Power to the people of Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
The city of Glenwood Springs is weighing a 30-year contract to buy wholesale electricity from its present supplier, the Municipal Electric Agency of Nebraska (MEAN). Wisely, City Council slowed down the approval process at its meeting last week.
The proposed contract is mostly beneficial for the city, but a glaring deficiency in the deal calls for determined negotiations on the city’s part.
Here’s the problem: The contract limits Glenwood Springs to generating only a very small amount of electricity locally – the equivalent of 3 percent of the city’s present total electric demand.
Three percent is a pittance compared to this area’s potential for generating electrical power from renewable energy sources, such as solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass, and from natural gas.
City Council would be extremely short-sighted to lock its municipal electric system into a 30-year contract for imported power with little leeway for local generation.
Electric power is going to change a lot over the next 30 years. Utilities and their consumers are working hard to shift away from fossil fuels, coal in particular, and toward renewable energy and cleaner domestic energy sources such as natural gas.
And researchers are developing more cost-effective ways to tap renewable energy. For example, the cost per kilowatt of building a wind turbine is now less than the cost of building a large coal-fired power plant.
MEAN’s energy portfolio is already a good example of this. The co-op wholesaler has invested in six wind energy projects and one landfill gas project, which supply 9 percent of the wholesaler’s total. Another 20 percent of its electric supply comes from hydropower.
While MEAN is making an effort to integrate renewable power into its mix, 45 percent is still coming from coal-fired generation and 4 percent from nuclear plants.
Under its existing 10-year contract with MEAN, Glenwood Springs has pushed up its purchases of wind power, much to its credit. But the city shouldn’t be limited to MEAN’s renewable energy investments to green the local power supply.
Glenwood Springs and its electric customers should be free to invest in proven renewable energy generation systems, such as community solar arrays and small-scale hydropower. And in the next 30 years, energy sources still on the distant horizon, such as tapping the burning underground coal seams in the Grand Hogback, may prove to be viable.
An ad hoc citizens’ group is calling for City Council to negotiate for local generation of up to 25 percent of the city’s electric demand. Municipal electric systems in Delta and Aspen have already secured local generation provisions higher than MEAN’s standard 3 percent in their long-term contracts with the energy wholesaler.
Glenwood Springs is favorably positioned to build on the advances in renewable power generation that will come over the next 30 years. The city should not be artificially limited on this front by its wholesale power supply contract.
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