2015 was a good year for Garfield Clean Energy | PostIndependent.com

2015 was a good year for Garfield Clean Energy

Ryan Summerlin
Roaring Fork High School students Fiona Laird, left, and Tavia Teitler, recently helped to dedicate the new 385-kilowatt solar array at their school, pictured in the background. The project is one of many intended to help the town reach its 2020 carbon reduction targets. A "climate action tax" that's on the town's April 5 ballot is another step in that effort.
John Stroud | Post Independent

Though local funding has taken a slight hit for Garfield Clean Energy, 2015 was a big year in the county for renewable energy, Heather McGregor told county commissioners Monday.

McGregor, GCE’s administrative manager, said her organization’s projects in the county have produced about $3.2 million in economic activity last year — a figure that Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said demonstrates the county’s investment has been well worth it.

“If I were running for re-election this year, this would be one of the things in my campaign — the success we’ve seen through Garfield Clean Energy,” Jankovsky said.

Garfield County has been by far the biggest contributor to GCE. Commissioners put in $180,000 last year, and they’ve OK’d $150,000 for 2016. The next biggest supporters for 2016 are Glenwood Springs, paying $45,000; Colorado Mountain College, $35,000; and Carbondale and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, each contributing $25,000.

The organization also pulled in a $19,000 state grant to help make up for the $24,000 reduction in local funding.

“The good news is we have almost all our money in hand for this year,” said McGregor.

Though commissioners in the past have talked about having GCE wean itself off county funding, the board praised the organization’s successes during the Monday meeting.

This year’s big projects for GCE included three completed solar arrays — at the Silt water plant, Battlement Mesa metro district and Roaring Fork High School — that produce 100 percent of those facilities’ annual electricity needs, said McGregor.

Those solar projects were a success in part through Xcel Energy’s financing programs and federal tax credits that eliminates up-front costs for local governments, she said.

Silt Mayor Rick Aluise, a GCE board member, said Silt’s power purchase agreement for the water plant’s solar array is a great example of the kind of public-private partnerships that county leaders should keep working toward.

A new compressed natural gas station opened in West Glenwood in November, and another CNG station is expected to open at Rifle’s Gilco Petroleum Park in this year’s third quarter.

Jankovsky, the commissioners’ representative for GCE, added that the county is continuing to add CNG vehicles to its fleet.

The organization also offers residential loans for clean energy upgrades, which have continued to grow over the last four years. From 2012 to 2015, 37 families have borrowed from the loan fund, which has so far lent $345,378, according to GCE. Last year 15 families borrowed at total of $156,349 from GCE’s residential loan fund.

New Castle Mayor Bob Gordon, also on the GCE board, praised the residential loan program for its low interest rates giving the opportunity for upgrades that many homeowners could otherwise never afford.

The organization retrofitted 146 Garfield County homes with clean energy upgrades last year, and GCE estimates the total annual savings are more than $70,171.

The organization also began a Home Energy Program in 2015, targeting income-qualified families for “intensive energy upgrades.” Last year 54 families got upgrades such as “high-efficiency furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and evaporative coolers, windows, insulation, air sealing, (LED lighting), programmable thermostats and Energy Star fridges,” according to GCE.

Another 94 units in Rifle Creek Apartments qualified for insulation and air sealing at no cost to the residents, said McGregor.

The organization served more than 100 Garfield businesses, and completed 28 commercial retrofitting projects, she said.

Looking forward to the rest of this year, one of GCE’s big projects will be a study, in partnership with Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory, to gauge the possibility for local energy production. The organization will also have a bike- and bus-riding campaign from May through September, and GCE has expanded its home energy program to six neighboring counties.

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