Garfield Clean Energy works toward future
Garfield Clean Energy Collaborative funding
Garfield Library District..........$5,000.........$10 pass
Source: Garfield Clean Energy Collaborative
When Red Mountain Inn owner Arthur Rothman wanted to do some upgrades to improve energy efficiency at his 40-unit lodge in West Glenwood, he turned to Garfield Clean Energy for help.
Now, thanks to energy rebates, special financing and other incentives offered through GCE, he has been able to add insulation to the heating and cooling system, began converting his outdoor lighting to LED fixtures and, most recently, replaced several refrigerators in his guest units with super-efficient Energy Star-rated appliances.
The savings in energy costs are just starting to pay off, but will be “huge” over the long run, Rothman said.
“We have a lot of kitchen units, and when we started looking to upgrade we couldn’t afford to do as many of the Energy Star refrigerators,” he said. “Working with Garfield Clean Energy really made the difference.”
Rothman also obtained a free energy audit for his business and coaching that pointed him in the right direction to take advantage of the many incentives available to do the upgrades.
He is just one of the dozens of business owners and residents in Garfield County who benefit each year from GCE’s efforts to make it easier for both the private and public sectors to become more energy efficient and tap clean energy.
The collaborative, formed in 2012 after about three years operating under a state grant, is funded by 10 partner governments. Those include Garfield County, the county’s six municipalities, Colorado Mountain College, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Garfield County Public Library District.
LONG-TERM FUNDING QUESTIONS
The GCE collaborative is pushing forward this year with a full slate of projects and programs aimed at helping businesses, residents and local governments.
Just this week, the town of Silt, working with GCE and its contract program manager, Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), will dedicate a new 234-kilowatt solar electric array at the town’s water treatment plant.
The solar generator is expected to meet 100 percent of the plant’s annual electric demand, and is being financed through a power purchase agreement with Sunforce Solutions International.
The arrangement is similar to solar electric projects involving public facilities in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and other member governments. Total estimated savings in electric costs for the Silt project is $102,000 over 20 years.
It’s another testament to the work of the GCE initiative.
But a question persists for the organization about its own long-term financial sustainability.
Funding is weighed annually by the partner governments, some of which have had to cut back this year, resulting in a $5,140, or 1.5 percent, reduction in the GCE’s budget.
The city of Rifle reduced its funding to GCE from $30,150 last year to $3,000, due in part to unexpected higher costs associated with the city’s new water treatment plant.
“They were really constrained this year by much higher costs for that project, and have had to make some deep cuts in many budget areas,” said Heather McGregor, administrative manager for the GCE Collaborative.
“Still, we fully intend to serve Rifle businesses and households and will continue to work with the city in the coming year, and are not planning any reduction in services,” McGregor said.
The county’s six-branch library district also remains an important partner for GCE, despite having to cut its $5,000 funding altogether due to an ongoing sales tax withholding from the state related to a court ruling that was out of the county’s control.
There again, “we don’t want to lose that connection,” McGregor said. “Libraries are a wonderful way to reach out to residents with education about our programs.”
So, the library was given a $10 “pass” to stay part of the GCE group.
Other funding entities have slightly reduced or maintained their contribution at the same level, while others, including Garfield County, have upped their support.
Glenwood Springs increased its contribution from $43,000 last year to $45,000 in 2015, while Parachute, the smallest of the GCE partners, increased its funding from $1,000 to $2,500.
Garfield County commissioners have been questioning the county’s ability to maintain what’s so far been the largest share of support for the GCE Collaborative since its inception.
Commissioners have requested that GCE begin looking for ways to wean itself from county support, at least to some degree.
But the county’s portion of funding actually increased to $180,000 for 2015, from $155,000 last year.
The increased funding from the county is intended to make up for what had been a $25,000 contribution from energy company Encana to support the West Slope Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Network up until 2014.
“We were able to limp through last year with that program, because we know it’s important to Garfield County to build market demand for CNG,” McGregor said. “We felt it was a reasonable request to ask them to contribute an additional $25,000 in the new year to keep that going.”
Indeed, building a market for CNG by creating a network of fueling stations across the Western Slope, and encouraging more private and public vehicle fleet operators to convert to cleaner-burning, more efficient CNG vehicles, is a priority as far as the county’s involvement in the GCE Collaborative.
“We do feel strongly about Garfield Clean Energy from the economic development side, and the jobs that have been created across the board through their efforts,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who is the county’s representative on the GCE governing board.
GAS DOWNTURN STINGS
Building local markets for the natural gas that is produced in Garfield County is important, same as expanding the market for solar and other renewable resources and increasing energy efficiency in general, he said.
Ironically, it’s the downturn in natural gas production in the county in recent years related to low gas prices that has the county concerned about its ability to continue supporting GCE at the same level, Jankovsky said.
“Things are going to be tighter for us, and I doubt that same level of funding will be available in future years,” he said. “That’s why we have been adamant that the organization needs to become more self-sustaining.”
Identifying additional long-term funding will be crucial for GCE to continue its programs at the same level in 2016 and beyond, McGregor said.
One possibility is to see what state funding might be made available in the future to support programs such as GCE, perhaps on a more regional basis in partnership with similar efforts in neighboring counties.
McGregor said program administrators are drafting a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper to see what options might exist on the state level. But it’s still important for local governments to be involved, she said.
Funding from the municipalities is even more limited and subject to shifting priorities from year to year, as in Rifle’s case, she noted.
“Half of the county’s population does live in the unincorporated areas, so we will continue to make our case that the county is justified in contributing to GCE,” she said. “There is a public benefit to helping governments, businesses and households save energy.”
SUCCESSFUL PAST YEAR
GCE continues to be an important player in educating residents, businesses and government officials about energy efficiency through its programs and services.
Last year alone, GCE facilitated a total of 136 residential and commercial projects throughout the county.
Of the $912,871 invested in the various projects, participating business and home owners are now realizing about $99,264 in annual energy savings, according to the GCE Collaborative’s 2014 year-end report, which was presented to the GCE board last week.
The collaborative also works to make public facilities and operations run more efficiently in terms of energy use through various building upgrades and projects such as the new Silt solar array.
GCE also helped to facilitate 22 residential loans in 2014 through its revolving loan program. The current loan balance in that program is $117,162, with another $178,000 available for loan, according to the year-end report.
Out of the 49 free commercial building walkthroughs completed last year, 42 of the businesses initiated energy efficiency upgrades of some sort, McGregor also reported.
On the residential side, the most popular upgrades included converting to LED light fixtures, installing high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, and simply adding more insulation and air sealing throughout people’s homes, she said.
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