Colorado Utility News Roundup

By: Sara Vargo

The last several weeks have seen an unprecedented amount of activity in the Colorado energy utility space. The ENGAGE Delta County initiative held an energy conference in Paonia on September 17-18, then followed by the Rocky Mountain Utilities Exchange Summit which was held in Aspen September 19-21. Also on September 19th, Holy Cross Energy committed to 70% renewable energy and 70% greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, and on October 2nd, Fort Collins committed to 100% renewable energy. Each activity continues to demonstrate Colorado’s growing momentum and dedication for a renewable energy future.

Here are a few more details about these exciting developments with insights from some of our members:

2018 ENGAGE Energy Conference 

On September 18th, Delta County ENGAGE and Delta County Economic Development hosted the second annual ENGAGE Energy Conference in Paonia, CO.  Building on the momentum established last year at the inaugural event, the conference this year focused on the rapidly changing wholesale power markets that are being driven by cheap natural gas and the rapidly declining cost of renewable energy resources.

Tom Plant of the Center for the New Energy Economy delivered the keynote address where he provided a historical overview of the energy markets that underscored the rapid changes that have turned the industry upside down in the last few years.  Few people forecasted the rapid decline in the cost of renewable generation resources and this, coupled with a growing demand for mitigation of climate impacting greenhouse gasses, has driven a spike into utility resource planning programs.

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Chris Riley of Guzman Energy followed with a presentation outlining the opportunity that exists to capitalize on this widening gap between utility rates and the wholesale market.

Paul Fenn of Local Power introduced the audience to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which allows individuals and communities to aggregate their buying power and source energy from alternatives to the traditional investor owned utility. CCA legislation is expected to come to Colorado one day and its potential impact will be significant.

Larry Atencio of Pueblo spoke about the City of Pueblo’s efforts to change its energy supply to lower costs and provide more “energy justice” to income qualified individuals, while also lowering emissions.

Mark Dyson of the Rocky Mountain Institute followed with a rigorous discussion surrounding the opportunity for Western region utilities to innovate towards a least cost future.  No longer is this a future dream, recent bids for renewable energy resources have demonstrated that these resources are now cheaper than alternative fossil fuel based resources.

For those that are interested, the presentations from the event can be downloaded at: https://engagedeltacounty.org/2018-conference/


Rocky Mountain Utilities Exchange

The 12th Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange (formerly the Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange) occurred September 19-21st in Aspen.

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The forum was a networking and professional development opportunity for roughly 150 utility and government organization staff, along with trade allies who provided products and services to support utility customer programs.

The conference was broken into general and breakout session interactions, as well as numerous networking opportunities. Themes explored included energy, renewable energy, demand response, water efficiency, and customer management. The general, breakout, and poster sessions acted to examine case study best practices and address lessons learned from those who develop, implement, and evaluate utility customer programs.

On Friday September 21st, one breakout session led by the Compact of Colorado Communities, “Community Goals Meet Utility Realities,” covered many challenges Colorado utility’s face. In it, they presented feedback from communities working to advance clean energy on the challenges and opportunities they see with regard to working with utilities and gathered similar input when it comes to working with communities. Participants also engaged in a roleplay activity to explore diverse perspectives from town managers, activists, utility directors, and more while gathering feedback on what best practices can help foster an effective dialogue between utilities and communities.

Our goal was to gather your feedback and recommendations for communities interested in better collaboration with utilities.  Some best practice recommendations emerged on ways to build trust and set up a process for effective community-utility cooperation:

  • Start building trust by identifying easy wins first

    • Local governments help advertise utility efficiency and demand-site management programs, or help identify land to site renewable systems

    • Utilities can likewise help local governments with data, recommendations and advice; strategies based on currently available programs and opportunities

    • Look for “win-win” opportunities for all parties

  • Establish a relationship, and commit for the long haul

    • Don’t wait until someone complains about something; don’t start the relationship on the wrong foot.  Be proactive.

    • Engage the next generation – those choices made now will impact them for years to come

    • Recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight.   It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Commit to running it together.  

    • Try to create direct relationships for lasting change (concern about over-reliance on consultants who may look to collect & move on) 

    • “Put skin in the game” 

    • Consider an MOU announcing mutual goals the city & utility will work toward – this establishes a framework for cooperation and goals, roles, and responsibilities for each 

  • Identify common values

    • In initial meetings, work to establish an agreed-upon statement of shared values

    • Use these as a guiding light & look for opportunities to expand the impact and message

    • Try a role swap 

  • Share success

    • Involve each other in goal setting and share successes

    • Celebrate one another’s achievements

    • Consider joint (or jointly timed) press releases marking significant milestones

For more information, the latest news and to get involved next year, stay tuned with UtilityExchange.org.


Holy Cross Energy Commits to 70% Clean Energy & Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Goals

Holy Cross Energy announced its plan to shift power supplies away from coal and increase its use of renewable energy to 70% by the year 2030. The Glenwood Springs based electric cooperative says the plan would lead to a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 2014 levels.

These shifts will not increase in the costs of the power supply.

Holy Cross Energy released a fact sheet complementing the news release with highlights including developing at least one utility scale clean energy project every three years starting in 2020, continued purchasing of power from local renewable energy providers (currently 13% of its power supply), and a goal of adding at least 2 megawatts of new rooftop solar each year on members’ homes and businesses.

When asked for his advice for fellow Compact members in this process, Holy Cross Energy board member Dave Munk shared, “The best and first place to start is with your local utility - tell them where you’re trying to go. It’s even better if you can involve them in the early stages of developing your climate goals. Utilities are more receptive to the interests of their customers or members than ever before. Building a good, collaborative working relationship is the best way to achieve your goals, no matter what type of utility you have.”

Dave also emphasized, “Keep in mind Holy Cross’s ability to achieve our goals is heavily based on our power supply agreement because it’s more flexible than most. Not everyone can look at our new GHG goals and turn to their utility expecting something similar… Utilities are increasingly receptive [to climate and renewable goals], though each has its own limitations to account for.”

For additional insights, check out Joe Smyth’s article at Clean Cooperative.


Fort Collins Commits to 100% Renewable Energy

On October 2nd The City of Fort Collins made a community-wide commitment to achieve 100% renewable electricity by the year 2030. During deliberation, the council chambers were filled with supporters wearing shirts or holding signs for 100%. The plan sets a 100 percent renewable energy goal with a caveat that the resolution doesn’t sacrifice affordability or reliability to customers and includes annual status updates.

Fort Collins City Council voted in favor of the plan 6-1. It will be the 9th Colorado city to make such a pledge including Aspen, Breckenridge, Boulder, Denver, Lafayette, Longmont, Nederland, and Pueblo.


The council member, Ken Summers, that voted against the plan said even he was ‘optimistic’. Summers has solar panels on his own home and supports renewable energy use statewide. His vote ‘no’ was simply out of concern for such an aspirational goal to be reached within the given time frame and that failing to meet that goal would appear to be a broken promise to the city and the state.

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The plan sets a 100 percent renewable energy goal with a caveat that the resolution doesn’t sacrifice affordability or reliability to customers and includes annual status updates.

"I think this is very achievable,” Ross Cunniff, another Fort Collins Council Member said, “The other thing is we're not prescribing what to do. Instead, we're directing city staff to work with PRPA to create a plan to get there."


For more information, visit the Coloradan.


Colorado Springs Approves Plans for 150 MW Solar and Storage Project

On September 19th, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board approved plans for a 150 MW solar and storage project. The facility is expected to be operational by 2024, and will help the utility produce over a fifth of its electricity from renewable energy by then.

“This is the future,” board member Richard Skorman said. “This is getting to be more and more of a solution for community after community and we’re sitting her arguing over 13 cents. … We’re going to do something many people in our community want us to do. We are a citizen’s utility for this purpose.”

Learn more on this development at the Gazette.

Colorado has long been a leader in energy development; the landscape has offered many possibilities for energy production, both renewable and non-renewable, over the years. As greener practices are becoming not only more attractive but more affordable, Colorado leads the way, closely following in California’s footsteps in becoming one of the nations green energy leaders.

We can’t wait to see what Colorado utilities will continue impress us with!