Mountain Town News

Mountain Town News
Allen Best - 05/23/2019

Chasing the 100 percent renewable goal

FRISCO – Frisco has now set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. But unlike some other resolutions, this one isn’t purely aspirational. It’s swimming with a strong current.

With the resolution adopted last week by the town council, Frisco joins 10 other Colorado towns and cities, plus Pueblo and Summit counties, in adopting 100 percent goals.

The goal is to get the municipality’s electricity to 100 percent renewable by 2025 and the community altogether by 2035. The resolution specifies this goal is for electricity only.

Decarbonizing electricity will be far easier than transportation, and transportation far easier than buildings. Many see carbon-free electricity as being crucial to both, a concept called “beneficial electrification.”

Electricity for Frisco comes from Xcel Energy, an investor-owned utility making giant steps toward decarbonizing its power supply. Xcel first announced plans to close its work-horse power plants early to take advantage of now-cheap wind and solar plus what will be the largest battery storage project east of the Rocky Mountains. All this will be accomplished by 2026 and put Xcel at 55 percent renewable generation in Colorado.

In December, a week after Frisco launched the resolution, Xcel announced further steps, an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. By 2050, the company vows to be 100 percent “carbon free.”

Frisco’s non-binding goals were triggered by Fran Long, who is retired and living in Frisco. For eight years he worked at Xcel, helping to shape its response to the declining prices of renewables. He also helped Breckenridge put together its goal for 100 percent renewables.

A task force led by Long identified a three-pronged approach. First, the city government must lead by example. The resolution calls for the town to spend $25,000 - $50,000 annually during the next several years to improve energy efficiency in its municipal facilities. Then, through an Xcel program called Renewable Connect, it can pay an added cost to say it uses 100 percent electricity from renewable sources.

Beyond that, Frisco wants to work with high-end businesses to encourage buying from solar gardens or other options that allow them to proclaim 100 percent renewable energy. The task force also recommends a marketing program directed to homes and smaller businesses.

Goals of 100 percent renewables are problematic. Aspen Electric, which serves about two-thirds of the town, had secured enough wind and hydro, mostly from distant locations, to allow it to proclaim 100 percent renewables by 2015. However, some of those electrons almost certainly originated in coal or gas. That doesn’t make Aspen’s claim wrong. But the fact remains that nobody has figured out how, at least at an affordable cost, to deliver 100 percent clean energy on a broad basis.

Xcel Energy, which supplies more than 60 percent of electricity in Colorado, has a taller challenge. But it is a very different utility than it was in 2004, when it heavily advertised to oppose a mandate that it would have to achieve 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

It lost the election, though, and Xcel set out to comply. Integrating renewables proved far easier than feared, and Xcel has now more than doubled the original mandate. Wind delivers 82 percent of that, with another 18 percent coming from solar.

The company has become steadily more proficient at juggling different intermittent power supplies while ensuring lights and computers stay on. This is partly the result of practice but also from technological advances, like improved weather forecasting, according to an Energy News Network story published in March.

For example, a Boulder company, Global Weather corporation, projects wind – and hence electrical production –from turbines 10 days out. It updates every 15 minutes.

Forecasts have become so good, said John T. Welch, director of power operations for Xcel in Colorado, that the utility uses 95-98 percent of the electricity generated by turbines. This has allowed the company to use coal and natural gas less. Too, prices of wind and solar, which declined slowly at first, have dropped dramatically.

Xcel is comfortable it will be able to reach the 80 percent carbon reduction by 2030.

But when announcing its goal of emissions-free energy by mid-century, the company’s Minneapolis-based Chief Executive Ben Fowke freely admitted he had no idea how Xcel will achieve it. Everything is on the table, including nuclear and fossil fuels, if the carbon dioxide can be sequestered. So far, such technology has proven prohibitively expensive despite billions of dollars in federal support.

Xcel’s Welch told Energy News Network that he believes solar must play a larger role. But first, storage technology must improve. Batteries that can store large amounts of electricity for months will be needed. Wind is plentiful in spring but not so much in summer, when air conditioners crank up.

Increased sharing of cheap renewables among utilities will also allow help. Western states and Canadian provinces are all on one grid, but the different parts are Balkanized. In other words, California is largely its own energy-balancing authority. Ditto for Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. If they were all orchestrated, however, electricity supplies and demands could more easily be matched. California’s surplus of solar, for example, might be moved to Colorado.

Colorado legislators in May adopted a bill that requires the state’s Public Utilities Commission to begin studying an energy imbalance market or regional transmission organization.

Cutthroats losing purity to rainbows

JACKSON, Wyo. – A fish known as a “cutbow” has become more common in the South Fork of the Snake River, the result of hybridization of the native cutthroat and the immigrant rainbow trout.

Wildlife managers are trying to get rid of both the rainbows and the hybrids. It’s a challenge, given how much the rainbow have proliferated, with an estimated 90,000 rainbow and hybrids in the river now.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to immobilize 5,000 rainbows with electricity this spring, then move them to fishing ponds where they will be caught and eaten.

It would help if anglers in the river took the fish home to eat, too. But not many do. “It’s a hard sell,” explains Justin Hays, who has 32 licensed guides plying the river’s waters from the Lodge at Palisades Creek. Only a quarter of the guides encourage the clients to kill the rainbows and hybrids they catch.

“We are a business that provides memories of moments for people. Killing a fish is not the memory that gets those guests to come back,” he said.

The Yellowstone River originates in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of three small creeks. Inside the park, cutthroat thrive. They used to thrive downstream, after the river has passed through Jackson and into Idaho. But in the last 20 years rainbows have taken over.

Paul Bruun, a fishing columnist in the News&Guide, said cutthroats tend to indiscriminately go for dry flies off the river’s surface, making it the “Yankee Stadium of fishing.”

The News&Guide’s Mike Koshmrl explains that anglers revere rainbow because they’re hard-charging and high-flying. They’re also adaptable, now found in every state outside Florida. As recently as the 1980s, they were being stocked into the South Fork of the Snake in Idaho by the same wildlife agencies who are now trying to remove them.

Cutthroat were proposed for protected status under the Endangered Species Act in the early 2000s. The subspecies endemic to the Northern Rockies exists today in only about a third of its historic range.

Student sentenced to write civility essay

PARK CITY, Utah – A juvenile court has ordered a student at Park City High School to write an essay about civility after finding the boy guilty of criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, as well as two misdemeanors.

The student released pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall in April to prevent a school club, Turning Point, a chapter of the conservative nonprofit, from hosting a speaker.

The meeting was relocated to a middle school. Medical personnel treated 14 people, and one person was hospitalized, reports The Park Record.

The judge also ordered the boy pay costs of cleaning up the lecture hall and the uninsured’s cost of hospitalization. Too, he will have 100 hours of community service.