Breckenridge makes strides in switching town facilities to renewable energy sources | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge makes strides in switching town facilities to renewable energy sources

In Breckenridge, where plastic bags are taxed and leaving your car idling longer than 15 minutes is presumed hazardous to public health, the town is making good progress on one of its clean energy goals.

Breckenridge Town Council adopted a resolution in August 2017 detailing the town's desire to have all facilities completely powered by renewable resources by the year 2025. A little more than a year later, Jessie Burley, head of the town's SustainableBreck conservation program, is reporting that Breckenridge is 65 percent of the way to achieving that goal.

Overall, the power needs of town facilities hover around 5.3 million kilowatt hours annually with existing and new renewable energy sources expected to soon account for about 3.5 million kWh of that total, according to a memo Burley sent council in late October.

Of the 3.5 million kWh of renewable energy, about 35 percent of it is being or will soon be generated by solar gardens, other solar installations and Xcel Energy's Renewable Connect program. The other 30 percent is being attributed to Xcel Energy's existing power portfolio.

"As Xcel Energy's grid gets cleaner — through the Colorado Energy Plan and other initiatives — the 30 percent is something we would have gotten through the grid anyways," Burley said in an email as she detailed how town staff came to the 65 percent figure.

"The other solar are on-site or community programs that the town was instrumental in bringing online, either through power purchase agreements or in land donations," she continued.

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Because Xcel Energy remains the town's sole electric provider, enlisting the help of the energy giant is paramount to achieving the town's 100 percent clean energy goals not just for town facilities, but across Breckenridge.

That's because, in addition to wanting all town facilities powered by renewable resources, council adopted a second resolution at about the same time focused on getting the entire town, public and private, completely powered by renewable resources by the year 2035.

Fortunately for Breckenridge, Xcel Energy has "an excellent working relationship" with town staff, said Burley, who's been in regular meetings with company representatives over the last year.

Those meetings helped Xcel Energy enter into a memorandum of understanding with the town last January outlining how the two can work together to meet Breckenridge's clean energy goals. They then finalized a work plan aimed at those ends this September.

To her knowledge, Burley said the memorandum of understanding and work plan are the first agreements of their kind between Xcel Energy and a Colorado municipality but have since led to similar agreements in other Colorado communities.

"It's been really cool to be on the forefront of that process," she said.

Some of the major topics addressed in the work plan include sharing knowledge, setting baselines and increasing the town's energy efficiency through existing programs. It also covers setting carbon-reduction and energy-efficiency goals, along with increasing electric transportation options and pursuing other renewable-energy programs, as they come available.

Town staff simply can't rest on 65 percent because growing demand in the near future is expected to increase. Construction of the new water treatment plant going up off Highway 9, for example, will be one major addition that will ramp up the town's power usage.

With that in mind, suggestions to reach 100 percent renewable energy, while accounting for increasing demand, include looking into solar gardens in adjacent counties, power-purchase agreements and more rooftop solar panels on potential sites like the public works administration, new tennis building or even town hall.

Breckenridge is also expanding its bus barn, and town staff are looking at solar panels there, as well.

Town staff are also making an effort to better educate the town's residential and commercial consumers about subscription-based energy programs. Also, Solar Forward will be another group-buying program for residential and commercial properties; it's expected to kick off next spring.

Town staff are also considering pursing a SolSmart certification, which would have Breckenridge recognized as "a solar friendly community" that provides technical assistance and eases barriers for residential and commercial properties to install solar.

An electric vehicle readiness planning process and background research is underway, which will help identify good locations for charging stations in town, among other things. They are in the research stages, but Burley said Breckenridge wants to be in good position to bring more electric vehicles into the fold as they become more and more prevalent.

Additionally, the town is investigating its options regarding small-scale hydro and better grid management and storage, as new technologies are expected to help shave demand during peak times.

"We're really excited to be pushing envelope on this issue," Burley said of Breckenridge's efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.