Officials discuss renewable energy’s role in Garfield County economy
Citizen Telegram Contributor
RIFLE — When it comes to pitching the importance of renewable energy to businesses, the monetary perks can be a more persuasive point than the environmental benefits, according to Colorado’s top economic official.
The point was one of several made at a luncheon Thursday in Rifle, where elected officials, business owners and interested residents joined Fiona Arnold, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, for a discussion on renewable energy sources. The luncheon was part of a countywide tour hosted by the Garfield Clean Energy Collaborative and intended to showcase local businesses that demonstrate the importance of energy efficiency and management, alternative fuels and renewable energy, in relation to the local economy.
On a more general level, Arnold emphasized that the best way to promote a clean energy future is to sell the economic case for local businesses to convert to renewable energy.
“Don’t talk about carbon footprint,” she advised those in attendance at the Rifle luncheon. “Talk about the financial benefits.”
Some in attendance experienced those benefits firsthand. Michael Langhorne, president of the Rifle Regional Development Corp. and a small business owner, is one of those people.
Langhorne made use of a renewable energy tax credit to defray the cost of his own energy bills for his business.
“We’re always going to need oil and gas,” Langhorne said Thursday. “But I was able to take that (clean energy) savings and put it right back into equipment.”
Arnold’s visit came at a time of continued stagnation in the oil and gas industry in Colorado and Garfield County, where the extraction industry is a primary pillar of the local economy.
The commodity price of natural gas has not recovered since the Great Recession, when natural gas hit $12.69 per million Btu on the Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price in June 2008. The most recent number pegs the spot price at $2.82 per million Btu in August.
The drop in price has had a correlating drop in activity as demonstrated by the number of new well starts in Garfield County, which saw 1,689 new starts in 2008 compared with 84 in 2016 as of July 1.
Now the county and other special districts that rely on property taxes are in the process of determining how to deal with decreased revenue due to the drop of natural gas production.
Local jurisdictions are not the only ones facing financial challenges related to the oil and gas industry.
“We’re looking at a real austere state budget for the coming year,“ Arnold said.
Despite tough budgetary times, both state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who was in attendance, and Arnold see strong potential in Garfield Clean Energy, a local government authority that helps residents, businesses and local governments become more energy efficient and reduce energy costs, beyond Garfield County.
“GCE is truly a success story,” Rankin said. “Not only do we have something that’s a boon to our little valley, we have something that’s a repeatable pattern for other communities.”
Arnold echoed Rankin’s optimism.
“This program is really exciting and could be easily applied in El Paso County, or other communities in the state, if they so choose,” she said of GCE.
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