Following Breckenridge and county, new group pushes for 100-percent renewable energy in Frisco | SummitDaily.com

Following Breckenridge and county, new group pushes for 100-percent renewable energy in Frisco

A solar panel array at the Silverthorne's North Pond Park, May 2017.

Renewable energy may be on its way to Frisco.

An independent task force is forming in Frisco with the hopes of transitioning the town to 100 percent renewable energy in the not-too-distant future. If the town decides to hop on board, Frisco would join Breckenridge and Summit County as communities in the area committed to weaning their way off of coal and natural gas.

Fran Long, a representative of the newly formed task force, gave a presentation on the proposal to town council members during a workshop earlier this week, providing an outline on how Frisco could achieve the goal, and why now is the right time to act.

"One reason is what we heard from the U.S. government with their climate assessment," said Long, referring to the government's fourth National Climate Assessment published earlier this month that detailed the accelerating effects of climate change. "Look around. Last year the snowfall was terrible. But it really got everyone thinking that climate change is real, renewable energy is getting cheaper and maybe we should be going with more renewable options. It's just the right time, due to a confluence of many factors."

Long is a former renewable energy product developer with Xcel Energy, spearheading the company's Community Solar Program which has grown to become the largest in the country.

But growing concern over climate change is only one of the reasons that the move makes sense right now. If the potentially devastating effects of climate change are the stick, the continually shrinking prices of renewable energy may be the carrot. Late last year, Xcel Energy received more than 350 proposals from renewable energy developers, offering prices competitive with coal and natural gas developers.

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Xcel Energy received a median wind energy bid for about $18.10 per MWh (Megawatt hour), and solar energy for $29.50 per MWh, according to the 2017 All Source Solicitation 30-day report from Xcel Energy. Long noted that the approximate average system cost is about $35 currently. That means that not only could Xcel provide renewable energy at competitive prices, it may actually be cheaper, meaning lower costs for rate payers.

"When people see their Xcel Energy bill down from the same usage they use every year, they might start to get on board from an economic standpoint," said Tiernan Spencer, who started the task force in cooperation with the Colorado Sierra Club. "That's what's cool about this momentum. We can now address people from an economic standpoint instead of an environmental standpoint. So we can get everyone on board."

While it remains unclear whether or not Frisco will decide to jump at the opportunity, council reaction to the proposal seemed generally positive.

"I'm fully on board with everything that has been discussed," said Councilman Hunter Mortensen, who also agreed to join the task force moving forward. "How we get to the end part is more on us. The commitment is easy, it's about making sure we can pull it off in the right way. But I think that's the exciting part as well. We're the envy of every mountain town. Everybody wants to be Frisco's size, have our amenities and our location. To add this to our resume is a pretty important thing."

The task force — so far comprised of Long, Spencer, Montensen and Jen Schenk of the High Country Conservation Center — will be responsible for working with the town council to come up with specific goals and concerns for the potential transition, as well as developing a new 100 percent renewable energy draft resolution for the council's consideration. Long and Spencer say that they're also looking to pull in additional town staff for the task force, as well as representatives from Xcel Energy who will oversee the process.

Additionally, the task force will look to gain more widespread support for the transition to renewable energy from individuals and businesses in town. The group recently created an online petition for the project and is asking residents to sign their names in support of the move.

While it will ultimately fall on Xcel's shoulders to make the transition, as they're the sole energy provider in town, the company first expects Frisco to do its due diligence, said Long. That process could include taking steps to improve energy efficiency in town buildings, hiring a sustainability coordinator and engaging with renewable energy programs like Renewable Connect before entering into an agreement with the town. If the town decides to adopt a renewable energy resolution, it will then approach Xcel Energy to sign a memorandum of understanding.

While 100 percent renewable energy in Frisco is the immediate plan, the longer-term goal of the project is to convince Xcel Energy that there is a strong desire from the greater Colorado community to transition to more renewable energy. Xcel is currently committed to transitioning to 55 percent renewable energy by 2026, though the hope is to eventually push that number to 100.

"The utilities have a choice," said Long. "They can put in another coal fire plant, natural gas plants or renewable energy. One hundred percent renewable energy efforts help Xcel understand that our customers are also asking for this, and maybe they should invest in two or three more wind farms or solar panels. It's not so much a matter of putting renewable energy in your neighborhood, it's more about having Xcel put in new renewable energy assets versus fossil fuel assets. That's how you change the tide."

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