfield Clean Energy continues to evolve

Kelley Cox Citizen Telegram

Add economic development and jobs creation to Garfield Clean Energy’s ongoing mission to help make area residences, small businesses, schools and local government facilities more energy efficient.

One focus of the organization’s work over the past three years has been the economic benefits it can bring. But it’s a major reason the newly revamped Garfield Clean Energy (GCE) Authority, a collaborative effort among local governments in Garfield County, continues today.

The Garfield Board of County Commissioners last week joined five local municipalities and the Garfield County Public Library District in signing an intergovernmental agreement to keep the organization going.

“Small business, in particular, is a large sector in Garfield County, and has sought our help in many instances for energy audits and retrofits,” said Greg Russi, a New Castle town trustee and current chairman of the GCE board.

“We can help both individuals and businesses make huge strides in lowering their energy bills, which is fundamentally a bottom line decision,” he said.

That translates to jobs, not only for the contractors doing the work, but through the money saved by businesses, which can then afford to expand and hire more employees, Russi said.

A more recent effort by GCE involves working with energy companies, local governments and others to develop and promote compressed natural gas as a cleaner-burning transportation fuel.

Garfield County can be “ground zero,” Russi said, in the development and utilization of compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel for government vehicle fleets and public transportation systems, as well as private vehicles.

Garfield Clean Energy grew out of the former Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative, an organization formed when Garfield County received one of 14 Colorado Department of Local Affairs grants in 2008 for local clean energy projects.

Since that time, numerous community based solar electric installations and other projects have been carried out, from Carbondale to Parachute. Energy audits were also done on many local government and public school buildings, resulting in efficiency improvements being made through the use of grant money and local matching funds.

Working with the Carbondale-based nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), the partnership continues to provide education, technical assistance, program development, marketing and financing to take advantage of energy-saving opportunities.

This fall, GCE has been working to line up support among its partner governments through the intergovernmental agreement, which will help bolster support for various grants and other funding opportunities to continue the work.

The agreement itself does not include a funding share from the partner governments, though individual governments can contribute.

And, where Garfield County previously served as the fiscal agent for grants, the new “authority” status for GCE allows it to act as its own fiscal agent.

“I do feel that this effort supports economic development,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said at the Dec. 5 BOCC meeting when commissioners unanimously approved the IGA.

“Not just for the potential with compressed natural gas, but there are a number of small businesses that employ people related to energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Jankovsky said. “Energy efficiency puts more money in people’s pockets locally, instead of big utility corporations. For those reasons, I support it.”

Clean energy is a fairly new application of the inter-governmental model, Russi said.

“Garfield County is easily the leader among rural counties in Colorado,” he said. “We have been recognized by many of the larger counties and cities, who are now looking to us as a model.”

In addition to the county commissioners, the Glenwood Springs and Rifle city councils, and town boards in Carbondale, New Castle and Parachute have signed on with GCE.

The town of Silt is still to be approached, Russi said, and GCE is awaiting a Jan. 12 vote by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board to join as a partner.

“Transportation is a very important element of clean energy, and the regional collaborative effort,” Russi said.

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