Summit Daily letters: Breckenridge’s renewable energy debate sparks up
August 30, 2017
Clearing up misconceptions on clean energey push
This letter is in response to the one written by Getchen and Robert Dudney that appeared in the Aug. 29 Summit Daily News. That letter is an example of misconceptions that are forming among some Breckenridge citizens who have not listened to reports presented by the Breckenridge 100 percent Renewable Energy Task Force to town council nor have read those reports in the minutes of council meetings. I will try to clear up those misconceptions.
First, the resolution to set a goal for community-wide 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 that was recommended by the task force, when passed, will NOT force residents or businesses to invest in solar panels, wind turbines or any other form of renewable electricity generation. These investments would remain private decisions made by choice. It also says nothing about other types of energy use, such as heating and transportation, so of course, no one will be forced to convert from gas heat to electric or to buy an electric car.
Instead, the resolution requires the town to renegotiate our franchise agreement with our electric utility, Xcel Energy, that gives a monopoly to them to deliver electricity to our community. The renegotiation will require Xcel to gradually increase the percentage of renewable electricity they provide to us until by 2035, they are delivering 100 percent renewable electricity to the whole community with no overall increase in long-term rates. The proposed resolution specifically includes a statement that the town will work in partnership with our electric utility to achieve the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity community-wide by 2035.
Climate change is massively affecting the health, safety (eg. increased wildfire danger) and economic welfare (eg. shorter winter sports season) of the Breckenridge community. Changing our small community's electricity to clean sources that do not contribute to climate change will not, by itself, make much difference. However, by banding together with other communities worldwide that are making these 100 percent renewable electricity resolutions, we can make a huge difference. It's an example of consumer activism at work, such as product boycotts that force corporate change.
Communities can force their electric utilities, that are already investing in renewable electricity generation, to make the conversion sooner by setting consumer requirements. These 100 percent renewable electricity requirements will force electric utilities to retire their dirty, coal-powered electric plants sooner and to invest in cheaper, clean, renewable electricity generation technologies faster.
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Electricity and heat generation is the economic sector that produces the largest amount of man-made carbon dioxide emissions — 41 percent, so it makes sense to tackle this source of climate change first. Transportation is the second largest, producing 22 percent, so making the move to electric vehicles that are powered with renewable electricity is the next logical step.
Xcel Energy management, in discussions with town officials, has stated that they are willing and interested in working with us. We just need to show them that the town has set this goal by formalizing it in a resolution. Xcel does not want to lose its municipal customers, like Boulder, CO, which is forming its own electric utility to get to 100 percent. By 2025, Xcel will be at a level of 55 percent renewable electricity. They will continue to bring more renewable generation capacity on-line, because renewables are cheaper and it makes economic sense to do so. Meeting Breckenridge's requirement for 100 percent will just be a small drop of that vast bucket of 40-percent-and-increasing capacity. Xcel would like to use Breckenridge, Nederland (which has signed their 100 percent resolution) and other small Colorado cities as test cases before they renegotiate their franchise agreements with Denver and other large cities that also are moving toward 100 percent resolutions.
Xcel does not have to be generating 100 percent renewable electricity to meet our request for 100 percent, nor the requests for 100 percent from many other Colorado cities that are in their territory and are working toward 100 percent resolutions. It would be ideal for Xcel to gradually add on 100-percent-resolved cities as their renewable capacity increases and they can meet those requirements.
Another misconception is that renewable electricity will cost more. This is false. Renewable electricity is cheaper to generate than fossil-fueled electricity. That's a proven fact. For example, Xcel Energy puts out bids for energy developers to provide them with electricity. For the past three years, solar and wind energy developers have bid cheaper prices per kilowatt hour than fossil-fuel energy development proposals. Another example is that sample municipal solar garden agreements the town is investigating for its own facilities result in LOWER rates for electricity than the town is currently paying.
The clause in the proposed resolution that states the town will "pursue renewable strategies that will not adversely impact energy costs to lower income households" is to make sure that workforce housing renewable electricity projects will not increase tenants' energy costs and that the renegotiation with Xcel Energy will not increase overall long-term rates. There's no expectation that either would happen. It just states in writing that the town will make sure these remote possibilities don't happen.
The town doesn't need to address the need for backup power; our electric utility does. Large-scale grid battery technology has been developed, is in production and has been installed to do precisely this. These grid batteries are designed to store all types of intermittently generated electricity, including wind and solar, and release it during peak usage periods or other times when generation is less than usage. Grid battery costs are dropping as more and more are being installed, 221 Megawatts worth in 2016 alone. Electric grid operators have stated that the growth of wind- and solar-generated electricity has NOT harmed the reliability of the U.S. power grid and that they are managing a more diverse electricity generation portfolio just fine.
This proposed resolution does NOT "intrude deeply into the personal decisions of its residents and business owners and force purchase of a specific product," as I stated previously. Its sole purpose is to define a requirement that would be included in the town's franchise agreement that grants a monopoly to its electric utility. It also publicly states the negative impact that climate change has on us and publicly announces that Breckenridge is joining the ranks of 100 percent renewable electricity municipalities.
If we are to survive as a ski-tourism-driven town, we must save our winters. A recent study by a group of scientists funded by the EPA states, "Virtually all locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season lengths, exceeding 50 percent by 2050 and 80 percent in 2090 for some downhill skiing locations." The ski industry has basically lost Thanksgiving as a time for ski tourism. If we lose Christmas, too, then many ski resorts will no longer be economically viable, nor will the businesses in their nearby towns. The danger of doing nothing, of not doing our part to combat climate change and to spread the word about how it is hurting us, is the greatest danger, by far.
I am writing to address several inaccuracies in Gretchen and Richard Dudney's letter Aug. 29, regarding renewable energy. There is nothing in the proposed town of Breckenridge resolution that would "force the entire town — private citizens and businesses included — to switch fully to renewable electricity energy sources by 2035" as the Dudneys say. Instead, the resolution, if passed by the town council, would establish a goal to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity community-wide, by working in partnership with Xcel Energy, the franchised electricity provider throughout Breckenridge. The resolution in no way requires anyone to do anything different from what they're doing now — paying their electric bills to Xcel each month! If individuals or businesses choose to install solar panels or other devices, that is their choice, now and in the future.
The Dudneys suggest that "the town council thinks it has the authority to intrude so deeply into the personal decisions of its residents and business owners and force purchase of a certain product." As noted above, the resolution in no way intrudes on personal decisions, and does not require individuals or businesses to take any action.
In Breckenridge we obtain our electricity almost exclusively through what is in effect a monopoly, Xcel Energy, which is regulated by Colorado's Public Utilities Commission. That is why we are requesting that the town advocate on our behalf, through its franchise with Xcel, to work toward a goal of Xcel providing 100 percent renewable-energy-generated electricity to our community by the year 2035. Because we as individuals cannot make that happen for ourselves, we are asking the town to negotiate with Xcel so that the electricity Xcel provides to our community becomes 100 percent renewable-generated in the future. The resolution is important because it allows Xcel to understand there is growing support among a number of communities they serve in Colorado, to transition away from fossil fuels for production of electricity.
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