Colorado brewery buys wind energy credits to offset fossil fuel use
Change is brewing at Pug Ryan’s.
In April, Pug Ryan’s Steakhouse and Brewery in Dillon started purchasing wind energy credits to offset electricity produced by fossil fuels.
Travis Holton, who has owned the restaurant and brewery since 1986, said he wanted to make an eco-conscious statement for the business’ 40th anniversary this year.
“We decided to spend a little more to have wind power,” the 56-year-old said. “I feel real strongly that an individual can be a part of making a difference.”
He hopes to inspire other people and businesses in Summit County.
“We only have one earth, and if I can do a little bit more to take care of it I will follow suit,” he said.
HOW IT WORKS
When a coal plant produces electrons, the charged subatomic particles that create electricity, they are indistinguishable from those generated at wind farms.
The energy infrastructure in the U.S. combined with the laws of physics make it impossible to track electrons produced by a wind turbine to a house or business.
Buying wind credits lets someone support the renewable energy by paying slightly more each month for their electricity use, and the power utility or an independent company uses that extra money to pay for an equal amount of electricity from a wind farm.
Pug Ryan’s uses a company called Arcadia Power to do this while the brewery’s electricity is still delivered and maintained by Xcel Energy.
If Pug Ryan’s uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity this month, for example, the business pays Arcadia Power for that usage plus a small premium. Arcadia then pays Xcel for that usage, buys 10,000 kWh of wind energy and puts it on the grid on Pug Ryan’s behalf.
“It’s really the only way to support a project based on your usage,” said Cliff Bernstein, Arcadia Power’s director of business development.
Across the country, Arcadia has a couple thousand residential customers, who pay an extra $7 a month on average for their electricity bills, and a couple hundred business clients who pay an average of $25 extra a month.
Holton said the surcharge is minimal.
“It doesn’t change your life financially to be involved in wind power and conserving something somewhere,” he said.
A TIPPING POINT
Wind credits are a growing market, as more people want to support the energy source that Bernstein said doesn’t produce harmful emissions, uses no water and can be built on existing farms and ranches.
The capacity for wind power in North Dakota alone could power a third of the U.S., he said, but the sector needs more financial support to reach a tipping point that would make wind energy projects more economically viable for developers.
Arcadia has at least one customer in all 50 states, and Colorado ranks among the top five, beating out some more populous states with its wind energy support.
About 20 breweries have purchased wind credits through the company so far, and the industry seems to value renewable energy more than others.
Xcel Energy spokesman Gabriel Romero said he has seen a similar pattern in its internal wind source program, which has roughly 75,000 residential and 1,100 business participants in seven states.
“That’s kind of an industry trend,” he said. “People into craft brews tend to be more supportive of this type of endeavor.”
Xcel charges 66 cents more per kWh than Arcadia. The utility’s wind source program funded 2 billion kWh of wind energy production in 2013, and so far wind source customers have saved 3.9 billion pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been produced by burning fossil fuels.
For perspective, that weight of CO2 is equal to that of 1.3 million Toyota Priuses, he said.
Holton said perhaps brewing draws younger people who have been raised to be more conscious about sustainability. He’s not one of the young ones, he said, but he’s always been active in the outdoors and cared about protecting the environment.
Nearly 30 years after buying Pug Ryan’s, Holton said, “we’re not just old, fat and happy. We are very aggressively trying to remain relevant in our community and, like I said, be a leader.”
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