Steamboat City Council passes on solar garden opportunity

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council was intrigued Tuesday night by the idea of buying into a community solar garden being built in Craig, but it wasn't interested enough to pursue the energy option out of its regular budget cycle.

“Conceptually, I love the idea of this,” council member Kenny Reisman said. “But I struggle with the timing. It's tough to go out of pocket.”

He said if the panels were sold out by the time the council considers the option during its budget hearings in the fall, that would mean the community had bought into garden.

“I don't see the downside in waiting,” Reisman said.

Council member Sonja Macys was the only one on the dais who wanted to move forward and tap into the alternative energy.

She proposed that the city spend about $94,000 to convert some of the energy at the Steamboat Springs Community Center to solar.

“I think there's a strategic advantage to purchase into something that pays back over time,” Macys said.

She added the city should continue to take a leadership role in promoting sustainability.

However, her motion to buy into Clean Energy Collective's solar array was not seconded by any other council members.

Council President Bart Kounovsky and other council members said the proposal needed to be weighed against other budget items.

He also pointed out that in the city's most recent goal-setting workshop last year, sustainability was mentioned as a priority, but it didn't rank in the top-five goals for the council at the time.

“Last year, we gave (city staff) direction that it's not one of our top-five goals,” Kounovsky said. “It could be this year and then we might say 'go.'”

The council also was receptive to the request from city staff to come up with a new energy purchase and usage policy that could help to prioritize and guide future spending decisions.

Council members asked the staff to present them next week with a rough estimate of how much it might cost to work with an outside consultant to come up with such a policy.

“There are a lot of other opportunities we don't know about that we would like to educate ourselves on,” General Services Director Anne Small said. “We do need some outside help.”

Council's decision on the solar array came after a few community members spoke in support of the opportunity.

Sam Jones said the timing was important because an investment tax credit being offered to the city now will go away. He added it wasn't likely that another solar garden would be built in the area anytime soon.

Megan Walker, a college student majoring in sustainability, urged the council to “think of the long-term future of Steamboat and approve this.”

The Clean Energy Collective's new solar array is projected to provide 577 kilowatts of clean power capacity from 1,922 solar panels.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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Comments

John Weibel 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Is the city able to take advantage of an investment tax credit? I would guess not. The thin film panels that are being utilized today, that have brought down the cost of Solar, have an unknown lifespan, and to state that they are sustainable is not 100% accurate as they have a unknown useful lifespan.

On the pro side of the argument is that the city would be able to fix their almost fix their monthly energy expenses and eliminate much of the ongoing expense. Given past history the current national debt loads and trade deficit one could extrapolate that energy costs may rise at a rate higher than 3%. Those variable expense increases could force the city to reduce spending elsewhere in the future to balance the budget.

Finally, this is a capital expense much like a new police station, road maintenance, etc. and should be treated that way. The interest rate and type of account that a community should hold its reserves in are safe and liquid. This is probably a fairly safe investment but not at all a liquid one and one should not compare "market" returns to what operating reserves should be invested in.

By the way, the YVEA building on Yampa should be the prime candidate for the new station as it probably has most of the features the city is seeking. It also probably is a tear down for anyone else interested in buying it. Yes it is on prime real estate, however, the development potential of it is limited as the amount of pending development property in town is rather large along with the unabsorbed commercial space downtown. That structure, most likely, will not be developed for quite a long time. One really needs to look at the macro economic forces out there to understand that development is not going to happen like it did 5-10 years ago. Commercial vacancy rates would lead one to believe that rents are too high and need to be lowered, which means the value of those properties is far less than current valuations.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 3 weeks ago

“Last year, we gave (city staff) direction that it's not one of our top-five goals,” Kounovsky said. “It could be this year and then we might say 'go.'”

And, just like the police station, what is claimed to have changed to transform a lower priority goal into a top five goal? Absolutely nothing. This is the heart of what is wrong with the city council and city government. Anything can be any priority at any time.

There is no record or documentation on why it was a lower priority or why anything else was a higher priority. There is no process for changing priorities or expectation that the priorities remain the same until the city council reassesses priorities.

No, anything can be any priority at any time. That is management and oversight incompetence.

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Fred Duckels 4 months, 3 weeks ago

It is made to seem that this scheme will pay out over time and help save the environment. From the cities viewpoint it is possible that it may pay out at some point. The problem is, where does one find a need for intermittent power? The very nature of this inconvenience makes it nothing more than a feel good deal exercise and the expense will need to be spread out over other customers. Dianne and her ilk are mandating our utility companies to purchase power from these boondoggles. Electric coops buying power from a solar or wind source is basically a subsidy for unneeded power and the damage to the environment is two fold. Our friends on the left side of the spectrum see the need to lower our standard of living and relegate this capitalist engine to the junk heap, and this probably makes sense from their standpoint but the unintended consequences will be disastrous. Buying this alternative power is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors money transfer with more expense for us all.

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John Weibel 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Fred, It is grid tied and you get the power production that is produced at the garden to use at any time. It facilitates YVEA not having to take the risk of installing the renewable energy source, so it is a win for them.

In reality Photovoltaics provide power during peak consumption generally. Throw in a smart grid, with individuals having ways to sell power back to the grid when rates are high, with some way of storing the power, you develop a distributed power system which is far more reliable then the centralized production system we have. People with plug in hybrids can leave their cars at home, charge them when rates are cheap and then sell when prices rise during mid day. That also helps out with flattening the demand curve to power being used all day.

A smart grid really puts the capitalist system to work and people seeing power at high rates sell back any surplus they have. buying it in the night to store it for resale during the day. That is capitalism, not the corporate bankster system that is causing the massive disparities of incomes and wealth.

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mark hartless 4 months, 3 weeks ago

John is correct. The solar panels could/would be tied to the grid, which acts like a very, very efficient battery, taking power in when there is excess and returning it when it is needed.

Home systems now use this method, and when the sun is bright and your house isn't using any power the meter spins BACKWARDS... and backwards spinning electric meters are way cool...

As you might think, many power companies don't like it one darn bit, so it must be way cool...

Nevertheless, this was not the domain of government and the City did the right thing to back away.

To me small, individual solar systems seem like the way to go, rather than huge farms.

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John Weibel 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Less permitting with the farm Mark. The permit fees are rather steep in the county, from what I understand. You also have someone maintaining them, and it is in Moffatt County where you can see the blue sky from here, where there is none. So it actually makes sense to have a farm out there, if it makes any sense to have a farm, debatable, as the only way it pencils out is via tax breaks or over a very long term... if the panels last that long, which the thin film panels are so new, while they have a 25 year warranty, you better be figuring depreciation into your accounting of a return as at the end of 25 years you may have trash and then that 4-6% return is not accurate, if depreciation was not accounted for.

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Fred Duckels 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The conventional plant is going to operate around the clock in order to provide reliable power. On a sunny windy day this produces a glut of power that the cooperatives must buy and do not need, hence you and I get the bill. These deals may sound good but in the big picture we are the cooperatives. I do not have faith in the grid as it is entirely inadequate. Correct me but I believe that we cannot transfer power from one zone to another on the grid.

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john bailey 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I have not heard lately how Boulder is doing with their Smartgrid. anyone got an update? the last I heard it was , shall we say , not going very well.....

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