Garfield County partnership sets high bar on energy goals

Norm, Margaret and Chris Wirkler recently had a 5.886 kilowatt ground-mounted solar array installed by Carbondale-based Sunsense Solar as part of a larger home remodel between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The system is expected to save close to $1,000 a year in energy costs.
Courtesy Sunsense Solar

An updated energy efficiency plan for Garfield County aims to increase efficiency by 20 percent over the next 13 years and achieve up to 50 percent of the county’s power needs through renewable energy sources.

To get there, the new Partners in Energy action plan published earlier this month targets several key industry sectors as critical to helping achieve the new goals.

Among them are the natural gas industry and the burgeoning yet highly energy-intensive business of growing legal marijuana.

Marijuana cultivation “definitely impacts utilities in a big way,” said Erica Sparhawk, program manager for Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which is one of the partners in developing the revised energy action plan.

Likewise, more outreach can be done within the oil and gas industry to help it achieve better energy efficiency in its own energy-producing operations, she said.

And, also still key to carrying out the plan’s goals will be agricultural operations, churches, schools, individual businesses and government organizations, Sparhawk said.

The latest planning effort is the result of work by Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy project in collaboration with the inter-governmental Garfield Clean Energy (GCE), which is managed by CLEER.

Other utility partners include Holy Cross Energy, Black Hills Energy and Glenwood Springs Electric. Other organizations represented in developing the plan are the Colorado River District, Colorado State University Extension, Alpine Bank, various educational institutions and the natural gas industry.

The new plan resets the clock from 2009, when the original plan was developed, and uses countywide energy consumption from 2015 as the new baseline. It also resets the target date from 2020 to 2030.

It sets a new goal for a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency, along with obtaining 35 to 50 percent of electricity used countywide from renewable energy sources.

“We see significant opportunities for new energy savings in these sectors and are pleased to be working with Garfield Clean Energy and partners throughout the county to achieve these goals,” Kelly Flenniken, area manager and director of community and local government affairs for Xcel Energy, said in a news release announcing the updated plan.

“In addition, we are also seeing momentum to develop more renewable energy, particularly through solar installations and small-scale hydropower,” Flenniken said.

Among the local solar installers who stands to be a big part of helping to bring the plan’s goals to reality is Scott Ely, founder and owner of Carbondale-based Sunsense Solar.

“Our residential business continues to grow and prosper, and things are picking up on the commercial side,” Ely said.

One of the first solar installers to enter the local market 27 years ago, Ely said it makes more sense economically to consider rooftop or ground-based solar arrays as a way to offset home or business utility costs, and help achieve the broader energy efficiency goals for the broader region.

“We’re happy to see local governments and some of these bigger industries buying into what we’ve known for 27 years,” he said.

Through workshops for some of the newly targeted industry sectors to look at measures they can take to reduce their own energy costs and help achieve the goals laid out in the action plan, the goals are achievable, said Sparhawk and others involved in developing the plan.

The plan builds on energy efficiency and clean energy targets first set in 2009 by GCE, a governmental authority managed by CLEER that includes Garfield County, its six municipalities along with Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Colorado Mountain College.

Since then, GCE has assisted more than 700 households and businesses in making energy upgrades that have resulted in some $900,000 in annual savings on energy costs and spurred installation of more than 4 megawatts of solar energy across Garfield County.

“This plan and the action steps we have agreed to take together are aimed at using energy efficiency and renewable energy to build and strengthen our economy,” said Bruce Leland, New Castle councilman and GCE board member. “We believe there is something in this plan for everyone, and the benefits will be felt individually and countywide.”

The plan also calls for working with local government building departments to explore upgrading codes for greater energy efficiency in new construction, and working more broadly to improve statewide policies to encourage increases in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Newly elected Glenwood Springs City Councilor Shelley Kaup said she hopes to work with City Council toward better efficiency within the Glenwood Springs Electric utility.

“I would like to see us work on a strategic plan for city electric to achieve some of those goals,” Kaup, who also works as an energy coach for CLEER, said.

Through its wholesale power purchase agreement with Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN), Glenwood Springs’ portfolio includes about 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, primarily wind farms in Nebraska and eastern Colorado.

“That’s very admirable for a city to purchase that much from renewables,” Kaup said.

Glenwood Springs also maintains a fairly aggressive rebate program for residential and commercial solar through its partnership with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, she noted.

As of 2015, utility customers across Garfield County consumed approximately 559 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 21.3 million therms of natural gas, and spent $68.6 million on energy costs, according to the Partners in Energy research.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, that amounts to nearly 278,000 metric tons of carbon equivalent, or about 58,700 passenger vehicles driven for one year, according to the news release announcing the new action plan.

To learn more about Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy, visit, and, to see the full Energy Action Plan for Garfield County, visit

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