Crested Butte Town Council ready to lean green

Renewable green power is really inexpensive right now

By Mark Reaman

In an update to the Crested Butte Town Council last week, Gunnison County Electric Association CEO Mike McBride made it clear there were some easy ways to gain environmental brownie points without breaking the bank. In fact, given current costs, he said the average GCEA residential member could sign up for the green power program that would purchase renewable power offsets and see less than another $1 per month on their bill. It would add just 84 cents on 700 kilowatt hours, which is the average residential usage.

“Our co-op thinks a lot about energy-saving actions,” McBride told the council at the August 8 meeting. “We look at three core areas including conservation and efficiency, renewable energy and environmentally beneficial electrification, which is changing a fuel source to electricity when that has greater environmental benefit. We have several member programs to reach those focus goals, including providing free energy audits to members, offering rebates on things like LED lighting, and offering discounts on some appliances like certain water heaters,” he explained.

McBride said the GCEA has tried to offer weatherization projects but that had been “challenging.” The co-op is offering paperless billing but right now only about 20 percent of the membership uses it. Councilman Chris Ladoulis expressed absolute disbelief that so few people were taking advantage of the offer and still getting paper bills. GCEA board member Greg Wiggins said the GCEA membership was “varied” and included people who were not familiar with paperless alternatives or were located in a place without reliable alternatives. About 40 percent of the membership does take advantage of online payment options.

McBride said a current focus was trying to get people to understand that when you use power matters as much as how much power you use.

“With our time-of-use-rate our peak costs are quite a bit higher than off-peak costs,” said McBride. “Our peak is only from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday so really, 19 hours a day is off-peak. If people would use more power then, it would save the co-op and ultimately the members a lot of money.”

McBride and Wiggins said the commercial power supplier, Tri-State, is a decent user of renewable energy. In fact, they said, 26 percent of the annual Tri-State load in 2016 came from renewable resources. “Tri-State has more solar capacity than other similar suppliers in the country,” said McBride.

He pointed out that locally, GCEA now has several charging stations at both ends of the valley for electric vehicles, provides solar arrays at the schools in both Crested Butte and Gunnison, has a wind turbine in Doyleville, and is studying feasibility on things such as hydropower at the Taylor dam.

Mayor Glenn Michel asked what it would take for the town to run completely on green power offered through the GCEA. “I think the town could buy offsets for about $1,500 more a year,” answered McBride.

“That seems like a no-brainer,” responded Michel. And in fact the council later decided to direct staff to make that move.

“It has become very reasonable to opt-in on the green energy offsets,” said Wiggins. “It is a lot cheaper now so it is a no-brainer. In Crested Butte just 9 percent of the people use them and for only about 84 cents more a month they can get green energy.”

“So the average user could use 100 percent green power and it would cost them 84 cents a month? That is incredible,” said Michel.

Wiggins told the council he was a bit disappointed the community solar panels had not leased well in Crested Butte. “People screamed for it and the board provided it but the people didn’t sign up. There are a lot of hypocrites in the community,” he said. “But it happens everywhere. Hopefully with more education and awareness we can get more people to participate.”

Jessie Earley of the town building department updated the council on the Crested Butte Energy Action Plan at the same work session. The plan was put in effect in 2009 with the goal of the town to reduce its carbon footprint.

“Our buildings contribute to the biggest output of energy so our goal has been to make them more efficient and we are actively working toward that,” Earley said. “We as a town have adopted measures to make that happen.”

She said the town government has purchased electric and hybrid vehicles and put a lot of money into supporting the Mountain Express and RTA public transportation systems. She said it is probably time to update the plan and establish new goals based on present circumstances.

Michel said the original goal was to decrease carbon emissions in town by 20 percent by 2020. He suggested staff pursue engaging a consultant to update the town’s carbon emission baseline and update the energy action plan. That will likely be part of the 2018 budget.

“I think we should also create a position in town hall to oversee all of this,” Michel said. “That way there will be someone who is constantly monitoring this as councils come and go.”

“I like it,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “I think people need more awareness about things like the 84-cent green power issue.”

“One thing to consider is that there are more houses in town now compared to 2009,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “How does that work with the reduction goals? I agree that the energy action plan should be a budget item next year.”

“Not only should we establish a new baseline but we should get annual reports on the progress,” suggested councilman Roland Mason.

Expect the council to see a line item addressing the issue in the fall budget discussions.

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