Additional wind purchases will meet 2015 goal

Aspen’s municipal electric utility has reached a deal with its wholesale power supplier to increase wind purchases such that the city’s grid will be entirely powered by renewable energy.

The deal, which will cost ratepayers additional $195,780 in its first year, would fulfill a city goal to achieve the 100 renewable standard by 2015. The Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN), which has been providing Aspen with electricity since the early 1980s, will vote on approving the new contract at its quarterly board meeting in August, the city’s renewable energy manager Will Dolan told Aspen City Council at a Tuesday work session.

The city-owned grid, which supplies power to Aspen’s central core and West End neighborhoods, currently runs on 75 to 80 percent renewable energy, most which comes from hydropower. Turbines at Ruedi Reservoir, Ridgway Reservoir and off of Maroon Creek, as well as hydropower purchased from the federal government from major western dams, supply just under half the city’s electricity, or about 35,000 megawatt hours, Dolan said.

The city gets the rest of its power from MEAN, which currently supplies the city with wind power accounting for around 30 percent of the total load.

The new contract with MEAN would replace the final 20 percent of the portfolio that comes from coal with more wind power, and a small amount — around 5 percent — of methane landfill gas from an Iowa project.

The city typically enters long-term contracts for its energy purchases from MEAN, but this deal, which prices the additional wind power at $51 per megawatt hour, is for three years, Dolan said. The city and MEAN will use that time frame to negotiate a longer-term agreement.

“It’s a new thing for MEAN and it’s a new thing for Aspen,” Dolan said. He added that an average residential bill will increase about $1.75 per month, based on a $58 bill, to pay for the additional wind, which is more expensive but cleaner than coal.

City council members praised the effort to meet the 2015 goal. There was a shared hope that the city’s efforts could spur other regional providers to develop more renewable energy resources.

Council members were careful to note that many people living in the Aspen area are not served by the municipal utility. Outside of the central core and West End areas, Holy Cross is the power provider. The rural co-op serving the Roaring Fork and Eagle/Vail valleys gets about 25 percent of its power from renewables, according to city officials.