Aspen City Council directed staff to come up with ideas for new regulations that would limit local electricity consumption in a work session on Tuesday.
Imposing new regulations on energy use is one potential solution that council is considering in an effort to reach its goal of using only renewable energy to run the city’s electric utility by 2015. Currently, about 75 percent of the city’s portfolio is renewable, according to Dave Hornbacher, the city’s utility director, and that number is about to jump to 89 percent with the addition of more hydropower from southwest Colorado. That translates to 8.9 million kilowatt hours per year of coal-generated electricity that needs to be replaced with renewable fuel sources by 2015 if the city wants to reach its goal, he said.
The gap is too large to be fixed by conservation and efficiency measures without imposed restrictions, he said.
Four people spoke during a public comment period in favor of solving the problem with stronger conservation and efficiency efforts through regulations.
Ken Neubecker of Carbondale compared trying to manage electricity use to how the community is struggling with limiting water consumption.
“I hear this with water all the time,” Neubecker said. “‘Conservation and efficiency will not be able to meet the growing side of the gap,’ but the problem with water is that they just don’t make any more [of it].”
People will be forced to limit their water consumption in the future and that is what should happen in the case of electricity, which can be done with new regulations, Neubecker said.
The city has had different voluntary programs that provide incentives for businesses that reduce their energy consumption, but it has been largely ineffective, said Phil Overeynder, city utilities engineer.
City Manager Steve Barwick said that regulations could be created, but it would be a long and difficult process.
“It can happen,” Barwick said. “It’s not easy though.”
Mayor Mick Ireland, who was in support of the idea, also noted that regulations would likely draw a strong blowback from the community.
Councilman Torre suggested that as staff comes up with possible regulations, the city pay close attention to how local businesses use energy, instead of using other municipalities as models. Torre and councilmen Steve Skadron and Adam Frisch said they would be willing to consider regulations as part of the solution. Councilman Derek Johnson did not attend the work session.
Meanwhile, Mike Smith, a representative of Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective, asked that the city try to renegotiate its contract with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) to provide for more flexibility with solar-generated power. If allowed, his company could offer the city energy produced from solar panels in Rifle to make up the 8.9 million kilowatt-hour difference, Smith said.
The city currently has a 20-year contract with MEAN, which supplies Aspen with wind and coal power to supplement locally and regionally generated hydropower. The contract caps the amount of solar energy the city is allowed to produce locally at 2 percent, said Will Dolan, city utilities specialist.
“It can be part of the solution but not all of the solution,” Dolan said of reaching the city’s goal with solar power.
MEAN is already relatively flexible with its service compared to other power companies, Hornbacher said. Last year, for example, MEAN agreed to a deal that allowed Aspen to swap coal-fired power from the energy company with hydropower from a facility on Ridgway Reservoir in southwest Colorado during the winter months.
Council agreed it is worth working with MEAN in an attempt to find a solution.
At Tuesday’s work session, Ireland also asked staff to determine the market value of the hydropower water rights that the city owns on Castle and Maroon creeks. Last year, the city was considering building a 1.17-megawatt hydroelectric plant drawing on water from the creeks, but the public voted against the project in an advisory vote in November. Stream-side property owners also sued the city in 2011 claiming that the city’s water rights for hydropower had been abandoned from lack of use.
It is likely another lawsuit would challenge the city’s ownership of the water rights if they are not used, Ireland said. If that is the case the city should try to at least make a profit off of the rights, Ireland said.
“If we’re not going to do this, we might as well just sell it to someone,” Ireland said.